Succession row: Battle of the Syednas begins in Bombay HC
Mumbai: Courtroom Number 37 of the Bombay high court was packed with the family members, well-wishers and advocates from both sides as the much-awaited final hearing of the Dawoodi Bohra succession row commenced on Monday
Mumbai: Courtroom Number 37 of the Bombay high court was packed with the family members, well-wishers and advocates from both sides as the much-awaited final hearing of the Dawoodi Bohra succession row commenced on Monday. Other than the black-and-white robes of the advocates, the only other clothing visible in the courtroom was the traditional white long coat and gold-embroidered white caps donned by members of the Dawoodi Bohra community. A few women wearing traditional colourful burkhas were also present.
Anand Desai, counsel for Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, commenced proceedings by giving the court an overview of the arguments that would be advanced to justify the claim that both Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin and, after him, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin were the rightfully appointed successors to Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin, the 52nd Dai, who passed away in January 2014. He also submitted to Justice Gautam Patel the list of evidences that would be relied upon to justify the succession of Syedna Qutbuddin.
Desai referred to a letter addressed by the 51st Dai to Syedna Qutbuddin, wherein he was lauded for his first waaz (sermon) in 1960. The counsel submitted that the words used in the letter “that you spoke in full flow with the aid of Allah and flowing stream of his Wali Imam uz Zaman’s ta’eed (divine guidance)” made it evident that Syedna Qutbuddin had the benefaction of the secluded Imam. According to the Bohra belief, the secluded Imam uz Zaman only does ta’eed of the existing Dai or someone similar to him in rank, which the letter said was Syedna Qutbuddin.
The bench was informed that this letter by the 51st Dai made it clear that Syedna Qutbuddin was deemed successor of the 52nd Dai well in advance. The bench was also informed of the fact that in 1985 the 52nd Dai had stated that the letter of the 51st Dai was a “priceless treasure” which needed to be preserved, and had directed Syedna Qutbuddin, who was the maazoon (second-in-command), to ensure that the letter was kept safely.
Referring to the indicators that they would be relying upon during the final hearing, Desai submitted that during the lifetime of the 52nd Dai, all family and community members had accorded the same respect to Syedna Qutbuddin as they did to the 52nd Dai. The reverential acts included doing sajda (prostration) to Syedna Qutbuddin and bowing to him as well.
Desai further submitted that Syedna Qutbuddin was referred to as ‘Maula’ (Master or Leader), a word only used to address the Dai, and whenever the names of the 51st and 52nd Dai were taken along with Syedna Qutbuddin, they all would be referred to as Maula by family and community members.
The next indicator was that it was common knowledge in the community Syedna Qutbuddin would be of the highest rank ie Dai and had special knowledge. Desai submitted that both Syedna Qutbuddin, and after him Syedna Fakhruddin, possessed such special knowledge for managing the affairs of the community.
Syedna Fakhruddin had attended court in the first session but left thereafter. His absence was made up for by the presence of his mother, the wife of the late Syedna Qutbuddin. His seven siblings, along with their wives and children, were present throughout the day in the courtroom.
Syedna Qutbuddin filed a suit in the HC in March 2014, stating that he was the 53rd Dai as he had been conferred ‘nass’ by the 52nd Dai, Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin, privately in December 1965. Syedna Qutbuddin stated that despite the ‘nass’ conferred on him, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the son of the 52nd Dai, had announced himself as the 53rd Dai after the demise of his father in January 2014.
Syedna Mufaddal justified his action by stating that he was conferred ‘nass’ by his father when the latter was in a London hospital in 2011, and that his succession had been publicly announced by his father in Mumbai as well.
When Syedna Qutbuddin passed away in 2016, his son Syedna Fakhruddin replaced him in the suit. Syedna Fakhruddin informed the bench that he was conferred ‘nass’ by his father before his demise and hence he was the 54th Dai.