“Visitors must step inside the house,” says Haj Hassan Abdullah al-Hutaib, the imam of the mosque, as he insists on lunch. His guests decline repeatedly. He then excuses himself to carry out the noon call to prayer in the mosque.
The village children spot buses winding down the road along misty terraced mountains. In all anticipation they hurry with their bags to the village entrance. They set up along the walkway and wait for their visitors, like they do every day. They’re selling pecans, raisins and candy. The buses arrive, one after another bringing Indian nationals through Sana’a from around the world.
The pilgrims snake through the village garden, green with grass, and individually or in small groups make their way past the pigeons’ tower: Men in white thobes (traditional male dress) and embroidered kufias (traditional headdress) and women in colorful dresses decorated with lace and floral patterns, similar to those of the village women. They start climbing the stairs.
“Jalan! Jalan!” (Come up, come up) says a man standing outside a red stone hotel.
Another busload of pilgrims arrives. Then another, for a total of 10 buses, or around 200 pilgrims that day.
“Jalan,” the man repeats to the new wave of arrivals, gesturing for them to come up to the hotel for lunch.
Some pilgrims stop to visit the bright white mausoleum of da’i (spiritual leader) Hatim bin Ibrahim, adorned with Quranic verses, and the centerpiece of the village of Hutaib in the Haraz Mountains, where a community of Yemeni Dawoodi Ismailis lives.
How did the relationship between Hutaib and India come to be? Why is the da’i of this community of Ismailis based in Mumbai, India? And why does that leadership exclude the two other major branches of Ismailism, the Nizari and the Sulaymani sects?
Long before they would be known as Dawoodis or, more commonly, Bohras, there lived in the 12th century the third da’i, Hatim bin Ibrahim al-Hamidi, whose formal title was al-Da’i al-Mutlaq (the Absolute Missionary). He was of the Banu Hamdan tribe of Yemen and succeeded his father Ibrahim to the highest religious post.
Abbas Hamdani, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, writes that Da’i Hatim was a writer, a versatile poet and an organizer of the faith. The da’i modified and formalized the structure of the Ismaili da’wa (mission), in an evolution from its origins in Fatimid Egypt that wouldn’t change to the present day.
It is believed that Da’i Hatim himself built the mosque overlooking the village of Hutaib to worship in it and to honor al-Sayyida al-Hurra (The Noble Lady), otherwise known as Queen Arwa al-Sulayhiyya, who ruled Yemen for over five decades from 1084 to 1138.
For it was none other than Queen Arwa who would expand the Ismaili faith in Yemen and beyond, in a dynasty that would rule from Dhu Jibla, and whose borders would reach as far as Mecca in current-day Saudi Arabia.
The Sulayhid queen is reported to have been strikingly beautiful, intelligent, courageous and of an independent character, like her mother-in-law and role model, Queen Asma. Arwa’s marriage to the son of the founder of the Sulayhid dynasty in Yemen led her to the reins of power. She was involved in running the kingdom even before her husband’s death, following war injuries he sustained and his retreat from public life.
For a long time the Sulayhids maintained a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with the Fatimid rulers in Egypt. The alliance provided security and support to the Sulayhids whenever their rule was challenged locally. For the Fatimids, the Sulayhid kingdom was strategically important in the Indian Ocean trade route and, through it, the spread of Ismailism in Yemen and Asia. The Fatimids were of the original Ismaili sect that was born after a division among the Shias in the 8th century AD over a question of leadership. Deriving their name from Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, they ruled Egypt from 909 AD for over two centuries from Cairo, the capital which they founded, and built the University of al-Azhar, which has been an important center of learning for Islam.
It may have been the important role Queen Arwa played in the Ismaili faith and political necessity following her husband’s death, scholars contend, that made Egypt’s Imam appoint her as hujja, the highest religious position at the time.
“Arwa became the religious figure whose example was to be followed by the community of believers,” writes Samer Traboulsi, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. “She also became the ultimate authority for all the da’is [in Yemen], since she was the official representative of the Imam.”
