PIL challenges ban on women in Haji Ali Dargah's inner sanctum
Currently, women are allowed only to point from where they can see the tomb and offer prayers.
MUMBAI: The Muslim community will become all the more regressive, says a public interest litigation filed before the Bombay high court challenging the ban on women entering the inner sanctum of Haji Ali Dargah, which houses the mazaar (tomb) of the saint and has millions of visitors every year.

Currently, women are allowed only to point from where they can see the tomb and offer prayers. The PIL is filed by activists Noorjehan Niaz and Zakia Soman of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, who experienced “first hand the restriction which was imposed somewhere between March 2011-June 2012”.

They said right from their childhood they were allowed unimpeded access to the inner sanctum (mazaar) but now there is a barricade. A trustee in July 2012 told them the decision was taken for the safety and security of women and is based on Shariat provisions, which they began following no sooner they realized that they were making a mistake.

The petitioners, thereafter, conducted a survey which showed that 12 out of 19 dargahs in Mumbai allowed women into the sanctum. They followed up with representations to the authorities, including women’s commissions, the state minority commission and the charity commissioner, but in vain. In April 2014, they again visited the Dargah and “much to their dismay learnt that the debarment of women was still in force”.

Aggrieved, they moved HC against the “blatant discrimination on the ground of gender alone” saying it impinges on their fundamental rights and also “the failure of the state to eliminate inequalities”.

“Assuming Sharia says something which is contrary to the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India, it is the Constitution alone which, as the supreme law of the land, should prevail over contravening personal laws,” the petition stated.

The petition further stated gender justice is inherent in the Quran and the decision contravenes the Hadiths, which prove that there is no prohibition on women visiting graves. “The Holy Prophet never objected to women visiting the graves,” it said. “Such conduct is likely to cause damage to the society, the syncretic spirit which was expounded by the Sufi saints, and of course the Muslim community making it all the more regressive being an obstacle to progressive thinking.”

The petition said the restriction “emanates from a very conservative and extremist Salafi ideology” which is against women’s freedom and equality. “If such arbitrary actions of the Trust are not restrained, it is not inconceivable that in the future there may be an order banning the entry of women in the Dargah complex and non-Muslims wholly,” it added.

Urging the HC “to declare that women devotees have an equal right of entry and access to all parts, including the inner sanctum (mazaar) of the Haji Ali Dargah on par with the male devotees,” the petition has also sought an inquiry by the charity commissioner.

Advocate Sagar Rane on November 7 mentioned the PIL before the chief justice, who placed it for hearing before another bench on November 13. Due to administrative reasons, the matter was not on board that day.

Trustee on restriction

A Haji Ali Dargarh trustee, Suhail Khandwani, told TOI that the entry of women right up to the sanctum has been restricted since years together. “…Amost 20 years and more.” He said there is a separate entrance made from where women can see the sanctum and pray from there. “It is part of it (the sanctum). They are insisting. In Shariat, men and women are not allowed together. There is disturbance on men mentally and women are also disturbed physically. It is not right for a man and a woman to enter together. We hold the chastity of women in high esteem. Suppose in a rush something happens? We take utmost care as management.”