The following are measured drawings of Bohra Mosques in Gujarat, drawn during the year 2006 as part of undergraduate research thesis titled ‘Understanding a Shia Architecture: Evolution of the Bohra Masjid – Gujarat A.D. 1650-1950′ at the School of Architecture, CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Copyright Zameer Basrai 2006.
A brief historical background of the Bohras would better locate them within Islamic history and the history of Gujarat. The bohras are Shia muslims of the Ismaili Mustaaliam sect. In A.D. 765, the Shias split into two major sub-sects; the Ithna Asharis and the Ismailis. The Ithna Asharis constitute the largest population of Shias. In fact, when one generally refers to Shias, they are often referring to the Ithna Asharis. Following this, in A.D. 1094 the Ismailis further split into the Nazarians and the Mustaaliams. This split took place during the fall of the Fatimid empire in northeast Africa and the subsequent move to Yemen. The Nazarians (popularly known as Khojas in India) today, are the followers of the Aga Khan. This study particularly deals with the Mustaaliam sub-sect and more specifically the ‘Dawoodi Bohras’ who accepted the leadership of Syedna Dawood Bin Qutb Shah in A.D. 1591. They predominantly constitute local brahmin and vania converts in the state of Gujarat, India at the beginning of the eleventh century. As a result a majority of the bohras are petty traders by profession. And even though many Bohras have diversified into other professions and businesses, their surname still reminds us of their familial businesses. The word ‘Bohra’ is derived from the Gujarati word ‘Vohorvu’ or ‘to trade’. Today, more than fifty percent of the Dawoodi Bohras live in the state of Gujarat. From Engineer, Asghar Ali The Bohras [Sahidabad; Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. 1980] and Desai, Madhavi Traditional houseform of Bohras in Gujarat: Architectural response to cultural ethos [ Report 1992]
Recent studies on the Bohra community have centered around their nineteenth and twentieth century houses in Sidhpur and Kapadvanj. And effectively so, the community has been understood within a Gujarati local paradigm as being Hindu converts practising a heterodox Islam. But the bohras have been part of a peculiar history of Islam in Gujarat from A.D. 1650 (when they suffered greatly due to religious persecution by Sunni rulers in the state) to A.D. 1950 (when they prospered at the height of British rule in the country). The thesis aims to re-assess existing scholarship on the Bohras by re-locating them as an Islamic community and studying the Mosque as their primary religious institution. This trajectory is followed and adapted from Engineer, Asghar Ali The Bohras [Sahidabad; Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. 1980].