The long-ruling queen would further spread the faith in Sind and Hind (now Pakistan and India) through the relationship developed with Asia in the Indian Ocean trade. According to the London-based Institute for Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Sulayhids are credited with playing an important role in the spread of Ismailism in South Asia, establishing a new Ismaili community in Gujarat, India, in 1067. They also oversaw the selection of da’is who were dispatched from Yemen to run the new community’s affairs.
But trouble arose when the Fatimid Imam al-Mustansir Billah died in Egypt in 1094 and the question of his successor split the Ismaili community. This would be the first schism to divide them, but not the last. The disagreement over the Imam’s successor resulted in the initial two sub-sects of Ismailism. The first were the Nizaris, who followed the Imam’s eldest son Nizar. Also known as Khojas, they live in India, Syria, and South and West Asia, among other regions worldwide. Their current leader is Prince Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV, the 49th Imam.
The second faction of Ismailis approved of the Imam’s successor to the throne, Nizar’s brother al-Mustaali, whom Queen Arwa recognized as Imam. Thus the Ismaili communities of Yemen and Gujarat became known as Mustaalis.
But they would later come to be better known as Tayyibis in Yemen following a second schism in 1130, when the queen supported Imam al-Tayyib. Little is known about al-Tayyib, but Tayyibis believe that he went into occultation (concealment), and thus the period since then until the present is known as satr, or concealment.
It was during this second schism that Queen Arwa severed ties with Fatimid Egypt because of al-Tayyib’s occultation. The move would ensure the survival of Ismailis long after the collapse of both the Fatimid kingdom in Egypt and the Sulayhid dynasty in Yemen, according to IIS. She re-designated the title of the then-da’i as al-Da’i al-Mutlaq, or Absolute Missionary, allowing the faith to be independent from political rule. The Absolute Missionary was put in charge of the affairs of the community and, in the absence of the imam, was the highest authority of the Tayyibis.
Queen Arwa’s death in 1138 was effectively the end of the Sulayhid dynasty with no one to succeed her. She was buried in the mosque she built in Dhu Jibla. The Ismaili faith, however, did in fact survive and traveled on its own journey that led it back to India.
Now without political leadership, Ismailism would witness one of its bleakest times under Zaydi Shia imams in the 16th century AD and later, who considered the sect to be heretical. The Tayyibi Ismailis, who consisted of the Hamdani Yam branch in Wadi Dahr and the Yaaburi in Haraz, turned to the more tolerant Ottomans for protection at the time, but this would soon backfire. The Ottomans’ failure to maintain control of upper Yemen resulted in the persecution of the Ismaili community by the vengeful imam, according to Professor Traboulsi.
“Most of the Zaydi imams oppressed and starved the Ismailis,” says a knowledgeable member of the community who wished to remain anonymous.
Negotiations with the imam allowed masses of Ismailis to seek refuge in the Haraz Mountains, where they relocated their center from Wadi Dahr. But continued persecutions caused the then-da’i to escape to Zabid, where he appointed the first Indian da’i, who traveled to Yemen from Gujarat.
The community was able to thrive in Haraz and Wadi Dahr for several decades under Ottoman rule in the 16th century, but an epidemic took the lives of high-ranking Tayyibis and prompted the return of many Indian Ismailis to India. In the face of growing Zaydi power, the first Indian da’i was selected to rule from India.
Over 500 years after the establishment of the Gujarat community by Yemen’s Sulayhids, the spiritual leadership was transferred to Gujarat, and later to Mumbai, where successive da’is have ruled until the current da’i, Dr. Mohammed Burhanuddin.
Ties between Yemen’s estimated 60,000 Ismailis and India have remained to this day. Professor Abbas Hamdani’s father, Hussain al-Hamdani, is described by the IIS as one of the pioneers of modern Ismaili studies and is the author of the book The Sulayhids and the Fatimid Movement in Yemen.
