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India: Widespread condemnation of Haji Ali dargah’s ban on women

“Since childhood we have all been going to the Haji Ali dargah to offer prayers. We were always allowed inside and we could even touch the tomb. I went there a year ago and there were no issues.”

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int’l Desk
Source/Credit: NDTV | News
By Tejas Mehta | November 06, 2012

Mumbai: “People from all parts of the world without restrictions of caste, creed and religion visit the Dargah to offer their prayers and for the fulfillment of their wishes by the blessings of the Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.”

It would perhaps be fair to add a restriction: women.

Popularly known as the Haji Ali Dargah, for decades the iconic and religious landmark has been a much visited site of pilgrimage for thousands of tourists and believers. Erected on a bed of rocks, 500 yards into the Arabian Sea and off the coast of Worli in south central Mumbai, the dargah has been immortalised by Bollywood in several movies.

Now, in a controversial move that has shocked Mumbai, the Haji Ali Dargah Trust has barred women from entering the sanctum sanctorum that houses the tomb of the 15th century Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

“If Islamic scholars have issued a fatwa, in accordance with the Islamic law of Sharia, and have demanded that women not be allowed in dargahs, we have only made a correction,” explains Rizwan Merchant, trustee of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust and also a noted criminal lawyer. “Women will not be allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum.”

Practically this means that women will be allowed only within the dargah’s large and open premises. “There are no restrictions. They can read their prayers, do namaz and offer shawls and flowers. All that we are requesting to our sisters is not to enter inside the dargah,” says Mr Merchant.

According to some Muslim clerics, the Sharia prohibits women from visiting graves and since the tomb is in essence the grave of the Pir, women consequently stand debarred. The decision has now been implemented by seven other dargahs across Mumbai, which have welcomed the new diktat.

“According to the Sharia, this is a sin. It is un-Islamic. We cannot allow it,” insists Mohammed Sharif Kadri, the maulana at the dargah in Cotton Green, central Mumbai.

Though the trust claims that nobody till date has opposed this, many are livid and believe the decision is highly discriminatory and grossly regressive, especially as the dargah is a representative extension of the great Sufi tenet of inclusivity.

The ban was imposed over 6 months ago, but it came to light only when a women’s advocacy group, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), objected.

“Since childhood we have all been going to the Haji Ali dargah to offer prayers. We were always allowed inside and we could even touch the tomb. I went there a year ago and there were no issues,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a member of BMMA.

“When it comes to spiritual and social issues, men and women are both given the same rights. I am a Muslim. I believe in Allah. If God sees men and women as equals, then who are these trustees? This is an attempt to subdue women. It is this misuse and abuse of Islam which is un-Islamic,” insists Ms Niaz.

Ms Niaz questions “their interpretation of the Sharia vis a vis the teachings of the Koran” and says they are in contradiction.

Maulana Gulam Javed Sheikh of the Sewri Dargah in central Mumbai too agrees: “Times have changed. It is not possible to enforce this.”

Rubina, another BMMA member, explains that when they went to meet the trustees to raise the issue, the clerics also pointed out an incident where a devotee was dressed “inappropriately”.

“It is possible some woman didn’t cover herself as per custom. But does that mean they ban entry for all women?”

Despite the opposing voices, the trustees say their decision is irrevocable and it should be accepted by one and all. “This is a small issue. Let’s not hype it up,” says Mr Merchant.

  —  Reported by Tejas Mehta, Edited by Ashish Mukherjee.

Read original post here: Widespread condemnation of Haji Ali dargah’s ban on women

This content-post is archived for backup and to keep archived records of any news Islam Ahmadiyya. The views expressed by the author and source of this news archive do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Ahmadiyya Times.

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