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BOHRAS. This Muslim community of Gujarat in western India traces its spiritual ancestry to early conversions to Isma’ili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Mustansir (AH 427-487/1036-1094 CE). When schisms occurred in the Isma’ili da’wah (mission) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Egypt, the Isma’ilis in India followed the Fatimi Tayyibi da`wah of Yemen. Subsequently, this community split a number of times to form the Ja’fari Bohras, Da’udi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, `Aliyah Bohras, and other lesser-known groups.

The word Bohra (also spelled Bohara or Vohra) is derived from the Gujarati vohorvu or vyavahar, meaning “to trade.” This has sometimes caused Hindus, Jains, and Muslims of trading communities other than those related to the Tayyibi Isma’ilis to list themselves on census forms as Bohras. The early Hindu converts of the eleventh century comprised a single group of Isma’ili Bohras owing allegiance to the da’i mutlaq in Yemen. A number of them seceded in 1426 to form the Ja’fari Bohras, who adopted the Sunni Hanafi school. The modern Ja’fari Bohra community comprises mainly cultivators residing in Patan, Gujarat, who revere descendants of the sixteenth-century Sunni missionary Ahmad Ja`far al-Shirdzi. After the Ja’fari schism, the Isma`ili Bohras were subject to severe persecution by local rulers. However, by the late sixteenth century, they had grown strong enough to enable the transfer of the mission’s headquarters and the residence of the da’i mutlaq to India. The da’i mutlaq operates as the sole representative of the secluded Isma’ili imam, and as such has had a great influence on the history, faith, and practices of the Isma`ili Bohrds.

The term “Bohra” applies most commonly to the Da’udi Bohras, who are reputed to be the best organized and wealthiest of all Bohras. The Dau’di Bohra community has largely been molded into its present form by the two da`is who have led the community in the twentieth century. The fifty-first da’i, the celebrated Tahir Sayf al-Din (1915-1965), was an accomplished scholar, a prolific writer and poet, a capable organizer, and a man of vision. During his period of fifty years he revitalized the community, fostered strong faith, modernized the mission’s organization, promoted welfare and education in the community, and guided it through the tumultuous period of world wars and independence of nations. A doctrinal dissent that had severely disturbed the community for sixty years prior to his accession was successfully challenged and reduced during his period to a less significant anti-da’i social reform movement. As much as 2 percent of the community belongs to this movement, whose demands are regarded as heretical by the rest of the Bohras. The reformists were particularly active in the 1970s and early 1980s, but their efforts failed to win legal recognition and only amounted to bad press and distress for the Bohra community.

The present da’i, Muhammad Burhanuddin, has continued his predecessor’s endeavors with particular emphasis on strengthening the community’s Islamic practices and on the promotion of its Fatimid heritage.

The religious hierarchy of the Da’udi Bohras is essentially Fatimid and is headed by the da’i, mutlaq who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The da’i, appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of ma’dhun (licentiate) and mukasir (executor). These positions are followed by the rank of shaykh and mullah, both of which are held by hundreds of Bohras. An `ahil (usually a graduate of the order’s institution of higher learning, alJami’ah al-Sayfiyah) who leads the local congregation in religious, social, and communal affairs, is sent to each town where a sizable population exists. Such towns normally have a mosque and an adjoining jama’atkhanah (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held. The local organizations which manage these properties and administer the social and religious activities of the local Bohras report directly to the central administration of the da’i, based in Bombay, called al-Da`wah al-Hadiyah.

At the age of puberty every Bohra, or mu’min (believer) as sectarians call each other, pronounces the traditional oath of allegiance which requires the initiate to adhere to the shari `ah and accept the leadership of the imam and the da’i. This oath is renewed each year on the 18th of Dhu al-Hijjah (`Id Gadir al-Khumm). The Bohras follow the Fatimid school of jurisprudence, which recognizes seven pillars of Islam. Walayah (love and devotion) for Allah, the Prophets, the imam, and the da’i, is the first and most important of the seven pillars. The others are taharah (purity and cleanliness), salah (prayers), zakah (purifying religious dues), sawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and jihad (holy war). Pilgrimages to the shrines of the saints are an important part of the devotional life of Bohras, for the facilitation of which rest houses and assisting organizations have been set up. The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn is commemorated annually during the first ten days of Muharram. The Da’udis use an arabicized form of Gujarati, called lisan al-da’wah, which is permeated with Arabic words and written in Arabic script. Another distinctive feature is their use of a Fatimid lunar calendar which fixes the number of days in each month. There is a strong religious learning tradition among the Da’udi Bohras, their dais usually being prolific writers and orators. The Da’udi Bohras number about a million and reside in India, Pakistan, the Middle East, East Africa (since the eighteenth century), and the West (since the 1950s). They are easily recognizable by their dress: men wear beards and white gold-rimmed caps, and women wear a colorful two-piece head-to-toe dress called a rida’.

