Daiship has been a contentious issue since 1597

ByK A Y Dodhiya
Feb 28, 2023 02:47 AM IST

Mumbai: The last leg of the Syedna succession case hearing is all set to commence on March 1 in the Bombay high court

Mumbai: The last leg of the Syedna succession case hearing is all set to commence on March 1 in the Bombay high court. According to Justice Gautam Patel, who has been hearing the case since it was filed in 2014 by Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin, the hearing should be completed by the end of the month and the judgement will be pronounced in due course.

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While the HC will be deciding on the issue of whether Syedna Qutbuddin’s claim that his half-brother, the 52nd Dai who passed away in 2014, had conferred a secret nass (divinely inspired appointment) on him in 1965, a dive into the history of the Dawoodi Bohra community reveals that conferment of nass has been a contentious issue since the 16th century. There have been multiple splits and the emergence of different factions on account of this, and even today, the Dai (head) of each faction avers that he is guided by the divine inspiration of the Imam in seclusion.

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The period between 1597 and 1621 saw multiple splits in the Bohra community, which resulted in the formation of three major factions. The splits were purportedly on the question of Daiship, which is also the issue being heard by the HC. The suit filed by Syedna Qutbuddin, and continued by his son Syedna Taher Fakhruddin after the demise of the former in 2016, has challenged the Daiship of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin who currently heads the Dawoodi Bohra community across the world as the Dai-al-Mutlaq.

The first split in the Bohra community occurred in 1597, resulting in the formation of the Sulaimani Bohra faction, which believes that Syedna Sulaiman bin Hasan, the grandson of the 24th Dai, was the 27th Dai. However, as the majority of Bohras in India accepted Syedna Dawood bin Qutubshah as the 27th Dai, they came to be known as Dawoodi Bohras.

In 1621, the second split occurred after a disagreement ensued on who was the successor of the 28th Dai. While the majority accepted Syedna Abduttayyeb Zakiuddin as the 29th Dai, a group believed Syedna Ali bin Ibrahim to be the successor and followed him. The break-away faction came to be known as the Alavi Bohras. Incidentally, the founding Dais of all three factions are buried in the same graveyard at Ahmedabad.

Interestingly, there have been three more instances of splits in the Dawoodi Bohra community after 1621. The first among them was in 1754 after the demise of the 39th Dai, Syedna Ebrahim Wajiuddin. The breakaway faction came to be known as the Hebtiah Bohras after Ismail bin Abdur Rasool broke away from the majority community which followed Syedna Hebatullah-il-Moayed. The name Hebtiah could be based on the name of Ismail’s son, Hebatullah. Though not much information is available about this faction, its adherents are believed to be concentrated in Ujjain.

The next split occurred after the death of Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin, the 46th Dai of the Dawoodi Bohra community in 1891. The breakaway group was headed by Maulana Abdul Hussain Jivaji and came to be known as the Atba-i-Malak, as its followers believed that as the 46th Dai had passed away without appointing his successor, the system of Daiship was disbanded. However, the majority Dawoodi Bohra community accepted the Daiship of Syedna Abdul Kadir Najmuddin who was the mazoon (second in command) of the 46th Dai.

The Atba-i-Malak group formed in 1891 further split into two groups, namely Atba-i-Malak Badar and Atba-i-Malak Vakil. Though comprising a miniscule percentage of the overall Bohra community, both groups are based in Nagpur and have followers all over India.

All the above splinter groups, however, have almost similar beliefs with regards to the Imamate and other religious tenets; the only difference is that of the Dai. Each group has its own Dai who appoints his successor based on the inspiration by the secluded Imam.

Incidentally, before the major split between 1597 and 1621, there was another split in the Bohra community in Patan, Gujarat, which was led by Jafar Patani, who gave up Mostali Tayyebi Bohra beliefs and converted to Sunnism in 1538. This group came to be known as the Jafari Bohras, which was later changed to Jafari Vohras. The followers, now known as Sunni Vohras, are found mostly in Karachi but there are some in India as well. However, this split is the only one which is not due to the Daiship issue.

Another group called the Hujumiya revolted against the 33rd Dai, Syedna Feer Khan Shujauddin, in 1657. However, the group did not break away on the question of Daiship; it was unhappy with the way the Dai was conducting the affairs of the community.

Why the splits?

All the splits in the Bohra community have been based on the issue of who was appointed by the Dai as his successor. In the present case in the Bombay HC, the plaintiffs Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin and later his son Syedna Taher Fakhruddin maintained that as per Dawoodi Bohra tenets, the Dai names his successor based on inspiration from the secluded Imam, and as both the Imam and the Dai are infallible, once a successor is named or appointed, whether openly or in secret, the name cannot be changed.

The original plaintiff Syedna Qutbuddin claimed that as the 52nd Dai had conferred nass on him in December 1965 and was told to keep it a secret, after the demise of the 52nd Dai in January 2014, he was the rightful successor but the current Dai and defendant in the HC case, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, wrongly claimed the position for himself.

However, the counsel for the defendant informed the HC that there were instances of nass being revoked and changed by previous Dais. Senior advocate Fredun Di’Vitre cited relevant passages from authoritative books of the Bohra community, where the authors had refuted the claims of the Sulaimani and Alavi Bohra groups and stated that revocation of nass was an accepted norm in the community.

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