Kamal Siddiqi

25th September, 2017, Karachi, The Express Tribune

Kamal Siddiqi is a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA. He tweets as @tribunian

This week, I met a couple from South Africa outside one of Karachi’s favourite restaurants – BBQ Tonite. They were members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, as was evident from their appearance, and had come to attend the Ashara Mubaraka. It was a pleasure talking to them as they were quite keen to know more about the city that was hosting them, not just the religious gathering they were attending. They had come to the restaurant on a local rickshaw from the house of a member of the community who was hosting them. Both husband and wife wanted to see Karachi, eat at all the places they had been recommended and visit all the places they had read about. It is always good to see excited tourists in one’s city. We in Karachi seem to have forgotten this sight.

The Ashara Mubaraka refers to a period of 10 days at the beginning of the Islamic year dedicated to the remembrance of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Ahle Bayt, specifically his grandson Imam Hussain (RA). The head of the community, His Holiness Dr Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin will conduct a series of sermons over the nine days that explore themes of justice, sacrifice, brotherhood, forgiveness, kindness and piety. Although Dawoodi Bohra centres across the world will host this event locally for members in their cities, the gathering led by Dr Syedna Saifuddin, which varies from city to city each year, attracts thousands of community members. In the next ten days or so, Karachi will play host to more than 40,000 guests from all over the world. It seems that the Bohra community has more faith in Pakistan than do most of the country’s own citizens.

I recall a few weeks back when all of Lahore was decked up at a cost of millions to welcome the international eleven cricket team. Roads were blocked, traffic clogged and thousands were inconvenienced. But most did not complain as it was for a good cause. The Bohra community event is a hundred times what the World Eleven matches were. There is little or no state money involved although the Sindh government has helped with traffic and security arrangements.

It is a pleasure to see the arrangements made by the community itself. Apart from the unarmed Burhani Scouts and their sister organisations, you will see hundreds of middle-aged and old men, standing at vantage points in Saddar – where much of the activity is centered, helping traffic or pedestrians, and making sure there is no chaos created.

Members of the community also park at designated spots (there are no VIPs), board the six-seater yellow and black rickshaws that are one of Saddar’s iconic symbols, and are happily transported to and from their destinations. Given the size of this operation, it is like having the World Eleven event in Karachi every day of the week for ten days or more.

Karachi itself has been given a shot in the arm thanks to the community selecting this city as its venue for 2017. Most hotels are fully booked for more than two weeks running (something that had not happened in the second-tier hotels for some time), businesses are seeing a surge in sales while taxis, rickshaws, and other commercial transportation vehicles are much in demand. Schools in Saddar have been closed to accommodate the visitors and many playgrounds have been designated for parking. All communities seem to have chipped in – Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others.

It may be mentioned that Karachi is home to one of the biggest concentrations of Dawoodi Bohras outside India but this is the first time in more than 20 years that the community is hosting its spiritual leader in Karachi. This is because the Bohras have also seen their share of violence. In September 2012, two blasts in a predominantly Bohra market killed seven people. Three years later, a bomb detonated outside a Bohra mosque moments after an evening prayer service. Two worshipers were killed.

In many ways, the event hosted by the Dawoodi Bohra community in Karachi, is as important as was the visit of the World Eleven to Lahore. If this passes off without a hitch (and fingers crossed that it does), it will help raise the standing of Karachi as well as that of Pakistan. We are grateful to the community for taking this step. Thank you, Syedna, for what you and your community are doing for our country.