‘Reforms Must Among Bohra Muslims’

Yusuf Ali, 65, and thousands like him launched a reformist struggle in Bohra Muslim community. But for raising voice against practices such as female genital mutilation, Ali calls for govt help to keep the reformist struggle on.

There is a verse in Qur’an that says, ‘La Iqra Fid Deen’, which means there is no compulsion in religion. About two decades back, when we reiterated the verse, we were asked to leave the community. Carrying out a reformist movement among Muslims is not an easy task. It will probably take more than just one lifetime to make every person of our community understand what we stand for. 

There is a good youth population among Bohra Muslims in Udaipur, who defy the medieval laws of the head priest called ‘Syedna’. They have a more positive and humane approach towards religion. Twenty years ago, when we formed the Bohra youth community, we were despised and were asked to leave each and every place of worship. But we never left hope and kept fighting for our rights. We are proud Muslim Bohras, we just don’t follow the medieval laws. We don’t impose religion on our children, they are free to pursue any kind of study or profession. 

During initial years, we were threatened of dire consequences, but Allah has been with us. We are now a good thriving community who do not support practices such as, female genital mutilation (FGM), wearing skull caps, keeping beards without moustaches and most importantly paying taxes to the local Maulana and adhering to rules imposed on behest of the Syedna. The Maulana directs everything, right from the rituals that performed for welcoming a newborn to the last rites, the Maulana charges for everything. He even has a say in business dealings as well. 

The main mosque of the Bohras in Udaipur is still under the control of the orthodox Bohra community. It is unbelievable how they have segregated us from the rest. There is a special barricade for us in the mosque, which we are not supposed to cross. We offer Namaz before the barricade that has been put exclusively for us, despite of the fact that Islam doesn’t allow discrimination among its followers. 

Besides the mosque, there are a majority of religious institutions, in the city, which we are barred from entering as they belong to the orthodox group. We are a long legal battle away from gaining access to these places.  The orthodox maulanas want to oust us from the community, but we are thriving due to our honest values and liberal views.

Bohras have traditionally been a closely-knit business community, but the new generations of Bohras are now doing everything. We don’t discriminate amongst our sons and daughters and we raise them as per the modern society and not the rules of the Maulana. We practice modern Islam.

I have seen enough of this battle. This is the right time for the government to step in and support the reformists. Without the government’s support, our efforts to reform the community will be wasted.

We reformers, constitute a population of about 15,000-16,000 in Udaipur. There are more in other cities. But so far we have been used by the politicians as a vote-bank. None of the politicians have kept their promise. Why would they? After all, the orthodox faction is also a strong vote-bank.

We need Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention. He promises to reform each section of the society. If he really wants reform among the Muslim communities in India, he must support us. The future generations will be grateful to him. We don’t want rights in the property. We don’t have financial greed. All we want is to be accepted in the community like we are. There must not be any compulsion to follow the maulana to remain in the community.

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