Professor Abbas Hamdani explained his Yemeni ancestry in an e-mail: “In the early eighteenth century, my ancestor, Shaykh Ali b. Said b. Ali b. Husayn al-Hamdani migrated from Haraz, Yemen to Surat, India at the invitation of the then Tayyibi Dawoodi Da’i. He was a learned Shaykh and he brought with him rare manuscripts of the Ismaili community. Our family bears the name Hamdani as we are descended from this Shaykh Ali who belonged to the Yaaburi branch of the Hamdani tribe settled in Haraz. For the last six generations we have been Indians keeping up the tradition of Arabic learning and the study and augmentation of Ismaili literature.”
Da’i Burhanuddin has been received by President Ali Abdullah Saleh on several occasions, and is credited with renovations in the village of Hutaib and elsewhere, as well as with efforts to replace the village’s qat trees with coffee trees.
“In 1999 alone, 50,000 qat trees were replaced with coffee trees,” says Mohammed al-Hamdani, a Dawoodi Ismaili and instructor of English as a Second Language.
The 16th century, a dark time for Ismailis in Yemen, witnessed towards its end yet another schism over a leadership succession, dividing the Tayyibis into the Sulaymani and Dawoodi branches, named after the successors they followed. The IIS estimates that there are around 700,000 Dawoodis around the world.
The majority of Sulaymanis have made Saudi Arabia’s Najran their center since 1640. They are also known as Makarima after the tribe of al-Makrami which originated in the village of Tayba in Yemen. According to a 2004 Saudi census, they number around 408,000 in Najran, and their da’i is al-Fakhri Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Makrami.
Like other religious minorities historically persecuted in the Middle East and elsewhere, Yemeni Ismailis, who turned secretive in order to protect themselves, were surrounded with invented stories such as the discrediting of their claim to the Prophet’s lineage and, more offensively, having tails.
“Some people misunderstand or misinterpret Ismailism,” says Mohammed al-Hamdani. “Many stereotypes and rumors were spread about them historically by the Imam. It’s indicative that [Ismaili] shrines and forts are on top of mountains.”
Da’i Hatim’s mausoleum in Hutaib is a site of pilgrimage not only for Dawoodis but for Sulaymani Ismailis as well, since he lived before the schism between the two.
“[The visit to shrines] is controversial,” explains Ibrahim al-Harazi, whose family is Yemeni Sulaymani. “In Sunni Islam, it’s not only haram (forbidden) but polytheistic to visit shrines. But for us, we are not praying to them. When we visit, we read some parts of the Quran and say prayers. The Prophet’s daughter Fatima used to visit her father’s shrine.”
In Yemen’s ancient village of al-Qalaa, later renamed Tayba, with scenic views of Wadi Dahr, Ismailis visit the shrine of a da’i in the courtyard of a mosque frequented by the village’s Zaydi community. The village, historically important to Ismailis, is now home to around 250 Sulaymanis, says Haj Mohammed Abdullah, an elderly, learned member of the sect.
He receives guests from Najran who teach in Sana’a in a Saudi cultural exchange program and who come to him for advice. He indulges his guests by recounting some Ismaili history, and speaks highly of Queen Arwa and her contributions to Yemen.
This book is about the beliefs of Ismailis. Two major sects within the Ismailis are the Agha Khanis who believe in 49 Imams and the Bohras who believe in 21 Imams. However both the Agha Khanis and the Bohras believe Ismail as an Imam, who was the son of Imam al-Sadiq (as) and they reject Musa al-Kadhim s/o Imam al-Sadiq (as). This book investigates the authenticity of the Ismaili/Fatimid Imams whether they were really divine.
Dawoodi Bohra factions now fight over custody of 9 kids
Kids taken away from Saifee Mahal by their mothers, daughters of Qutbuddin, on the very day the Syedna died.
As the battle over who is the rightful successor to the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin wages in the Dawoodi Bohra community, a parallel dispute has been happening between the two warring sides over custody of nine children who happen to be descendants of both factions.
On January 17, the very day that the Syedna passed away, the children -- who lived in Saifee Mahal, home of the Syedna and his family in Malabar Hill, were taken away to Thane by their mothers, and there has been no trace of them ever since.
Their mothers, Arwa and Fatema, are both daughters of Khuzima Qutbuddin who is now threatening legal action to claim spiritual leadership of the community as its 53rd Dai or religious leader. Thane is where Qutbuddin resides. Immediately after they left their Malabar Hill home, the children were "sent abroad to ensure their safety," said a member of Qutbuddin's family, requesting anonymity.
