For the Dawoodi Bohras, as for many Muslims throughout the world, the masjid is the beating heart of their community. Primarily a place for community members to gather for prayer and spiritual guidance, it also serves as the nucleus of the Dawoodi Bohras’ educational and social activities. Just as the heart is essential to sustain the body, so the masjid is of paramount importance for the Bohra community’s sustenance. Not only does it have great significance throughout each Bohra’s life, but it is where individuals are unified to form a whole.
In the Islamic tradition, a masjid is considered a bayt, or house, of Allah. Visiting and maintaining a masjid is, as the Quran proclaims, a duty of the faithful (9:18). Attesting to its sacrality in the hearts of Muslims is their practice to always be in a state of ritual purity when visiting the masjid. For the Dawoodi Bohras, this includes purity of the soul, body, and garments; they will usually be seen in their customary religious attire whilst at the masjid.
The uniquely-designed masjids of the Dawoodi Bohras are the spatial embodiment of the community’s philosophy and spirituality. Many masjids feature traditional architecture and design inspired by the culturally prosperous Fatimi era. This period is of great significance to the Dawoodi Bohras, who trace their religious and cultural heritage to the Fatimi imams, who ruled over North Africa and Egypt in the 10th through 12th centuries. In addition to the time-honored Fatimi-style minarets and mihrab (the niche in a masjid facing Makkah in which the person leading the prayer stands), the names of Allah and the sacred verses engraved on the walls augment, for worshipers, remembrance of the divine and heighten their spiritual experience. In congregational prayer, their bonds to spiritual roots and to each other are strengthened.
The masjid is a place of prayer, but it is also a center of learning. Besides customary congregational prayers, a Dawoodi Bohra masjid hosts regular sermons and discourses as well as special religious lessons. It emulates the historical Fatimi practice of holding sessions of learning in masjids, most notably in al-Jamiʿ al-Azhar and al-Jamiʿ al-Anwar in Cairo. Invigorating minds and spirits, these discourses and lessons serve to impart knowledge that revitalises faith and sustains each believer’s journey towards self-actualisation.
Similarly, the masjids resonate with the recitation of the Quran and devotional verses of poetry. Remembering Imam Husain, the grandson of the Prophet, is an essential feature of most Bohra congregations, especially during the month of Muharram when the entire community comes together to commemorate and mourn his martyrdom known as Ashara Mubaraka.
Often, a Bohra masjid complex also includes classes where children are taught about various aspects of the faith , the residence of an Amil (who leads prayers and presides over local congregations), several offices where community affairs are organised and managed, and a community kitchen and mawaid ( dining hall) where community members bond over shared meals. The kitchen also undertakes the preparation and delivery of daily meals for community members, as part of the initiative of Faiz al-Mawaid al-Burhaniyah which ensures that nobody goes to bed hungry.
The masjid plays an invaluable role in sculpting the lifestyle and identity of each Bohra. It is there that each individual absorbs values, reinforces cultural roots, and forms an enduring spiritual connection with the divine. It is also a space that brings the community together, allowing them to share in each other’s joys and sorrows. The deep connection to faith and culture felt by diasporic community members is especially profound; the masjid is an anchor to their spiritual roots.
The strength of these bonds allows the institution of the masjid to transcend brick and mortar and benefit the Dawoodi Bohras and the wider community on many levels. For example, as the center of most communal and intercommunal activities, the masjid complex often hosts meetings with state, interfaith, and other local leaders and serves as a base for the community’s philanthropic activities, such as health camps and food drives. The spiritual inspiration derived from the masjid itself helps foster a sense of moral responsibility, borne out of devotion to Allah, their own community, and society at large. The masjid, for the Dawoodi Bohras, is more than a building of worship. Infused with the divine, it is an institution that connects hearts and souls.