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Muhsin al-Hakim as a Religious Leader in Los Angeles

Southern California is home to several Islamic religious factions with major Muslim populations in three cities. Sayyid Muhsin Al-Hakim is a Shia leader in Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat of Los Angeles situated at Serapis Avenue, Pico Rivera, California. He leads the Dawoodi Bohra community, which constitutes the Shi’ah, family, and Tayyib. Dawoodi Bohra community migrated to the US with the encouragement and permission of an earlier Dai al-Mutlaq and settled in parts of California and surrounding states.

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The Dawoodi Bohra community practices a specific code of beliefs and doctrines entrenched in the Qur’an, which are taught and interpreted by Dai-al-Mutlaq. Muhsin emigrated from Iraq during the First Gulf war between Saddam’s Iraq and Kuwait. According to him, the doctrine of Imamate is an integral part of Shiite’s religious traditions. A Shia Imam is the head of a Shiite Islamic community and is often a direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed and Ali, who was the First Imam.

Muhsin is indeed a descendant of Al-hakim’s family, which is very popular and religious in Iraq. The family is adored by hundreds of millions of Shia Muslims in the World. Sayyid Muhsin Al-Hakim is a son of Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir Al-Hakim, who was the Imam of the Shia world in the late ’70s.

Muhsin studied religion in Najaf, Iraq, and became a religious representative of his father in neighboring Iran. When the situation became intolerable in Iraq, Muhsin moved to California, where there was a leadership vacuum for Mazoon Saheb following the death of Mazoon Saheb Syedna Jalal Shamsuddin. Therefore, Apart from the training, Mazoon Saheb must be a descendant of Imam Ali. The Imam is both sinless, absolutely unfailing in his decrees on dogma and all other matters.

Mazoon Saheb Muhsin believes he is a sign of Allah’s goodness towards mankind. Accordingly, he is the savior and a guide to the creation. His main work involves solving issues of disputes amongst the Muslim community. Dai al-Mutlaq is a representative and a vicegerent of the Shia’s last Imam and chooses the Mazoon sahib to represent him in Dawoodi Bohran communities outside India (Singh & Bhanu 384).

Muhsin would like to reveal to the people today that Qur’an does not support violence. In fact, he insists on the peaceful nature of scripture and religion. Muhsin has embarked on a campaign to address the issue of non-violence. This he advocates by re-interpreting the Qur’an.

According to him, recent advancements in science and technology are bringing many problems to the Bohra community. Modernization and change are bringing turmoil into this religion. The young people are beginning to demand reforms as they see the priesthood as ruling the community with an iron hand. Most of them have deserted the community’s traditions and have instead adopted a more liberal view of issues such as marriage, funeral, family life, and other religious practices. Of importance is the realization that the younger generation no longer attends to many religious functions held in Masji and Jamatkhana. A good number also never pays for the oath of allegiance, which is a mere religious rite.

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Modern-day Bohrans are also absconding from paying taxes, especially following the computerization of the whole system. These oppositions are leading to a reduction in the number of orthodox Bohrans while that of the reformists is increasing. Social boycotts are thus leading to family disintegrations and fear and terror in the community.

The younger generation is especially concerned about individual freedom and the abolishment of collective slavery to the Dai-al-Mutlaq (Ahmed 274). Muhsin is in the view that the Bohran community will continue to grow in America at an increasing rate. This will be due to factors such as immigration, invigoration of urban centers, and the conversion of more people into Islam, which will definitely lead to growth.

However, Muhsin believes that labeling Islam as evil will increase due to the politics of fear, although this might not necessarily threaten the existence and growth of his community. He, however, expressed some fear that intermarriages may cause the loss of the future Bohran community unless the youth are encouraged to only marry Muslims. He emphasized an in-depth basic education for Muslim children, not considering their family back ground in order to safeguard Dawoodi Bohran community integrity (Haddad & Smith 234).

Reflection on the Interview


Interviewing Sayyid Muhsin Al-Hakim was the best part of this project. During the interview, which turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated, I got an opportunity to understand Islam much better. For all this time, I had thought that Islam, unlike Christianity or any other religion, was one big religion with no factions or even sects. It was a great pleasure learning the two main divisions within Islam; Shi’ites and the Sunnis, and also the major divisions among the Muslims of the Shia community, notably the Dawoodi Bohrans, Fatimil, and Tayyib.

What was more interesting is that Sayyid Muhsin Al-Hakim, an immigrant from Iraq, is a leader among immigrants from India. It made me think of him as a very religious man who has dedicated his entire life to serving the Dawoodi Bohran community. At the beginning of the interview, I thought that I would only be interviewing Muhsin, but his wife and daughters appeared and made the interview even more interesting, and I have to say that they were quite informative.

It was a paradox that although Mr. Muhsin depicted the Dawoodi Bohrans as very conservative, their children attended the best secular schools in the state, have fully embraced modern information technologies while their women are rather free and interact freely with their male counterparts. However, their mode of dressing, on the other hand, is unique as they wear Islamic dresses that set them apart from contemporary American.


The preparation stage of this interview was the hardest part. Trying to figure out which religion I was interested in investigating and arranging over the telephone on which day I would pay Mr. Muhsin a visit was extremely stressful. During the material day, I was a bit nervous and wasn’t sure which way it would go. Although he responded to almost all of my questions, he kept drifting away from the main points making the interview last longer than I had anticipated. Once three hours were over, I thought it wise to wrap it up, so it did not take too much time.

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I was so happy that a man of Mr. Muhsin’s status could find time for the interview even though I am not a Muslim. He seemed to be at ease during the interview and didn’t mind when his daughters and wife interrupted him. I was, in fact, very interested to hear what they had to say and discarded a notion I had about Islam fueling violence. I was glad to find these things out rather than hearing about them from the media. Some of his answers caught me a little off guard; this is because I didn’t expect him to talk so openly in front of his family, more so on issues to do with faith.


The interview was a success and went on very well, and the religious leader was more than willing to talk about his religion. I felt this was a very precious experience and would recommend it to any other student as it was more informal and educational.

What did I forget?

I found out that once the interview kicked off, it was difficult to stick to what I wanted to know, and I ended up collecting more than I had planned for. I, however, realized that it was difficult for him to answer some questions, which forced me to edit them to make it easier for him.


I found the experience of interviewing someone on religious matters a bit more compelling as it involves very controversial issues. Mr. Muhsin found it difficult to talk about reformist Bohrans, who are opposed to the orthodox Bohrans. In most cases, he painted them as introverts, whom he is not even supposed to mention.

Action plan

Despite finding out the interview on religion contentious, if an opportunity arose again, I would gladly take it. The experience to understand another religion was very interesting and invaluable.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Said. Journey into America: the challenge of Islam. Washington DC: Brookings Institution press, 2010. Print.

Haddad, Yazbeck, Yvonne and Smith Jane. Muslim Communities in North America. New York: SUNY Press, 1994. Print.

Singh, Kumar and Bhanu, V. Anthropological survey of India. People of India: Maharashatra, Vol 1. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 2004. Print.

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