The Raudat Tahera and the Power of Religion to Induce Cooperation

raudat_tahera_01You won’t find the Raudat Tahera, a beautiful mausoleum for two holy leaders of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Ismaili Muslims, on any of the standard tourist guides to Mumbai. In part that is because the Raudat isn’t ancient (but like the Akshardham Temple people will be coming to this shrine for hundreds of years so why wait?) and in part because it isn’t a tourist site but an active and revered part of the Dawoodi Bohra community. Not many people seem to know about the Raudat Tahera and today it is literally hidden under a tarp to protect it from nearby construction (more about that later). Nevertheless, the Raudat Tahera is without question one of the best things to see in Mumbai and arguably in all of India.

The marble for the mausoleum was quarried from the same grounds as that used for the Taj Mahal. Most spectacularly, the entire Quran has been inscribed in golden letters on the inside walls with each of the ‘Bismillah’ inscribed using diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. The interior is austere and beautiful but hard to capture in photographs (which aren’t permitted except for official purposes). Although of low-resolution the image below actually gives the best feel.

raudat_tahera_02I visited with my wife and son. We came in the morning and we were told to return later that afternoon. When we returned we were treated very courteously and provided a guide, a student from Saudi Arabia. The local community is proud of the mausoleum and although they don’t encourage tourists I believe they were pleased that foreigners wanted to see it. Both men and women need to cover their head.

Aside from the architectural awe and religious interest my pilgrimage to the Raudat was motivated by economics. One of Mumbai’s great problems is that a lot of land is locked up in low-value uses. Rusted factories and ports generate little value on land worth billions, slums look out onto million dollar sea-views, land that could house thousands in sky rise apartments instead holds dozens in dangerously dilapidating structures. The complexity of ownership (who owns a second floor apartment that has been occupied by the same family for generations?), the chaotic land-titling system, the slow court system and the politicization of everything means that solving these problems requires little short of a miracle. Enter Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the holy leader of the Dawoodi Bohra.

Burhanuddin built the Raudat Tahera for his father, the previous Dawoodi leader, and they are now buried there together. Burhanuddin was not just a spiritual leader. He was an astute businessperson and before he died be presented his vision to rebuild the Bhendi Bazaar, the 150 year old warren of crowded and narrow streets and shops behind the Crawford bazaar (hence “b hend i” bazaar) where a majority of the residents are Dawoodi.

ET: To an outsider, [Bhendi Bazaar] holds an old-world charm…But the neigbourhood is so congested and some streets so narrow that cars cannot enter. Virtually every open or unoccupied space has turned into a garbage dump. And almost all the 280 buildings in Bhendi Bazaar look shaky and dilapidated (80% have been declared unsafe).

Burhanuddin’s visionary redevelopment plan requires thousands of people to sell their homes and businesses to the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust. Trust, being the operative word. Then they will move out of their crumbling structures into temporary quarters while some 250 buildings spread across 16.5 acres will be torn down and redeveloped. After completion, the old owners will move back in to (part) of the now much larger and better planned area. It’s a big-push plan and, remarkably, it seems to be working.

So far, the Trust has bought 87% of the buildings in the area and construction is active (hence the Raudat Tahera being under a tarp). Holdouts can be a problem but every Dawoodi child who comes of age has to swear loyalty to the Dawoodi leader (now Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, son of Burhannudin and the 53rd in the line) and disobedience brings pressure and social boycott.

It’s no accident that the Raudat Tahera is the focal point of the planned new development. Towers of apartments and offices will rise from the Raudat in order of ascending height, framing the Raudat forever and giving everyone a visual reminder of where true power lies.


It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that all of India is looking to the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project and praying that it will succeed. Although the billion dollar plan is being funded and run by the private Trust, the Maharashtra state government and Prime Minister Modi have thrown their support behind the plan. The plan, of course, cannot be easily replicated. The Dawoodi are a small, close-knit, geographically concentrated, spiritual group devoted to a holy, charismatic and visionary leader and all of that has been key to solving the holdout problem and creating the trust necessary for large-scale cooperation. Many of the Dawoodi are also successful and well-connected business people. Adil Zainulbhai, former head of McKinsey India and consultant to the Modi government, for example, is counted among their members and sits on the board of the Trust. Nevertheless, even if the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment plan cannot be easily replicated, if it succeeds the demonstration value of the wealth that can be unlocked with cooperation will be tremendous.  And if the plan fails…well that is why people are praying.

Hat tip: David Moo.


