The Bohras are a small close-knit sect of Shia Ismaili Muslims based primarily in Gujarat, India with a diaspora community in many countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia and in countries in Europe and Africa. The Bohra population has been estimated to be about 1.5 million total worldwide.
There are several types of Bohra: Dawoodi, Suleimani and Alvi, with the Dawoodi Bohras being the largest group.
The Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, a sub-sect of Shia Ismaili Muslims, are a small prosperous community. The origins of the community are associated with the arrival of two Shia Ismaili missionaries in the early 11th century AD, to the port of Cambay in Gujarat, from Egypt via Yemen. The missionaries are said to have found converts among Indian traders, largely in Gujarat, who came to be known as Bohras. Because of its history, the community is extremely close-knit and often secretive. The religious head of the Bohra community is known as the Da’i or Syedna.
There is a tremendous centralization of power and control of not only how Islam is practiced in the community but also how members live their lives, with dissenting voices being subjected to social boycott or excommunication. The control sometimes extends to very personal issues like what name you choose for your child, where you can be educated, and even the job you may choose. The Syedna’s word is considered sacred and infallible.
The current Syedna, Mufaddal Saifuddin, became the spiritual leader on the death of his father, Muhammed Burhanuddin in 2014. His leadership was disputed by his step-uncle, Khuzema Qutbuddin who served as Muhammed Burhannuddin’s Mansoos (essentially, his right-hand man) for 50 years. Khuzema Qutbuddin died in 2016 and the dispute for leadership of the Dawoodi Bohra community continues with his son and chosen successor, Taher Fakhruddin.
Dawoodi Bohras have a reputation for being successful business people with a strong focus on education. They are considered to be somewhat progressive in terms of women’s rights and education.
However, it is thought to be the only Muslim sect in India that practices khatna, or clitoral unhooding, on girls at the tender age of seven, which is thought to have stemmed from the community’s roots in Yemen.