Syedna succession case: The woman who introduced the Dai system in the Bohra faith
Mumbai: The Syedna succession case hearing in the Bombay high court has brought to light a unique aspect of the leadership regimen of the Dawoodi Bohra community
Mumbai: The Syedna succession case hearing in the Bombay high court has brought to light a unique aspect of the leadership regimen of the Dawoodi Bohra community. While the community believes in 21 divinely appointed Imams, the system of appointing the Dai or Syedna was started after the 21st Imam al-Tayyib went into seclusion as a toddler due to the threat to his life.
The Dai system was started on the instructions of the 20th Imam through a woman known as Hurratul Malika—the ruler of a Fatimid vassal kingdom in Yemen, who also held the spiritual rank of ‘hujjat’ of the Imam. She was the first to be informed by the 20th Imam through a Sijill-ul-isharat (letter of appointment) that Al-Tayyib would be the next Imam. This missive is a foundational document for the Dawoodi Bohras.
When news of the assassination of the 20th Imam became known, his cousin from Cairo had claimed to be the next Imam. However Hurratul Malika who knew about the next Imam used her position in the community to reject the claimant and denounced him. Hurratul Malika then began the system of appointing Dais who would receive divine inspiration from the secluded Imam with regard to affairs of the community and nominating the successor of the Dai. Due to the vital contribution of Hurratul Malika, she holds a very revered position in the community even today.
The reference to Hurratul Malika had come up on Day 4 of the final hearing of the Syedna succession case, which is being heard in the Bombay high court by Justice Gautam Patel. Senior counsel Anand Desai representing Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, while making submissions on historical inferences of nass (appointment of successor by divine inspiration from Imam uz Zaman), had referred to the appointment of the 21st Imam.
Desai submitted that the ‘Sijil’ written by the 20th Imam to Hurratul Malika informing her of the birth of his son, Al-Tayyib, who would be the Imam after him, was a sufficient proof of nass of Imamate being conferred on the 21st Imam. The submission was made to fortify the claim that a communication of a Dai to a third person of conferring nass on his successor sufficed to prove the successorship.
According to historical references, after the demise of the 20th Imam in Egypt, Hurratul Malika, whose real name was was Arwā bint Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Jaʿfar ibn Mūsā aṣ-Ṣulayḥī, got the allegiance of followers for the 21st Imam and continued the work of the Tayyibi Da’wa (call or invitation to religion by the followers of Al-Tayyib) in Yemen and also sent propagators of the Tayyibi Da’wa to India.
She had, in fact, sent propagators to India during the lifetime of the 18th Imam, who had also given her charge of the Yemeni Da’wa. However, following the demise of the 20th Imam, after the community was split into followers of Imam Al-Tayyib and the claimant Abd al Majid Hafiz, the Da’wa in India was named the Tayyibi Da’wa, which continues even today among members of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
Before her death at the age of 90 years, Hurratul Malika appointed Dhuayb ibn Musa al-Wadi as the first Dai al-Mutlaq of the Ṭayyibi Da’wa. This was the beginning of the system of Dai or Syedna, community leaders who were appointed through the divine inspiration of the secluded Imam.
Ḥurratul Malika was born in 1048 AD and was raised by her relatives, the first Ṣulayhid king, Ali Muḥammad al-Ṣulayhi, and his wife Ḥurra Asma. Hurratul Malika married their son, Malik al-Mukarram. After the death of the king, al-Mukarram succeeded to the throne and Hurratul Malika aided him in governance. However, after al-Mukarram suffered a paralytic stroke, she became the de facto ruler and her name was mentioned along with that of her husband during Friday sermons.
The queen ruled as a regent for her young son for a year, but after his death ruled the kingdom in her own name and also continued the work of promoting the Yemeni Da’wa and later the Tayyibi Da’wa. During her six-decade-long reign, she unified squabbling tribal leaders under the Ṣulayhid banner. However, after her demise in 1138 AD, the Sulayhid dynasty came to an end in Yemen.