Recently, a new mosque opened in Palo Alto, which is affiliated with a specific group of Shia Muslims known as Dahwoodi Bohra. I’ve been looking into Dahwoodi Bohra, and have found that it challenges some of my notions of Islam.
Dahwoodi Bohra is a branch of Isma’ili Islam, along with the better-known Druze; and Isma’ili is a branch of Shi’a Islam. Isma’ilism has Seven Pillars, instead of the more familiar Five Pillars of Islam. The Isma’ili consider the Shahadah — “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” — to be the grounding statement of all Seven Pillars, and therefore not a pillar in itself. The Seven Pillars of the Isma’ili include the familiar Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage). The three additional pillars are Jihad (struggle), Walayah (guardianship of the faith), and Taharah (purity). Although I usually think of Muslims performing Salat, prayer, five times a day, the Dahwoodi Bohra pray three times a day, since they perform some of the prayers at the same time.
The Dahwoodi Bohra have characteristic clothing which they may wear at religious ceremonies. The men wear a white tunic and coat, with a hat known as a topi (on Youtube, I found instructions on how to properly starch a topi here). Women typically wear head scarves, but rather than the subdued fabric I usually see Muslim women wearing, Dahwoodi Bohra headscarves tend towards the bright and spangly.
In common with other Shi’a Muslims, a major ritual is the Mourning of Muharram, which is observed in the first Islamic month; this observance is generally not performed by Sunnis. And there is much more to learn about the Dahwoodi Bohra: they have their own language; the largest number live in Gujarat, India, and Karachi, Pakistan; the women sometimes perform genital mutilation of girls, yet the men may be unaware of this; etc.
Yet learning even this little bit about the Dahwoodi Bohra has shown me the extent to which I have assumed that Sunni Muslims are normative. I should know better: every religious tradition I have started investigating has proved to be far more diverse than my original assumptions allowed for.
And here are some links to news stories on the local Dahwoodi Bohra mosque: here, here, and here. There’s not much about the congregation on Salatomatic, but for reference, their listing is here. Finally, the “official” Dahwoodi Bohra Youtube channel, which appears to be mostly audio files, is here.