An American academic and expert in Islamic history was on Thursday the latest witness to be examined in the Bombay High Court, where two factions are locked in a battle to be declared the leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
In June 2014, the plaintiff, Khuzaima Qutubuddin had filed a suit in the High Court, seeking to be declared as the 53rd Da’i-al-Mutlaq of the community and challenging the claim of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the son of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, to the leadership. He has claimed in his suit that his half-brother, Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin, the 52nd Da’i who passed away in January 2014, had conferred Nass (pronounced him as the successor) in 1965 in secret.
However, after Syedna Burhanuddin’s death, his son Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin announced himself as the Da’i, claiming his father had conferred Nass on him on several occasions. After Qutubuddin’s death in 2016, his son Taher Fakhruddin took over as the plaintiff.
In April this year, the plaintiffs contacted Professor Devin Stewart, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Emory University, for his opinion on their claims. Prof. Stewart submitted his opinions in an affidavit on July 15.
Prof. Stewart began the first of his four-day testimony on Thursday afternoon. Over three hours, he was asked over 80 questions by Senior Counsel Iqbal Chagla, who represents the defendants, as well as by Justice G S Patel. Chagla sought to demonstrate that not only was Nass not irrevocable once conferred, but that the pronouncement does require the presence of witnesses.
On this topic, Prof. Stewart said the 12th Imam (1328-1329 AD) had conferred Nass to his successor, the 13th Imam, on two occasions — the first time a few years before his death without any witnesses and later at the time of his death in the presence of witnesses. When asked whether there was any instance in history of an Imam succeeding to the Imamate without Nass being conferred in the presence of at least two witnesses, Devin said there was an example of a woman being witness to a Nass conferred by an Imam. He said the 20th Imam (1467-1512 AD) had sent a letter to Yemeni Queen Al-Hurratal al-Malikah, informing her of Nass conferred upon the 21st Imam.
“Not only is she a competent witness, but I would say the entire Dawoodi Bohra faith is predicated on the position as a witness of al-Malikah. The reason is that she established the legitimacy of the Imamate of the 21st Imam,” said Prof. Stewart.
To another question, Prof. Stewart said Nass can be conferred on an Imam even when he is the sole witness to the pronouncement. Chagla next asked whether it was true that Nass cannot be revoked once conferred. Prof Devin replied,” Yes. It is the fundamental doctrine of the Ismail Shi’ite belief.” Prof. Stewart deposition will continue on Friday.