Embracing Diversity: The Dawoodi Bohras’ Commitment to Compassion and Respect

A show of respect: Bohra women in Bahrain hosted diverse local dignitaries to experience Dawoodi Bohra culture and hospitality and connect over a traditional meal.

Dawoodi Bohras worldwide are preparing to observe Ashara Mubaraka—a period of ten days dedicated to the remembrance of Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet  Mohammed SAW, and reflection on the community’s core identity, ethos, and principles. Inspired by Islamic teachings and exemplified by the community’s historical and spiritual legacy, the fundamental values of compassion and respect for all are central to that identity. 

A truly global community, the Dawoodi Bohras live in over 40 countries across the world. Their dedication to being peaceful and productive citizens who respect the diversity and customs of their respective societies, while remaining true to their identity and culture, has enabled them to contribute to the diverse socio-cultural fabric of the places they call home. 

One such diverse country is Pakistan, where community members in Karachi prepare to host 2024’s Ashara Mubaraka congregations led by His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. Like many modern nations, Pakistan can be described as a cultural mosaic with a vast spectrum of ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities. A substantial number of Dawoodi Bohras are proud to be a part of Pakistan’s tapestry of cultural diversity.

An Islamic Philosophy of Diversity 

Dawoodi Bohras believe that each individual, with their unique background and experiences, enriches the diverse tapestry of humanity. Islamic teachings emphasise love, respect, and tolerance as essential elements for mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence among the diverse civilisations and cultures of the world. The word ‘Islam’ itself connotes an atmosphere of peace and safety for all. 

The Holy Quran, the central religious text of Islam, describes the diversity of peoples and cultures as a blessing and a sign for the knowledgeable. This appreciation of diversity encourages reflection on the wisdom of His creation and the importance of understanding it. Education is pivotal in fostering respect and tolerance across cultures and religions. As the author and disability rights advocate Helen Keller wrote, “The highest result of education is tolerance.” 

Sharing a meal on the thaal symbolises unity and equality. Here, Bohras welcome guests from different backgrounds to break bread with them on a thaal.
Sharing a meal on the thaal symbolises unity and equality. Here, Bohras welcome guests from different backgrounds to break bread with them on a thaal.

In another verse, the Quran encourages humanity to transcend differences and learn from one another:

"يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقۡنَٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٖ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلۡنَٰكُمۡ شُعُوبٗا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْۚ" 

(49:13) “O humankind, indeed, We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

This verse highlights the importance of diversity and pluralism—their purpose is not to create divisions but to cultivate the virtue of mutual recognition and understanding. Such knowledge is crucial in fostering tolerance and harmonious coexistence in today's multicultural world.

The Fatimi Legacy of Respect and Tolerance

The Dawoodi Bohras trace their spiritual lineage to Fatimi Egypt, which was renowned for bridging the Eastern and Western worlds in international trade and commerce and leaving a profound legacy in education, the arts, and the sciences.

Descendants of Prophet Mohammed, the Fatimi imams governed North Africa and Egypt from the 10th to the 12th centuries, establishing the city of Cairo in 969 CE. Their dedication to tolerance and diversity ensured the flourishing of Egyptian society, where individuals from various cultural and religious backgrounds coexisted peacefully. This inclusive environment fostered economic prosperity, intellectual progress, and artistic innovation.

In his sermon during the Ashara Mubaraka congregations in the UAE in 2023, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin spoke of the effects of colonisation, wherein a dominant world power takes command of a land and then, instead of working for the prosperity of that nation, often pillages its resources and imposes a cultural hegemony.

The Fatimi imams, however, not only preserved the local culture and traditions but strengthened them through their own participation. They also preserved architectural heritage, never forsaking existing Islamic buildings for their own establishments; the historical masjids al-Jamiʿ al-ʿAteeq and Jamiʿ Ibn Tulun saw patronage from the Fatimi Imams.

Likewise, the annual flooding of the Nile River has been celebrated in Egypt since ancient times. Continuing the tradition, when the river reached its peak, the Fatimi imam would ride in a grand procession towards the Nilometer and personally anoint it with saffron. 

