Sharia law ban (fatwa) on women at Haji Ali shrine evokes protests

Haji Ali shrine

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 on Tuesday 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 said. 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 well 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.

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