In Conversation with Shabir Mohammed
Religious Extremism Is Not Tolerated
Shabir Mohammed, leader of Dawoodi Bohra community and a chief organizer of the Ashara Mubaraka festival joined The Catamaran for a discussion on the significance of the festival post Easter Sunday Attacks.
The Ashara Mubarak annual festival of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community was held in Sri Lanka from the 01st to 10th of September, centering around the Husaini Masjid mosque in Bambalapitiya, Colombo. Over 21,000 Dawoodi Bohras from 40 countries participated in this festival. The event gained attention because it was held amidst anti-Muslim sentiments among certain sections of society post April’s Easter Sunday attacks. However, Ashara Mubarak was held with its usual magnificence and can be considered a step in the direction of reconciliation in the country.
Shabir Mohammed, leader of Dawoodi Bohra community and a chief organizer of the Ashara Mubaraka festival joined The Catamaran for a discussion on the significance of the festival in such a time as this.
THE CATAMARAN – The Easter Sunday attack caused a massive breach of trust among the communities of Sri Lanka. In such a tense situation, why did you decide to hold the main festival of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Sri Lanka?
The decision to hold this event was taken well before the Easter Sunday attacks. This is an annual festival of the Bohra community and we pick a country for that where we can participate in the event as a family. This is the second time Ashara Mubaraka was held in Sri Lanka, the first was held in 2008. We had doubts but we were able to hold it without hindrance thanks to the government that provided security and logistics for the event.
THE CATAMARAN – Muslims are no strangers to this country and we are familiar with their festivals. We have even national holidays for Muslim religious observations. What made this festival different?
Dawoodi Bohra is just one sect of a broader Muslim community. The Muslims are divided into two main sects; Sunni and Shia. Those two sects are further divided into many sub-sects. The majority of Sri Lankan Muslims are Sunnis while Dawoodi Bohras belong to Shia sect. Dawoodi Bohras in Sri Lanka are a small community that comprises of about 2,500 people. That is why our people and festivals are not famous.
THE CATAMARAN – Please explain to us the background of the Dawoodi Bohra community?
The prophet of Islam is Nabi Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihiwasallam, who spread the message of God among the people. The grandson of the prophet is Imam Hussein Aleihi Wasallam. Enemies slaughtered him and the members of his family in a very inhumane manner in Kabala, Iraq. Ashara Mubaraka is held to commemorate this sacrifice. It is the main festival of the Dawoodi Bohra community. We avoid all family and business work for 10 days and simply observe religion during Ashara Mubaraka.
THE CATAMARAN – How does the Dawoodi Bohra community differ from other Muslim sects?
Dawoodi Bohra is a sect that reads Islam in a way that suits modern context. Bohra women have equal religious rights. They go to the mosque with men and pray together. They have rights for equal education. Our dress code is different from other traditional Muslims. The women wear light colours that are pleasant to the eye. The Dawoodi Bohra community lives around the world but we do not support any extremist view. We have no connection with terrorist groups. We are on the topmost layer among businessmen. Our community is tech-savvy.
THE CATAMARAN – The main feature of the Ashara Mubaraka was religious preachings. What did they include?
Throughout the conference, the morning sessions were allocated for religious preachings. The first lecture of the series was preached by Bohra spiritual leader Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in the Husaini Masjid mosque in Bambalapitiya. He stated that based on the experience of the past period, the series of lectures would be on one topic – the teachings of Imam Ali Bin Abi Thalib and his son Imam Hasan. They were based on the love of a father to a son, the intention of a father to make his son an honest and moral person, the ethical behaviour and the guidance and instructions about it.
THE CATAMARAN – Wrong opinions about this conference were spread in the country. Did they affect the festival?
Many such wrong opinions were spread and we are very sorry about them. About 21,000 people from various countries participated in the conference. Many of them are established businessmen in their countries with no intention of capturing this country. We could have held this anywhere else in the world, the country that hosts the ceremony is benefitted by the visit of all the Bohra people. The conference was a boost to the tourist economy of the island. The tourist industry would have further benefited if the visitors had confidence in their stay here. They would have stayed a few days and traveled. But many of the visitors left the country immediately after the conference because of the ambiance created in the country by wrong opinions. This was a loss to the country.
THE CATAMARAN – Some Bohra persons wearing costumes similar to police uniforms were even controlling traffic on roads. Their photos spread virally in social media. What is the truth behind that story?
The conference was centered around the main mosque in Bambalapitiya. If crowds of about 21,000 people were not directed properly, chaos could have taken place in that small area. Therefore, the organizers had plans and had volunteers from the Bohra community for that. They were people from various countries and were wearing uniforms of their organizations. It is similar to volunteers from Red Cross wearing their uniform. Police had been deployed but their strength was not sufficient.
THE CATAMARAN – Some newspapers reported that cattle slaughter took place to cater to the food requirements of this festival. They said calves and even sick cows were slaughtered. What is your comment about those reports?
The participants were given the best quality of food. We do not wan to eat the meat of sick animals. We were considerate in both the food and the way we partook of the food. Nothing was wasted. Our tradition is eating what we have served ourselves.
THE CATAMARAN – What else did you do during the conference?
The Bohra community had cultural programmes, people from various countries engaged in these activities. Our community speaks the same language even though we live in different countries. Our marriages take place only among us. We partner for businesses only with the people of our community. Therefore, we need to identify and network within our community. These programmes facilitate such activities.