FeaturesThe Dawoodi Bohras of Marol

The Dawoodi Bohras of Marol

Introduction

On the inauguration of the Mumbai branch of the Dawoodi Bohras’ premier educational institute, Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah—located in the hills of Marol—we take a look back at the history and development of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Marol.

A locality in Andheri East, a suburb of Mumbai, Marol is considered a prime commercial and residential district. It is closely connected to Mumbai’s eastern and western suburbs, accessible by roads, railways and metro lines, with proximity to the city’s international airport. Once a small village on the outskirts of the city, the development of Marol has come a long way in the last half century. The area has been inhabited for centuries, coming under Portuguese and British rule, and Marol Village continues to be home to a large Christian population, with a church established since 1579. 

The Dawoodi Bohra community, embedded in the history and social fabric of the neighbourhood, has had a major role in Marol’s growth from a small village area to a major suburban centre. Today, Marol is home to a thriving community of over 6,000 Bohras, mainly businesspeople and professionals, who continue to contribute to the progress of the city they live in. They credit the foresight of the 51st Dai His Holiness Syedna Taher Saifuddin and the benedictions of his successors for their continued material and spiritual prosperity—which culminated in the establishment of a branch of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, itself a testament to the spiritual and educational legacy of the Dawoodi Bohras.

Early Bohras in Marol
Syedna Taher Saifuddin signs the Trust Deed of Saifee Foundation, a charitable organisation he established in 1959. The Foundation played a leading role in facilitating early Dawoodi Bohra settlements in Marol.

In 1962, the year of the  Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years of his tenure as Dai, he initiated a community housing project to provide economical homes to community members. Inspecting and approving of a plot in Marol, he instructed the purchase of plots of land under the auspices of Saifee Foundation, a charitable trust he established in 1959. A scheme by the name of “Saifee Golden Jubilee Neighbourhood” came into existence, and in 1963, Syedna Taher Saifuddin laid the foundation for 13 buildings and a prayer hall in the area. 

While a few Bohras had already settled in Andheri, running small shops and stalls, community members initially came to reside in Marol in the 60’s and early 70’s. Back then, says Habil Zaveri, a resident of Marol since 1975, people had to be persuaded to come live in Marol. The condition of the area, he remembers, was like a ‘jungle’, with thick vegetation, wild animals, undeveloped roads and very few settlements. 

In the 70’s, the early tenure of the 52nd Dai, the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, three initial residential buildings were constructed to provide affordable housing. Many of the new residents had left crowded areas in South Mumbai to settle in Marol. The late 70’s and early 80’s saw an increase in the community’s residential population in Marol as several more apartment buildings were constructed, and shops were opened beneath the buildings as well in a nearby bazaar. As buildings began to come up one after the other, they took the shape of a well-defined colony, named Saifee Park–in the memory of his late father—by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.

Living and Prospering in Marol 

Living in a suburban neighbourhood surrounded by peers, the Bohras in Marol value their sense of community, and social life. The peaceful atmosphere of Marol, says Saifuddin Burhani, a resident of Marol since 1968, mirrors the temperament of its people—who are calm and congenial as well as hardworking and industrious. 

True to the legacy of the Bohra community, residents of Marol continue to strive for commercial, industrial and professional growth. They had humble beginnings in Marol, running small businesses in hardware, garments, stationery, and a large percentage of members were not business owners but employees. Alongside the development of Marol—favoured for its connectivity—into a strategic hub for industries such as real estate and manufacturing, Bohras also shifted to a more business-minded outlook, guided by the counsel of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. 

Today, community members harness technology and modern business strategies to grow their enterprises in new ways—there are over 700 businesses and over 100 professionals in the Marol community today. ‘Everyone who has moved to Marol,’ says Saifuddin Burhani confidently, ‘has been blessed with prosperity.’ Several members came with nothing, he remembers, and went on to do very well.

