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 Post subject: Dawoodi Bohras in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:46 pm 
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Dawoodi Bohras in Sri Lanka


The word Bohra is derived from a word of Gujarati origins, meaning “to trade” and most Bohras were in fact businessmen, though in recent years they have spread out to pursue numerous other professions. Despite being of a number of different nationalities, Bohras all speak Dawat-ni-zaban – a dialect of Gujarati. The Dawoodi Bohra community has its roots in the west Indian state of Gujarat and are strong Ismaili Shi‘a belonging to the Fatimid tradition of Islam.

With an estimated world wide population of nearly a million, the Dawoodi Bohras are reputed to be the best organized and wealthiest of all Muslim communities. The Bohras regard their leader, the Dai-Ul-Mutlaq as their touchstone for guidance in all aspects of life. Interestingly, Bohras consider loyalty to the land they reside as part of their faith.

The Ashara Mubaraka period described as one of the most important and holy events in the Islamic calendar, commemorates the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain. Every year the first 10 days of Moharram, (the first month of the Islamic calendar) is spent in mourning, in recognition of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice. After 10 days comes Ashurah, the actual anniversary of his passing in the Battle of Karbala. Meaning, ‘the tenth’, Ashura is a day of voluntary fasting. The Ashura is considered to be one of most important and holy events in the Shia Muslim calendar, which commemorates the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain. Thousands of Dawoodi Bohras come together to observe this holy period and the Sri Lankan Bohra community have played host to the Syedna in the past.

Colombo’s 2,500 strong Bohra community is scattered across Colombo in 800 odd Bohra households.Bohras congregate atleast twice every day for prayers at the Bohra Mosque in Adamaly Place, Colombo 4. Approximately 5,000 can be seated in the mosque. With their distinctive dress – the women wear a ridah and they stand out during this period as the community comes together for prayers at the mosque in Bambalapitiya. The mosque was built by two prominent Bohra families also from Kutch Mandvi, the E.G. Adamalee and Adamjee Lukmanjee families. But the community’s original mosque in Galle, still stands today.

Of the six main Bohra firms in Ceylon, the oldest was that of the Carimjee Jafferjee family. The firm had been in Sri Lanka since 1831 with branches all over India and even extending to Mauritius. The Company exported all types of local produce and imported rice, sugar, flour, pepper, and groceries. The leading Bohra firm of that time, however, was E G Adamaly, owned by the brother, E M Adamaly, G M Adamaly, and A M Alibhoy. It was the largest importer of rice, sugar, flour, matches, keresone and grain, with its import of rice in 1905 amounting to 400,000 bags a year. The firm owned extensive property in Colombo, Kandy, and Nuwara Eliya, includ9ing the 300 acre Fairfield Estate of Rubber and Tea in Avissaewella. With its buggalows, the firm did extensive trade with the Maldives and a barter trade with the Nicobar and other Islands in the Indian Ocean. From 1920 to 1925, a family member, E G Adamaly, was one of the "Indian Members" of the Legislative Council.

The other important Bohra firms were, Hebtulabhoy, Jeevunjee, Noorbhai, Dawoodbhoy, and Moosajee. The Hebtulabhoy family in Sri Lanka goes back to 1864, when a Bohra from Kutch, Sheikh hebtulabhoy, started a business in the Pettah. The firm, called Sheikh Abdulabhoy AbdulAli, was a family business managed by Hebtulabhoy and his sons, dealing in food imports. A few years later, Hebtulabhoy, expanded his business and his two vessels traded in India and the Maldives. He invested in property in India and Sri Lanka, which included premises in the Pettah at Fourth Cross Street, worth Rs 27,000 in 1897, 3 acres of land on Bambalapitiya Road worth Rs. 20,000, 23 acres of coconut land, 18 acres of cinnamon, 5 acres of paddy, and unplanted land. In 1896 he purchased 1/2 acre next to the Wellawatte Railway Station. After the founders death in 1897, his sons continued the business. One son, Moosbhai Hebtulabhoy started his own firm M S H AbdulAli, in 1907. The same year, the three other brothers, MohamedAli, TyebAli and AbdulHussein, started a firm under the name M S Hebtulabhoy, importing food and hardware and exporting local produce, especially concentrating on tea and breaking the monopoly on tea exports (Island Mar 14 1982).

Among Bohra Merchants were A H S Jeevunjee, who had branches in India and the Maldives. This firm exported tea, arecanuts, coconut oil, and other local produce, and imported dried fish, grain, cereals, and flour from India and Burma, including 200,000 bags of rice a year. Another leading importer not allowed exporter and General Merchant with contacts all over Asia was the firm of T A J Noorbhai, which exported local produce to many parts of the world and was one of the largest importers of grain, textiles, and cotton manufactured garments. Noorbhai, who was decsribed in 1907 as a "liberal supporter of schools and charities, and one of the best known figures in Colombo commercial circles", also owned sailing vessels and pioneered steam ships between Sri lanka and the Maldives; He had also once owned the Wellawatte Spinning & Weaving Mills (Wright, 1907: pp 495-504).

M S Hebtulabhoy AbdulAly was a nother leading importer of rice, curry stuffs and sugar, who had a prosperous trade (started in Colombo by his father and uncle), exporting local produce to Africa, Mauritius, Singapore and HongKong, where he had trading contracts. He was also the owner of tea, rubber, and cinnamon plantations.

Other Bohra merchants and export import traders in Colombo around 1900 were A E S Jeevunjee, a large importer of rice for the planations, M M Ibramjee, Hassanaly Dawoodbhoy, and H M Moosajee.

Inayet Akbarally tells the remarkable story of his great grandfather Careemjee Jafferjee and how he became the first member of the Dawoodi Bohra community to set foot in Ceylon believed to be around 1830. Fleeing persecution in Yemen, the community ended up in India, with some families settling in Kutch Mandvi, in the state of Gujurat in western India. His great grandfather Careemjee Jafferjee traded spices between Zanzibar, Maldives and Gujarat, travelling in sailing ships called buggullos. A famine displaced much of the community to different parts of India but it was Careemjee Jafferjee who was the first Bohra to set foot in what was British Ceylon, initially placing his roots in Galle where he was shipwrecked during a return voyage home from Maldives around 1830, and then moving to Colombo and Pettah twenty years later, as the community grew. Mr Akbarally’s great grand father became known in the wider community as the Merchant Prince, and celebrated for his philanthropy.

Dawoodi Bohras are predominantly traders concentrated in western India — Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra — and Madhya Pradesh. The men wear distinctive white-and-gold caps while the women wear colourful burqas called rida.

They believe their Imam represents the Prophet on earth and that their 21st Imam had to go into exile in the 12th century. The Syedna, appointed hereditarily since the present Syedna’s grandfather’s time, is supposed to be the spiritual representative in the Imam’s absence.




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