The august office of the Dai al-Mutlaq, set up over 800 years ago in Yemen, found its seat ove to India about four centuries ago and establish itself in Surat some three centuries thereafter. The office represents and deputises the Imam in seclusion, who is a direct descendant of the Lord of the prophets, Mohammed al-Mustafa (SAW) and the fountainhead of the religion of the Dawoodi Bohras. The 42nd incumbent to the office of al-Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Yusuf Najmuddin Saheb (AQ) made Surat his headquarters over two centuries ago and his esteemed brother and successor, Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin Saheb (AQ) dignified these headquarters with a masjid, a mausoleum and the historic Al-Dars al-Sayfi.
The 19 year period of Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin Saheb (AQ) at the turn of the 19th century was a golden period in the history of the Dawat in many ways. It was then that al-Dars al-Sayfi, where those in search of the ‘ilm’ (knowledge) gather for formal tuition was established. It was his period that saw the rise of sages such as Syedi Sadiqali Saheb, perhaps the greatest poet in the cummunity’s unique language. A drought that had swept Kathiawar for 12 years had caused thousands of Bohras to converge to Surat to seek refuge at the feet of Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin Saheb, who had ensured with great sacrifices, that each believer was well cared for until the end of the drought. Even in such onerous conditions it was still possible for him to build the largest and most beautiful masjid in the Bohra world.
The masjid being a sacred house of Allah, occupies a central role in Islam. Just as Islam encompasses all facets of the life of the believer, so the masjid is the focus of the social, educational and religious life of the community of believers. Those who partake in the building of a masjid are praised as ‘true believers’ and the ‘rightly guided’ in the Qur’an and are promised a rich reward, as a tradition of the prophet (SAW) says :
He who builds a masjid for the sake of Allah, even if it be but like the nest of a sandgrouse, Allah will build for him a house in paradise.
The Prophet’s (SAW) first action on entering Madinah al-Munawwara was to choose a place for a masjid. His successors, the Fatemi Imams (SA) built masjids in every land they touched, giving such building activity importance and creating in the masjid a unique harmony of worship and dissemination of knowledge. This was the tradition upon which the famous masjid and university, al-Jame al-azhar, was founded by the 14th Fatemi Imam, al-Moiz (SA) in the tenth century.
Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin (AQ) was following the same tradition when he built the masjid, called al-Masjid al-Muazzam, along with al-Dars al-Sayfi. The achievement, in the midst of so many others was the crowning glory of his age, prompting Syedi Sadiqali Saheb to eulogise its spiritual beauty by comparing its sehn with that of the Kaaba and its hauz with Zamzam. Pleased with its construction, Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin (AQ) had expressed the wish that when the Imam chose to end his seclusion, he bestows upon the masjid the honour of his presence and stands in its mehrab to lead the faithful prayer.
Two centuries later, during the time of the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS), an efflorescence of building activity took place, propelled by the monumental restoration in Cairo of al-Jame al-Anwar the great masjid of the 16th Imam al-Hakim (SA), Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) simultaneously embarked on renovating and building of houses of worship and replenishing the souls of his followers in an age in which material values held sway. Al-Dars al-Sayfi of Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin (AQ) had been raised in structure and content to a full-fledged university and renamed al-Jameatus Saifiyah along with the many works of renovation, the spiritual values and religious practices in his followers had been lifted to unprecendented levels, believers now being more ready than ever to receive the flood of spiritual blessings that seem to be the hallmark of the era of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS). The time had thus come for the historic masjid of Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin (AQ) to be elevated to occupy its position in the scheme of things.
