This Article is From Nov 06, 2012

Widespread condemnation of Haji Ali dargah's ban on women

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." - Official website, Haji Ali Dargah

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

The Haji Ali dargah, 500 yards into the Arabian Sea off Mumbai, has invoked Islamic law, the Sharia, to stop women from going to the interiors of the iconic Sufi shrine, setting off a nation-wide wave of condemnation.

The shrine holds the tomb of 15th century Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Bukhari. Ironically Sufism is showcased for its inclusivist tradition. Till this decision, there was no restriction on women entering.

The controversial move has shocked not just Mumbai, but also much of the country. Top political leaders and activists have criticised it. But the trust that maintains the dargah has held up the Sharia in its defence. "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.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh is joined by the BJP's Shahnawaz Husain in condemning this. "I am not in favour of this, all Muslims should oppose," the Congress general secretary said. He was backed by Mr Husain, who wants the trust to "rethink and take back their decision".

Author and Mumbaikar Dilip D'Souza also made plain his disapproval: "Anything that (says) women should not be allowed in a certain part of our society that is certainly regressive."

"When it comes to spiritual and social issues, men and women are both given the same rights. 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 Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which was instrumental in bringing to light the decision, which was taken six months ago.

But these voices are being ignored by the dargah's trust, as well as the Muslim Law board and seven other dargahs, who are all backing the decision. "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. There are some opposing voices from within, though, like maulana Gulam Javed Sheikh, who says, "Times have changed. It is not possible to enforce this."

The Haji Ali dargah trust claims that no one so far has had any objections and 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.