The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) is fighting to overturn a ban that forbids Muslim women from entering the inner sanctum of the holy shrine of the 15th
century Sufi saint. The dargah is located on a small islet off the coast of Mumbai. The shrine is revered by both Muslims and Hindus.
In their petition filed before the Bombay High Court last year the group claimed that the ban, imposed in 2011 by the trustees of the shrine, is unconstitutional.
In October this year, the trustees had responded to the PIL stating that the ban was imposed because “entry of women in close proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint is a grievous sin as per Islam”.
In its defence the trustees called upon Article 26 of the Constitution of India, which gives the trust a fundamental right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
But the women are not convinced. Speaking to AFP today, BMMA co-founder Noorjehan Niaz said that the trustees barred women on the grounds of menstruation saying they are impure.
“Menstruation is a natural event and responsible for the entire of humanity being born. How can it be dirty?” she asks, adding, “How can you bar somebody from entering the sanctum just because she is a woman? The decision was anti-women and anti-Islamic and we had no option but to go to court.”
But supporting the ban, a prominent member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said that it was similar to those in other mosques and allowing women into a tomb “is against the religion”.
It is not Haji Ali alone where women face such bans. Many temples in India, too, do not allow women in the inner sanctum.
The recent example was when seven security personnel were suspended
when a women climbed on the platform of the Shani Shingnapur temple and offered oil, all within 30 seconds. By the temple’s rules, women have not been allowed to climb the platform for “hundreds of years”.
Maharashtra’s rural development minister Pankaja Munde supported the temple’s view that it was not wrong to bar women from performing such a puja since it is tradition and should not be linked to insult of women
. So, in the light of Haji Ali’s ban and the similar bans on women all over India, Niaz’s contention that a positive ruling would have a wider and long-term effect holds water. The Bombay High Court will hear the Haji Ali case again on December 15.