FeaturesA Century of Reminiscences: Saifee Masjid, Mumbai

A Century of Reminiscences: Saifee Masjid, Mumbai

Witnessing Milestones of the Community

The auspicious occasion of His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s inauguration of the iconic, newly reconstructed Saifee Masjid in Mumbai marks a historic milestone for the Dawoodi Bohra community. In this article, we take a look at the history and significance of this century-old spiritual and cultural landmark.

In Islam, a masjid holds a position of paramount significance. The Prophet Mohammed states: ‘The most beloved of places to Allah are masjids.’ In addition to being the locus of religious practices, masjids are centres for enlightenment and edification, philanthropic endeavours and outreach as well as the nucleus of social cohesion and harmony. 

Following in the footsteps of the Prophet and his progeny the Fatimi imams, the Fatimi Dais, leaders of the Dawoodi Bohra community, have long promoted the construction of masjids, as well as their conservation, upkeep and restoration, wherever community members reside.

The 51st al-Dai al-Mutlaq His Holiness Syedna Taher Saifuddin.
The 51st al-Dai al-Mutlaq His Holiness Syedna Taher Saifuddin

It was the 51st Dai Syedna Taher Saifuddin who originally constructed Saifee Masjid in the Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai. This was the city he had chosen as the  headquarters of his administration and which had the highest concentration of Dawoodi Bohras in any urban centre. Upon its completion in 1926, it assumed a pivotal role in shaping its environs and the identity of the Dawoodi Bohra community for generations. 

His son and successor, the 52nd Dai Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin—whose era saw the construction and restoration of hundreds of masjids throughout the world—laid his revered father to rest in close proximity to Saifee Masjid, alluding to his profound bond with the masjid. Syedna Burhanuddin then constructed a mausoleum, named Raudat Tahera, over his father’s grave in pristine white marble and inscribed the entire Holy Quran on its inner walls using gold leaf.

In celebration of his hundredth birthday, Syedna Burhanuddin expressed his long-standing wish to restore Saifee Masjid and unite its courtyard with that of Raudat Tahera—a restoration that he envisioned as the heart of an unprecedented urban renewal project of the entire Bhendi Bazaar area. He named it the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project, and today his son and successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, continues to guide it towards successful completion. 

Ten years after the demise of Syedna Burhanuddin, his aspiration to see Saifee Masjid merged with Raudat Tahera stands realised. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin has expended great effort in the reconstruction of the magnificent masjid. Its inauguration, 100 Hijri years after its initial construction, is a historical hallmark for the Dawoodi Bohras and a harbinger of the completion of the redevelopment project envisioned by his revered father.  

History and Significance 

‘It has been named Ghurrat al-Masajid, because it is, as its name implies, a shining mark upon their [masjids’] forehead. It is the centre pearl of their necklace, and it is a pleasure for the eyes that view it.’

His Holiness Syedna Taher Saifuddin
An inscription of the epithet ‘Ghurrat al-Masajid’ on the masjid’s central facade.
An inscription of the epithet ‘Ghurrat al-Masajid’ on the masjid’s central facade.

Bhendi Bazaar is a historic neighbourhood in South Mumbai that has been a social and cultural hub for the Dawoodi Bohra community for well over a century. It is famous for its narrow lanes, bustling markets, and the presence of numerous Bohra businesses, shops and residences. The area in which Saifee Masjid was built, Islampura, was home to an older masjid. Over time the masjid of Islampura deteriorated and its structure weakened. In 1923 (1341H),  Syedna Taher Saifuddin expressed his intention to construct another masjid in its place and work shortly began on what would become the largest Dawoodi Bohra masjid in India.

Old Bhendi Bazaar formerly known as Islampura.
Old Bhendi Bazaar formerly known as Islampura.

During the masjid’s three-year construction period, Syedna Taher Saifuddin visited the site regularly and supervised the ongoing work in detail. He desired for the masjid to be large enough to accommodate the growing number of community members, incorporating the best available materials and construction methods.

