Bohras seated for the Ashara sermon
By Maheen Sidik, The Citizen, October 16 2016
Recently the city of Dar es Salaam was engulfed in a religious gathering that brought thousands of Gujarati Muslims to the country.
The Dawoodi Bohras are a community of Muslims with a global population of 1 million, most of whom reside in India, Pakistan and East Africa. Being a break off from Shia Muslims, the month of Muharram and celebrations of Ashura are particularly important for them.
Currently the community is led by His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin who succeeded his late father in 2014.
The Bohras have an important historical significance to East Africa. Many of them came to the continent as part of the Indian migration to Africa that took place from 1800 onwards. You will find families that have been in Africa for more than 6 generations spread around towns like Tanga, Morogoro, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Nairobi, engaged in a variety of occupations; but most popularly hardware and household items.
Dar es Salaam has been host to the Bohras' annual Muharram gathering, which is announced to the community only 15 days prior to the event. This is extremely short notice, not only for the thousands preparing for the trip, but also those volunteers that commit to organising such a vast event. The announcement of the event brought hope, albeit short term, to the people of Dar es Salaam, who were to benefit from the excessive demand in housing, hotels, transport facilities, food caterers and even coconut sellers.
The 10 days of Muharram for the Bohras started on the 4th of October with Aashura, being the most important day, held on the 10th day of Muharram. More than 30,000 Bohras participated this year, with the numbers growing during the last few days.
Walking around the Bohora mosque and community centre in Upanga, one realises the deep commitment and massive efforts from its members that work long hours in making sure things run according to plan.
From the Burhani guards from India dressed in their khakhi attire, the chef from Sri Lanka preparing to feed an army of thousands, the young gate keepers from Nairobi and Mombasa, the team of volunteers registering each and every arriving member and providing them with local sim cards, information and emergency contacts, to the young Tanzanian Bohras serving tea and burgers on the streets.
It is this spectacular display of sheer commitment to community spirit that others can truly learn from this community.