An educational seminar underway at al-Masjid al-Moazzam in Surat
An educational seminar underway at al-Masjid al-Moazzam in Surat

‘This is a gathering of people from various backgrounds, a diverse community of people coming together from various parts of the world, from various age groups; connected together for one purpose: to gather knowledge,’ shares Dr Munira Radhanpurwala, a Professor of English Literature and Language at Aligarh Muslim University, reflecting on her Istifada Ilmiyya experience.

Istifada Ilmiyya is a series of educational seminars and cultural programs for members of the Dawoodi Bohra community held in Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, Surat, which is the community’s premier educational institute. 

Drawing Over 45,000 People
Community leaders delivered seminars in the afternoons
The evening sessions comprised of seminars conducted by professionals on subjects such as life skills and professional development
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Community leaders delivered seminars in the afternoons
The evening sessions comprised of seminars conducted by professionals on subjects such as life skills and professional development
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This year, in its sixth iteration, the seminar schedule was divided into three phases with a cumulative 45,000 community members participating over a period of fifteen days. Each day consisted of a morning and evening session divided by short breaks for refreshments and lunch. Nearly fifty-nine venues across the diamond city were prepared to accommodate community members. Lunch and dinner arrangements were also put in place at community dining centres located around the seminar zones. 

For members like Sakina Barbhaya of Dubai coming to Istifada means coming to a unique environment where a twenty year old and an eighty year old attend sessions together. Speaking about the social aspect of it, she says, ‘It also gives me an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet family members from different parts of the world, who also come to Surat to attend these sessions.’

As an extension to these educational sessions, Istifada Ilmiyya also provides a platform for community members to interact and network across various fields of interest. A few programs initiated to this effect are as follows:

Networking Program
The official banner of the ‘al-wisaal’ program

This year a unique programme known as al-wisaal (lit. connection) – ‘Invest in your network’ was initiated.  It was aimed at providing participants with an opportunity to network with individuals from various professions, backgrounds and areas of expertise and to foster an exchange of ideas.  

Environmental Awareness
Burhani Foundation’s pavilion was set up at Aljamea’s sports grounds
Community members reviewing the exhibit

Burhani Foundation, an environmental research and conservation body established by the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin in 1992, set up a pavilion at the north-western end of Aljamea’s sports grounds. The pavilion consisted of a walk through exhibition which highlighted case studies about the department’s five primary areas of activity, namely; water conservation, renewable energy, green cover, zero waste & sustainability and cleanliness. It also showcased eco-friendly best practices for a more sustainable lifestyle. 

The pavilion welcomed community members to contemplate the various challenges faced in environmental conservation today and asked them to make suggestions which the department could implement.. Over the course of fifteen days, the pavilion saw a footfall of nearly 4000 individuals.

Celebrating Women Entrepreneurship

Another initiative that has become a main-stay of Istifada Ilmiyya is the ‘She-Expo’, an exhibition that celebrates women’s entrepreneurship within the community. The exhibition attracts female business-owners who set up stalls selling clothing, jewellery, art decor, confectionery items, cologne, etc. Yasmin Topiwala, an entrepreneur from Singapore said, ‘We have learnt so many skills here to improve our businesses online; the biggest takeaway for me from Istifada is ‘empowerment’… it (coming to Istifada) helps thousands of people; empowering them with skills, a change of mindset, the ability to overcome limitations and understanding things.’ 

Glimpses from the Istifada sessions held in Karachi
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Glimpses from the Istifada sessions held in Karachi
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A notable fact about Istifada this year was that in addition to the event in Surat, community members living in Karachi and different parts of Yemen also had the opportunity to conduct and attend similar educational seminars and sessions in their locale.

The culmination of Istifada Ilmiyya comes with the occasion of His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s birth anniversary. Syedna Saifuddin has chosen this occasion to celebrate his own birthday and this year community members marked his 79th birthday with a celebratory procession at the historic Devdi Mubarak which is the location of his ancestral home in Surat. The following day, His Holiness delivered a sermon in commemoration of his late respected father.