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I visited Planet Bohra today, for the first time in a long time, and I feel obliged to put a few words out there about my sense of disappointment.

Planet Bohra has gone wrong.

When it first launched, I blogged about Planet Bohra – how there was something unique in the way it brought together people by religious affiliation. How it created a much broader voice for the daily concerns, lives and realities of mumineen world wide.

My concern all those many months ago was – as one of the very erudite comments on my post expressed it – that things are out of context on Planet Bohra. When you read something on any blog, you have the benefit of knowing something about the author, or learning about the author from other posts or the context in which the post you read is situated. There are many things from which you can learn something about the writer.

Since those words were written that problem has been magnified beyond all reckoning. Planet Bohra now includes feeds from Malumaat,, ZenInfosys and official Jamaat feeds for a variety of locations (Singapore and Malunga are on the front page at the time of writing). The prodigious Aziz Poonawala manages to hold his own, but even he’s not able to much diminish this monopoly.

These feeds dominate for a variety of reasons. They’re the big centralised news portals that we turn to for news both of Maula and about what is going on in the rest of the world. These centralised resources have a great deal of journalistic pull as centres for the collation of information – and they are great resources. These sites are full of information and pictures of religious events, major religious festivals and visits by the great and good.

I have two reasons for my feeling of disappointment. My first concern as a reader is that Planet Bohra reflects a very narrow slice of the lives – our lives –  as lived. It reflect only a very partial selection – the image of unyielding cookie cutter hierarchical orthodoxy. As if every person spent every day attending religious events, every evening welcoming dignitaries and every night in communal prayer.

In a sense these sites are about the party line and how we’re meant to live. They are focused only – solely – on our public religious lives. What I’m curious about, what I feel is being lost in all the orthodox, is the feeling of the real Bohra pulse. How do we actually live our lives? Where are the things that make each person unique?

There are no voices on those sites talk about the every day things – how rewarding it was to get through Ramadan, how tough it is to keep kids awake entertained during the summer vacation or how curious it is that HSBC has decided to ban a browser that apparently works fine with its i-banking system. It was these voices that I wanted to hear most on Planet Bohra.

I find their silence heartbreaking.

My second concern is as a writer. I feel that context, critical context,  so essential when writing about the personal on a religious Planet is now thoroughly in peril.  Sandwiched between akhbar, with not a normal post in sight,  there’s no margin of appreciation for a post that doesn’t strictly reflect the demands of orthodoxy. Its destiny is to be out of place – an unwanted ripple of discontent in a placid lake soon to be swamped by the reassertion of orthodoxy.

This creates a sort of self-censoring feedback. I wonder now if my blog belongs on Planet Bohra – because it makes me believe that to affirm my religious identity is to simultaneously deny my freedom of speech and thought. I wonder if this post ought to be written because it too will appear on Planet Bohra and cause that momentary ripple. During that ripple, perhaps it will be misunderstood, and misinterpreted as a challenge to the orthodoxy. Perhaps others will presume to judge the quality of my faith. Lord knows I don’t need that kind of extra hassle.

A perverse form of self-censorship.

The long term solution to me appears simple. If I’m going to return to my blog – and if I wish to feel free to be myself here– then I need to keep an eye on Planet Bohra. If it must stay as the new beast it has become, then I should remove my blog of its rosters.

For the moment though, I feel disengagement is the easy way out. I like the idea of Planet Bohra, and I like the world it tries to reflect. I would like it to be broader –and to reflect more real people. I don’t believe that’s too much to ask.



    • md
    • Posted September 22, 2009 at 10:25 am
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    i removed my blog from planet bohra ages ago. it might indeed be seen as the easy way out, but it was my only way to overcome the self censorship issue..

  1. My comment is for this post as well as post.

    To deal with public/private posts I will categorize my posts accordingly and will provide the public category feed to planetbohra. Lets say I only want my technical posts to appear on planet – the feed i will use is instead of the main blog feed. I think this is possible in all modern blogging applications.

    • mtalib
    • Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:08 pm
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    That is a solution that is possible in all blogging applications, and it is a good intermediate solution. It may be that as Planet Bohra becomes a wall of uniformity, I will have to put in place some sort of selective category (perhaps called PlanetBohra) so only those posts are available to the Planet.

    At the same time I don’t believe that my ideas are that radical that they need to be selectively included on Planet Bohra. This solution is still self-censorship – and if the choice in the end is between self-censorship and removal, I would rather be removed.

  2. As the person who is responsible for Planet Bohra, I find your comments interesting but also I feel a bit misleading. Based on this blog post, one might think that Planet Bohra is a hand picked collection of blogs which were chosen for their relgiousity, adherence and focus on what you refer to as the life we are “meant” to live.

    This is not so.

    The reason why you don’t see more posts about the trivialiaties of life, or other non-relgious topics is because people in our community seem not to write about these things (or if they do, I’ve not been able to find them).

    The bottom line is that I would welcome more blogs that added that a different flavour – but someone needs to step up and write them. Planet Bohra can only aggregate content that already exists AND that authors are willing to share (if soneone requests their blog be removed, I honour that request). If the content doesn’t exist, I can’t aggregate it.

    Perhaps the real point is not that Planet Bohra is not inclusive, but rather that our community members are just too afraid to publish what they really think for fear of others in the community ostracising them, and that silence and disengagement is an acceptable fallback.

    If true, that’s not a very flattering generalisation, is it?

    P.S. I do share your disappointment about the lack of non-religious posts. However, that’s not something I can solve.

    (This blog entry has given me an idea for another blog post, which I hope to write after I’ve had a bit more time to think about it – I’ll link back here when it’s ready)

      • md
      • Posted September 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm
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      ok, two points- first, when pb first began, i had the impression (however mistakenly) that it would be an aggregator of individual blogs. with the inclusion of malumat etc though, it is not surprising that there is an overload of religious material; few individual bloggers would be able to compete with the sheer amount of dawat related news put out on a daily/weekly basis.

      and this brings me to my second point -it is not so much the fear of ostracism per se, but the fear/discomfort of seeming so out of place in the midst of all this religiousity. particularly if your post happens to be about faith, doubts, relationships etc.

      • The original intention was to have only personal bloggers, but at the time the volume generated was rather low, so I added some religious websites. Perhaps is too many and I should just stick with

        How does that sound? After all, relgiousity is part of our life and should not be ignored completely either.

    • @Ali Ebrahim: What if we include only those blogs which are written by individuals in the aggregater? i.e. exclude malumaat, mdo, zen and other akhbar blogs?

      • I’ve set up a test here (with broken RSS links, but the website works fine):

        What do people think? I see the merit of your suggestion but a lot of people I know like having an all-in-one resource too.

      • mtalib
      • Posted September 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm
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      Ali, I didn’t mean to suggest that you hand selected the blogs on Planet Bohra to create a wall of religious uniformity. I know you’ve a scrupulously fair process in keeping Planet Bohra open to all (Bohra) comers.

      My point is that Planet Bohra by its inclusion of all comers (and specifically the high content religious news sites), creates a self-conscious opt out from the individual voices. As these opt outs increase, other personal bloggers feel increasingly out of place and opt out themselves.

      It’s a vicious cycle that sees these sites dominate and squeezes out individual voices.

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Abbas bhai’s suggestion.

    • md
    • Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:29 am
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    ali, after visiting pb (the lite version) today, i see your point about low volume! it seems like-for the moment anyways-the choice may have to be between an overload of religious content or little content..

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