Patrick Le Brun on the Bohras

Very interesting article on Counter Currents regarding the reclusive Bohra community. I tried posting a comment on the article but for some reason my comment didn’t go through. Anyhow, here it is:

This is indeed an excellent article on the Bohras, but first, a slight clarification: I am not a former Bohra, I still am part of the community. The Bohra identity is similar to the Jewish one: Part religious and part ethno/cultural. I might not be religious (as I mentioned in Stark’s interview) but I am culturally a Bohra (meshed in with elements of the WASP tradition) which is where I get my “pro capitalist” worldview from. I do keep a low profile in the community and in time I might even consider formally exiting it.

It’s true that the majority of Bohras remain unaware of their incredible history but the merchant castes were never renowned for their intellectual vigour.

I’ve always maintained that the Muslims converted from the merchant castes tend to be the sanest ones around. Islam (like any religion) is only as sane as its practitioners. The Peasant castes that converted to Islam (the majority of South Asian Muslims) brought their militant and “honour” obsessed values with them, hence the monstrosity that is Pakistan. Bohras, Khojas, and Memons by contrast place a lower premium on honour. Bear in mind that the term “honour” (in the South Asian context) is not synonymous with moral integrity (as it is in the west) but rather a code of face saving etiquette emphasizing group harmony. I’ve written about this in detail here. That being said, Aakar Patel rightly observes that Bohras place a lower emphasis on honour because rigidity clashes with the pragmatism inherent to India’s merchant caste culture. Bohra tradition emphasizes Muhammad the trader as opposed to Muhammad the warrior and chronologically speaking they may have a point; for Muhammad spent only 8 years of his life on the battlefield. Why did so few traders convert to Islam? Possibly because it wasn’t in their interest to surrender their upper caste privileges. The peasants converted to presumably escape caste oppression.

The Bohra tradition and culture resembles Essene Judaism (esoteric spirituality/ritual/self segregation) whereas mainstream Sunni Islam resembles Pharasic Judaism (legalism/law). Like the Essenes, the Bohras also believe that the persecuted righteous will eventually triumph, and persecution is burned into the sect’s collective memory. The Bohra way is to amass wealth, stay out of politics, and generally keep a low profile.

Re: Bohras and hardware

<i>I asked the hardware store owner about the conspiracy to take over the hardware store niche, and he shamelessly confirmed it, though he was a bit bored by the topic. </i>

It’s the same in Pakistan and the Middle East and while this leads to some resentment, the Bohras are generally respected for minding their own business; and their business is hardware instead of cultural subversion. Like the other merchant castes of India, the Bohras do not trade to better society, but rather to amass wealth for themselves. Indian culture is still centuries away from replicating Andrew Carnegie. The Bohra business culture (like their Hindu counterparts) depends heavily on ethnic networking and monopolizing the market (where possible). The business culture of the Bohras reminds me somewhat of the Ferengi rules of Acquisition (especially rules 6, 17, and18).

The Bohras have always maintained that their strength lies in anonymity but as they continue to expand their business interests they are bound to fall under some scrutiny. The bohra community has begun to experience a clash values where the ”traditionalists” believe in maintaining a low profile whereas the newer generations insist that segregation hurts business interests.

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This entry was posted in Asia, Caste, conservative values, Hinduism, India, Islam and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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