HIS HOLINESS SYEDNA MOHAMMED BURHANUDDIN

52nd al-Dai al-Mutlaq

His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin was the 52nd incumbent to the office of al-daʿi al-mutlaq. His half-century era, beginning in 1965, saw a resurgence in the Dawoodi Bohra community’s sense of purpose and dedication to their faith. Under his leadership, spiritual fulfilment, blended with a commitment to progress was fostered in the community. His teachings provided guidance for staying true to spiritual values while leading a fulfilling and meaningful life in the 21st century. Through his commitment to the welfare and uplift of the community and all of humanity, His Holiness transformed the lives of many. His humility, sincerity and compassion touched the hearts of countless people across the world.

EARLY LIFE

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin rarely left his father’s side; whether at home or abroad, each day was replete with formal instruction and firsthand experience. It was at the young age of 19 that Syedna Taher Saifuddin publicly appointed him as his successor; he indicated time and again that Syedna Burhanuddin would carry forward his legacy.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin rarely left his father’s side; whether at home or abroad, each day was replete with formal instruction and firsthand experience. It was at the young age of 19 that Syedna Taher Saifuddin publicly appointed him as his successor; he indicated time and again that Syedna Burhanuddin would carry forward his legacy.

EDUCATION

Just as Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin had inherited a remarkable legacy of education, he engendered an equally enduring spirit of learning.

Rooted in the Islamic tradition of seeking knowledge, his educational philosophy was in keeping with that of the Fatimi imams who bequeathed to posterity their rich epistemology and legacy of knowledge. It is fitting, then, that an early hallmark among His Holiness’ scholarly contributions was his extensive visit to North Africa in 1969, where he retraced the steps of these imams to authenticate and revive their history. 


Syedna dedicated his life to perpetuating the tradition of disseminating knowledge. A prolific writer and gifted orator, he authored a voluminous collection of Arabic literary works and treatises on Islamic theology and philosophy and delivered a vast number of sermons and academic discourses. Harnessing modern technology, he facilitated audiovisual transmission of his discourses to followers worldwide. 

Drawing from the spirit of Quranic revelation and Fatimi epistemology, His Holiness redefined the community’s educational philosophy and fostered a renewed zeal in the pursuit of knowledge. To this end, he established educational institutes that blended traditional approaches to education with the best of contemporary methods and sciences. Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, a prestigious university with branches in Surat, Karachi, Nairobi and Marol, epitomises this philosophy, as do many schools throughout the worldwide Bohra community. Besides establishing centres for basic spiritual education in nearly every Bohra locality, in 1984 His Holiness founded the first of a chain of schools, known as MSB Educational Institute, that provide holistic primary and secondary education. Today, MSB operates over twenty schools worldwide; its students are enabled to creatively meet the challenges of higher education, career and society with their Islamic values strengthened.


His Holiness’ scholarship and erudition were recognised throughout the Islamic world. He received multiple honours and degrees from governments and reputed centres of learning for his scholarly achievements, such as from the universities of al-Azhar and Aligarh. Like his father before him, he was the chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University in India from 1999 to 2002.

THE REVIVAL OF FATIMI ARCHITECTURE

His Holiness’ contribution to the revival of Fatimi art and architecture brought back to life a remarkable chapter in history. The Fatimi era, spanning the 10th through 12th centuries, was a golden age in the history of Islam. A testimony to the rich culture and prosperity of the period is its resplendent architecture; a manifestation of Fatimi philosophy that uniquely blended grandeur with humility. These architectural masterpieces were neglected and misused for centuries. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin took upon himself the enormous task of their restoration.

The most significant architectural revival was the restoration of al-Jamiʿ al-Anwar, the masjid of the Fatimi Imam al-Hakim in Cairo, Egypt, in 1980. One of the world’s largest masjids, its complete restoration was a colossal undertaking requiring painstaking research, planning and execution. Bearing testimony to Syedna’s firm resolve, al-Anwar was rebuilt to its original grandeur in a short span of twenty seven months. Syedna Burhanuddin’s son and successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, was instrumental in the realisation of his father’s vision.

The restoration of al-Anwar marked the beginning of a renaissance of Fatimi art and architecture in the global Bohra community, heralding the restoration of historic masjids and monuments in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and India. The history, culture and spirituality encapsulated in the stone edifices of the Fatimi era remain extant in the extensive use of its architectural features in contemporary Dawoodi Bohra masjids and structures throughout the world.

Raudat Tahera, the mausoleum of the illustrious Syedna Taher Saifuddin constructed by his son and successor, was the first of its kind in India to use Fatimi designs in its architecture. Inaugurated in 1975, it is unparalleled in that the entire Holy Quran is engraved on its walls. Each verse is overlaid with gold leaf, with some adorned with precious stones. Raudat Tahera is a testament to Syedna Taher Saifuddin and Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s devotion to the cause of Islam and the Quran; it is befitting that His Holiness has been laid to rest beside his revered father within those walls.

