Every so often I learn about a “new” community in the melting pot that is India. My newest fascination is with the Bohra Muslims. The Bohra community is something of an outlier, not fitting any of the standard uneducated Indian’s stereotypes of Muslims being underprivileged, poor, sexist and uneducated. I’ll elaborate on other aspects that make them unique further into the article. At least at first sight, they appear to be liberal and progressive compared to many other Muslim sects. Significantly, in the face of widespread resentment against “regular” Muslims, they have managed to maintain an amicable relationship with the Hindu majority in Gujarat. From wearing colorful rida rather than the austere black burkha to educating their kids in secular institutions, the Bohras of India have subtly but firmly managed to keep themselves separate from other Muslim sects.
The Bohra community also has a unique ancestry, being a sub-sect of Ismaili Shias who emigrated from Yemen. The Muslim communities in Gujarat have different origins, histories, dialects, cultures and even religious beliefs. Some came for trade; some accompanied invading armies, some sought employment. Even others, like the Bohra Muslims came to India fleeing religious persecution in their native land for their acceptance of At-Tayyeb Abul-Qasim as Imam instead of his uncle Al-Hafiz. Supporters of Tayyeb came to be known as Tayyibi Ismailis. Later, Tayyibi Muslims came to be known as Bohras which is believed to originate from the Gujarati word for ‘trader’.
The original Ismailis Bohras went through several splits forming smaller sub-groups. The Dawoodi Bohras are the largest of these, composed of those who supported Dawood Burhanuddin ibn Qutb Shah during a power struggle in the sixteenth century. They are a tightly knit community and are governed solely by their Dai, who is the absolute supreme leader of the community. Indeed, each and every action from a marriage to owning a business is subject to his personal permission. Bohras believe that this strict enforcement keeps them united, helps them to live a ‘pure Bohra life’ and helps the community to thrive even under the threatened circumstances of being a minority Muslim community in a predominantly Hindu nation.
Anyway, like some other minority communities in India (such as the Jews, Persians, African and Armenians), Bohras too have an invisible fence drawn around them. They have acquired some intermixed cultural traits, yet retain their strong community structure. There cuisine is very unique with Persian, Middle Eastern and Guajarati influences. Although there is no restriction on its consumption, beef is not a popular meat; instead they prefer chicken and lamb. Arooq is a specialty of the Dawoodi Bohras. These can be eaten as a snack with a cilantro and mint chutney/ketchup/hot n sour tomato sauce or with plain rice and daal. Or they can be tucked into a roti with some greens (just like the traditional falafel wraps).
Arooq recipe (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)
Minced/ground chicken breast, boneless: 1 lb.
Turmeric: 1/8 tsp.
Red chili powder/cayenne powder: ¼ tsp (add more if you like)
Hot green chili/habanero: ½ tsp. (again, if you like more, feel free to add it)
Black pepper, freshly ground:
All purpose flour: 2 tbsp.
Eggs: 2 beaten
Ginger: one inch sized, very finely minced.
Cilantro: as per your taste (finely chopped)
Scallion/green onion: 2 sprigs, finely chopped (only the green part)
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil for deep frying
- Add everything together except the oil and the eggs. Mix well.
- Add the eggs and mix again.
- Refrigerate the mix covered for at least an hour (more will not hurt).
- Take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
- Heat up the oil in a deep bottom wok/kadai.
- Bring the heat to medium and add around 1 tbsp. of the mixture to the oil. Add more and let them get cooked and turn into golden brown in color.
- Keep stirring while they are sizzling in the oil for even cooking and browning.
- Rain them on an absorbent paper and serve immediately.