Cairo's historic centres of learning, such as Al-Azhar—one of the world’s oldest extant universities—and the renowned Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge), attracted students of diverse faiths, offering education in Islamic studies and a wide array of sciences. The Fatimi patronage for learning underscored the role of education in cultivating a pluralistic and harmonious society. 

Today, the widespread reverence for the Ahl al-Bayt in Egypt speaks to the efforts of the Fatimi Imams towards the inclusive development of its people. This legacy of inclusivity, tolerance, and education is integral to the Dawoodi Bohra community's ethos of understanding and respect for all. 

Ashara Mubaraka: Understanding the Essence of Humanity

Ashara Mubaraka is of paramount significance for the Dawoodi Bohra community. Its ten-day congregations mark a spiritual, educational, and transformative journey centred around the commemoration of Imam Husain's martyrdom at Karbala. 

Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, is remembered for his stand for justice and truth at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. Ashara Mubaraka serves as a spiritual journey of growth and development, both individually and collectively, imparting enduring lessons of compassion, tolerance, and justice epitomised by Imam Husain’s valiant stand for truth and Islam. Guided by His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the Dawoodi Bohras reaffirm their commitment to these universal principles, which assist them in navigating contemporary challenges with moral integrity and harmony.

For instance, when Imam Husain was met by 1,000 soldiers from the opposing army before reaching Karbala, he provided them and their horses with water—from his own limited supply—to quench their thirst in the desert heat. Even knowing that his and his companions’ water supply would soon be exhausted, Imam Husain acted selflessly, exemplifying an unwavering commitment to the principles of humanity and tolerance. This altruistic act of compassion inspires the community's belief in empathy and care for all, regardless of differences.

Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s sermons during Ashara Mubaraka often focus on the importance of compassion and respect for all humanity, echoing the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, such as this profound statement: “All of Creation is a family dependent upon Allah. Therefore, the most beloved of Creation to Him is the one who benefits His family the most.”

At the COP28 'Global Faith Summit on Climate Action' in Abu Dhabi, Shahzada Husain Burhanuddin (fifth from left) represented His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, joining faith leaders from around the world to pledge to climate action.
At the COP28 'Global Faith Summit on Climate Action' in Abu Dhabi, Shahzada Husain Burhanuddin (fifth from left) represented His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, joining faith leaders from around the world to pledge to climate action.

Empathy and compassion for humankind are at the heart of Islamic teachings, mandating the strongest efforts possible to help our human family flourish while embracing our many differences in culture, faith, language, and geography. 

The spiritual and practical teachings imparted during the Ashara Mubaraka congregations, as well as the act of gathering together as a community of diverse individuals from different countries, backgrounds, and walks of life reinforce these values. Each gathering and sermon encourages Bohra community members to embody the principles of understanding and respect in their daily lives. 

For instance, drawing on the historical example of the Fatimi imams ruling with tolerance and respect for other cultures in order to build a prosperous society for all, Syedna counselled business owners and industry leaders to cultivate an inclusive and respectful work environment that enables each individual to excel and prosper.

Further, Syedna analogised the universal human family to a garden whose value lies in its diversity and variation. When these differing elements come together as one, a beautiful, cohesive whole is formed—showcasing the unity and harmony found in diversity. Having embraced our unique qualities, we should all stand united by our common goals of progress and development.

The Dawoodi Bohras of Los Angeles host guests at their masjid.
The Dawoodi Bohras of Los Angeles host guests at their masjid.

Compassion in Action

Inspired by the timeless teachings of Islam and the enduring legacy of the Fatimi imams, understanding, compassion, and respect are at the heart of the Dawoodi Bohras’ values— transcending cultural and geographical boundaries, uniting all in our shared humanity. 

In a world grappling with intolerance and division, the Dawoodi Bohras strive to do their part in building bridges of mutual understanding and uplifting vulnerable communities, fostering an inclusive and harmonious society.

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Last Updated
July 6, 2024
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