Dawoodi Bohras are one of the sects of Shia branch of Islam having a rigid religious hierarchy. After the initial resistance of its 50th Dai the importance of secular education along with the religious one was realized fully and the community opened the doors of modern or rather contemporary education for its children. Credit for this goes in particular to its 51st Dai late Sayyedna Tahir Saifuddin sahib who introduced secular subjects in the syllabus of madrassas run under his establishment. This resulted in almost 100% literacy in the community much before other Muslim Communities started incorporating secular subjects in their respective madrassas.
It is, however, pertinent to mention here that the Shia Fatemi Imams to whom the Bohras of the world attach themselves were cosmopolitan in their outlook and incorporated knowledge and wisdom from almost every great civilization of their time in their writings and collections which is evident in their “Rasail Ikhwanussafa” or “Epistles of the “Bretheren of Purity”. It is said that the Fatemid Library –“Darul Ilm”– in Egypt has 100,000, books apart from manuscript from Indian , Persian, Roman, Jewish, Babylonian and Greek literatures and had periodical debates-called “Munazira”– in their “Darul Hikmah” or “House of Wisdom”. The Fatemids and subsequently their successors in Yemen, Arabia, had produced eminent scholars and philosophers as a result. Thus incorporating subjects other than their own was not alien to this community.
Although most of the treasure was either burnt by the Mongols and Fatimid rivals, a sizable lot still survives in the library of Arabic University-Al Jamia al-Saifiyah- at Surat, India which is an institution belonging to Dawoodi Bohras. Unfortunately access to this library is not permitted to any one except the chosen ones. Hence public library of books giving free access to common men assumed importance.
Thus the love with books has been, a traditional heritage which the Bohras had in store all the time and had shown responsibility in preserving it.
In Udaipur there has always been a sizable presence of this community with enlightened people who maintaining their centuries old tradition started a library and registered it as ‘Darul-Mutaliatul-Burhaniyah’ literally ‘Burhani House of Reading’ in August 1942. In 2017 this library completed 75 years of its formation. The naming was to honour the ‘Mazoon-e-dawat’ or legatee of the mission of the time late Sayyedna Mohammed Burhanuddin sahib who subsequently became 52nd Dai of the sect.
In its composition Burhani Library has two sections- Reference and Reading located in two separate rooms and situation wise it is in the heart of city on a popular rout.
Reference Section- Over the years literature of every kind kept on becoming a part of its accumulation and as of today it has nearly a collection of hundreds of books which includes religious, historical and biographical works along with analytical and critical volumes and monographs as also novels and stories in its “Reference Section’. The material is in Arabic, Persian, Urdu as well as Hindi and Gujrati. Few of them are a century old.
Reading Room- It keeps national, regional and local news papers, periodicals, booklets and leaf lets in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gujrati.
Both the sections have been made accessible for every citizen throughout its existence. Many a prominent personalities from the literary, cultural and religious fields have visited it over the years and applauded the efforts made for the collections and their preservation as is evident from their remarks in the visitors’ book of records.
It may be mentioned that other than Udaipur, there is no other place inhabited by Bohras which has such an institution of public use and importance. Since year 1973 the library is being managed by the ‘Reformist group’ of Bohras in Udaipur.
Since most of its material is in Urdu the library had its peaks and troughs with rise and fall of Urdu. The writer of this blog has seen the days when there used to be a waiting time to get a seat in its reading room. However, with decline of Urdu language, due reasons well known, as well as burden of education with stiff competition the young generation has drifted away to a great extent. Added to this are the modern electronic books and news papers available and accessible to everyone which has resulted in poor withdrawals from reference section. The use of social media has made the drift more acute.
Nonetheless the importance of books and printed media has a distinct and unique place in the history of learning. The readers who love reading them continue to flock to the library. When the ghost of various ‘app’ disappears from the scene-which is bound to be- people will revert back to the world of printed material.
It is however, a matter of great satisfaction that the managing committees all along had shown the wisdom and perseverance to continue to run this unique treasure with sincerity despite limited resources and encouragement.
These days Muslims at various places are celebrating 200th year of the birth of Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan-Warden of Aligarh Movement and who awakened the community from its century’s old slumber against very stiff opposition from the orthodoxy. When realization of his message and movement started paying off he became the torch bearer of awakening and earned the title of ‘’Mohsinul Millat” literally ‘benevolent for the community’.
Coinciding with Sir Sayyed’s birth celebrations Burhani library also will be celebrating its Diamond Jubilee on 9th of the current month and deserves all praises and encouragements from its patrons in general and Bohras of Udaipur in particular.