Haji Ali Dargah Bars Women's Entry, Evokes Protests
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Mumbai's iconic and religious shrine Haji Ali Dargah has barred women from entering the sanctum sanctorum housing the tomb of the 15th century Sufi saint, a decision that has sparked condemnation.

The management of the Sufi shrine, which is visited by tens of thousands of devotees every year, however, said today women are allowed within the dargah's large and open premises.

"Women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah," said Rizwan Merchant, trustee of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust and also a noted criminal lawyer.

"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," said Merchant, defending the decision.

Merchant claimed there are no restrictions as such for women devotees.

"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," he said.

"The Sharia law claims that no woman can visit a cemetery or a grave," said Suhail Khandwani, the trustee of the Haji Ali dargah and managing trustee of Mahim's Makhdoom Shah Baba's dargah.

"We allow women in dargah sharif but not at the astana (sanctum sanctorum where a saint is buried)" Khandwani told PTI. The tomb is in essence the grave of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

"Most of the women, almost 80 per cent of them, agree with the decision (to impose curbs)," he claimed.

But the decision to restrict women from entering the innermost part of the shrine has not gone down plan with a women's group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA).

The group said it will be raising the issue with the Maharashtra government.

The decision came to light when some members of the Andolan had visited the shrine in August. After noticing that women's entry into the sanctum sanctorum was disallowed, they surveyed 20 dargahs in the city.

"The shrine trustees told us the restrictions were imposed after a woman came inappropriately dressed last year," said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder, BMMA, calling the decision unislamic.

Erected on a bed of rocks, about 450 metres into the Arabian Sea and off the coast of Worli in south central Mumbai, the dargah has been immortalised by Bollywood in several movies.

Sufi shrines are known for an inclusive approach to devotees, but some have started segregating men and women visitors and seven dargahs in Mumbai have banned women from entering the astana, Noorjehan said.

"We are writing to Maharashtra minorities minister Arif Naseem Khan, the state minorities commission and the trustees of Haji Ali shrine seeking steps to curb the practice," she added.

Asked what steps are the trustees taking to clear their stance, Khandwani said, "We are in the process of organising lectures to explain what Islamic laws mean."

Congress leader Digvijay Singh said he is not in favour of the decision and urged Muslim liberals in the country to oppose it.

Echoing Singh's sentiments, BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said discriminating people on the basis of caste, creed and sex when into comes to entry into a place is not right.

The decision should be reconsidered and reversed, he added.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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Daily Mail

Nov 13, 2012
07:44 AM

This news is a hot item on Muslim websites. People were not too pleased with me when I opined: "Our subcontinent is being invaded by intolerant and virulent brands of Islam (e.g. 'Petro-dollar Islam', Wahabism, Salafism, Ahle Hadith etc) which are all hell-bent on destroying our gentler, more humane and "live-and-let-live" traditions. Indian Muslims should not be complacent about this assault. We must not live in denial. The savages are at the gate!" I may have been wrong about one thing. I have been told that Salafis do allow women to visit dargahs.

Anwaar, Dallas
Nov 12, 2012
07:12 PM

 "  Ghai jaan, you got it all wrong and S.S.Nagaraj got it right. Here is a news iem from TOI"

Saroja Bi 

Kahan gustakhi hogai iss adna insaan se ??

Nov 12, 2012
06:40 PM

 #7, #17

Are you a human being or a produce of a clever  ELIZA program?

R. Saroja
Bombay, India
Nov 12, 2012
06:36 PM

Ghai jaan, you got it all wrong and S.S.Nagaraj got it right. Here is a news iem from TOI

 "The ban on women's entry to the dargahs' sanctum sanctorum is not just about gender injustice. There is a bigger and sinister gameplan afoot to banish Sufism from India," says Noorjahan Safia Niaz, founder member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan ( BMMA), the organisation that is leading a protest against the ban. Activists and scholars believe that the oil rich-Saudi kingdom is aggressively exporting Wahabism or Salafism (the terms are interchangeable) to South-East Asia. India, being home to a large Muslim population, is obviously an easy target. Wahabism's founder, the 18th century theologian Ibn Abd-al-Wahab, charted out a puritanical course for Muslims which had little space for Sufism or other strains of Islam.

There are many visible signs of creeping Wahabism in India. Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy says that one obvious sign is the transition of the Muslim greeting from Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz. "Khuda Hafiz was the more accepted form of greeting among Muslims in India. But in the past two decades or so, ever since Indian Muslims began going to Saudi for jobs, Allah Hafiz has become the popular form," says Anand. "This is the subtle assault of an alien culture. Muslims working in Saudi not only send handsome remittances but also bring in Wahabi influences."

Anand refers to British scholar Akbar Ahmed's book The Struggle Within Islam which, contrary to what Wahabis preach, celebrates the syncretic ethos that Sufi shrines promote. In March 2006, Ahmed, accompanied by his students from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities, visited Ajmer Dargah. Hailey, a Christian girl, was chosen to shower the saint's grave with flowers. "A young Christian female was selected to honour a Muslim saint. This was the Ajmer model in action," writes Ahmed. Says Anand, "This Ajmer model is being threatened as Wahabism spreads in India."

As promotion of Wahabism is part of Saudi state policy—its religious police unit is called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the ideology gets exported through various channels. Dawah (promotion of religion) centres have mushroomed across Saudi Arabia and many organisations in India work as their fronts. Wahabi preachers get bankrolled to promote Wahabism. "There are exclusive women jamaats where, during regular meetings, women are asked not to visit dargahs," says Niaz, whose colleagues work mainly among Muslim women.

Since the Wahabis do not accept the idea of multiculturalism, they focus on preaching their sect's views.

"These preachers don't promote Islam, they promote the Wahabi sect. They have a sectarian agenda and try to prevent Muslims from joining the secular, multicultural mainstream," says Bandra-based businessman Zafar Sareshwalla, who claims to have joined many movements, including the Tablighi Jamaat, but now says he is "just a Muslim".

Sareshwalla and many others name a famous Mumbai-based preacher who is a leading light of the Wahabi movement in India. Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, director of the NGO Markazul Maarif, recalls taking this particular preacher on a tour of the North-East a few years ago. After the preacher's lecture in Guwahati, Qasmi recalls, someone asked him if he believed in Sufism and visiting dargahs. "He said Sufis had no place in Islam and visiting dargahs was an un-Islamic practice. As many senior clerics on the stage were shocked, I intervened and declared that whatever the preacher had said about Sufism was his personal view," explains Qasmi, whose organisation has distanced itself from the controversial preacher since.

In the Wahabi scheme of things, shrines are places of sin as is evidenced by demolition of Islamic heritage sites in Mecca and Medina. Sadly, Sunnis too are falling into the same

R. Saroja, Bombay
Nov 11, 2012
10:12 AM


I have never really understood the mentality of a Vijay raje Scindia, a widow, when she defended the practice of Sati. Now as other writers have pointed out, many religions have the practice of restricting presence of women. I have given reasons for this in #15. But the reason given for restricting presence of women in Dargah is different, that Islam does not allow presence of women in graveyards. About this see the post #14 . Please note that till recently, women were allowed. 

R. Saroja, Bombay
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