Mumbai: A sea of
humanity, many moved to tears, sits in rapt attention at the Saifee Mosque and outside in the bylanes as the spiritual head of
the Dawoodi Bohra community, 99-year-old Syedna Mohammed
Burhanuddin, conducts the annual Moharram discourse.
The live Ashara Mubaraka discourse by the Syedna - for the second
consecutive year - is being conducted at the historic mosque in
Bhendi Bazaar area of south Mumbai. The Dawoodi Bohra Muslims have
their headquarters in Mumbai.
This year, around 200,000 Dawoodi Bohras have gathered from all
over the world and different parts of India for the momentous
occasion, which started Dec 8 and will end Thursday. That is
because the Dawoodi Bohras, who are Shia, follow the Egyptian
Around 32,000 people attend the discourse daily from 10 a.m., and
all vie with each other to catch a glimpse of their beloved
While the small mosque can barely accommodate a couple of thousand
devotees, the rest have to sit outside, on the roads and bylanes
of the congested area. But nobody complains.
Thousands beat their chests or weep in unison as the Syedna gently
and in a soft voice narrates the story of the tragic martyrdom of
Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed that took place in
Karbala in present day Iraq.
His own voice choking with emotion at times, the Syedna also
highlights Imam Hussain's sacrifice for the cause of Islam and
humanity, and explains its relevance in the modern world.
At the same time, Syedna conveys the universal message of
international peace, social justice and harmony among the people
of the world. This year, he has stressed the need for people to
inculcate strong family values, better communication and
understanding among husband-wife and their children for overall
The Syedna himself appears in full white with the typical Dawoodi
Bohra ‘feta', while all the community members are clad in their
traditional finery - men in sparkling white kurtas and pyjamas
with a long flowing white jacket or 'saaya' and topped off with
the traditional flat round cap - and the women in full colourful
‘rida' (veil) and many sport socks/stockings while sitting in a
Frail but absolutely alert, the Syedna greets people with a smile
when he is carried to the mosque in a palanquin-like chair and
then lowered gently to a throne in the centre of the mosque.
"Besides the traditional sermons, the Syedna always stresses
family values, matrimonial harmony, love for children and parents,
the spirit of patriotism and loyalty to the country of their
birth, universal peace and brotherhood," Shaikh Qureish Raghib,
his media advisor, told IANS.
In view of his advanced age, the Syedna keeps his discourse to
around two hours with breaks in between when ‘marsiyas' - or
devotional poems are sung. In the past, the Syedna used to speak
non-stop for over four hours at a stretch.
The Syedna's discourses are being telecast live to 700 mosques and
centres all over the world. In Mumbai, there are 520 large TV
sets, 100 large projector screens and 48 relay centres to bring
his discourse live to the city's 300,000-strong Dawoodi Bohra
The Dawoodi Bohra's International Ashara Mubaraka Committee has
made elaborate arrangements for the lodging and boarding of the
100,000-plus visitors who have arrived here from different parts
of the world.
Besides online registration facilities, the committee has
organised transportation, accommodation and food arrangements all
over Mumbai, plus kept medical and emergency services on standby.
The Syedna has also conducted similar discourses in Cairo, Dubai,
Houston, Colombo, Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, plus Indore, Surat,
Jamnagar and Mumbai; last year (2009) the congregation was held in
Marol, northwest Mumbai.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)