Tabarrok uses one word in two different ways to emphasize what's needed for economic development: Trust and trust. I've mentioned this several times, but Robert Wright makes the point in his book, The Evolution of God, that the spread of Christianity served to facilitate the growth of trade as the result of the trust among people of different countries, ethnicities, etc. but practicing the same religion. Tabarrok: "The Dawoodi are a small, close-knit, geographically concentrated, spiritual group devoted to a holy, charismatic and visionary leader and all of that has been key to solving the holdout problem and creating the trust necessary for large-scale cooperation." Differences among people can serve as a catalyst for growth, bringing together their different strengths and offsetting their different weaknesses, but something more is needed to realize the trust that is essential to achieve the goal. If not nationality, if not religion, then what? Of course, the same point could be made about today's America: the decline in Christianity as the common religion has resulted in a decline in the trust that is essential to economic growth.

I suppose the answer is less reliance on the national and greater reliance on the local, a shift in authority from the national to greater authority in the local. Can India (or America for that matter) be a collection of Singapores, or city-states?

Sure, until a war breaks out.

"Can India (or America for that matter) be a collection of Singapores, or city-states?"

No, the national spirit is inherent to man and outmatches by much sheer cold calculation.

India was a collection of small principalities for most of its history

Yet, the impulse to unify was always there in the empires that appeared from time to time. Man cannot forsake its nationality instinct.

There is no nationality instinct.

Sometimes someone manages to wrest power, and sometimes it adds up well enough so as to not warrant just revolution.

Nationality is a modern concept. It is not inherent to man.

Yes, the risk of war, although you likely don't have the same war I have in mind. The Balkanization of India (or America for that matter) is likely to produce the same instability as in the Balkans (the internal threat as great as the external threat). I have to point out the contrast between this city-state post by Tabarrok and the euro post by Cowen. I have always had difficulty with the compare and contrast thing.

Another excellent post from the 'Maximum City'. There is a noticeable 'Bohra' effect on real estate values- where they take the lead other communities follow.
Sunni Muslims in Mumbai, in particular, look to Bohra economic leadership in this respect, despite doctrinal and sociological differences.
The Ismailis (who follow the Agha Khan) where initially more numerous and prosperous than the Bohras, but the Agha Khan and Jinnah (Ismaili by birth) were pro-Pakistan and so many emigrated and the remainder lost political influence. By contrast, the conservative Bohras have succeeded in India because they did not get involved in National politics.
The problem is that small authoritarian sects like this can get split on very rancorous lines because of succession disputes and allegations of corruption. Once this happens, the temptation will exist for one side or the other to recruit muscle from the Sunnis who, of course, may suddenly turn hostile against a 'Shiah' sect. This is because the Bohras may anger the Saudis who could choose to cut them down to size.

Does this have anything to do with the prices of copper and iron ore in China?

The Dawoodi Vohras (Bohra is the Hindi pronounciation) are another example of a Gujarati caste, sorry "community", who follow capitalist ways. Although the Dawoodi creed started in Arabia as one of the Shi'a schisms, they took root in Gujarat. Intermarriage and conversions means most of todays followers are Gujarati in origin and maintain many aspects of Gujarati Hindu culture. For example I know some Vohras who celebrate the Navaratri festival. The Vohra speak a distinct dialect of Gujarati which is written in Arabic script.

The biggest threat to Vohra continuity comes not from liberals but the globalization of Islam. As they come in contact with Arabian and Iranian scholars, some in the younger generations are beginning to questions and criticize "Unislamic" practices. This will not end well.

Yep, that Saudi student was a real warning sign - the Saudis have been taking the West's oil money for decades to finance an attempt to purify Islam of non-Wahabi approved aspects.

For anyone, life will only end as well as their acceptance of love for all human beings, the Sufi Path of Love, where we eschew all artificial divisions (and resulting persecutions) of human beings by sexual orientation, ethnicity or form of religion. The only division of human beings that can (and must!) be made is between those who harm others and those who do not. It is for those of us filled with true love for all human beings to protect the oppressed and strip all power to harm others from their oppressors.

That so much evil is done in the name of religion is an affront to the one true Religion of Love that exists at the core of all religions of God (exempting, for example, Scientology), all of which have been perverted by the cultures and unscrupulous power usurpers they have come into contact with over the centuries.

Only love can lead the way and it will do so by our each loving the truth and seeking to manifest the truth of love, for all, with kindness, humility and generosity as necessary aspects of its foundation.

"The only division of human beings that can (and must!) be made is between those who harm others and those who do not. "

Someone needs to read Johnathan Haidt.

