6 March 1915: Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, head of Dawoodi Bohras, was born

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the 52nd spiritual and temporal head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, was born on 6 March 1915 in Surat,Gujarat.

He performed his first Hajj at the age of 15 and got the designation of ‘Haddiyyat’ (Sheikh) in 1931. In 1934 he was designated as ‘mazoon’ by his father and predecessor Taher Saifuddin.

When he turned 19 he was appointed to be the future Dai by Saifuddin. In 1935 he became 'hafiz'; in 1937 he married Amatullah Aai. Burhanuddin travelled to Yemenin 1961. Here he got the designation “Mansurul-Yemen” (the belief system of the Dawoodi Bohras evolved in Yemen from the Fatimid Caliphate).

Burhanuddin greatly supported education for men and women belonging to the community and oversaw the further development and intellectual growth of the Al-Jamiah, a prominent Surat-based Islamic Arabic Academy. As a news report following his death said: “Among his [Burhanuddin’s] major contributions was to supervise and support the community’s literacy efforts through 400 educational institutions in the world to impart religious, spiritual and secular education. The pride of place belongs to the Al-Jamiah Al-Saifiah Arabic Academy in Surat — an over two-century-old Arabic university — and its new campus built by the Syedna inKarachiin 1983.”

The Sydena was a keen conservationist. He transformed the Masjid al Anwar in Cairo, which dates back to more than 800 years. He also inspired the creation of scores of mosques across countries, thus expanding the community’s reach. Fascinatingly, he also gave a boost to entrepreneurs within the one-million-strong community by introducing a corpus from his own funds. This would aid businessmen among Bohras in getting interest-free loans. He encouraged others to keep contributing to this fund.

The Sydena’s other initiatives included building of the Raudat Tahera mausoleum in Mumbai, the state-of-the-art Saifee Hospital; and an on-going redevelopment of the city’s Bhendi Bazaar area. 

As Rizwan Mawani wrote on the Huffington Post website: “[W]hen he inherited his father’s mantle, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin continued the responsibility of providing guidance in both spiritual and worldly matters for a contemporary world, a tradition also entrusted to his ancestors, all of which trace their lineage to Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s final Messenger. In doing so, the Dai also helped to ameliorate the status of the community’s less advantaged members….”

Burhanuddin received a number of honours including the Star of Jordan by the government of Jordan and the Order of the Nile by the state of Egypt. His efforts in education and social work were recognised and honoured in many universities in Indian and abroad including Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and the University of Karachi.

Burhanuddin died on 17 January 2014 after suffering a heart attack. He was 98.

Remembering her community’s voice and conscience, Tasneem Akolawala, a practising Bohra, wrote in DNA: “His community drew inspiration from his show of discipline at such an old age. He continued to perform his duties forgetting his health issues. He refused to give up on his responsibilities and rest. His continuous stubbornness to exert himself even when he was not able to walk often brought to tears, the most stone-hearted.”

In a tribute to Burhanuddin, his biographer Mudar Patherya wrote in Mumbai Mirror: “[H]e was a spiritual leader who interpreted the wisdom of the ages for a rapidly modernising world without diluting the essence of the religion. This was possibly the Syedna’s biggest achievement; at a time of bewildering societal distractions and spiritual weakening, he created an effective ‘consumer pull’ that extended across the youth; at a time when religion was [held hostage] by right-wing fundamentalists in a number of countries, he created a unique model worthy of emulation — that you can be deeply compliant and at the same time unrelentingly modern….”  

Also on this day:

1948 — Raj Sippy, Hindi film director and producer, was born   

1966 — Makarand Deshpande, Indian film and theatre actor, was born  

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