Syedna Taher Saifuddin laid the foundation stone on May 6, 1923 (21 Ramadan, 1341H) and inaugurated the completed masjid on March 9, 1926 (25 Shaban 1344H). 

The newly built masjid measured 34.5 metres in length, 26.7 metres in width, and 15.1 metres in height. It comfortably accommodated approximately 5,000 worshippers and was designed to maximise natural light and ventilation.

Throughout the last century, Saifee Masjid has witnessed many events and sermons that are milestones  in the Dawoodi Bohras’ contemporary history.  Syedna Taher Saifuddin recounted an episode from his early childhood when his father, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (the 49th Dai),  took him to pay homage to the 48th Dai Syedna Abdulhusain Husamuddin, who was residing in a house above the old masjid during his visit to Mumbai, in the very site upon which Saifee Masjid now majestically stands.

Within this masjid, Syedna Taher Saifuddin and his successors delivered hundreds of sermons and presided over innumerable community gatherings. In particular, the echoes of the Ashara Mubaraka congregations presided over by Syedna Taher Saifuddin and Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, even today, reverberate within these walls; they collectively presided over 38 Ashara Mubaraka congregations in the masjid.

After the demise of Syedna Taher Saifuddin in 1965, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin chose Saifee Masjid as the venue for his funeral prayers—a fitting epilogue to the countless prayers he had led there. Similarly, upon the passing of Syedna Burhanuddin in 2014, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin led the funeral prayers in the very same place.

For Dawoodi Bohras who have witnessed and participated in these historic events in Saifee Masjid, especially in the presence of the Dais, the masjid occupies a special place in their hearts.

Architectural Features

Saifee Masjid boasts a unique fusion of various architectural styles; indigenous Indian, Islamic, and even elements of classical architecture blend together in a harmonious and distinctive design. The two minarets at each corner of the masjid stand out for their graceful ornamentation. This design also exists in an earlier masjid, Taj Masjid (completed in 1902) in Morbi, Gujarat, built by the 43rd Dai, Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin.

Burmese teakwood from the original masjid, known for its durability and beauty, has been reinstalled in the masjid’s doors, windows, columns and beams, as well as the decorative grills which allow for the play of light and shadow. The walls are adorned with Quranic verses, ornate floral motifs and decorative patterns.

The twin minarets of Saifee masjid
The twin minarets of Saifee Masjid.

The masjid also features opulent chandeliers designed and hand-crafted in the former Republic of Czechoslovakia. Marble, quarried from the famous Makrana mines in Rajasthan, and intricate mosaics have been used to embellish various parts of the masjid.

One of its notable features is the central atrium, a spacious area free from pillars, ensuring unobstructed views for those sitting on the ground floor as well as the two upper floors.  Intricately carved wooden galleries along the edges of the two upper floors dedicated to women, allow them to observe the proceedings below while respecting their privacy. The masjid’s exquisite decorative elements and intricate latticework distinguish it as a masterpiece of early 20th century architecture.

The Safe masjid’s exquisite decorative elements and intricate latticework distinguish it as a masterpiece of early 20th century architecture.
Saifee Masjid’s exquisite decorative elements and intricate latticework distinguish it as a masterpiece of early 20th century architecture.
The Reconstruction 

Like his predecessors, the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin  had the well-being of his followers and all others foremost on his mind. He regularly visited the homes of community members, interacting with them and witnessing their standards of living firsthand. During his visits to Bhendi Bazaar, he was saddened to see the residents living in cramped buildings that had become unstable and dilapidated.

To provide safe, comfortable, and dignified accommodation to those residing around Saifee Masjid and Raudat Tahera, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin initiated the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project in 2009.

The old area of Bhendi Bazaar undergoing redevelopment.
The old area of Bhendi Bazaar undergoing redevelopment.