When has dividing people into "oppressor" and "oppressed" categories ever not lead to peace?

The late leader was a conservative 'Islamizer', unlike his predecessor. Older people thought he was digging his own grave. The 'angry young men'- like Asghar Ali Engineer (who was once taken seriously in New Delhi just as Swami Agnivesh was once taken seriously)- were bound to rudely shoulder him aside- more particularly because he built such a beautiful monument, as is the subject of Alex's condign appreciation in this post, rather than spending his time talking worthless 'Liberation Theology' type nonsense and funding absurd schemes.
I appreciate that in some things (e.g F.G.M) things have gone too far but you should appreciate that Bohras and Ismailis living in Africa and the Peninsula come under a sort of psychological pressure and so the womenfolk get some stupid ideas in their heads. Many Saudi Wahhabis say FGM is not Islamic but an African custom- defended by Jomo Kenyatta in his LSE thesis!
I agree with you that Bohra community success is due to Gujerati ethos of truthfulness and good faith business practice as well as calling a spade a spade and not 'virtue signalling' all the time.
I previously called attention to the fragility of Bohra communal success because of the hot potato of succession. However, it is the character of the new Da'i-al-Mutlaq which will determine if this vulnerability is transformed into a strength.
I notice that Gujerati Religious leaders- e.g. Jain Acharyas- never put the blame on the ordinary people for decline of Religion. They always say it was a weakness in their own chain of transmission.

There are some negatives also about the community , how they clamped down on the criticism from a progressive movement and their practice of female genital mutilation. The Michigan Doctor arrested recently is believed to be a Bohra,

Somehow gold and gems don't feel austere. Sounds more like the ostentatious Abu Dhabi mosque.

YES. The practice of female circumcision is against love and must be stopped. Any group that supports that horrific practice has been influenced by their culture's misogyny, and have thus perverted the Religion of Love that exists in many forms, one of them being Islam.

Also, that they have made such an ostentatious shrine for a dead person is a show of contempt for the living, especially those so poor in India and Africa. Such displays of the dead are an extended power grab ~ the wealthy keeping the illusion of power over the hapless and illiterate poor.

None of this is surprising, for the wealthy are the heartless ones who have put the very Earth, itself, in jeopardy with their ceaseless striving for short-term profit at the expense of our children's environmental inheritance. The love of money is truly the root of so very much evil in this world. Love is only for human beings (and must be for all of them, at that), or one is an animal.

The Qur'an says to not divide into sects. This pertains not only to such Islamic divisions as Shiite or Sunni, but to all human beings. Irrespective of ethnicity or sexuality or form of religion, we are to unite as one human race in mutual aid and cooperation and uplift our fellows through charity and compassion. Only thus will we achieve "On Earth as it is in Heaven".

Any understanding of religion that includes female circumcision is corrupt at its core and must be treated as an enemy of mankind itself, for they have left the Path of Love.

"how they clamped down on the criticism from a progressive movement."

For some values of "progressive movement."

If we Brazilians like it, we would have been able to cover all wall of our Temple of Solomon, a replica of the original Solomon's Temple and one of the most important temples in the world and one of Brazil's famous places, with gold, silver and gems. But we do not believe in ostentation.

Very true. Brazil's equivalent of George Washington was Queen Maria the Mad. Her practice of screaming horribly and soiling herself has been foundational to Brazilian pride- at least in so far as you represent that oxymoron.

That was uncharitable and besides the point.

America's Abraham Lincoln held in high esteem people that take pride in their communities.

Yep, all well-raised people hold in high esteem people that take pride in their communities.

Queen Maria the Mad is Brazil's equivalent to the Mad King George of the United States. Which means Brazilians have real reason to complain.

Heres a rply to ull it carefully

It seems like the entire culture of exchange is what needs correction; starting with the notion of private property. (That someone can hold separate title to an upper story is insane.) It is being done by religion here. How is that different than done by government?
"Holdouts can be a problem but every Dawoodi child who comes of age has to swear loyalty to the Dawoodi leader . . . "
A similar sort of dilemma pops up when a free market economist advisor to a third world country is asked to look the other way when the government confiscates country's land from three land owners in order to homestead it to a hundred thousand farmers.

'That someone can hold separate title to an upper story is insane.'

I'm guessing that this is new to you then - 'In equity cooperatives, occupancy rights are sometimes granted by way of the purchase agreements and legal instruments registered on the title.' Whether that is separate title is a distinction, but it has the same effect. ' In ownership cooperatives, occupancy rights are transferred to the purchaser by way of the title transfer.'

