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Overview of the Dawoodi Bohra Community

 The Dawoodi Bohras are a subset of Shia Islam with a worldwide population of around one million, primarily residing in India, Pakistan, Yemen, East Africa, and the Middle East. They are known for their close-knit community, adherence to Islamic traditions, and modernist approach to life. They are mostly traders and business persons and the word "Bohra" comes from the Gujarati word meaning "to trade". The cultural heritage of the Dawoodi Bohras is linked to the Fatimid Imams, direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and their faith is centered on veneration of the Fatimid Imams and Muhammad's family.

Historical Roots of the Dawoodi Bohra in Fatimid Islam

The Fatimids were a dynasty from the lineage of the Hashimites of Mecca who ruled North Africa and Egypt, Hejaz, and Levant in the 10th and 11th centuries. They were known for their patronage of arts, learning, and scientific discovery and founded the city of Cairo and Al-Azhar University. When the empire declined, the 20th Fatimid Imam, Al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah, directed his emissary, Arwa bint Ahmad, to establish the office of the Da'i al-Mutlaq to lead the community and act as the vicegerent of the 21st Imam. 

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Succession to the office of Da'i al-Mutlaq happens through nass, where each Da'i appoints a successor in his lifetime, and this chain of succession continues uninterrupted to this day. The current Da'i al-Mutlaq is Mufaddal Saifuddin, the 53rd in the line of succession.

The Lineage of the Dai al-Mutlaq and its Significance

The Bohra community in India traces its roots back to the Fatimid era, when a Dai named Abd Allah was sent from Yemen to initiate the Da'wah in India. The Indian community pledged allegiance to the Fatimids and remained loyal to the Dais in Yemen, leading to a separation from the Hafizis. Over time, the community in India grew and maintained close ties with the leaders in Yemen. 

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Yusuf bin Sulayman Najmuddin became the first from the Indian community to lead the Tayyibi Da'wa as the 24th Dai al-Mutlaq, and the central headquarters of the Da'wa were transferred from Yemen to Gujarat. A succession dispute arose after the death of the 26th Dai al-Mutlaq, leading to a split in the community with a majority acknowledging Dawood bin Qutubshah as the rightful successor, who became known as the Dawoodis.

The Spread and Development of the Dawoodi Bohra Community Worldwide

The Bohra headquarters have moved within India over the centuries, following the location of the Dai. The first move was from Ahmedabad to Jamnagar, then to Ujjan, Burhanpur, Surat, and finally Mumbai where the current Dai resides. Beginning from the early 19th century, some members of the community migrated to other countries in search of better livelihoods, with the first wave of traders going to East Africa. 

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The 43rd Dai, Abdeali Saifuddin, provided food and work for his followers, and many from this group used the capital to trade in East Africa. The 51st Dai, Taher Saifuddin, revitalized the community by restructuring its organization and shifting the headquarters from Surat to Mumbai. He also emphasized acquiring higher education, leading to many young Bohras settling in different parts of the world and establishing new communities. There is also a small community of Bohras in Kerala who migrated 150 years ago from Gujarat.

FAQs:

How are Bohras different from Muslims?

The Dawoodi Bohras, a sect of Shia Islam, consider themselves to be descendants of the Ismaili Mustaaliam. They hold the belief that their 21st spiritual leader went into hiding in Yemen in the 12th century and selected a representative, known as the dai-e-mutlaq, to guide their community. Due to resistance from Sunni Muslims, the 24th dai relocated to the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat.

What language do Bohra Muslims speak?

You might overhear a chorus of merriment and mistakenly take them for Parsis. These are the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, a distinctive Gujarati-speaking trade group known for their dapper appearance. Their male members are frequently seen adorned in elegant white Kurtas paired with glistening topis, embellished with golden embroidery.

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Does Bohra believe in Allah?

As followers of Islam, the Dawoodi Bohras embrace the concept of Tawhid, recognizing the oneness of Allah as the sole deity. They recite the Shahada, a declaration of faith, which states that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad  is his messenger.

How many types of Muslims are there?

Islam is divided into two primary sects, Sunni and Shia. This division formed soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE and was a result of a dispute over the succession of leadership within the Muslim community.