Activists protest against bar on women from praying near tomb at Haji Ali

Dargah Trust says rule is as per the Sharia law and nothing new

Published - November 07, 2012 02:42 am IST - MUMBAI:



The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) has protested against the diktat by trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah, a landmark shrine just off the city’s coastline, which prevents women from entering the sanctum sanctorum and praying at the tomb of the famous Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

The organisation surveyed 20 dargahs here and found that seven of them had imposed restrictions on women visiting tombs inside. It wrote to the State government and the Minorities Commission on Tuesday appealing for their intervention.

The Haji Ali Dargah is a complex housing the tomb of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and a mosque. It is 550 years old and built on rocks off the sea and was given its present-day shape in the early 19th century. Its website proclaims that “people from all parts of the world without restrictions of caste, creed and religion visit the dargah to offer their prayers and for the fulfilment of their wishes by the blessings of the saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Some pray for wealth, others for health, children, marriages, etc, have their wishes being granted at all the times.” Between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors go there daily and the number swells to over 20,000 during festivals.

The Haji Ali Dargah Trust was, however, quick to clarify that the rule on refusal of permission for women was nothing new. Mohammed Ahmed Taher, an administrative officer of the Trust, told The Hindu that the Islamic Sharia says that women must not visit graves, even those of a Sufi saint. “We have not banned women from entering the dargah at all. They can go right up to the grave but there is a restricted area for them from where they can offer flowers and chaddars ,” he said. Men, however, can go right up to the tomb and offer prayers.

Disputing this, Noorjehan Safia Niaz of the BMMA told The Hindu that in March 2011, a group of women from her organisation visited the dargah, a symbol of an inclusive culture and syncretism, and went right up to the tomb. “I remember as a child often visiting the dargah and offering prayers. There was no such restriction at that time,” she said. This July, when a few women from the BMMA went there they found a three-foot-high steel barrier on three sides of the grave and women were not allowed to go beyond that. Men, who enter through a separate door, were allowed to go close to the tomb, she said. “How can the trust become so regressive in this day and age?” she asked. Muslim women are already barred from going to the mosque or the cemetery, she said. Now there is one more restriction they have to put up with. If women can go to the Kaaba in Makkah, why not to dargahs, Ms. Niaz asked.

In July, the BMMA met a senior member of the Trust who indicated that sometimes women do not dress “appropriately” when they visit the tomb. The Koran has advised people to do good and stay away from evil, and so the Trust had decided to restrict women from approaching the tomb, he had said. Ms Niaz confirmed that the new rule was introduced about a year ago and the trustee had said this should have been done long back but they had deferred it.

Why can’t women visit graves and who has formulated this Sharia law, Ms Niaz asked. She slammed this move saying, “This move is going against the spirit of Islam which gives equal rights to women.” She said the famous Maqdoom Shah Baba Dargah in Mahim, too, was discouraging women from offering prayers at the tomb. When some women went there, they were told that it may not be proper for them to visit the tomb of the Sufi saint. Some dargahs in Versova and in South Mumbai also have started disallowing women from offering prayers.

Mr. Taher said though women were allowed at the Kaaba in Makkah they had to face restrictions in Madinah. The Trust was conducting itself according to Islamic law and there was nothing new in all this, he reiterated.

The chairperson of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission, Munaf Hakim, said that this was a religious matter and a decision of the Trust, and it was not within the purview of the government. He said he had not yet received any memorandum for intervention.

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