Of course, the above is just a possibly equivalent form.

While a condominium is pretty much one to one in terms of holding title to a second floor apartment, for example, though I am most definitely not a real estate lawyer (the wikipedia links being a good clue there) - 'Residential condominiums are frequently constructed as apartment buildings, but there has been an increase in the number of "detached condominiums", which look like single-family homes but in which the yards, building exteriors, and streets are jointly owned and jointly maintained by a community association.

Unlike apartments, which are leased by their tenants, condominium units are owned outright. Additionally, the owners of the individual units also collectively own the common areas of the property, such as hallways, walkways, laundry rooms, etc.; as well as common utilities and amenities, such as the HVAC system, elevators, and so on. Many shopping malls are industrial condominia in which the individual retail and office spaces are owned by the businesses that occupy them while the common areas of the mall are collectively owned by all the business entities that own the individual spaces.

The common areas, amenities and utilities are managed collectively by the owners through their association, such as a homeowner association.

Scholars have traced the earliest known use of the condominium form of tenure to a document from first century Babylon. The word condominium originated in Latin.'

I think he has a problem with private property in general.

In NY, cooperative corporations own the entire property. The co-op apartment buyer "buys" a perpetual lease (on his apartment) and shares in the co-op corporation. (If, as is almost always the case, the transaction is financed the loan is classified a consumer loan not a real estate loan.) The co-op apartment holder pays annual maintenance fees (proportionally based on the apartment and shares) to the co-op corporation for amortization and interest on whatever co-op corporation debt that may be outstanding, taxes, insurance, common area maintenance and repairs, etc.

In condos the buyer owns the apartment and pays fees to a (whatever) corporation that owns and manages the common areas.

Ever heard of condos? ('Upper floor' and holding property title.)

Where is all the float financing coming from? There is a lot of money going out to buy property that isn't going to see a return for a long time.

For that matter, who paid for the fine marble and diamond-studded inscription?

The bohra community is a merchant caste and have billions of $ of unaccounted money, saved over 500 years - The Syedna word is law and they regularly compulsorily tithe the Syedna

wow! can't believe that I never heard of this place!

I'm glad the economystics are learning abouy psychology and anthropology. I guess they are finally loosening their desperate grip on the idea that people are mere economic units behaving as rational actors.

I'm also happy that an economystic can see some of the positive latent functions of religion - trust and cooperation. Sadly, the benefits only
extend to people within the group. Religion "binds and blinds" - binds members within the group but blinds them to the value and ideas of people outside the group.

The economystics really do love those super dense cities. They have all the things they love - skyscrapers, people movers, food for fadish foodies, and anonymity. I guess we'll have to watch "Blade Runner" again as it has everything they love - skyscrapers, flying cars, AI, androids that get wet, and lots of languages and ethnic foo foo foodie food. Markets in everything, even home grown eyeballs!

Of course, those megacities are missing some not-very-important things: fresh air, view of the sky, forests, meadows, bike trails in the woods, streams with trout and blue herons, and safe places for kids to play instead of phooking in the stairwell when they are 10 years old.

You can take all that and stuff it up your

I forgot to add:

See Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion".

Self-recommending! Do read the whole thing.


"Religion “binds and blinds” – binds members within the group but blinds them to the value and ideas of people outside the group."

Couldn't agree with you more, religion does that. Spirituality on the other hand, accepts all others. Which is why I am a Sufi, a follower of spirituality.

You might have heard it said of someone that they have enough religion to hate but not enough to love. Religion is the gateway to spirituality. Unfortunately, many people never move past religion. Here are the words of ibn 'Arabi, a Sufi and a true spiritualist:

"O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith."
—ibn 'Arabi

Economics is better than astrology at predicting and understanding things.

Maybe not much better. But unless you have better ideas, the main observation remains that economics is superior to astrology as a means of prediction and understanding things.

In what sense is this cooperation? This is people receiving commands from a hereditary, unaccountable religious authority, who will organize social pressure and boycotts if they refuse to fulfill the oath of obedience they swore to him. There's not even any indication that they will be compensated fairly (i.e. market rate).

I'm not a fan of eminent domain either (particularly after Kelo v. New London), but this sounds worse.

The late Syedna also supported Pakistan movement

But he also funded all parties liberally including Congress, even Hindutva parties like BJP and Shiv Sena

Imagine what American foundations and public trusts could do if their boards were composed of entrepreneurs instead of country club elites.

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