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.

Southasia - - TRIBUTE -

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.

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