Written by: Arwa Hussain.
Arwa Hussain is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Religion and Cultures at Concordia University, Montreal and her doctoral dissertation will focus on the spiritual and religious activities of Dawoodi Bohra women. She blogs about her journey on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/phdinarida/?hl=en).
The beginning of a new year holds a special place in cultures across the world and is associated with hope, optimism, and the promise of a new beginning. The earliest recorded festivities date back four thousand years to ancient Babylon. Muslims follow the Hijri calendar which starts with the month of Muharram. The Hijri calendar starts from when the Prophet Mohammad SAW migrated from Mecca to Madina, a move that would usher in a new era of prosperity in Islam.
As with other such occasions, food plays an important part in the Islamic New Year celebration. Emulating traditions of the Fatimi Imams from Egypt, to whom the Dawoodi Bohra community trace their spiritual heritage, we gather around the thāl1 – a traditional large metal tray – to welcome the new year and give thanks for the blessings bestowed by Allah TA. The dishes in the thaal vary from traditional foods from the Bohra culture. This tradition is typically celebrated by gatherings with family and friends.
Born and raised in Karachi, my move to Canada last year brought about myriad changes. At our first new year in Canada, I was depressed at the thought of it just being me and my husband and our kids. Living far away from friends and family back in Pakistan, as well as other Bohra families here in Canada, I missed the joy of sharing and togetherness that living with other Bohra families in Karachi had always brought to our new year celebration.
There is a tradition of making a traditional sweetmeat called lachko, made from cracked wheat, ghee, and jaggery, in most Dawoodi Bohra households. At both my parents and my in-laws, it was made in large quantities to share with neighbors and family, along with other delicacies. Despite making the dish every year, I am still pestered by my mother and mother-in-law over the phone to ensure I make it just like theirs. There is joy, as children and adults, in getting dressed up and exchanging dishes to add to your thaal and greeting everyone with good wishes for the upcoming year.
Last new year I invited a fellow Bohra working here in Montreal who was also alone and far away from his family. We also invited Bohra students living near us in downtown Montreal who would otherwise be alone on this night, and it made our celebration better. This year, I am hoping to continue this new tradition.
The first ten days of the month of Muharram also commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad’s SAW grandson, Imam Hussain AS, an event of significance for the Bohra community. New Year is also a time, therefore, when one prepares spiritually, physically, and mentally for the coming days. Until this year, in many Bohra community centers around the world, particularly wherever His Holiness TUS holds his annual sermons, community members congregate on this night, instead of celebrating individually at home.
For myself, the new year thāl has looked different over the years; from fourteen people in my paternal family household to gathering together with community members from around the world when the Ashara Mubaraka sermons were held in Karachi three years ago to just me and my little family.
This year too has brought about a wave of change, as we enter the new year amidst a pandemic and various stages of lockdown. The new year will certainly be a lot different for all Bohra households across the world. For one, the sermons are to be delivered online, and the anticipation and excitement of attending the event with His Holiness TUS, particularly for those who attend every year, has been hard to reconcile. There will be smaller gatherings, and many will be spending it alone, unable to travel home during these times. But there will still be joy, and the promise of a new year, with the gratefulness that we are happy and healthy and connected to each other in these trying times.
- Round steel receptacle ↩
- Al-Dhiesat, H.K. Ibrahim (2007), Society and culture under the Fatimids in Maghreb and Egypt 909-1171 AD, Electronic Dissertation, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/handle/10603/59934 ↩
- https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17847839546033249/?hl=en ↩
- Round steel receptacle ↩