On to the city of pyramids

Shahzad Shah Jillani June 08, 2010

KARACHI: Several families packed their bags for a spiritual journey to Cairo, where they will take part in pilgrimages at various places such as the Rasul Hussain with their spiritual leader Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin.  The members of the Dawoodi Bohra community left for the city of pyramids on Monday.

“I am so happy that I am going because it has been ages since I travelled anywhere to observe the ritual,” Abbass Tinwala, one of the Bohra community members, said before his departure. “All arrangements for our stay have been made by community members in Cairo who will look after all those who come in from around the world for the ritual.”

The routine pilgrimage, or ‘ziarat’, performed by Syedna Burhanuddin takes place in different parts of the world. The spiritual leader has travelled to Sri Lanka, Canada and Africa, where local community members as well as others from across the world gather together and accompany the Syedna.

According to some of the Bohris, community members are fond of Egypt as pilgrimage destination.

“Egypt has better arrangements for accommodation as compared to other countries,” said Tasneem Murtaza, who was also one of the people leaving for Cairo on Monday. “The hotels are reasonably priced and of high standards.”

Hints of stratification within the community can be seen on holy journeys with some members, the ‘elite’ as Tasneem called them, opt for pricey hotels while most do not care too much about such things and prefer staying at guest houses. “Which we find very comfortable,” Tasneem added.

Process of selection

Not every member of the Bohra community can fly off to the country where the annual ritual is to take place.

“There is always a limited number of pilgrims,” explained Tasneem, “Like [there is] a quota in the case of the Hajj.”

People are then shortlisted by the management of the local jamat khana. These people have to submit their travel documents including passports and Electronic Community Passes.

The general protocol is that the hosts, in this case the Bohra community of Egypt, tell the organisers the number of people that they can take care of. The hosts provide for the food and transportation for all their guests till Syedna Burhanuddin in the city. Once he leaves, the pilgrims have to pay for the extra number of days that they stay.

Security fears in Karachi

When asked why Syedna Burhanuddin did not come to Karachi to perform these rituals, Baltiwala, one of the organisers of these trips, said that it was because of the uncertain security situation in the city. Syedna is expected to visit India after his Egypt trip.

“He is an important figure not only for the community but also for other communities, sects and religions because of his welfare services,” Baltiwala said, “He believes in simplicity and doesn’t like to be weighed down by protocols.”

“The average cost of the trip to Egypt ranges between Rs85,000 to Rs100,000 depending upon the airline that they [pilgrims] want to travel on,” said Baltiwala, “Most prefer to fly on national carriers of the respective countries they are headed to, so for this year, most of the bookings were made for Egypt Air.”

“The community members give us their E-numbers listed on the community’s website that helps us make reservations,” said Imran Memon, a travel agent in Saddar.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 9th, 2010.


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