The first phase of the redevelopment project officially began during Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s centennial birthday celebrations on April 1, 2011. He performed the foundation laying ceremony with his son and successor Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. Subsequently, the first of the buildings was demolished, and its tenants moved to specially built transit accommodations.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin performed the foundation ceremony of the SBUT project at Raudat Tahera.
Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin performed the foundation ceremony of the SBUT project at Raudat Tahera.

Regarded as India’s largest urban redevelopment project, SBUT will replace 250 old decrepit, colonial-era buildings with 11 new towers and state-of-the-art infrastructure. Over 3200 families and 1250 businesses previously housed in dangerous conditions are being rehabilitated into safe and secure spaces.

On Syedna Burhanuddin’s death anniversary in 2018, Syedna Saifuddin laid the foundation stone of Saifee Masjid.

Syedna Mufadddal Saifuddin laying the foundation stone of Saifee Masjid.
Syedna Mufadddal Saifuddin laying the foundation stone of Saifee Masjid.

Like his grandfather, Syedna Taher Saifuddin, he too made regular visits to the Saifee Masjid site, meticulously inspecting minute details, and ensuring that the new masjid, as desired by his father Syedna Burhanuddin, was an exact replica of the original.  

His Holiness inspecting  reconstruction work of Saifee Masjid.
His Holiness inspecting reconstruction work of Saifee Masjid.
Blending Environmental and Cultural Sustainability

The reconstructed masjid complex has been planned and designed to reduce its environmental impact as far as possible. The installation of a rainwater harvesting system along with a sewage treatment plant will result in a reduction in overall water consumption. The lights in the utility building opposite the masjid are powered entirely by solar panels and a decorative fountain and date palm trees provide natural shade in the courtyard between Saifee Masjid and Raudat Tahera, adding to the overall aesthetics and ambience of the complex. Over 150 shops surrounding the exterior of Saifee Masjid and Raudat Tahera complex have also been redeveloped as part of the redevelopment project. 

In terms of cultural sustainability, the project itself is a masterpiece of heritage conservation for the Bohra community, with the masjid being faithfully reconstructed to its original splendour. At the same time, modern, state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable facilities have also been incorporated.

Because the Dawoodi Bohras trace their spiritual and cultural heritage to the Fatimi imams, the newly built main entrance of the Saifee Masjid and Raudat Tahera complex is inspired by the design of the Fatimi-era Bab ul-Futuh, also known as ‘The Gate of Conquest.’ Built in 11th-century Cairo, Bab ul-Futuh is a prominent example of Fatimi architecture, characterised by intricate designs, decorative motifs and distinctive Islamic arches. These architectural elements also provide shade and natural ventilation and contribute to the overall sense of openness.

Inauguration 

Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin inaugurated the reconstructed Saifee Masjid on September 26, 2023. The inauguration coincided with the community’s celebration of Milad al-Nabi (the birth anniversary of the Prophet Mohammed) and their commemoration of the 10th urs mubarak, or death anniversary, of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.

Syedna addressed the thousands of community members present on the occasion; he expressed gratitude to Allah Ta’ala for the opportunity to restore the masjid and realise the vision of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. After discussing the history of the Bohra community in Mumbai, he spoke at length of the history of Saifee Masjid and the many occasions it had witnessed throughout the last century. Syedna described the masjid as distinctive amongst other masjids; the frequent presence of the Dais had imbued it with a unique spiritual quality. 

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Glimpses from the inauguration ceremony of the reconstructed Saifee Masjid in Mumbai.

The inauguration of Saifee Masjid, the integration of its courtyard with that of Raudat Tahera, and the commemoration of the masjid’s centennial as well as 50 years since the mausoleum’s inauguration, bear testament to the lofty vision of Syedna Taher Saifuddin, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, and today Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin to protect and enhance the rich cultural legacy of the Dawoodi Bohra community while securing a better, brighter future for all those living in the shade of these structures.