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Holy man turns 100 years old

A group of Dawoodi Bohra Shiite Muslims, whose tradition is centered in India, marched down Springfield Boulevard to the tune of bagpipes Sunday in celebration of the birthday of their spiritual leader.

Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, T.U.S., whom the Dawoodi Bohra call “His Holiness,” turns 100 years old under the Islamic calendar this month, which has prompted the nonprofit Anjuman-e-Badri to hold educational, religious and recreational events at its community center at 131-24 Springfield Blvd. in Springfield Gardens throughout March.

Burhanuddin was born March 6, 1915, which makes him 96 by the Gregorian calendar, but he will turn 100 by the lunar-based Islamic calendar March 25.

The center, which has been operating in the neighborhood for 10 years, always holds events around this time of year, but they are doing more for their leader’s centennial.

“Everybody’s very excited,” said Farida Harianawala, spokeswoman for the center.

Aliasgar Dhoon, secretary for Anjuman-e-Badri, described their spiritual leader as focused on improvement for both the religion’s followers and the community where they live. Burhanuddin has contributed toward building the Saifee Hospital in Mumbai, India, and homes for the poor. For his birthday, he purchased 52,000 bird feeders to help endangered sparrows in India. Dhoon said the members of the Springfield Gardens community center will be putting out bird feeders as well.

“Even at the age of 100 he has that energy to meet his followers throughout the world,” Dhoon said.

About 250 to 300 people, coming from as close as next door to as far away as Manhattan or Connecticut, attended Sunday’s event, which featured not only the procession but also a market selling traditional jewelry, clothes and food and activities such as inflatable bouncy castles for kids. The procession began at the center, up to Merrick Boulevard and back down on the opposite side of Springfield Boulevard to the center.

The Dawoodi Bohra are Shiite Muslims, but because of their adopted home of India they wear clothing influenced by that culture. Women wear a Rida, a garment which covers most of their bodies but has bright colors and patterns. Men usually wear white clothing with a top called a Kurta and a hat called a topi, which is decorated with gold threadwork.

“There’s very strong Indian influences and Islamic,” Harianawala said. “So it’s a mix. It’s a unique culture.”

Dawoodi Bohra live throughout the world, although the religion is centered in India, where His Holiness lives. Janaab Behul Bhaisaheb Hashemi, the Aamilsaheb — high priest — of the nonprofit, said the religion started in Egypt but due to opposition moved to Yemen and then finally to India, where practitioners have lived for more than 400 years. Members of the Dawoodi Bohra began immigrating to New York City around 40 years ago.

Harianawala said the center is based on social and community support.

“It’s really what binds us together because we get to talk with like-minded people,” Harianawala said.

Reach Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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