New Delhi: He is the
liberal face of Indian Islam and the Bohra community. Author and
activist Asghar Ali Engineer, who has dedicated his life to
studying communalism in India and South Asia, believes that his
community (Bohras) will not vote for the BJP in the Gujarat
assembly elections in December.
"For too long, the Bohra leadership and the Gujarat government
have been in cahoots. And there is a reason for this. The Dai
(supreme leader of the Bohras), Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, has
high stakes in Gujarat from where he gets crores of rupees as
income from Bohra religious and community centres. He cannot do
this without political collusion. So, the Bohra leadership keeps
Narendra Modi in good humour. Modi in turn uses the Bohras and
showcases them before the world to show that Muslims support him,
as he knows that ordinary people cannot distinguish between the
Ismaili Bohras and the other sects of Islam."
Engineer, who was in the city to attend a seminar, told IANS: "The
Bohra leadership usually influences its flock to support the BJP.
But this time, hopefully, they should vote against the BJP like
Speaking of the Gujarat elections, what, in Engineer's opinion,
would be the outcome of the polls?
"I think Modi will win, but his margin will diminish considerably
due to anti-incumbency, opposition from within the BJP, and the
revolt by leaders like Keshubhai Patel," says Engineer.
Bohras are a mercantile Muslim community of the subcontinent,
mainly found in Gujarat and Mumbai. They are Shia Muslims. The
Bohras trace their belief system back to Yemen where they were
persecuted due to their differences from mainstream Sunni Islam
and Zaidi Shia Islam. This prompted the shift of Dawoodi Bohras to
India, especially to Gujarat in the 11th century.
Engineer's struggle against the Bohra leadership is well known. He
leads the progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement, which aims to
challenge the absolute authority and hegemony of the Dai over the
affairs of the Dawoodi Bohras who form the larger subsect among
Bohras (the smaller one being the Sulaimanis).
"We are not reforming religion. We want to make the Dai
accountable. Also, we want no interference from his office in our
secular activities," clarifies Engineer, who has been physically
attacked five times by the Dai's supporters for his beliefs.
Does he ever feel hopeless?
"Not at all. My struggle will go on as long as I am alive. Not
everyone supports me or opposes me. I feel that the large, silent
majority supports us but cannot empathise with us since there is
the fear of community ostracisation."
The Bohra community has also become infamous for the medieval
practice of female circumcision. "It is very sad but true.
Tradition once established becomes impossible to eradicate. This
practice of female circumcision goes back to Fatimid Egypt (
969-1171). The Fatimid Caliphate was also Shia Ismaili and is
hence held as a role model for the Bohra community. But nothing in
the Koran mandates this practice. Even male circumcision, for that
matter, is 'Sunnah' (tradition) but not 'Farz' (duty)," says
And what is Engineer's opinion on the tide of rising Wahhabism in
many parts of the Muslim world?
"The Wahhabi and Salafi strains of Islam are sectarian, purist and
revivalist. They will be a danger to the Muslim world. We want
tolerance and pluralism. We want to co-exist with other
communities. Wahhabism will not allow all that," he says.
(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )