Bombay High Court Upholds Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s Position As Dawoodi Bohra Spiritual Leader, Rejects Successor’s Claims

The Bombay High Court, in a detailed 226-page judgment, while upholding the position of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin as the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq or the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, has said he had valid “nass”. A “nass” is a process or bequest of a predecessor to his successor making him the next Dai for the Bohra community across the globe. The HC has emphasised that the plaintiff, who had challenged Syedna Saifuddin’s appointment, failed to prove that he was given a valid nass by the 52nd Dai, Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin.

Justice Gautam Patel, on Tuesday, had dismissed the 2014 suit which was initially filed by Khuzaima Qutbuddin soon after Syedna Burhanuddin death in January 2014. After Syedna Burhanuddin’s death, his second son Muffadal Saifuddin then took over as the 53rd Syedna. After Qutbuddin’s death in 2016, his son taher Fakhruddin took over the suit claiming his father had conferred the nass on him. The suit sought that the court restrain Syedna Saifuddin from discharging his duties as Syedna.

Absence Of Evidence For Alleged Secret ‘Nass’ Conferral

Justice Patel has observed that the plaintiff has failed to submit any proof to show that Qutbuddin was conferred nass by the 52nd Dai. Qutbuddin had in his suit claimed his brother Burhanuddin appointed him as the mazoon (second in command) and privately anointed him as his successor through a secret “nass” on December 10, 1965.The high court, however, noted that in this meeting only the 52nd Dai and Qutbuddin were present.

“We will never know if the 52nd Dai ever said in private the words to the Original Plaintiff that the Original Plaintiff claims. We do not even know if they met in private. There is no record of either; in itself odd from a community of inveterate record-keepers,” Justice Patel said. “The 52nd Dai can give no evidence of either the meeting or anything that passed in private. What we are therefore asked to accept is the word of the Original Plaintiff simpliciter, without corroboration. This asks the impossible,” the judge underlined.

The bench said once a person comes to a secular civil court, his rank in a religious sect or faith is immaterial and hence there is no exemption from proof because a person held the highest rank in a faith. If a plaintiff comes to court, then no matter who she or he is, the plaintiff must prove her or his case in accordance with law, the court said. In 1965, Justice Patel said that the 52nd Dai was only 51 years old while Qutbuddin was 25 years old. “It is extremely unlikely that the 52nd Dai, even before he took his pledge of allegiance, would be in contemplation of a period after his lifetime — and he lived for nearly another half-century,” the judge said The court said that it is not proved that a nass can be pronounced in private without any witnesses other than the incumbent and the nominee.

Refusal of Plaintiff’s Claim And Evidence Supporting Successor Appointment

Justice Patel also refused to accept the plaintiff’s claim that, in the later years, the 52nd Dai was “lacking the necessary mental capacity to know what he was doing” and hence could not possibly have made an appointment of a successor. The defendant, Syedna Saifuddin, on the other hand has proved that the 52nd Dai had declared on four occasions – from 1969 to 2011 – that he would be the successor. After the 2011 meeting, where nass was conferred on Syedna Saifuddin, the court said that the 52nd Dai went on to live for two and a half years and during that time was seen in public meetings and discourses.

Dispute Over Dai’s Health And Allegations Of Showboating

The suit had alleged that this was all “showboating and that a vegetative Dai was being carted around”. Dismissing the argument, Justice Patel said that this was an “egregious attack on a fundamental tenet of the faith and the belief in the Dai”. “An overall assessment of the 52nd Dai in 2011 is not one of an comatose mind man trapped in a weakened body, too enfeebled to know that which he was doing,” the judge underscored. The Dawoodi Bohras are a religious denomination among Shia Muslims. Traditionally a community of traders and entrepreneurs, it has over 5 lakh members in India and over 10 lakh members across the world.

Dai-al-Mutlaq’s Succession

The top religious leader of the community is known as the Dai-al-Mutlaq. As per faith and Dawoodi Bohra doctrine, a successor is appointed through “divine inspiration”. A “nass” (conferment of succession) can be conferred upon any deserving member of the community and not necessarily a family member of the current Dai, although the latter is often the practice. Apart from seeking restrain on Syedna Saifuddin from acting as the Dai-al-Mutlaq, the plaintiff had sought an entry to Saifi Manzil, the house of the Syedna in Mumbai, alleging that Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin had taken over the leadership role in a “fraudulent manner”.

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