The children's fathers on the other hand, belong to Mufaddal Saifuddin's side of the family. Arwa is married to Mufaddal's son Taha; the couple have five children. Fatema is married to Mufaddal's nephew Ibrahim, and they have four children.
Insiders told Mirror that the battle over the children, aged between eight and sixteen years, has been brewing since January. And now that the mourning period for the late Syedna is over, both sides are becoming aggressive about their rights over the children.
The fathers of the children are now exploring all options to get the children back, while the mothers support their father Qutbuddin's faction over their husband's side, and do not want their children to live in Saifee Mahal any longer.
Members of Qutbuddin's family said that Arwa and Fatema, who were aware of the succession battle in the offing, "feared for their lives and their children's and hence fled". "They are firm believers in their father's philosophy and stake to the community leadership. They knew that their community would have choose between their father and Mufaddal as religious leader and that a split in the community was inevitable. They knew they would not be able to follow their father while living with their husbands, and had no choice but to flee," said the member of Qutbuddin's family.
"The children are safe and with their uncle Taher Bhaisaheb in the there for their safety," Zara Qutbuddin, head of Qutbuddin's public relations team said. Had the children not been sent overseas, Mufaddal's side would have traced them and forced them back to their home, claims the Qutbuddin faction.
Mufaddal's side on the other hand, was emphatic that the children should be with their fathers.
"They have been whisked away and forced to go with their mothers. They belong with their fathers," said a senior member of Mufaddal's side. However there was no official comment from this faction, on the grounds that the matter was personal in nature. Mufaddal's side, according to sources, are in talks with their lawyers to find a way to claim custody of the children.
"The children have been sent to US, where our laws do not apply. We are grappling with the situation to find a way out," said the Mufaddal family member.
WHAT LED TO THE FEUD?
After Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin died on January 17, the rift between the two sides became immediately apparent. Syedna's brother Khuzaima Qutbuddin (the Syedna's deputy and one of the claimants to the title of Dai) paid his last respects to the just-deceased Syedna and left the official residence of Saifee Mahal (Malabar Hill) for his other residence in Thane. The Syedna's second son Mufaddal Saifuddin, who was away in Colombo, rushed back to Mumbai and sat mourning beside his father's body.
That very night Khuzaima Qutbuddin made his first official address, indicating that the succession (nass) had been made in his favour 49 years ago and he was the 53rd Dai. Mufaddal Saifuddin, however, also claimed that he had been appointed as successor by the Syedna two years ago. Ever since, the two sides have been at war. .
Fighting female genital mutilation among India's Bohra
FGM: girl-children of Dawoodi Bohra sect are the only Muslim women in India systematically and forcefully mutilated.
Last month a petition was launched by 17 Bohra women calling for a law banning FGM in India.
"A lot of Bohra women contacted me wanting to speak out and talk about what happened to them," Ranalvi said.
"I needed to do something about it. All of us are scarred in some way. We were cheated in a clandestine way."
Although it is not mentioned in the Quran, the Bohras consider Khatna - their name for female genital mutilation - to be a religious obligation. The Syedna, the religious head of the sect, who is based in Mumbai, supports the practice. Ranalvi said that the response of the religious head has been one of "silence".
"He has decided to keep quiet and the practice continues unabated," she said.
Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali, a professor of Islamic Studies at St Xavier's College, in Mumbai, told Al Jazeera that the practice had nothing to do with religion.
"Nowhere is it mentioned in the Quran, it is a 'tradition'. It has nothing to do with religion. We always have this tendency to confuse religion and culture," she said.
"The idea is to suppress women, to dominate them. The practice is not acceptable for other Muslims in India except the Bohra sect. It is really not acceptable."
Please watch this Video of Mufaddal Mola’s Waez in Madras. He is scolding Bohra women for working outside home. He asks Bohra men to stop their women going outside home for doing job. He wants Bohra woman stay home and serve husband and take care of children and man go to work and provide as what use to happen in sixth century. He scares Bohras that Shaitan (Satan) will mislead. How can he be sure Shaitan is not misleading him? He may me saying these words, because Shaitan wants Bohras to remain behind.
