Battle for Bohra spiritual head’s seat splits families

The demise of Syedna Muhammed Burhanuddin, which ranged his son and brother against each other with rival claims to his legacy, has now split through the middle several families across the community.

Marriages are being called off, divorces are taking place, and brothers are turning against each other as the community stands divided between those who support the son Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin and those favouring the brother Khuzaima Qutubuddin.

While Mufaddal took over as the 53rd Syedna soon after his father death, his claim has been disputed by Khuzaima, the late Syedna's brother and deputy of 49 years. The fight has now landed in a court of law.

A Marol-based Dawoodi Bohra businessman, who had sworn his allegiance to Khuzaima, had to call off his wedding at the last moment after the local aamil or maulvi, a Mufaddal follower, refused to perform the nikah. The aamil did not budge despite the 27-year-old man and his father's repeated requests and the family eventually cancelled all the ceremonies which were to be attended by over 450 guests.

The aamil, Aliasger Nomani, was ready to solemnise the wedding if the family met his one condition - seek forgiveness of Mufaddal Saifuddin and express their loyalty to him. The family chose to let the wedding plans collapse. It later turned out that a younger brother of the businessman, a follower of Mufaddal, had leaked the information of the family's allegiance to Khuzaima.

After the wedding was cancelled, the girl's family came under immense pressure from the aamil and they eventually called of the match.

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When Mumbai Mirror contacted Nomani, he accepted that he refused to perform the nikah. "They can approach someone else to perform the nikah," he said, refusing to comment further.

Within the close-knit community, news about who is on which side travels fast and so does retribution. A 28-year-old doctor from Panvel, who got married in May 2013, was divorced just months after she and her family sided with Khuzaima. "In the Bohra community, the girl is sent to the husband's house within a year of the nikah. In this case, the nikah was performed in May last year and the bidaai ritual was scheduled for February this year. But after the Syedna's demise in January, the girl and her family became Khuzaima's followers and that eventually led to a divorce in August," said a relative of the girl.

A 25-year-old woman was forced to separate from her husband because of her decision to accept Khuzaima as her spiritual leader. "It was a happy family - a loving husband and caring in-laws. But it all fell apart once she swore allegiance to Khuzaima. Jamaat members tried to change her mind. But when she stuck to her stand, she was asked to return to her parents' house. The girl now resides with her parents in Bandra, said a relative, adding that it was upsetting to see a happy family break apart.

The fight between the two factions has become so bitter that rivals are being denied access to masjids and burial sites. The family of a 97-year-old man, who was perceived to be a follower of Khuzaima, was not allowed to bury him at the Bohra cemetery at Charni Road. The man was eventually buried in Mumbra. The family said his health had deteriorated rapidly after being denied entry to the Bohra masjid at Bhendi Bazaar in August. "He died ten days after he was prevented from praying at the Bhendi Bazaar masjid," said a relative. His son is now in the process of writing to the State Human Rights Commission and the Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria.

Mufaddal's media associate Qureish Raghib did not reply to an email and text messages sent by Mumbai Mirror.

Khuzaima's son Aziz said it's unfortunate that Shehzada Mufaddal Saifuddin and his representatives are resorting to threats and social pressure to maintain their control over the community, "It is sad that a joyous occasion such as a marriage is used to apply this kind of pressure. We pray that the community is united once more and that this turmoil comes to an end," he said.

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