My time with His Holiness: Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhannuddin RA

By: Muffazal Lakdawala

What makes a man stand out from the ordinary common man the Aam Aadmi. Is it who he is born to?  Or how he leads his life or how he reacts to situations he is faced with… I believe true leaders of men are made here on earth, by their words, thoughts and actions.  They don’t necessarily do different things, they just look at things differently from you and me.

One such man I knew was His Holiness Syedna Dr Mohammed Burhannuddin, leader of the Dawoodi Bohras. A community of peace loving people, mainly businessmen and traders — I was very fortunate to be involved in his medical care over the last 5 years. Imagine treating someone who was 102 years old, had a massive following and someone I was taught to pray to since I was born. He, in short, was the closest human form of God I knew of, and here I was operating on God himself. It was not only challenging but also an intimidating experience.

Let me start from the beginning….

I was a kid no more than 5 years old running behind his car as were scores of others screaming Moula Moula only for him to catch a fleeting glimpse of me through a half opened car window. I believed that if he even so much as looked at me I would be blessed. I would attend his sermons during Muharram and Ramzaan religiously. The qualities he had even then were kindness, charisma and patience which lasted with him till he breathed his last. He treated kings, presidents, men of honour with the same grace as he cared for the underprivileged.

Years back, my parents had got an interest-free loan from him to pay for my medical fees and my books in first year of MBBS came from a library of old books, which was something the community ran. A fact that probably he would have never known. That the man who would operate on him years later actually became a doctor thanks to one of the innumerable charity initiatives he ran. Like me, there would be millions who would have benefitted from his generosity.

Today with God’s grace, I am Chairman of the Institute of Minimal Access Surgical Sciences and Research Centre at Saifee hospital and the Director of the Department of GI, Minimal Access and Bariatric surgery at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute Gurgaon. I have had the honor of performing live surgeries in almost all Asian countries and the privilege of operating on a host of dignitaries, politicians and religious leaders across religions.

5 years back, when I was in Taiwan when I got a call from Dr Moiz — who happened to be His Holiness son in law — seeking my opinion and advice for a medical problem he had. It was 2.30 am then. I stumbled out of bed and called back just to make sure I was not dreaming. He had the means of seeking the best of medical opinions from across the world so I was elated that they sought my opinion. Dr Moiz is a man of few words, the backbone and shadow of His Holiness for the last 15 years or so. I believe that the Syedna was blessed to have a son in law like him he was a picture of selfless devotion to just one cause — his father in laws health and wellbeing.

I gave my advice to the best of my medical ability which differed for some other opinions at that time. Mine turned out correct and that’s what got the family to trust my judgment even more. Managing him was –I believe– one of my toughest assignments to date. It was a test of my medical skill and risk taking abilities. I had to treat him like any other normal 100 year old man still remaining cognizant of the fact as to who he was.

As it would be with any patient but more so a VVIP secrecy was of utmost importance. There were times when my mother had called to say that she had heard that His Holiness was not well did I have any clue. My answer almost always was, “Mom I have no clue…” when at that very moment I could have been standing right in front of him.”

I visited him late at nights or early mornings so that nobody saw me as that would have set tongues wagging with all sorts of stories. When he reached his 100th birthday, I was elated as I felt I had played a small part in getting him there. I particularly, remember this one instance on his birthday when he had stepped out to meet his followers. He was not particularly in the pink of health but had a promise to keep to the millions who were there to catch a glimpse of him. If you happened to even glance on the newspapers and saw the sea of humanity at his funeral, you would know what I was talking about. I realised then as to how difficult your life can be if you have a God like status.

All credit to the man himself. He was patience personified in the worst of times, always smiling through all the pain.  If I enquired on how he was doing he would want to know how was my day and if my father was well. I had the rare opportunity to hold his hand without being pushed around sitting alone by his side. I was indeed privileged and blessed. In his son Mufaddal Aliqader — I have seen many a quality his father possessed, poise, grace and kindness. It is my belief that he shall lead this community forward in this era with the same vision his father had done in the past.

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