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Syedna: Symbol of piety, peace for Dawoodi Bohras (Obituary)

IANS  |  Mumbai 

He was credited with guiding the 1.20 million strong Dawoodi Bohra community out of the shadows -- and leading it on to the stage of modernity and prosperity.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the spiritual and temporal head of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims who died in Mumbai Friday at age 102, provided a dynamic leadership to the largely business community which claims 100 percent literacy. He was known for insightful teachings.

Revered as the 52nd Dai-al-Mutlaq (direct in the line of Prophet Mohammed) by the Bohras, the Syedna's love for environment, flora and fauna was legendary. He was also an Arabic scholar.

Born in Surat in Gujarat, the Syedna was educated by his illustrious father, the late Syedna Taher Saifuddin.

Syedna Taher Saifuddin personally trained the future Syedna and later affirmed him as his successor.

At age 53, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin succeeded his father in 1965, heralding a new era for the Bohra community.

Among his major contributions was to supervise and support the community's literacy efforts through 400 educational institutions in the world to impart religious, spiritual and secular education.

The pride of place belongs to the over two centuries old Arabic university, Al-Jamiah Al-Saifiah Arabic Academy in Surat, and its new campus built by the Syedna in Karachi in 1983.

Nurturing deep interest in secular studies, the Syedna always stressed on scientific and religious education. The result? The community produced thousands of professionals and academics.

He exhorted his followers to conduct businesses combining mercantile and Islamic principles.

With a view to foster healthy businesses, he institutionalized the Quranic concept of interest free loans.

It heralded economic prosperity, enabling new entrepreneurs to venture into business while remaining faithful to age-old Islamic business tenets.

A few years ago, the Syedna established the Burhaniyah Business Counselling Centre in Mumbai to provide modern business solutions.

The Syedna strongly believed in giving back to nature through ecological conservation programmes and preventing environmental degradation.

Scores of agriculture, horticulture, apiculture projects, greenhouses, terrace farming, plantations and afforestation projects were taken up under the auspices of the Burhani Foundation (India).

In 2011, he threw his weight behind efforts to conserve the humble sparrow. A total of 52,000 feeding boxes for sparrows were distributed free.

On the social front, the Syedna encouraged and institutionalized the tradition of mass marriages to curb wasteful expenditure on opulent marriages.

In cities like Mumbai, he launched low finance housing schemes.

At a macro-level, the Syedna took direct interest in the redevelopment of old, dilapidated buildings housing over 4,000 Dawoodi Bohra families in a small chunk of Bhendi Bazaar in south Mumbai.

In June 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the landmark Saifee Hospital here, set up by the community, which provides medicare to all sections of society.

Another significant community initiative was to make the traditional Dawoodi Bohra cuisine, ranked among the richest by gourmets, more healthy, nutritious and low-calorie.

He undertook the mammoth task of construction, renovation or restoration of several ancient and world heritage mosques, mausoleums and other buildings of historical significance worldwide.

Chief among these were the 9th century mosque of Imam Hakim, Al-Jame Al-Anwar in Cairo, and ancient buildings in Yemen, Syria and India.

A symbolic pride is the Raudat Tahera in Mumbai, the marble mausoleum of the Syedna's father where the entire Quran is inscribed on the inner white walls in letters of gold and precious stones.

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First Published: Fri, January 17 2014. 16:40 IST