Thousands weep as Bohra chief, 99, conducts Moharram discourse

By Quaid Najmi, IANS
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MUMBAI - A sea of humanity, many moved to tears, sits in rapt attention at the Saifee Mosque and outside in the bylanes as the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, 99-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, conducts the annual Moharram discourse.

The live Ashara Mubaraka discourse by the Syedna - for the second consecutive year - is being conducted at the historic mosque in Bhendi Bazaar area of south Mumbai. The Dawoodi Bohra Muslims have their headquarters in Mumbai.

This year, around 200,000 Dawoodi Bohras have gathered from all over the world and different parts of India for the momentous occasion, which started Dec 8 and will end Thursday. That is because the Dawoodi Bohras, who are Shia, follow the Egyptian lunar calendar.

Around 32,000 people attend the discourse daily from 10 a.m., and all vie with each other to catch a glimpse of their beloved spiritual leader.

While the small mosque can barely accommodate a couple of thousand devotees, the rest have to sit outside, on the roads and bylanes of the congested area. But nobody complains.

Thousands beat their chests or weep in unison as the Syedna gently and in a soft voice narrates the story of the tragic martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed that took place in Karbala in present day Iraq.

His own voice choking with emotion at times, the Syedna also highlights Imam Hussains sacrifice for the cause of Islam and humanity, and explains its relevance in the modern world.

At the same time, Syedna conveys the universal message of international peace, social justice and harmony among the people of the world. This year, he has stressed the need for people to inculcate strong family values, better communication and understanding among husband-wife and their children for overall progress.

The Syedna himself appears in full white with the typical Dawoodi Bohra feta, while all the community members are clad in their traditional finery - men in sparkling white kurtas and pyjamas with a long flowing white jacket or ’saaya’ and topped off with the traditional flat round cap - and the women in full colourful rida (veil) and many sport socks/stockings while sitting in a separate enclosure.

Frail but absolutely alert, the Syedna greets people with a smile when he is carried to the mosque in a palanquin-like chair and then lowered gently to a throne in the centre of the mosque.

“Besides the traditional sermons, the Syedna always stresses family values, matrimonial harmony, love for children and parents, the spirit of patriotism and loyalty to the country of their birth, universal peace and brotherhood, Shaikh Qureish Raghib, his media advisor, told IANS.

In view of his advanced age, the Syedna keeps his discourse to around two hours with breaks in between when marsiyas - or devotional poems are sung. In the past, the Syedna used to speak non-stop for over four hours at a stretch.

The Syednas discourses are being telecast live to 700 mosques and centres all over the world. In Mumbai, there are 520 large TV sets, 100 large projector screens and 48 relay centres to bring his discourse live to the citys 300,000-strong Dawoodi Bohra population.

The Dawoodi Bohras International Ashara Mubaraka Committee has made elaborate arrangements for the lodging and boarding of the 100,000-plus visitors who have arrived here from different parts of the world.

Besides online registration facilities, the committee has organised transportation, accommodation and food arrangements all over Mumbai, plus kept medical and emergency services on standby.

The Syedna has also conducted similar discourses in Cairo, Dubai, Houston, Colombo, Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, plus Indore, Surat, Jamnagar and Mumbai; last year (2009) the congregation was held in Marol, northwest Mumbai.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at

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