MUMBAI:The fight between an uncle and his nephew for the chair of Syedna, the supreme spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, has taken an interesting turn after the first bout in the Bombay High Court is over. The second round will begin on August 24.
Khuzaima Qutbuddin, 74, has challenged the appointment of his nephew Mufaddal Saifuddin, 70, as the 53rd Syedna. He claims that the 52nd Syedna—his elder brother, the late Muhammad Burhanuddin—had appointed him as his successor in 1965, almost 49 years before his death on January 17, 2014. Saifuddin, the second son of Burhanuddin, also claims that he is the natural heir to the chair.
In Bombay High Court’s room number 46, people listened curiously when Qutbuddin told the court that he was wearing a ring that originally belonged to the 51st Syedna Taher Saifuddin, his father. He claimed that late Syedna Burhanuddin had given him the ring after he pronounced nass (official anointment) on him. “The Syedna appointed me as Mazoon (second in hierarchy). He also pronounced nass on me. He gave me this ring, which I wear to this day,” Qutbuddin told the court when the current Syedna Saifuddin’s lawyer Iqbal Chhagla cross-examined him.
Qutbuddin pointed out that Burhanuddin was a Mazoon before his predecessor made him a Syedna. He, however, maintained that the nass was not made public because Burhanuddin feared there could be violent reactions to it. None of his other 11 brothers and eight sisters were aware of it either.
According to Qutbuddin, his half-brother Najmuddin, who was 20 years older to him, influenced Burhanuddin’s family to declare Saifuddin as the Syedna. Interestingly, Saifuddin is Najmuddin’s son-in-law. Qutbuddin also said that two attempts were made to kill him; first in Indore during Muharram and the second in Yemen. The car in which he was supposed to be travelling in was shot at.
Qutbuddin’s lawyer Ravi Kadam will cross-examine Saifuddin from Monday in the same courtroom where Muhammad Ali Jinnah had unsuccessfully argued against the six-year jail term to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1914. In a rare scenario, the entire proceeding is being videotaped.
The Syedna and Mazoon’s absolute authority over the rich Dawoodi Bohra community has brought the family to the court. The Dai (Syedna) and Mazoon together guide the community and have control over its mosques, trusts, hospitals and educational institutes. The trust runs a super speciality hospital in Mumbai and also oversees a redevelopment plan of Bhendi Bazaar, one of Mumbai’s most crowded areas. The project cost runs into crores of rupees.
In his 700-page suit, Qutbuddin has given details on why he is the right claimant to the chair. In contrast, Saifuddin has filed a 494-page affidavit elaborating on how he is the obvious choice for the position.
Qutbuddin’s supporters have launched a Facebook page to underpin his claim. They say that Saifuddin is a regressive person and does not like women stepping out of their homes. Saifuddin has ordered the community members to remain indoors for 10 days during Muharram, as it is a period of mourning. The order has not gone well in the community, known for its liberal views.
Saifuddin’s cross-examination from Monday will also give answers whether he is regressive.