Sufi shrines

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Entry of women

The Times of India, Aug 27 2016

Mohammed Wajihuddin 

Ruling restores liberal reputation of Sufi shrines

Sufi shrines have traditionally been liberal spaces, known for their allembracing philosophy. The historic verdict lifting the ban on women's entry into the Haji Ali Dargah's sanctum sanctorum restored the shrine's famed inclusivism. In one stroke, the HC order also dispelled notions that Islam discriminates against women and fuelled a debate within the community on whether the clergy was denying women what religion gave them. “... Sunnis who visit Sufi shrines were seen to be practising gender discrimination when they stopped women from visiting Haji Ali Dargah. This verdict will help change this perception,“ a senior cleric in the city who follows the Deobandi school of thought said.

Historically , men and women prayed together at the inception of Islam. When the faith was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, he ended several tribal practices, including deep hatred for the female gender. Allowing women equal space in places of worship was a strong way to empower them. “During the Prophet's time, men and women prayed in the mosques together. Women would stand behind men not because they were considered inferior but because they carried children who cried and had to be taken ho me hastily ,“ explained Ali, who has written extensively on women's position in Islam.It was much after the Prophet's death that men and women started to be segregated at places of worship.

Men and women in early Islam

The Times of India, Aug 27 2016

Early Islam let men, women pray together  Women enjoyed rights on a par with men at sacred spaces in the early phase of Islam. Imam Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali School of Jurisprudence of Sunni Islam, records that once the Prophet asked Umme Waraqah to lead prayers at her household, meaning she would lead a mixed-gender congregation.Even Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, allows men and women to circumambulate the holy Kaaba in Mecca without being segregated. Till March 2012, even Haji Ali's santum sanctorum was open to women. 

Division among Muslim clerics

The Times of India, Aug 27 2016  Muslim clerics looked divided in their reaction to Bombay high court's order. Some welcomed the verdict, while others said women should themselves “maintain decorum and dignity“ and stay off graves of saints while visiting such shrines. “Soon we will see women demanding access to mosques which in India largely deny women's entry,“ said Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy. Clerics at seminaries in UP's Bareilly appealed to Muslim women not to visit Haji Ali's Dargah's sanctum.

Victory for Womens' movement

The Times of India, Aug 27 2016

Women brigade's fight led to HC verdict 

The moving force be hind the fight to recla im the right of women to enter and pray in the Haji Ali dargah sanctum sanctorum are Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, who founded the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in 2007. Niaz, an alumnus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said the organization works among the most vulnerable and the poorest in the community -the women and children -and takes up issues of education, livelihood, law reforms at the district and ward level. “Our focus is on obtaining better health services, access to good quality ration, working with the police to reduce conflicts, and within the community , for the rights of women,“ she explained.

The women's advocacy group has a membership of one lakh Muslim women but is not registered. “Ours is a non-party political organization. We wanted it to be a mass movement and registering only a few members as stakeholders does not suit the objectives of our movement.So the organization is not registered,“ said Niaz. She is an Ashoka fellow, somebody who is seen as capable of driving largescale change.

Besides moving the PIL on Haji Ali Dargah, the organization has been demanding codification of Muslim Family Law. In June this year, it filed a PIL for the abolition of oral divorce and the practice of Halala. Both, said Niaz, is an assertion of women's rights within the community .

“We are women citizens of the country and are unapologetic for being Muslims. The two identities are not contradictory and we, too, want the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution for all,“ she said.

The verdict is a victory for the larger women's movement and the values of equality, justice and freedom have been upheld, she said.

See also

Mumbai: Haji Ali

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