Dawoodi Bohra Succession Case, story so far: Fakhruddin claims historic precedents of private conferment of succession rights exist

The Bombay High Court heard the case relating to the succession dispute for the spiritual head of Dawoodi Bohra community on Friday.

While the matter has been in the courts since 2014, Friday's hearing was considered important as the high court heard the main petitioner Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, who has staked claims to be recognised as the spiritual head of the community.

Fakhruddin was questioned by his legal counsel Anand Desai with the court also frequently asking questions. The court session began at 12.00 pm and continued until 5 pm, with a break for lunch. The recording of evidence will continue on 11 and 12 December and cross-examination by the defendant’s counsel will commence once examination by Desai is complete.

File image of late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. AFP

File image of late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (right). AFP

Interestingly, the transcription of Fakhruddin's statements was visible in real time on screens in front of the judge, the lawyers, Fakhruddin and the people in the court.

The hearing began with the court examining various documents, including letters, which could prove who the real successor is. It accepted the letters and their translations in evidence, subject to them being proved correct in both content and translation.

After that Desai began Fakhruddin’s examination-in-chief (questioning of a witness by the party which has called that witness to give evidence, in support of the case being made). Fakhruddin first explained how the Dawoodi Bohra community was established and how they differ from other sects of Muslims.

The court then asked Fakhruddin about the functions of the other appointees in the community such as the Mazoon-ul-Matlaq and the Mukasir. The petitioner also explained certain rituals of the community.

It was after lunch that the questioning became more pointed as the petitioner explained the nuances of how Dais (religious head of the Dawoodi Bohras) are appointed. Questions were asked as to the defined methods in which a nass of succession to Dai is conferred and as to whether a nass conferred in private without the presence of witnesses could be held valid.

Fakhruddin asserted that the nass can be conferred privately and once conferred is irrevocable. He also gave examples of such cases in the past.

The petitioner also spoke about the sources of doctrinal knowledge in the Dawoodi Bohra faith. He was asked to differentiate between two religious texts and asked why one was more authoritative than the other. He explained that the authority comes from author of the text and their standing in the community.

A little confusion was caused during this comparison of texts as the page numbers on different volumes of the evidence were different causing the court to ask for better organisation from the petitioner’s side.

Fakhruddin was also asked if ever a sitting Dai had told his successor who to appoint as the next Dai. Fakhruddin answered in the affirmative and gave the example of the 8th Dai who was appointed by the 7th Dai in accordance with the wishes of the 6th Dai. The hearing ended at 5 pm and will again continue on Monday at 12 noon.

Background of the case

The dispute arose in January 2014 after the death of 52nd spiritual head of the community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. His son Mufaddal Saiffudin succeeded him as the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq, however, his claim was challenged by Burhanuddin's half brother Khuzaima Qutbuddin.

The matter reached the court in 2014 when Qutbuddin filed a declaratory suit in the court asking to be recognised as the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq (the spiritual leader of the community). The community's spiritual head usually, but not always, rise up through a hereditary line of succession.

The Syednas call themselves the representatives of Imams (the line of successors to Islam’s prophet), according to Hindustan Times. Dawoodi Bohras are part of the Shia sect which broke away from the Sunnis after a dispute over the successor to Islam’s prophet.

The case saw another complication after Qutbuddin passed away in 2016. His claim was then pursued by his son Syedna Taher Fakhruddin (the current petitioner).

In March 2017, the Bombay High Court allowed Fakhruddin to be substituted in place of his father as petitioner in the case, The Economic Times reported. This was done to avoid multiple proceedings in the case.

The case has thrown up questions regarding the law as would apply to succession in such cases. The matter is being heard by Justice Gautam Patel who framed the following questions which the court must answer:

- What constitutes a valid nass (act of succession)?

- Was a valid nass conferred upon Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin?

- Can a nass once conferred be retracted, revoked, changed or superseded?

- If a nass can be retracted, revoked, changed or superseded, was a valid nass conferred upon Shehzada Mufaddal Saifuddin (defedant) by Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin?

The Bombay High Court had fixed the dates of 8, 11 and 12 December, 2017 for the cross examination of Fakhruddin.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2017 20:00:34 IST

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