So began the reconstruction of the masjid in 1988. The masjid was to be completely replaced. Areas around the masjid were to be purchased and the masjid expanded to become the largest, as it was when first built. Its design had to be meticulously appropriate to the times, but the artifacts representing the original era were to be preserved. The glory and dignity of the masjid were to come from the Fatemi concept of architecture, a symbol of building works of the Burhani Era. Fatemi designs and Fatemi Kufi script were to provide its embellishment. Its walls and ceilings were to exude sacredness befitting its history. The benedictions of the Imams in cairo and early Duat in Yemen were to be visible in it. The blessings of the illustrious 51st al-Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb (AQ) who laid the foundation of this age of unprecedented spiritual and material progress had to be manifest. The rememberance of Imam Husain (SA), already occupying its natural position in the heart of each believer, a symbol of the spirituality of the age of the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq also had to find expression in the masjid. With all the history and sacredness it had to embody, the masjid must nevertheless be contemporary in its use of technology, in particular, it must cope with the staggering requirements of ashara mubaraka, when hundreds of thousand would gather to hear the Dai of Imam Husain (SA) recount the great sacrifice of the grandson of the Prophet (SAW). Thus the building of temporary extra floors for the event must be effortless, the relaying of the discourses worldwide must be facilitated by a state of the art technology. The cooling system must cope with a completely packed masjid on a hot day. Its utilities and amenities must content with all requirements of the day and much more in the future.
All this was achieved with remarkable success through the careful nurturing of its maker. As the last year of building approached, thousands journeyed to Surat to spend a day or two offering their best for the service of the masjid. Lifting bricks, moving sand and sweeping floors; nothing was too humble a job for the faithful. A masjid does indeed incorporate the sweat and tear of the believer. Yet others would recite the Qur’an in the sacred land over which the masjid was built.
The 1st of Shabaan al-Karim of 1417 H (10th December 1996) was chosen for the iftetah (inauguration) of the reconstructed masjid. This date, marking the beginning of the annual exams of al-Jameatus Saifiyah is a day reserved to remember the distinguished Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb (AQ), whose vision it was to raise the Jamea to its present level and along with it magnify the spiritual and material standards of the community as a whole. The day was to attract hundreds of thousands of devotees. Preperation had to begin early. Days before the event, the streed of Devdi Mubarak, representing the 300 year old centre of the Dawat, around which the mausolea of seven Duat Mutlaqeen (RA), al-Masjid al-Muazzam and Al-Jameatus Saifiyah are situated, was covered by a green cloth, providing a welcome relief from the midday sun. Other streets surrounding the Devdi, all the way to Navapura and Begumpura were not too far behind in their adornment, with scaffolding structures ready for similar covering and lighting. The buzz of work and the air of anticipation was all-pervasive. At the masjid, a magnificent facia to this most historic of masjids overlooked frenzied activity all around it. Devotees of any or no building skill alike swept the floor, picked at the carvings and placed one piece or another into its appropriate place. Any work was good enough to participate in the building of this house of Allah and with it claim the right to be promised abode in heaven.
With the passing of each day, the masjid looked more complete and the streets more inviting. The long lines of zarin seemed unending as each believer entered the two mausolea next to the masjid to bow his head to the Duat Mutlaqeen (RA)and other eminent hudud within.
The last day of Rajab al-Asab saw the greatest influx of pilgrims. Surat train station had become a factory line, with wave after wave of pilgrims arriving, each wave hardly giving enough time for the previous to clear the platforms. The highway leading into Surat had to be patrolled by Bohra guards to help regulate the trafiic. Amidst the full Indian roads, every 15 seconds saw a vehicle carrying Mumineen identified by the flags of ‘Ya Husain’, ‘Long Live Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’ and ‘to Surat’. The flow into Surat was torrential. The population of Zampa Bazar grew exponentially by the hour and along with that, rose the sense of anticipation.
Finally, the awaited day arrived. At 6 am, the streets came alive with people dressed in white, mustering under the covered and matted streets. These streets were now for the excclusive use of the 150,000 or so pilgrims, participating in the event. Closed circuit TV systems were to be seen everywhere — in the masjid, the iwan, the Jamea buildings, the sehn of the mausolea, the mawaid and the open streets. Each area slowly filled to the brim as if it alone was the focus of the day;s events. The Devdi itself was empty but beautifully adorned in readiness of a procession. At one corner of the Devdi stood a group of students of al-Jamea, arranged in choir format, ready to recite a heart-moving qasida written in praise of the Fatemi Imams by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) himself.
