This year, because of COVID-19, the Dawoodi Bohra community was forced to drastically change how it practiced its observation of Ashara Mubaraka, a significant event in the religion’s calendar.
While typically members would gather as a community, this year families instead observed from home to safely social distance.
Ashara Mubaraka is a 10-day observance to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed. Typically, the Dawoodi Bohra community, a branch of the Shiite sect of Islam, would travel to where its religious leader was for the 10 days to observe the tradition. But this year, due to the pandemic, community members are practicing from their own homes around the world.
“In the 10 days, mostly what we’re doing is we have sermons about justice, about peace, about education, about how we should live our lives to the highest morals,” said Batul Yamani, the PR lead for the Dawoodi Bohra community in The Woodlands.
The observation always falls differently each year because it is dictated by the lunar calendar. This year, the 10 days started Aug. 19 and ends today.
Traditionally, each day of the observation includes listening to the sermon, praying and coming together as a community to share a meal. This year, to follow social distancing rules, the 30 families that make up the local Dawoodi Bohra community stayed at home and shared meals as a family.
Food, and sharing it, is a big part of the community and the observation. This year, communal kitchens around the world put together meals for Dawoodi Bohra members during Ashara Mubaraka, including locally. The communal kitchen in Katy, where there is a larger mosque and a Dawoodi Bohra community of around 200 families, delivers lunch and dinner to members every day of the observance.
“We really try to spend these 10 days in prayers, but more likely revisiting everything that’s happened, and revisiting those times, and remembering what was given up for us so that we can be better people and have a better life,” Yamani said. “This year we’re not able to do any of that. This year worldwide we’re following regulations of social distancing, we’re following the local regulations, wearing masks, good hygiene, keeping clean.”
Before Aug. 19, the Dawoodi Bohra community started preparing for the changes to this year’s observations. Decorations that would usually adorn the mosques and gathering spaces for each congregation were instead put up at home. A survey was sent out to see which members might need help with technology to be able to access the sermons each day, and those with more technological savvy set up other members who needed help.
In the past, Dawoodi Bohra members who could not travel to the chosen location for Ashara Mubaraka would still observe at their mosque. This year, members cannot even do that.
“We were a little anxious in the beginning because we didn’t know how this was going to play out and it’s a tradition that’s been going on for years, hundreds of years of tradition that we’re now changing around a little bit,” Yamani said. “We’re all making the best of it and at the end of the day, the rules are rules and we have to follow the rules of our country.”
While Yamani said the community was sad not to be able to observe as it usually would, there was still joy in being able to observe, even from home.
“It’s a little difficult, and we miss it, we wish that we were together because that’s what our community is all about,” she said.