Mumbai: In a controversial move, the management of the iconic Sufi shrine Haji Ali Dargah on Tuesday banned the entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum that houses the tomb of 15th century Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The Tomb is located off the Mumbai coast.

According to the reports, the trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah has restricted the entry of the women devotees citing the Sharia Laws. However, the trust has allowed women to roam freely within the dargah's compound.

"Women can offer namaaz and offer shawls and flowers. They can even roam freely within the dargah complex. But their entry into the sanctum sanctorum is strictly prohibited,” Rizwan Merchant, a trustee and noted criminal lawyer said.

He further added, “The decision was taken six months ago and at that time too it had sparked criticism but after bringing certain changes into it we have finally decided to enforce it now.”

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



The decision of the Dargah management has evoked severe criticism. People cutting across the religious lines and national identities have slammed the new diktat at the world famous Islamic Shrine.

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.

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

Singh tweeted, “Not allowing Women to visit Haji Ali is a regressive step. Liberal Muslims must rise to oppose it. Can't allow Talibani thought in India.”

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.

Expressing discontent over the move, noted writer Chetan Bhagat tweeted, “If you keep indulging religious fanatics in the name of secularism, stuff like Haji Ali ban on women will only rise.


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