Al-Masjid al-Muazzam, immaculately complete, was packed with devotees, its majesty and glory were matched only by its sacredness. The names of Allah written in gold in beautiful Kufi high above, the names of the Imams and Duat Mutlaqeen, the high above, the names of the Imams and Duat Mutlaqeen, the marthiya of ‘Ya Sayyidas Shuhada’, beautiful Fatemi desgins with gold embossing in the front wall, the word ‘Allah’ engraved on the stained glass and the ever present Fatemi mishkats all lent sacredness and reverence to the structure and aded to the majesty of the masjid.
At 10am the qasida recitation began. The masjid, Devdi, the two mausolean, al-Jamea, iwan, the surrounding streets and neighbouring masjids, now all packed with the faithful, resonated with the sound of this most remarkable of qasidas. The sound of praise of the Fatemi Imams, filling the area completely, creating an air of overwhelming piety and devotion. All eyes were focused on the TVs where the awaited one, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS), was seen mounting a miyana at the far gate of the Devdi. Carried by his sons and brothers, the maker of the masjid carefully floated through the Devdi into the ziyarat area; then between the two mausolea up into the sehn and finally reached the door of the masjid. There were invocation of the name of Allah and recitation of the Qur’an, the ceremonial lock on the door was opened to mark the iftetah of the masjid. Once inside the masjid, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin the builder and lifeforce of the masjid, stood at its centre and looked directly at the mehrab as its veil was lifted. A gasp of awe ran through the masjid as a larger than life replica of the mehrab of al-Juyushi stood adorning the front wall, with all verses and designs covered in gold. A mehrab truly befitting the intention of its conception.
Then the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq ascended the takht for a heart rendering waaz.
Marhaba be wafdillah
he said to those gathered, drawing from the welcoming words first uttered by the Prophet (SAW) on seeing the thousands of Muslims gathered at Arafah during the farewell hajj. What multiple meanings this one sentence alone carried.
O believers who dwell in my heart — you have left your homes and come here bearing difficulties to witness the iftetah of this masjid, to see me, to please me — this act of your is nothing but love for me.
For three hours, statement after statement declared a benevolent father’s love for his spiritual children and the overflowing happiness with which the task at hand was being performed.
This masjid of Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin Saheb is magnificient. I am indeed very happy to see it. But my greater happiness is on seeing you, mumineen.
I know you always think of me, but there may be times when this world sways you from doing so. Be assured though, that I have never forgotten you for a day, or for an hour or even for a moment — and I never will.
I am ever concerned about you, that no unhappiness should touch you, that you may never be subject to grief or pain. Why should you then be worried, I Mohammed Burhanuddin, will come to your aid in your hour of need.
I am not saying all this just to make you feel good — this is indeed the truth.
This was undoubtedly a unique occassion befitting a magnificient and historic masjid of a great Dai. Its iftetah was unique and the words of its maker Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) in showering blessings to his followers were just as unique. Can an occassion so special ever occur again? The prayer of the faithful was, as always, that Allah vouchsafe Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin much more.
By evening, the iftetah and the season of blessings was over. Along with a new month and a new masjid, a new era had been ushered in. The pilgrims were making their way home with their spiritual cups filled. Those who had sought had received abundantly and what is more — they had witnessed the crowning glory of the Burhani Era.
Published by the Information and Statistics Department,
Dawat-e-Hadiyah, (Administration of 52nd al-Dai-al-Mutlaq, His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin),
Badri Mahal, Dr. D. N. Road, Fort, Bombay 400 001.
9th February 1997 (1st Shawwal 1417 Hijri).