Sayyidna Muhammad Burhanuddin

An article on Sayyidna Muhammad Burhanuddin taken from the OUP Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.

BURHANUDDIN, SAYYIDNA MUHAMMED (b. AH 1333/1915 CE), head of the Daudi Bohra Ismaili community and fifty-second occupant of the office of da'i mutlaq ("absolute summoner"). The office held by Burhanuddin originated in Yemen in AH 532/1138 CE when the heir to the Fatimid caliphate, the twenty-first imam al-Tayyib, chose seclusion. The Ismaili community believes that since then the imamate has continued in seclusion in the progeny of al-Tayyib and that prior preparations had been made by predecessors to ensure that the Fatimid Ismaili mission would continue through da'i mutlaq. The da'i thus represents the secluded imam and operates with the imam's authority. He carries out virtually all the imam's religious and juridical functions and sustains the social structure of the community of believers. The present da'i resides in Bombay, the headquarters of the mission having been transferred to India from Yemen in 974/1567. Like his predecessors, he is greatly revered by his followers.

Burhanuddin received his religious and administrative training during the leadership of his renowned father and predecessor, Tahir Sayf al-Din (1915-1965) and succeeded him in 1965. He has led his community into an era of fresh vibrancy and renewed zeal by devoting his efforts to the preservation of the Fatimid Ismaili heritage in a number of ways: he has ushered in a spiritual reawakening by requiring his followers to adhere closely to Qur'anic injunctions in their everyday lives. He has emphasized adherence to Islamic business ethics that include the prohibition of interest and institutionalized interest-free loan schemes to cater for the community's borrowing needs. He has strengthened the age-old Shi'i practice of lamenting the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn; the annual gatherings to mourn the martyrdom during the first ten day of Muharram (Ashura) has become the major spiritual expression of the community, with thousands of Bohras attending the sermons of the da'i, which are relayed live to Bohra centers all over the world. He has promoted the blending of secular and religious studies by initiating Islam-oriented schools which attempt to provide an integrated education in an Islamic atmosphere. Finally, he has undertaken the restoration of Fatimid relics and promoted Fatimid architecture and design in the construction of a large number of mosques, mausolea and other public buildings all over the world. The most important of such works has been the restoration in 1980 of al-Jami al-Anwar, the grand mosque in Cairo built by the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (966-1021).

Sayyidna Burhanuddin is an accomplished scholar. He personally supervises the curriculum of the Arabic academy al-Jami'ah al-Sayfiyah where his followers receive religious training. He is the author of several books on Ismaili religious thought and has composed thousands of verses in Arabic on supplication and in praise of the Prophet, imams and da'is. He has received honorary doctorates from al-Azhar University (1966) and from Aligarh Muslim University (1966).

He has frequently visited Daudi Bohra centers all over the world to personally imbue Islamic values in his followers, a practice he has continued even at an advanced age. He spends many hours each day in attending to the needs of Daudi Bohras, who seek his advicec on all aspects of life, even on mundane matters such as the choice of name of a newborn. His charitable endeavors, promotion of institutes and trusts for educational and economic welfare, support of projects on environmental issues, and renovation activities have earned him international recognition, including the highest civilian honors of Egypt (1976) and Jordan (1981).

[See also Bohras; Fatimid Dynasty; Ismailiyah; Jami'ah al-Sayfiyah, al-.]

Mustafa Abdulhussein


Sayyidna Burhanuddin's annual commemorations of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn are recorded in publications of the Bohra community where the commemorations are held, for instance, Dhikr al-Safar al-Jamil (Bombay, 1993) and The Mombase Experience (Bombay, 1993). Examples of Burhanuddin's published works include Istifah Zubad al-Maarif (Bombay, 1965) and Al-munajat al-sharifah al-Ramadaniyah (Bombay, 1990), a compendium of poetic supplications for Ramadan written from 1965-1990. The secretariat of Al-Da'i al-Mutlaq publishes a series of pamphlets providing statistical and historial information, including the following titles: A Golden Chapter in Islamic Economy (Bombay, 1985); B. H. Zaidi, From Strength to Strength (Bombay, 1991), T. A. A. Davoodbhoy, Day of Thanksgiving (Bombay, 1992); and Kauser Niyazi, Heir to a Great Spiritual Heritage (Bombay, 1992). The reader may also consult the following works:

  • Najmuddin, Y. Fifty-Second El-Dai el-Fatimi: Seventy-Five Momentous Years in Retrospect. Bombay, 1985.
  • Quarashi, Idris Imad al-Din. Uyun al-akbar wa-funun al-athar. Vol. 7. Beirut, 1974.
  • Sayf al-Din, Tahir. Dhu'i Nur al-Haqq al-Mubin. Bombay, 1917. Doctrinal exposition on the transfer of authority from the imam in Fatimid Egypt to the da'i mutlaq in Yemen which quotes from the fourth/ninth-century work by Ja'far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, Kitab al-shawahid wa-al-bayan.
  • Sayf al-Din, Tahir. Al Mashrab al-Kawthari. Bombay, 1920.
  • Souvenir Akhbar Nur. London, 1982.
  • A Treasury of Reminiscences. Bombay, 1967. Informative pictorial book charting the early life of Sayyidna Burhanuddin.

Source and Credits

This article is reprinted with permission in its entirety from the OUP Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, John Esposito (ed), Copyright © 1995 and may not be reproduced elsewhere.

In order to make the text of the OUP article more readable for the web medium, most accents have been removed from the original text. The original article with accents is available here: part 1, part 2, bibliography.

For more information on the Daudi Bohra community, visit The contemporary (and most used) spelling of Daudi Bohras is Dawoodi Bohras. The contemporary spelling of Sayyidna Muhammad Burhanuddin is Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.