Linking Trade and Religion

The Dai-ul-Mutlaq (spirtual leader) of the Dawoodi Bohra Moslem Community, Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Saheb, spent his 66th birthday yesterday in Hong Kong, surrounded by 200 followers including those from prominent business families.

Dr. Burhanuddin Saheb is the 52nd Dai-ul-Mutlaq to carry on the mission of Imams (successors to the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law). He represents the ultimate spirtual authority for a million people in Bohra communities throughout the world.

Besides being a religous leader, he is also a scholar and philosopher whose writings are highly regarded in the Islamic world. He has been received by heads of state such as Queen Elizabeth and President Anwar Sadat.

While in Hongkong, he will meet the Chairman of the Urban council, Mr. O.Sales, leading businesmen and members of the diplomatic community. But primarily he is here to attend to his followers, most of whom are businessmen. (The Bohra community is basically a trading one ; the word Bohra actually means a trader.) Yesterday, seated on a white draped throne, he gave personal audiences advice on a variety of problems, religous, economic and maritial.

“My followers are primarily engaged in trade and commerce,” he said, “and my advice to them will be still to further their economic well-being.” “Such economic well-being and progress must always bear in mind the dicates of religon, because Islam has laid down very clear and explicit principles regarding the conduct of commerce and trade.”

Running a business on Islamic principles brings not only material profits but also spiritual satisfaction, he added. Dr. Burhanuddin Saheb gives as an example the Koranic law which forbids usury. He says it is not impossible, though it may seem difficult, for one not to give or receive interest in the context of international banking.

“Already in India and Pakistan, we are establishing banking institutions which will function on Islamic principles, and I always exhort my followers who have the means, to help their brothers with loans free of interest”.

He exhorts his followers by all means to avail themselves of international banking facilities, but not to give or receive any interest on their deposited capital. The bank’s profits would then go to the public, so that the maximum can benefit from the wealth of the country. This is where the sociological principle of Islam lies, he says.

At the centre of Bohra belief for centuries has been the concept of self-reliance. As an aide of the Dai-ul-Mutlaq explains, this belief is so much held that for a Bohra to go into somebody else’s service is actively discouraged and actually looked down upon. It is much better to start in hardship with one rupee, and be working for oneself than be the highest paid executive in the service of somebody else. The idea of self-reliance is born out of the fundamental belief that I am a created being.

“He who created me will provide for my needs. It is God who gives, not man,” he explains.

One should therfore develop oneself, both materially and spiritually to rely on the providence of God. This is why the Bohras have founded so many community centres abroad, says Dr. Burhanuddin Saheb.

“The idea is not to create an international community, but that instead of staying at home, people should be anywhere in the world where oppurtunity exists for trade and commerce.”

“This is based on the traditional philosophy of the mission that every follower must endeavour to be self-reliant.”

Dr. Burhanuddin Saheb quotes some Arabic verses which his father, the 51st Dai-ul-Mutlaq wrote:

  • “You secure the services of the world, and you do not become a servant of the world”.
  • “If you can so live you will live with honour and success”

courtesy of South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 19th March 1979