The South Asia Magazine issues a special feature on Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. The issue covers the Moharram Congregation in Karachi, and Syedna’s numerous educational, social and environmental initiatives.
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin-Leading Hearts
By Maryam Sadriwala
Everywhere Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin goes thousands of community members gather for a glimpse of their charismatic leader and their eyes well up with tears of love. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the 53rd Dai al Mutlaq, is spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community. His glowing countenance, his athletic stride, his beaming smile and never-ending energy matches one which a dozen youths may possess.
He has been seen leading morning prayers in India, addressing a congregation of 25, 000 in Karachi and paying respects at the holy shrines of Iraq at night. All this while, the people he meets, community members and others alike, beseech his advice and guidance which he offers thoughtfully and compassionately. This is the manner in which he actively and dynamically leads his community in these fast-paced times.
ASHARA MUBARAKA IN KARACHI:
His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s unique persona and philosophy were evident during Ashara Mubaraka- the Moharram congregation- 1439 Hijri this year which he held in Karachi. Ashara Mubaraka refers to a period of ten days at the beginning of the Islamic year dedicated to the remembrance of the Prophet Mohammed SAW and his Ahle Bayt AS (family and kin), specifically his grandson Imam Husain Ibne Ali AS. This year the event was commemorated during the last ten days of September 2017.
In Karachi this year, over 30,000 community members from over 30 different countries, springing from continents including Asia, North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, joined their 35,000 Pakistani Bohra brethren to be in Syedna’s august presence.
During his one-month trip to Karachi which began on 14th September 2017, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin and his followers heralded a revival of the city of lights.
Hotels and guest houses were packed with foreigners. The cabs, rent-a-car services and rickshaws were in demand like never before. From road side food eateries to more affluent fast food joints and shopping areas–all were seen thronged with Bohra visitors who saw for themselves that Karachi is truly a metropolis and far from the city of discontent it has been dubbed.
Local Bohras opened up their hearts and homes to foreign guests, some of whom they’d never met in their lives before. Bus companies were hired to ferry attendees from different parts of the city to Taheri Masjid, Saddar where Syedna was leading the discourses.
The Honourable Governor of Sindh, Mr. Muhammed Zubair, the Honourable Chief Minister, Mr. Murad Ali Shah and Mayor Karachi, Mr. Waseem Akhtar also attended sermons in Taheri Masjid on 24th September and were impressed by the discipline and unique nature of the congregation. The Mayor, in one of the later sermons, also presented ‘The Key to the City of Karachi’ to His Holiness. During his stay His Holiness met His Excellency, the President of Pakistan, Mr. Mamnoon Husain and His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Shahid Khakan Abbasi as well as other prominent politicians and government officials.
The trust His Holiness and the community put into the city and its government, and the subsequent peaceful manner in which Ashara Mubaraka was conducted has resulted in many foreigners perceiving the city as a worth investing in.
FROM ILLUSTRIOUS FATHER TO AN EXEMPLARY SON:
The Dawoodi Bohra Community has risen to prosperity of unprecedented heights under the 52nd Dai al Mutlaq, the Late Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin who led the community for over 40 years. His son, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, was born on 20th August 1946 in Surat, India and stayed like a shadow by his illustrious father’s side, watching the incomparable persona of his father and the changing world through his eyes.
After Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s demise in January 2014, the community was reeling with grief. Only someone with the astounding sincerity and perception of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin could have assumed this task of consoling his followers and taking up the reins of the community after his father’s demise with such ease and fluidity.
In every community or nation, it is the emphasis on education that drives it to success. For the Fatimid Imams and their vicegerents, the Fatimid Duaat, their distinct axiom of philosophical and empirical knowledge has spearheaded all their progress and helped community members equip themselves for the changing times.
For this purpose, the Arabic Academy of Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah was established two centuries ago and is an example of an academic institution which prepares not just minds but also souls. The prototype was the Academy in Surat after which the Karachi, Nairobi and Mumbai branches were established. The syllabus is a thoughtful amalgamation of spiritual, philosophical and secular education well-grounded in Fatimid Islamic philosophy.
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin had been one of the rectors of this Academy for decades before he assumed the office of Dai. Like his predecessors before him, he sits for hours with these students supervising their annual oral examinations every year, taking out time from his inexhaustible routine and directly supervising each pupil’s nurturing.
The Quran is the source of all knowledge to all Muslims and its study is a source of solace and enlightenment. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin emphasizes on the memorization of the Holy Quran and has infused the community with an unparalleled enthusiasm to Hifz (memorize) the Holy Book. “There be atleast one member of every family who is a Hafiz,” Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin expresses his desire in every religious discourse, motivating the young children of the community towards learning the message of Allah which is the fountainhead of all knowledge.
