Al-Dai al-Ajal Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin RA (1189/1775-1232/1817)
In 1225/1810, the 43rd dai Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin RA constructed an academy in Surat that consisted of designated areas for teaching, student residences and a masjid. Syedna placed this academy, Darse Saifee, adjacent to his residence to signify the deep value and respect he accorded to education and its seekers. He then enhanced the traditional educational system by demarcating clearly defined stages of learning and assigning standards to the curriculum. He continuously maintained a personal interest in the affairs of students, often observing and personally supervising them in their various activities.
Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin RA made an important contribution to the development of Arabic language in South Asia by developing a methodology which enabled students to quickly become proficient in Arabic. Arabic vocabulary and grammar were indirectly acquired by beginners through the introduction of complex Arabic texts which were orally translated and explained by instructors. This method was in contrast to the one prevalent at the time which involved a thorough schooling in grammar and vocabulary before introducing Arabic study texts.
A vital element in this method of instruction was the use of Lisan al-Dawat: the vernacular of the Dawoodi Bohra community. A structural derivative of Gujrati written in the Arabic script, Lisan al-Dawat’s vocabulary mainly consists of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit lexicon. The usage of Lisan al-Dawat facilitates easy acquisition of Arabic. The pivotal decision to study texts in their original Arabic has enabled students to accurately fathom the intricacies of meaning, and has led to Aljamea becoming a centre of excellence in Arabic studies in South Asia.
An exceptional scholar and writer, Syedna Saifuddin was referred to as Mu’ayyad Asghar, a reference to Syedna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi RA (d. 471/1078), the author of eight hundred majalis (sermons) on Fatemi thought and philosophy. Syedna Saifuddin RA wrote a number of epistles and literary works which clarified ambiguities pertaining to Fatemi thought and jurisprudence. Due to his keen interest in the dissemination of knowledge, he oversaw the writing of historical and jurisprudential works such as the elaboration of the chapter of marriage from Da’aim al-Islam by Syedi Ibrahim Saifee QR and a condensed history of Fatemi imams and their dais by Syedi Shaikh Qutub bin Sulayman QR. Syedna RA was also an administrator par excellence and the governance of the community was regulated and formalized during his tenure. He devised an unprecedented, systematic documentation process for marriages within the community and provided guidelines for the organs of Dawat to function efficiently.