Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Pilgrimage to a Ritual
The Fluid Sacred Geography of the Bohras’ Muharram

REZA MASOUDI NEJAD

Since the Sayyidna speech is considered sacred for every Bohra,
there is a great rush to be at his majlis. The attendees received their
invitations after registering by e-mail. Nearly two lakh [200,000]
Bohras from across the world are in town and around 32,000 get to
sit in the massive mosque at a time.

—M. WAJIHUDDIN, Times of India, November 14, 2010

A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place, a journey throughout which individuals receive an ultimate spiritual experience. Many pilgrimages end in a congress at a sacred place, creating a socio-religious solidarity among those who share the sacred geography where a spiritual moment is collectively experienced. “Pilgrimage” is commonly defined, conceived, and illustrated based on previously demarcated holy places. A stereotypical definition of pilgrimage might resemble this: “A journey to a shrine or place of religious importance.”1 Common examples are places and cities such as the old temple wall in Jerusalem, Mecca, or Buddha’s footprint. However, this chapter illustrates a pilgrimage and congress that is defined not by arrival at a holy place but by sacred sermons. The pilgrimage of the Dawoodi Bohras is to wherever their spiritual leader chooses to deliver his Muharram sermons.2 The geography of the Muharram sermons is rather different when compared to that of other important sermons, such as the Pope’s at St. Peter’s Square, since it is not continually held at the same place.

The spiritual significance of the Muharram sermons inspires the over 200,000 members of the Dawoodi Bohra community,3 which are dispersed from India to East Africa, the Far East, Europe, and more recently North America and Australia. ʿAbbas Master, who is a highly influential member of the community, explained, “Every year before Muharram, the highness Sayyidna Muhammad Burhanuddin announces where he is going to deliver his Muharram sermons, then the Bohras will travel from all over the world to that place.” 4 Over the years, the Sayyidna (1915–2014) held his

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