In addition, the Marol community employs innovative strategies to facilitate entrepreneurial and commercial growth for men and women, such as regular business expos, workshops, counselling, forming business and industry collectives and the launch of a new Marol Business Directory. The Marol Marketplace, an online guild consisting primarily of women entrepreneurs, home chefs and artisans, also provides a platform for the marketing and outreach of home-based businesses.

Spiritual and Educational Development
Saifee Masjid – the beating heart of the community in Marol

The community’s masjid, Saifee Masjid, inaugurated in the 1980’s, was renovated in 2008 to accommodate the growing population. Living near the masjid and often attending congregational prayers and spiritual and social gatherings, as well as benefiting from regular asbaaq or sessions of spiritual learning, has been a major source of spiritual prosperity for community members. 

In particular, the guidance of Syedna Taher Saifuddin and his successor Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, along with his periodic visits throughout the years, ensured that they remained steadfast in their faith. 

In 2009, the late His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin conducted the Ashara Mubaraka event in Marol for the very first time.

The Muharram of 1431H, in December 2009, was a landmark for the Dawoodi Bohras of Marol: Ashara Mubaraka sermons were delivered by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin for the first time in Saifee Masjid, Marol. Not only did the event have a profound spiritual effect on community members, it had a significant effect on the wider community, many of whom experienced significant economic growth due to the influx of Bohra visitors from different cities and countries.

Hasanat High School, a community school for primary and secondary education, was established in the early 80’s. With high academic standards and a distinctive educational philosophy, the institute soon became a sought-after school for community members.

In 2013, a new branch of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, the Dawoodi Bohras’ premier educational institute, was established in Marol. A realisation of an age-old aspiration of the 47th Dai Syedna Abdul Qadir Najmuddin—expressed a century and a half ago—of building a campus of Aljamea in Mumbai, the academy is a centre of knowledge, culture, and spirituality for the Dawoodi Bohra community.

The newly built campus was inaugurated in 2023 by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, and His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. Offering a world-class educational experience to students, Aljamea also preserves the rich cultural heritage and spiritual knowledge of the Bohra community. Living in close proximity to Aljamea is a tangible blessing for the Dawoodi Bohras of Marol, who benefit from and work with its professors and students in numerous ways, including teaming up for community service and environmental efforts such as beach cleanups and awareness drives.

Contributions to Society and the Environment
A community member collects plastic trash from a neighbourhood home as part of the community’s campaign to raise awareness about the perils of single-use plastic.

The Dawoodi Bohras of Marol are an integral part of their local society. They are frontrunners among the global Bohra community in environmental and conservation efforts in the fields of solar energy, waste management, plastic reduction and regular cleanups. Teaming up with Adv Afroz Shah, the community’s Project Rise volunteers along with students of Aljamea embarked on a sustained campaign: Turning the Tide Against Plastic Pollution, clearing coastlines and rivers of plastic and other trash as well as counselling residents of local neighbourhoods.

The community also collaborates with Bisleri to recycle plastic products. In addition, they organise zero-waste events: while hosting meals to the entire community every evening of the month of Ramadan at the masjid complex, volunteers made use of reusable dining spreads and compostable cups, among other efforts. 

Arwa Colombowala, a long-time resident of Marol, primary school teacher, and active Project Rise volunteer, comments, ‘Seeing all the plastic waste during our beach cleanups was an eye-opener. All this plastic is in the ocean, affecting marine life. What we give to the environment, it gives back to us: “My waste, my responsibility.”’ Educating the younger generation is particularly important, she says. ‘I try to create awareness when teaching my kids in school, by shaping their worldview from a young age to care about the environment.’

In 2022, the community established a healthcare centre, Saifee Polyclinic, to cater to the health and medical needs of all local residents.

The community provided land to the government in the 70’s for opening a medical dispensary, at a time when one had to travel many miles to the city to visit a hospital. In 2022, they established a healthcare centre, Saifee Polyclinic, to cater to the health and medical needs of all local residents.

The Dawoodi Bohras of Marol are privileged to have helped shape Marol into what it is today, just as it has played a part in shaping their livelihoods and identities.