Every year, Ashura for the Bohra community has been a physical journey to gather with other worldwide members of the community, in a designated city, decided by our leader, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, and in a spirit of community to collectively listen to the sermons and commiserate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
Last year it was Colombo, Sri-Lanka, my birth home, and it was a journey filled with mixed feelings. I was excited to be going, excited my son would take his misaaq in the hands of my Moula, I would meet immediate family and extended family I had not seen for decades, the masjid held nostalgia because I grew up on its premises, but my birth country was troubled. Wrecked by internal conflicts, economically wounded after the Easter Sunday terrorism bombings, it was reeling in spirit.
Sri-Lanka lovingly welcomed all of us. 25,000 attendees gathered in Colombo to listen to the Syedna’s sermons. We take pride in our organization abilities and logistically we have committees that can help the local government with housing, food, traffic flow, security, and even sanitation. The approximately two weeks that we spent in Sri-Lanka was a boost to the country’s economy and also helped in healing rifts and distrust that the locals felt towards Muslims, seeing that we were a peaceful, law abiding community whose only desire was to remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and clean our souls with our lamentations on his death.
I remember the sermons of Ashura in Sri-Lanka very well. I took notes, notes that I cherish to this day. Especially because Moula spoke about the Entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurship is in our genes, our very lifeblood. My Father, an immigrant from India who had settled down in Sri-Lanka, founded his place in a new country, and made his wealth by being an entrepreneur. The way Moula explained what entrepreneurship meant totally aligned with my own belief system. Entrepreneurship is about revisioning our surroundings. It is about being a problem solver. It is about giving of our skills and our talents to our community,
The 10 days of Ashara in a foreign city is a living example of this Entrepreneurial spirit.
What happens when this year-old tradition is disrupted by a worldwide pandemic?
This year, because of the stay safe at home order, we will no longer be holding our annual Ashara gatherings in a designated city where mumin from all over gather in the thousands, but will be memorializing the event in our own homes.
Mumin prep for this event months in advance, physically and spiritually planning for it. This year was no different. We prayed “Ya Hussain” tasbeehs, gathered our hafti’s, our books, with marashiyas and qasidahs, took out our Ashara Tayzeen banners and flags for home decoration, designated a corner of our home ready for waaz (sermon), made sure we had fast speed internet, smart tv, with working speakers, as waaz would be relayed, washed and did namazi of our libas (clothes), subscribed to jamaat thaali, took leave from school and our workplace, and generally prepared to turn our homes into our own personal masjids.
This worldwide pandemic has confined us to our homes. Stay safe at home orders from our respective governments has made masjid gathering and congregating of any kind impossible. We, Dawoodi Bohras, are a peace-loving community and very law abiding. We are taught to abide by the regulations set forth by our government and obey the laws of the land. By staying at home, we are doing our part in keeping our community safe, our neighbors safe, and looking out for each other.
We spent Ramzaan in our homes too. Though our hearts were heavy we could not congregate in our masjid for namaz and ifthar, there was a more personal bonding with our immediate family, a quieter peace, when we observed Ramzaan in our homes. This year, Ashura will be similar.
We will still get the full sermons of our Moula through our internet connections. We will still take leave of nine days of Moharram from our worldly pursuits, to seek a quieter peace with our spiritual selves.
Through the wonders of being digitally connected, our Moula still keeps us connected to the larger community. Our matam majlis has clips from jamaats all over the world, synchronistical, in our lamentations and eulogies of Imam Hussain. The four walls of our own personal homes seem to encompass all the other homes worldwide and we feel connected to a larger entity.
It will be different, but we are a community that have been taught to adapt to our circumstance. To welcome turbulences, and displacements, because in spirit, in kin, in community, we are worldwide strong, held together by the love of our Dai, and because of our entrepreneurial spirit, we never lose hope!
Fatema Baldiwala is part of the Los Angeles Dawoodi Bohra jamaat. She is an adjunct professor at the local Community College and teaches rhetoric, composition, literature, and entrepreneurship