In his first interview since his anointment, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin speaks up on the dispute between two factions ripping the Dawoodi Bohra community apart
Taher Fakhruddin was anointed the 54th Syedna last month by his followers
Less than a fortnight after his faction coronated him the 54th Syedna (spiritual head) of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Taher Fakhruddin spoke exclusively to mid-day about the growing rift with Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (the 53rd Da’i al-Mutlaq), condemned the community’s practice of female genital mutilation, and revealed what went on behind closed doors when the title of Syedna was “usurped”.
Syedna Taher Fakhruddin says his sermons are followed by thousands of followers
On January 23, the Fakhruddin faction had kicked off a three-day celebration to mark his 50th birthday by formally crowning him Syedna. The Takht-e-Nashini ceremony was seen as an official challenge to Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s ascension as the 53rd Da’i al-Mutlaq. The succession battle has been fought in courts for the last three years.
Excerpts from an interview with Fakhruddin at his Thane residence on Sunday:
Is the rift between the two factions (Saifuddin and Fakhruddin) becoming stronger by the day?
Yes, there is a rift, but stronger is a relative term. It exists because of the dispute regarding the wrongful usurping of the Syedna’s seat, of assets and other community property, and misguiding the community, the very same things for which my father (late Khuzaima Qutbuddin) had to go to court. The rift will get wider with time; the sooner it gets resolved, the better.
Why do you believe that the title of Syedna was wrongfully usurped?
My father was anointed by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (who died in Jan 2014) to be his successor, right from the beginning. He was appointed second-in-command when he was only 27. Syedna Burhanuddin saw the light in him at an early age and put him in that position. For 25 years, all of Syedna Burhanuddin’s sons prostrated in front of my father, showing allegiance, loyalty, and respect to his position... until they finally grew up. They (the sons) took advantage of his (the then Syedna’s) ill health, and were speaking on his behalf. They even attacked my brothers in a place of worship.
Why is the Bohra community divided?
The reason this community is divided is because of fear — a vicious tool that they (the opposing faction) have continuously used in the community, be it to control financial institutions or other services. They constantly monitor the lives of people, from scanning cards for attendance at mosques to sending teams to homes to ensure compliance. Are we a communist regime that we need to do this? The tool of fear — of social boycott — is an invisible threat to the people. They make it such that if you do not comply with their rules, you will be socially boycotted. People won’t attend your family’s marriages. Organising the funeral of loved ones will become a problem. This is what you call practising death by society.
Why aren’t people speaking up against this so-called fear tactic?
People are afraid because if they do so, they will be penalised at every step. When people stand up to them (the Saifuddin faction), they are thrown into disarray, which is apparent from many of my people who are going through this today when they are standing up to persecution, extortion and bullying.
What is your take on FGM (female genital mutilation)?
I have condemned FGM categorically. It is un-Islamic and horrific. And I have prescribed that khafz be done as per the choice of the woman on reaching adulthood. This guidance is out of caring and love for the community. Those who want to instil fear in the community said this procedure must be done, even on minor girls, even if it means breaking the law. They cracked down on these women for even raising the issue. Religion is about freedom — let people make their own choice. Forcing someone is wrong.
What is your strategy to attract more followers?
I am not worried about numbers. My concern is for the goodness of the community, its principles, and for the truth. Having said that, the community is my community. They see what is in front of them. They see the fear being perpetrated by those currently usurping the administration, and they also see the love, understanding and openness, based on principles of accountability and transparency in administration, that we practise.
They also see the institutions of civil society and social welfare that are being run for the people by us. Seeing our vision, hundreds of thousands are engaged with us, a large proportion of the community who want change and positive, forward-looking leadership. More and more people are coming to us to express not only their loyalty, but also their support and service for the cause. Hundreds of thousands of community members visited our website millions of times last year. Hundreds of thousands view my sermons on YouTube.
What is your message to the community and your followers?
As a Muslim leader, I would say drop the word ‘tolerance’ from your vocabulary, and replace it with ‘acceptance’. Don’t be afraid. We live in a free country, where all of us have equal rights. Let’s not stick to legacy for legacy’s sake. We know how politics works—the more you suppress, the more the people will oppress. To all the perpetrators of fear: You will not succeed, God is with us, and we stand united.