The DA`I AL-MUTLAQ
The 'Da`i al-Mutlaq' or 'Syedna' is the sovereign leader of the Dawoodi Bohras and guardian of the Fatemi 'D`awah' (religious mission). He is the religious leader, temporal guide and both spiritual father and mother to the community.
His dominion is not one of terrestrial boundaries but a reign over hearts. The words of the 47th Da`i to his successor embody this love when he counselled him as to how to continue the care of the followers by saying, “I have nurtured them with great love and affection, when they asked for water, I gave them milk.” The Da`i represents the imam who is in seclusion and he has full and absolute authority to administer the D`awah in his stead. The Da`i is most commonly addressed as 'Syedna' and is the source of guidance for Bohras in all spiritual and worldly matters.
The first Da`i, Syedna Zoeb ibn Musa al-Wadii RA, was appointed in 532AD (1138AH) in Yemen and since that time there have been 53 Da`is. At the time of the first Da`i the community of believers resided almost entirely in Yemen and in India.
Twenty-three Da`is operated from mountain bases in Yemen for over four centuries. In the face of persecuting armies, the Da`is persevered in their mission to lead the faithful and preserve the faith. They expended great efforts in imparting knowledge through sermons, discourses and writings both in poetry and prose. The likes of the 3rd Da`i, Syedna Hatim Muhyiddin and the 19th Da`i, Syedna Idris ImaduddinRA wrote numerous works, including a complete history of the Fatemi imams and Da`is.
In India, a sizeable community of followers had existed since the 5th/11th century, even before the seclusion of the imam. After seclusion, they remained loyal to the Da`is in Yemen and some of them used to visit Yemen and stay with the Da`is for extended periods, learning the traditions of the faith and observing how the affairs of the community were managed. The Da`is in Yemen also appointed representatives (waalis) in India who attended to the affairs of the community there. Eventually, the increased devotion of the followers in India lead to the transfer of the seat of the D`awat..
In 946/1539, Syedna Yusuf Najmuddin of Sidhpur, India, was chosen as the 24th Da`i, and with him, the seat of the D`awat moved to India, where it has remained to this day. The Bohras began to be known as 'Dawoodi Bohras' in the 11th/16th century for their allegiance to the 27th Da`i, Syedna Dawood ibn Qutubshah BurhanuddinRA in whose time a schism divided the community
The Da`is bore the responsibility of office through the centuries in a spirit of dedication to the imam. When it became necessary for the protection of the mission of the imam and the wellbeing of their followers, they bore hardships of imprisonment and banishment. In Ahmedabad the 32nd Da`i, Syedna Qutubkhan Qutbuddin lay down his life when he was asked to recant his faith or be executed.
In this way over the last nine centuries, the Du'aat have played the guiding role in the lives of Dawoodi Bohras. They have been the patriarchs and paradigms of the Islamic way of life in each era. Their piety and disciplined life, erudition and scholarship, judicious guidance and leadership have upheld the sanctity of the office of The Da`i al-Mutlaq. By making difficult decisions to adapt to the changing times yet remaining true to their faith, they steered the community through difficult periods which, at times, threatened its very existence.