There is a high literacy rate in the community thanks to the global chain of community schools which impart a balance of spiritual and secular knowledge with the help of the latest state-of-the-art technical facilities to the young of the community.
Apart from traders there are a large number of qualified male and female professionals in the community ranging from reputed doctors, lawyers, engineers to IT professionals who play a pivotal role in the progress of society and in serving mankind.
A CYCLE OF ECONOMIC PROSPERITY:
The prosperity of the Dawoodi Bohras, primarily a business community, is due to the teachings of His Holiness which lay emphasis on the fact that they should not engage in over trading and adhere to the principles of fair trade. Syedna has institutionalized the Islamic economic concept of Qardan Hasana or interest free loans which has contributed largely to the entreuprenual initiatives in the community. The institute’s expansive global network disburses interest-free loans to community members fulfilling their micro and macro financial needs.
Buildings and monuments are the encasement of a culture and philosophy in stone and mortar. Fatimid architecture continues to be the synthesis of the values of the glorious Fatemi Imams. One of the greatest restoration projects undertaken by the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, which was the prelude to the architectural renaissance in the community, was that of Al Jamea Anwar.
This eleventh century Fatimid masjid of Imam Al Hakim, located at Old Fatimi Cairo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its restoration was a colossal task which required painstaking research, planning and execution. With Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s verve and personal dedication, Al Anwar was rebuilt to its original magnificence in a short span of 27 months as per the wishes of his father. Today, it stands as a majestic wonder– a monument of pride for the Dawoodi Bohra community.
This restoration has been the turning point in the architectural revival of religious relics, construction of masajid and subsequent cultural reawakening in the community throughout the world.
FOOD FOR THE SOUL:
Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin wished for no believer to sleep hungry and on his 100th birthday the initiation of the one-of-a-kind project of the community kitchen, Faiz ul Mawaid ul Burhaniyah, was taken.
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin has furthered his father’s dream and today Faiz ul Mawaid ul Burhaniyah ensures that all community members receive healthy and wholesome food throughout the world. Community members contribute to the kitchen—monetarily and personally. One of the chief reasons of the success of this initiative is the involvement of all community members from planning, stocking, food preparation, to dispatching the ‘thaalis’(tiffins).
Women are at the core of a family which is the most basic unit of a society. This is the reason why Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin has empowered women by making them realize their pivotal role in a family structure. Due to the Faiz ul Mawaid ul Burhaniyah thaali delivered to every home, a majority of the women in the community today are able to devote quality time to run successful small cottage industries to businesses of all sizes from their homes, making them financially able and confident.
TRAVERSING THE GLOBE:
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin travels extensively to countries where his community members reside where he directly looks into the spiritual and temporal affairs of his followers. May it be the small town of Tanga in East Africa, the throbbing metropolis of Karachi or a mountainous village in Yemen, he personally observes the conditions and trials of the people and addresses the concerns of his followers.
During these travels, he is greeted warmly by world leaders who see in His Holiness a reflection of his father who was an acclaimed International Ambassador of Peace and Goodwill. He is a true embodiment of the message of peace and intercultural harmony.
A SCHOLAR AND AN ORATOR:
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s impassioned discourses are a balm for the soul and a guideline to a perfect life, which he renders in his unique style in Moharram and on other religious occasions. His interactive sermons touch not just intellectuals, but every believer at all frequencies, because they are rendered from the heart. He especially speaks to impressionable children in these addresses, imbibing in them basic values of truth, faith and goodness, preparing and gearing them for a productive, well-rounded future. Every discourse, which revolves around a pertaining theme, is resplendent with Quranic injunctions, Hadith, historic references, gems of Fatimid philosophy and the recitation of the martyrdom of Imam Husain AS, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed PBUH. Within these discourses His Holiness simultaneously urges his community to be loyal to their country, tolerant of different faiths and cultures, hard-working citizens and good neighbours. Today, the Dawoodi Bohras are a modern community with a pluralistic outlook while remaining true to the fundamental principles of their faith and cultural identity.
Apart from supervising the host of continuing educational and medical ventures established for the good of humanity, His Holiness reminds his followers of basic values like cleanliness, exhorting that one’s home and surroundings should be clean and hygienic. Many community-initiated cleanliness and greenery drives have motivated other people too, to play their part as citizens of this world, in creating an environment free of disease and contamination, which can be a sight for sore eyes.
All these aspects of His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s multi-faceted personality and the impact he has on his community were truly mirrored during Ashara Mubaraka this year in Karachi. The ten-day Moharram congregation saw streets being cleaned, roads being made, voluntary medical and social services being offered along with exemplary security measures by the government. An overall spirit of hospitality, which the people of Pakistan extended to the guests who had poured in from assorted corners of the globe, played a vital role in the image-building of the country.