Bombay High Court Declaratory Suit 8th, 11th & 12th December 2017

The recording of the evidence of His Holiness Syedna Taher Fakhruddin Saheb (TUS), the Plaintiff in Suit 337/2014, which had been originally filed by his predecessor His Holiness the Late Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin Saheb RA in the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, began on the 8th of December 2017 at 12:00pm in the historic Courtroom No. 46, presided over by the Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel.

The Plaintiff first took the oath, and prayed Bismillah.

The Plaintiff was first examined by his Cousel Mr. Anand Desai of DSK Legal. The Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel also asked the Plaintiff several questions. 

Mr. Desai asked the Plaintiff to explain the origins of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Plaintiff replied that Dawoodi Bohras are Shia Ismaili Muslims, followers of Imam Ismail AS.. Syedna Saheb explained that Ismaili Shia’s believe that nass of succession, once conferred, cannot be revoked, changed, superseded or replaced and that is a core Dawoodi Bohra theological doctrine. This was the basic difference in belief from the followers of Musa Kazim, who believed that the nass on Ismail was revoked, and nass was then conferred on Musa Kazim by Imam Jafer us-Sadiq.

(An issue is of central importance in this succession case is that the defendant, Shehzada Mufaddal Saifuddin, is saying that nass can be revoked, superseded, replaced or changed.)

Mr. Desai asked the Plaintiff about the sources of doctrinal knowledge in the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Plaintiff answered that in the hierarchy of texts, the highest would be the Holy Qur’an, the hadith of Mohammed Rasulullah SA, and the sayings of the Imams. At the same level are books of the Dais. The Plaintiff explained that the books are like notes, and it is the oral interpretations provided by the Dais that are considered the highest level, as they are the authentic interpretations of the texts.

The Plaintiff said that he is also relying on oral interpretations given by the 51st Dai His Holiness the Late Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb RA and the 52nd Dai His Holiness the Late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Saheb RA to establish issues of belief and doctrine in this case.

The Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel asked the Plaintiff whether it is important or necessary for others to know of the conferment of nass at or around the time when it is conferred. The Plaintiff replied that it is not compulsory or necessary, and that there are historical precedents of keeping such a conferment private, including to prevent opposing forces from attempting a disruption in the chosen order of Dais.

Mr. Desai asked the Plaintiff to provide an explanation for the case of private nass, where the nass is communicated only from the appointer to the appointed. The Plaintiff answered that not only is this possible, but gave several historical examples of when this has been previously done. The Plaintiff also stated that he has personally heard the 52nd Dai on multiple occasions say that private nass is valid and there are audio recordings of the 51st Dai saying this.

Mr. Desai asked the Plaintiff to explain the case where a mansoos (successor) dies before he assumes office as Dai. The Plaintiff explained that once nass is conferred, the mansoos has already reached the high station in this world and will attain the same high station in heaven. The Dai would anoint a new mansoos by conferring nass on him in case his mansoos passes away during the lifetime of the Dai. In support of this, among other examples, the Plaintiff quoted the Holy Quran (Ch. 19: Verse 53:  53rd verse of Surat Maryam) which states that Prophet Haroon (Aaron), the mansoos (appointed successor) of Prophet Musa (Moses), is referred to as having the same station as Musa himself, that of Nabi (Prophet). Another mansoos was appointed after Prophet Haroon passed away.

Mr. Desai asked the Plaintiff what is the difference between Sajda (prostration) of worship and Sajda to an Imam or his Dai. The Plaintiff replied that the Sajda for worship can be done only to Allah (God); Sajda to an Imam or his Dai is also denoted as ‘taqbeel al ard’ (meaning kissing of the ground) and is the highest form of respect.

(This point is important because the Plaintiff’s case is that sajda is only done to an Imam, Imam-to-be, his Dai or Dai-to-be. The Defendant and his brothers used to perform Sajda to the Original Plaintiff Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin Saheb.)

Mr. Desai also asked whether there are any expressions used to jointly refer to the Dai and the Mazoon. The Plaintiff, illustratively, named the following:

  • The Mazoon is the right hand of the Dai and jointly takes up the work of the Dawat
  • The Dai and the Mazoon are the spiritual parents of the people of Dawat
  • The Mazoon is the true friend of the Dai and witness upon the believers

The Plaintiff also offered testimony about the photos taken when Syedna Burhanuddin RA viewed the handwritten misaal (letter) written by the 51st Dai Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb RA to Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin Saheb RA. Syedna Burhanuddin and Syedna Qutbuddin are visible in the photographs and Syedna Fakhruddin took the photographs. The misaal has clear indications by the 51st Dai that the Original Plaintiff would be the 53rd Dai.

The Hon’ble Justice Gautam Patel asked the Plaintiff the reasons for wanting to rely on audio and video recordings of the 51st and 52nd Dais sermons. The Plaintiff replied that he is relying on these  as they are the authoritative pronouncements by the 51st Dai and 52nd Dai on several key doctrinal beliefs, including:

  • There can be a private conferment of nass
  • That the mansoos can testify for himself and in favour of himself to show that the Dai conferred nass on him
  • That a nass can be conferred with an indication
  • That a nass once conferred cannot be changed, revoked or superseded
  • To show the high credibility and station of the rank of Mazoon

The examination in chief concluded and Senior Counsel Mr. Iqbal Chagla for the defendant Shehzada Mufaddal Saifuddin, began his cross-examination.

Mr. Chagla asked many questions about the Plaintiff’s personal background, inquiring in detail into his educational background, places of residence, business dealings, and also other family related matters.

Mr. Chagla asked the Plaintiff about the special knowledge and Dawat secrets bestowed upon him by the Original Plaintiff, inquiring into their purpose. He replied that the reason for bestowing such knowledge was so that he “could serve the Dawat and the Dai”. Mr. Chagla asked how the Original Plaintiff expected the Plaintiff to serve Dawat and the Dai. He replied: “In the way he had served them, with sincerity and devotion.”

Mr. Chagla questioned the Plaintiff about the role of the Mazoon in settling disputes relating to the identity of the true Dai, and Syedna Fakhruddin indicated that in previous disputes, the word of the Mazoon was taken as authoritative in determining the true Dai.

Syedna Fakhruddin was asked when he believed that his father, the 53rd Dai Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin Saheb was the successor to the 52nd Dai. He replied that it was a progression from childhood and the actions of the 52nd Dai’s children, including the defendant, all of whom offered Sajda to Syedna Qutbuddin, and jointly referred to the 52nd Dai and Syedna Qutbuddin Saheb as “Bewe Moula” (Both Moula), contributed to this belief.

Mr. Chagla also entered into evidence a newspaper article that the Plaintiff had brought in his Plaint, but which was not earlier admitted by the Defendant. This newspaper article quoted the former Chief Justice of India, the Hon’ble Justice Aziz M. Ahmadi saying that “I examined the documents and believe that Syedna Qutbuddin’s stand of the 53rd Dai is principled”.  The Hon’ble Justice Patel took this document on record as the Defendant’s exhibit.

The Hon’ble Justice Patel has scheduled the further cross-examination of the Plaintiff on 8th, 9th, and 12th of January 2018.