Da’udi Bohras are named after their twenty-seventh da’i, Da’ud ibn Qutbshah (d. 1612). Sulaymani Bohras acknowledge a different line of da’is ensuing from their twenty-seventh da’i, Sulayman ibn Hasan (d. 1597) Similarly, `Aliyah Bohras follow `Ali ibn Ibrahim (d. 1637) as their twenty-ninth da’i, having seceded from the Da’udis in 1625. Neither have significant doctrinal differences with the Da’udi Bohras, though their religious organizations are different. The `Aliyah Bohras are led by their forty-fourth da’i, Tayyib Diya’ al-Daimin, residing in Baroda, India, and number about five thousand. The Sulaymani leadership reverted to Yemen soon after the DA’fidi-Sulaymani split and in the main has remained there. Their current leader, Sharaf al-Husayn ibn Hasan al-Makrami, is the forty-ninth da’i, in the Sulaymani series; his chief representative in India, called the mansub, resides in Baroda. The Sulaymnis number about four thousand in India and about seventy thousand in the Yemenite region of Najran.

[See also Isma’iliyah; Jami`ah al-Sayfiyah, al-; and the biography of Burhanuddin.]


Amiji, Hatim. “The Bohras of East Africa.” Journal of Religion in Africa 7.1 (1975): 27-61.

Buhanpuri, Qutb al-Din. Muntaza` al-akhbar. VOI. 2. N.p., 1884. Burhanuddin, Sayyidna. Istiftah Zubad al-Ma’arif. Bombay, 1965. Constitutions. Governing local Da’udi Bohra organizations in India and East Africa, these documents provide a summary of their beliefs and practices.

Daftary, Farhad. The Isma’ilis. Cambridge, 1992.

Davoodbhoy, T. A. A. Faith of the Dawoodi Bohras. Bombay, 1992. Fyzee, Asaf A. A. “Bohoras.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. I, pp. 1254-1255. Leiden, 1960-.

Fyzee, Asaf A. A. Compendium of Fatimid Law. Simla, 1969.

Fyzee, Asaf A. A. Outlines of Muhammadan Law. 4th ed. Oxford, 1974

Habibullah, Abdul Qaiyum. Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb: Dai-ulMutlaq of Dawoodi Bohras. Bombay, 1958.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. “1351” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 2, pp. 97-98. Leiden, 1960-.

Hollister, J. N. The Shi’a of India. London, 1953

Jhaveri, K. M. “A Legendary History of the Bohoras.” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 9 (1933)

Jivabhai, Muhammad `Ali ibn Mulla. Mausam-i bahar. Vol. 3. Bombay, 1882.

Khan, `Ali Muhammad. Mir’dt-i Ahmadi. Translated by S. N. `Ali. Baroda, 1924.

Khan, Najmulghani. Madhahib al-Islam. Lucknow, 1924. Lokhandwalla, Sh. T. “The Bohras: A Muslim Community of Gujarat.” Studia Islamica 3 (1955): 117-135.

Madelung, Wilferd. “Makramids.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 6, pp. 191-192. Leiden, 1960-.

Misra, S. C. Muslim Communities in the Gujrat. Bombay, 1964.

Najaf ali, `Abbas’ali. Law of Marriage Governing the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims. Bombay, 1943.

Nu`man, Qadi al-. Da`a’im al-Islam. 2 vols. Edited by Asaf A. A. Fyzee. 2d ed. Cairo, 1963-1965. The principle text of jurisprudence followed by the Bohras.

Poonawala, Ismail K. Bibliography of Isma’ili Literature. Malibu, Calif., 1977.

Roy, Shibani. The Dawoodi Bohras: An Anthropological Perspective. Delhi, 1984.

Saifiyah Educational Trust. A Golden Panorama. Bombay, [1961]. Sayf al-Din, Tahir. Rasa’il al-Ramadantyah. 48 vols. Bombay, 1912-1963. Along with Burhanuddin above, the most authoritative exposition of the faith and practices of contemporary Da’udi Bohras. Sahifat al-Salat wa-al-`ibadat. Bombay, 1989. Da’udi prayer book containing information on religious practices.

Walid, ‘All ibn Muhammad al-. Taj al-Aga’id. Thirteenth-century manuscript. An english summary by W. Ivanow titled “A Creed of the Fatimids” (Bombay, 1936) gives a good summary of the creed of the Bohras.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/bohras/

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