By Rashida Mustafa
The happiest days of my mother’s life were when she could go to a Bunaiyat-ul-Eidiz Zahabi or Burhani Women’s meeting. She took extra care to dress in her nicest clothes, accessorize with handbag and jewellery, and off she went.
In the early days, when I was a child, I went with her. The highlight of our year was a “fete” at the Cathedral and John Connor High School in Mumbai, where the Bunaiyat would have game-stalls and food stalls, all interspersed with the beautiful garments made by their enterprising arm, Fakhera, famed for its cross-stitch.
Shahzadi Husena bahensab Nooruddin was its inspiration. She had a way to make it all look very stylish, so that being part of the organisation gave the Bunaiyat both proximity to Syedna Taher SaifuddinRA and made being a member something to aspire to.
By the time my mother was seventy, she had joined the Burhani Women’s Association. People still remember her, coming to a sabaq, a religious class in which they studied a beautiful book called Kitab ul Himma, in pouring rain, hardly able to get out of the taxi or climb the stairs to get there, but determined nevertheless not to miss a day of learning, of shining, of being out there, where it was all happening.
Women’s Organisations and What They Do
There are currently several women’s organisations in the community. Burhani Women’s Association (BWA) founded by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin and managed by the late Amatullah AaiQR is the most important because it organises the activities that are most sought after in the Bohra calendar.
The oldest, Bunaiyat-tul-Eidiz-Zahabi, was founded by Syedna Taher Saifuddin in the 1950s and run by his daughter, Shahzadi Fatema-tus-Sugra baisaheba has its own loyal following to this day, and is known – to this day – for the loveliness and grace they bring to their gatherings and the enterprise they have always encouraged among women.
‘Happy Threads’ and ‘Supermums’ were founded by Shahzadi Umme Haani bahensaheba, the daughter of the current al-da’i-al-mutlaq Syedna Mufaddal SaifuddinTUS, with one clearly defined aim – to allow women working from home an avenue to sell whatever they can sew, crochet, craft, design, code or cook.
Shahzadi Umme Haani bahensaheba also heads ‘Al-Muntasebaat’, a word derived from the word, nisbat, which means ‘connection’, in this case, connection to Al-Jamea, the Arabic academies of Fatemi theology and learning. The Muntasebaat, now, form the educated spine of the women in every Bohra congregation over the world. Infusing their spheres of family and society with the spirit of Al-Jamea. Entrusted with the task of raising the awareness of the faith and quality of prayerfulness, they have raised the bar in what women do. They are equally involved in renovating old significant buildings to conducting annual online quizzes attracting thousands of participants pitted against each other internationally with a final that is played out live online.
Their right hand is Taalebaat-ul-Kulliya, a group that every young girl between 13 to 25 is invited to be part of. They join the Taalebaat during their tender teens and, supported by the Muntasebaat and the BWA, they cut their teeth in the service of the community.
BWA of course, is the parent organisation, looking after them all quite naturally not only because it is frequently run by their mothers! Shahzadi Husaina baisaheba Nooruddin is the Association’s current president as were her sisters, the other, late, shahzadis, before her. None of the three princesses have ever taken this responsibility lightly, giving of themselves in every way they could despite the numbers of people who want to make a connection, and nurturing the relationships between each of the groups. Summing this up Shahzadi Husaina baisaheba says, “When the girls of Taalebaat-ul-Kulliya told me they wanted an opportunity to talk to me, I welcomed them. I told them, “Yes! Because when I talk with you, I feel young again!”
DBWRF, Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom, is a new organisation, spontaneously created by Dawoodi Bohra women to protect themselves against bigotry or prejudice. At the time of writing, they were 53,000 strong, a substantial force, and growing every day.
Message from Shahzadi Husaina baisaheba, President, Burhani Women’s Association
The basic concept of the Burhani Women’s Association is to have an organisation that will serve the mission of our community. In this organisation, we women, find a platform and a medium to take our aspirations forward. Instead of working alone, we work as a team and by that achieve much more than we would have by ourselves. Our purpose, our aim and our objectives are all in line with what SyednaTUS wants for us, and when we work along the lines he indicates, towards the goals he sets, we make great progress as individuals and as a community.
Burhani Women’s brings opportunities and inspiration to us. We learn, we achieve, and we hone our skills so that we can benefit others as much as ourselves. In the recent upliftment project, the fostership programme and a myriad others, women found a platform through Burhani Women’s to make a significant contribution. Currently, we are working on mashtal, which means, ‘Nurture your venture’. We wish them every success.
What I would like to do for the organisation is to try to ensure that every single member can find a way to participate in our projects and our activities. Each person should feel they belong and each person should feel that their contribution is valuable. If we can do that, I will have achieved my goal.