An article on Bohras taken from the OUP Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.
This Muslim community of Gujarat in western India traces its spiritual ancestry to early conversions to Ismaili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Mustansir (AH 427-487/1036-1094 CE). When schisms occured in the Ismaili dawah (mission) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Egypt, the Ismailis in India followed the Fatimi Tayyibi dawah of Yemen. Subsequently, this community split a number of times to form the Jafari Bohras, Daudi 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 Ismailis to list themselves on census forms as Bohras. The early Hindu converts of the eleventh century comprised of a single group of Ismaili Bohras owing allegiance to the da'i mutlaq in Yemen. A number of them seceded in 1426 to form the Jafari Bohras, who adopted the Sunni Hanafi school. The modern Jafari Bohra community comprises mainly cultivators residing in Patan, Gujarat, who revere descendents of the sixteenth-century Sunni missionary Ahmad Jafar al-Shirazi. After the Jafari schism, the Ismaili 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 Ismaili imam, and as such has had a great influence on the history, faith, and practices of the Ismaili Bohras.
The term "Bohra" applies most commonly to the Daudi Bohras, who are reputed to be the best organized and wealthiest of all Bohras. The Daudi 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 of 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 Fatimid heritage.
The religious hierarchy of the Daudi 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 madhun and mukasir. 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, al-Jami'ah al-Sayfiyah) who leads of 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 jamaatkhanah (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-Dawah al-Hadiyah.
At the age of puberty every Bohra, or mumin (believer) as sectarians call each other, pronounces the traditional oath of allegiance which requires the initiate to adhere to the shariah 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 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 resthouses and assisting organizations have been set up. The martydom of Imam al-Husayn is commemorated annually during the first ten days of Muharram. The Daudis use an arabicized form of Gujarati, called lisan al-dawah, 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 Daudi Bohras, the da'is usually being prolific writers and orators. The Daudi 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.
Daudi Bohras are named after their twenty-seveth da'i Daud 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 Daudis in 1625. Neither have significant doctrinal differences with the Daudi 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 Daudi-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 Sulaymanis number about four thousand in India and about seventy thousand in the Yemenite region of Najran.
[See also Ismailiyah; 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.
Burhanpuri, Qutb al-Din. Muntaza al-akhbar. Vol. 2. N.p., 1884.
Burhanuddin, Sayyidna. Istifah Zubad al-Maarif. Bombay, 1965.
Constitutions. Governing local Daudi Bohra organizations in India and East Africa, these documents provide a summary of their beliefs and practices.
Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis. 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. 1, pp. 1254-1255. Leiden 1960-.
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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. Mirat-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.
Najafali, Abbasali. Law of Marriage Governing Dawoodi Bohra Muslims. Bombay, 1943.
Numan, Qadi al-. Daa'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 Ismaili Literature. Malibu, Calif., 1977.
Roy, Shibani. The Dawoodi Bohras: An Anthropological Perspective. Delhi, 1984.
Saifiyah Educational Trust. A Golden Panorama. Bombay, .
Sayf al-Din, Tahir. Rasail al-Ramadaniyah. 48 vols. Bombay, 1912-1963. Along with Burhanuddin above, the most authoritative exposition of the faith and practices of contemporary Daudi Bohras.
Sahifat al-Salat wa-al-ibadaat. Bombay, 1989. Daudi prayer book containing information on religious practices.
Walid, Ali ibn Muhammad al-. Taj al-Aqa'id. Thirteenth-century manuscript. An english summary by W. Ivanov titled "A Creed of the Fatimids" (Bombay, 1936) gives a good summary of the creed of the Bohras.
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This article is reprinted with permission in its entirety from the OUP Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, John Esposito (ed), Copyright © 1995 and may not be reproduced elsewhere.