SPIRITUAL REVIVAL

Islamic Identity

Leading the Dawoodi Bohra community in the postmodern era was a challenging feat. In 1978, at the turn of the fourteenth Islamic century, Syedna Burhanuddin initiated a programme to reinforce the Islamic identity that was the essence of the community. The historic conference of al-Multaqa al-Fatimi al-ʿIlmi, was held in Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, Surat, in which His Holiness guided delegates in reassessing the community’s identity and defining the direction it would take in contemporary times.

The conference aimed to find a way to embrace modernity without compromising on the community’s core ethos and values. By reasserting its Islamic identity, the conference successfully charted a programme to reorient the community towards its Islamic roots in all aspects of life, in line with Syedna’s conviction that the comprehensive guidance of Islam was eternal and provided all the answers to the needs of the age. A sense of identity was nurtured by committing to Islamic ethical principles, including appearance, dress and business ethics.

The Holy Quran

The Holy Quran is the foundation of the Islamic faith and the fountainhead of its knowledge. Recognising its pivotal role for Muslims in every aspect of their lives, His Holiness stressed the importance of daily recitation as well as memorising the Quran, while living an ethical life in the light of wahy (Quranic revelation).

He encouraged students of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah to memorise the Quran in its entirety. In Aljamea, this memorisation is coupled with a thorough education in Quranic arts and sciences, along with comprehending its meanings and values. The establishment of Mahad al-Zahra, a department of Aljamea devoted to the memorisation and study of the Holy Quran, in 1976, is the result of His Holiness’s dedication to Islamic education in the modern era. Over the years, Mahad al-Zahra has expanded exponentially and today it facilitates Quranic education and memorisation for community members across the world.

Islamic Economics

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin revitalised the Bohra identity as a trading community, encouraging his followers, men and women alike, to preserve their tradition of entrepreneurship and self-employment. This encouragement was coupled with a persistent emphasis on adhering to Islamic tenets, especially the prohibition of interest-bearing financial dealings and upholding business ethics and principles. His Holiness’ counsel instilled courage in the community to adhere to such principles; a key reason for their continued prosperity and growth. 

His Holiness institutionalised the Quranic economic concept of qardan hasana (lit. good loan), or interest-free loans, establishing the Burhani Qardan Hasana Trust in 1991. Today, there are similar trusts across the globe that disburse interest-free loans to community members, fulfilling their small and large-scale financial needs.

To further enhance the community’s business skills and acumen, he established the department of Tijarat Rabehah. Besides providing technical support to aspiring entrepreneurs, it offers worldwide business seminars and workshops to facilitate a better understanding of the modern business environment.

Revitalising Yemen

There is a vibrant Dawoodi Bohra community in Yemen. For over four centuries, Tayyibi daʿis led the community from their bases in Yemen; in 1539, the seat of the Dawat was transferred to India. Difficult circumstances and challenging geographical logistics prevented the daʿis of India from revisiting Yemen; until, in 1961, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin was sent by his father to reconnect with the faithful there and visit the burial places of the Yemeni daʿis. He returned having won the hearts of the Yemeni community.

He subsequently visited Yemen many times over the next fifty years and today the peace-loving Bohra community of the region is spiritually and materially prosperous and devoted to its faith and heritage.

Ashara Mubaraka

His Holiness repeatedly emphasised the significance of the sacrifice of Imam Husain, for it represents the true message of Islam and the very essence of humanity.

Remembering this sacrifice, the Dawoodi Bohras, like millions of other Muslims, have an age-old tradition to dedicate the initial days of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain. For the Dawoodi Bohra community, these days are known as Ashara Mubaraka and are a means for spiritual purification and growth.

In His Holiness’ era, Ashara Mubaraka congregations reached an unprecedented level. His love and reverence for Imam Husain brought the entire community together; crowds numbering up to the hundred thousands flocked to listen to his sermons during these gatherings. Besides recounting the sacrifice of Imam Husain and the events of the battle of Karbala, Syedna’s discourses expounded upon themes in Islamic history and philosophy while providing guidance and counsel, serving as a means for community members to reinvigorate their faith and navigate the complexities of modern life. These traditions have been continued by his successor, Syedna Saifuddin.

SOCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS

The welfare of humanity and uplift of society were paramount concerns for Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. This led him to undertake many initiatives aimed to serve and improve the lives of the community and the wider society.