The attorney for a Detroit-area doctor accused of mutilating the genitals of young girls acknowledges that her client performed the procedure, but she says it was part of a religious practice.
The revelation came during a detention hearing on Monday, a few days after Jumana Nagarwala was charged in what authorities say is the first case of its kind in the country. Shannon Smith said in federal court in Michigan that her client removed the girls’ genital membrane as part of a custom practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Indian Muslims of which Nagarwala is a part, the Detroit Free-Press reported.
Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, Mich., was charged last week with female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and making a false statement to a federal officer. Federal investigators say she performed genital mutilations on two 7-year-old girls at a medical clinic in Livonia, just outside Detroit. The procedures were performed secretly after business hours and without medical billing records, according to a criminal complaint.
The article below highlights important Bohra doctrines.
“Nass” once conferred cannot be revoked, says Taher Fakhruddin
Recording of evidence of Taher Fakhruddin (TUS), the Plaintiff in Suit 337/2014, which had been originally filed by his predecessor Khuzaima Qutbuddin RA in the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, began on 8th December 2017 at 12:00pm in the historic Courtroom No. 46, presided over by Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel.
The Plaintiff first took the oath, and began his responses with Bismillah.
The Plaintiff was first examined by his Counsel, Anand Desai of DSK Legal. The Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel also asked the Plaintiff several questions.
Desai asked the Plaintiff to explain the origins of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Plaintiff replied that Dawoodi Bohras are Shia Ismaili Muslims, followers of Imam Ismail AS. He further explained that Ismaili Shia’s believe that nass of succession, once conferred, cannot be revoked, changed, superseded or replaced and that is a core Dawoodi Bohra theological doctrine. This was the basic difference in belief from the followers of Musa Kazim, who believed that the nass on Imam Ismail was revoked, and nass was then conferred on Musa Kazim by Imam Jafer us-Sadiq.
Diktats against Western-style toilets, secular wedding venues leave Bohra community baffled
New ‘advisories’ have included strictures against secular wedding halls and the amount of mehndi brides can apply.
On Wednesday evening, Zoher’s aged mother received a call from a representative of her local mosque, who asked her an unexpected question. “He wanted to know what kind of toilet we use in our house, Western or Indian,” said Zoher, a businessman from Maharashtra’s Jalgaon city who wanted to reveal only his first name.
This was the second time in a week that his mother had received such a call from their Dawoodi Bohra community representatives, and Zoher was stumped. On both occasions, his mother informed the caller that the family had installed a Western-style toilet at home. “The first caller told her that the Bohra authorities were just collecting information. But the second caller asked my mother to talk to the aamil sahab,” said Zoher.
As a pious member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim sect, Zoher’s mother did as she was told and called up her aamil or priest. The aamil asked her to explain why they had chosen a Western toilet, to list the number of family members with knee or other health problems, and told her to meet him when she went to the mosque next.
“If they had called me, I would have told them that they have no right to ask personal questions about what I do in my house,” said Zoher, whose Bohra friends and neighbours have also received similar calls from their mosques. “They are deliberately calling only the ladies of the house.”
The Commemoration of Muharram by Shia Fatemi lsmaili Tayyabi Dawoodi Bohras
This article discusses how Shia Fatemi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohras commemorate the first ten days of Muharram, also known as Al Asharah al Mubarakah in the remembrance of Azeem and unparalleled sacrifice of Moula al Husain Ibn Ali (as) at Karbala. Sayedash Shuhada Husain(as), his Ahl al Bait(as) and Ash'ab(ra) fought against the Zulm, injustice, and harassment committed by the Syrian emperor Yazid Maloon. The process of learning enriches the Knowledge of the community members through Muharram Wa’az (sermons), which includes various topics of interest. Reading this article informs us that this 1000 years old legacy of the Shia Fatemi Ismaili Imams is continued with the same spirit by their Du’at, which refreshes spiritual energies of the followers.
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