A Long and Celebrated Life
Syedna Burhanuddin was much more than a religious leader of the Bohra community as he ably guided his followers in worldly matters, too.
January 17, 2014 was a sad day for the Bohra community as it lost its spiritual leader, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin who died of a heart attack in Mumbai at the age of 102.
Hundreds of thousands of Dawoodi Bohras around the world mourned the death of their 52nd Dai Mutlaq (Unrestricted Missionary). His son, Syedna Mufaddul Saifuddin succeeds him as the 53rd Dai. Syedna Burhanuddin led his community for more than five decades after succeeding his father in 1965.
The world population of Dawoodi Bohras, a sub-sect of the Ismaili Shias, is over one million. The Bohra Diaspora is spread across the globe with the majority living in India and Pakistan. The community is well-known for its discipline and peacefulness. Mostly traders and businessmen, the Dawoodi Bohras play a major role in supporting the economy of the place they live in – whether it’s Karachi, Mumbai or Johannesburg.
Regardless of how well-disciplined a community is, an able leadership is essential to harness its potential and lead it in the right direction. And this is exactly what Syedna Burhanuddin did to his community. Besides leading them in religious and spiritual matters, he also mentored his community in worldly affairs and his followers went from strength to strength under his guidance.
One of his most notable deeds was the construction of Raudat Tahera, a grand mausoleum in Mumbai that houses the grave of Syedna Tahir Saifuddin – the 51st Dai and the father of Syedna Burhanuddin. The Syedna has also been buried in the same mausoleum.
The mausoleum has inscriptions of the entire Holy Quran on its walls. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin instructed that the 772-page golden handwritten Quran, which Syedna Taher Saifuddin used to recite from daily, be photocopied and transcribed onto an equal number of marble slabs and pasted on the inner walls of the Raudat. This makes it the only monument in the world to have a complete religious book engraved on its walls. The building was designed by Yahya Merchant, the same architect who designed the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Hundreds of people from India and around the world visit the Raudat daily.
Syedna Burhanuddin is credited with modernizing the Bohra community. It was his efforts that helped raise the literacy rate among Dawoodi Bohras to 100 percent. He emphasized on acquiring both religious and secular education. Under his guidance, around 400 educational institutes were established for Dawoodi Bohras around the world including Al-Jamiah Al-Saifiah Arabic Academy in Surat (India), an over two centuries-old Arabic university. Its new campus was built in Karachi in 1983.
He encouraged his followers to take active part in business activities in accordance with mercantile and Islamic laws as the Bohri community strictly follows the Islamic tradition of interest-free loans. Syedna Burhanuddin set up a Burhaniyah Business Counseling Centre in Mumbai to provide modern solutions to problems of Bohri businessmen.
Born in Surat, he was educated and personally trained as a future leader by his illustrious father, the late Syedna Taher Saifuddin. Syedna Burhanuddin supervised and supported the community’s literacy efforts across the world to impart religious, spiritual and secular education. Nurturing a deep interest in secular studies, the leader always stressed on scientific and religious education. On the social front, Muhammad Burhanuddin encouraged and institutionalized the tradition of mass marriages to curb wasteful expenditure on opulent weddings.
His services in the field of restoration and preservation of old buildings are also remarkable. In Mumbai alone, he supervised the redevelopment of old buildings that housed over 4,000 Dawoodi Bohra families in the south Mumbai locality of Bhindi Bazaar.
He also undertook the task of construction, renovation and restoration of several ancient mosques, mausoleums and other buildings of historical significance worldwide. These included the ninth century mosque of Imam Hakim, Al-Jame AlAnwar in Cairo and ancient buildings in Yemen, Syria and India.
The services of Syedna Burhanuddin were duly acknowledged by world leaders during his lifetime. He was honored with the Star of Jordan and received the Order of the Nile from the governments of Jordan and Egypt, respectively.
The Syedna saw in his life two World Wars, Partition, globalization, information technology, family nuclearization and collapse of colonialism. He contributed towards great works of philanthropy for the sake of South Asian and Middle Eastern Muslims alike and leaves behind a legacy of a long and celebrated life as his followers continue to thrive amid sectarian strife.