Healthcare

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s philanthropic contributions and assistance to medical institutions provided and continue to provide hope and respite to millions of people. He himself established a large number of hospitals, childcare centers, ambulances and clinics that serve people of all creeds across the world. The reconstruction and reopening of Saifee Hospital, a world-class, multi-specialty modern medical facility in the heart of Mumbai, was a landmark achievement in providing quality healthcare services to all.

His Holiness also established Burhani Medical Idara, an international organisation of Dawoodi Bohra physicians and other medical professionals that raises health awareness and provides medical facilities to community members and society at large.

Community Kitchens: Faiz al-Mawaid al-Burhaniyah

His Holiness often expressed his desire that no member of his community go to bed hungry. Providing and sharing food is a timeless Islamic tradition; in that spirit of humanity, His Holiness aimed to ensure food security amongst the community.

In 2011, he started the Faiz al-Mawaid al-Burhaniyah programme. The initiative entailed establishing community kitchens in the towns and cities where Dawoodi Bohras reside, with the primary aim of providing at least one wholesome meal a day to every community household. Part of its philosophy is to provide a standardised level of nutrition for every community member regardless of financial standing. Individuals from diverse walks of life come together and partake of the same meal, fostering unity and fraternity.

Following the late Syedna’s guidance, FMB under the leadership of his successor continues to strive to ensure food security with a focus on providing nutritious meals, strengthening community bonds, empowering women, preventing food waste and enabling spiritual as well as material enrichment.

Today, FMB kitchens have expanded to serve the wider community, organising regular food drives and providing relief to those in need, especially during times of crisis and natural disasters.

Protecting the Environment

His Holiness was known for his profound love for nature. The earth and its resources, he taught, is one of Allah’s bounties and ought to be valued and protected. Along with inspiring environmental responsibility, he promoted projects such as terrace farming, rainwater harvesting, tree-planting and cleanliness drives throughout the world.

To further promote environmental research and awareness, His Holiness established Burhani Foundation on his 80th birthday in 1992, a time when the conversations about the environment had yet to gain momentum. Among other milestones, the foundation distributed a record breaking 52,000 sparrow feeders on the occasion of His Holiness’ 100th birthday.

His Holiness also encouraged the Dawoodi Bohras of Yemen to eradicate from their lands the narcotic plant of Qat (Catha edulis), a WHO classified drug of abuse and a major factor in Yemen’s water scarcity and to transition to more sustainable agriculture such as coffee and fruit cultivation.

Socio-Economic Development

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin embraced a holistic approach to socio-economic development. He initiated several housing schemes, each designed to foster a higher standard of living. In addition to housing, these schemes aimed to uplift their beneficiaries’ livelihood, culture and social standing.

This objective is perhaps best exemplified by Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) for which His Holiness laid the foundation stone on his 100th birthday. One of India’s foremost urban redevelopment projects, it will transform the historic neighborhood of Bhendi Bazaar, an aging, dilapidated and densely populated locality, into a modern, spacious and sustainable urban sanctuary for its residential and commercial tenants. It has already begun to rehouse the residents in 3,200 high-quality, self-sustained homes, to provide commercial space to 1,250 businesses and to rejuvenate the entire century-old infrastructure with green areas, wide roads, recreational facilities, civic amenities, sewage treatment and rainwater harvesting.

AMBASSADOR OF PEACE AND GOODWILL

Global Travels, Honours and Acknowledgements

The leader of a global and diverse community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin travelled extensively to the different parts of the world where his followers reside. His visits invigorated community members and strengthened their connection to their faith and culture. His teachings fostered loyalty, patriotism and integrity amongst his followers. He counselled them to contribute, as an article of faith, to the social, economic and cultural development of whichever country they called home. Syedna regularly met with world leaders to establish a common ground in search of solutions to socio-economic problems. He was widely acknowledged as an ambassador of peace, harmony and goodwill. His efforts in upholding human dignity and mutual co-existence won him the admiration of state, academic and religious leaders across the world, from South Asia, Middle East and Africa to Europe and North America. The numerous honours, titles and accolades conferred upon him by governments, organisations and universities are a testament to the reverence and esteem he was held in. In recognition of his efforts in the service of humanity, he was awarded the rare distinctions of the Order of the Star of Jordan and the Order of the Nile. Various honorary citizenships, keys to cities, medals and proclamations further testify to the far-reaching implications of His Holiness’ advocacy for communal harmony, international peace and social justice.

CONCLUSION

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s warmth, vision and determination revitalised  the Dawoodi Bohra community over a tenure that spanned half a century.  In 2014, the year that marked his Golden Jubilee, Syedna Burhanuddin passed away in Mumbai. 

Today, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s legacy is perpetuated by his son and successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, who was invariably by his father’s side and instrumental in his numerous initiatives. He continues to guide the community with the same vision, virtues and vigour as his revered father.