By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
Mumbai High Court judgment striking down the restrictions on women praying
inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah is welcome for more than
one reason. First of all, it is perhaps the single most important victory for
Muslim women in this country since many decades.
is important to underline the fact that the movement to oppose gender based
restrictions in the Dargah was led by Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). It
is rather disconcerting to see that some television channels are projecting
this as the victory of Trupti Desai which is patently incorrect. Trupti Desai
and her struggle to challenge the misogynistic practices at the Shani Shignapur
temple are indeed laudable but it is equally true that the movement against
such practices within the Haji Ali Dargah was led by Muslim women alone and its
they who should get due credit for fighting entrenched patriarchy within Muslim
society. Trying to make it into a larger fight in which all women were together
obfuscates the voice of the Muslim women who were not only in leadership
position but also sustained the movement for many years.
Ali was not always like this. It was in 2012 that the fundamentalists all of a
sudden realised that women should be debarred from touching and kneeling at the
grave of the saint. The argument of the Dargah committee was nothing less than
ridiculous. They argued that all of a sudden they realised that the Islamic Shariat
did not permit Muslim women access to the shrine and that strict segregation
was what Islam had taught them.
way to comprehend this would be to realise that the trustees of Haji Ali
realised that whatever their forefathers did was all un-Islamic since they
allowed women access to the shrine.
argument was hardly convincing. People in the know always knew that this change
was related to the conception of an altogether new Islam itself. This new
Islamic religiosity, which is currently sweeping the subcontinent, indeed the
world, is much more attuned to the colourless aridity of Saudi Arabia rather
than the colourful landscape of the Indian subcontinent. This new Islam
profoundly altered the imagination of the trustees of the Dargah, particularly
in its attitude towards women. This sudden realisation in 2012 was hardly
sudden: it was in the making for a while and it is still struggling to
hegemonise the imagination of Indian Muslims.
are two important observations which the High Court made in its judgment which
might have bearing on other cases also. The trustees argued that since the
Constitution granted minorities the right to manage their own trusts, they were
entitled to exercise reasonable restrictions within the precincts.
Court struck down this argument by stating that such entitlements are not
absolute. Any measure which is in contravention to individual rights and which
ends up being discriminatory is liable to be struck down as it becomes ultra vires
the freedoms which is enshrined in the Constitution.
is important because minority institutions often argue that they are the sole
custodians of the future of citizens who are under their jurisdiction. One can
only think about the state of madrasas in India and how they are exempt from
the RTE provisions which can only mean that although every child of this
country has a right to education, Muslim children are exempt from it.
The second observation of the Court was that
they wanted to know if segregation was an essential feature of the Islamic
faith. It is a matter of great shame that the Dargah trustees went at length to
prove that it was essential to the Islamic faith. Marshalling passages from the
Quran and Hadees, they went at great lengths to show how Islam indeed was a
backward, regressive religion which limited the movement of women. The Court
however was not convinced and could not find any merit in the argument that
allowing women to pray at the Dargah will fundamentally alter the faith of
from the Muslim orthodoxy will be on predictable lines. They have already
started arguing that the judgment is an infringement on the rights of Muslims
in India; that the Court has unreasonably interfered in the internal affairs of
is important to highlight that minorities have rights in this country and that
those rights have to be defended at all costs for this secular polity to
survive. However, fighting for minority rights is not the same as advocating
for gender segregation and plunge into a politics which can only make Muslims
regressive and conservative.
community evolves and along with it evolve their values and mores. It is
heartening to note that scores of Muslims are welcoming the judgment of the
High Court. The least the Muslim religious establishment can do is to listen to
these voices and not challenge the High Court verdict in Supreme Court. That is
perhaps the only way they can salvage their reputation. And the reputation of
Islam and Muslims.
Arshad Alam is a
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic
Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
is for all but all are not following in the footsteps of Haji Ali (May Allah be
pleased with him)!!!
The exact words of the Hadith in Arabic are as following:
قال رسول الله صلی الله عليه وآله وسلم کنت نهيتکم زيارة القبور اَلا فزورُوها فانها تُذهد في الدنيا وتذکر الاخرة.
English translation: “The Prophet of Allah, peace be upon him, said: "I forbade you to visit the graves but [now] do visit them” (Narrated as part of a longer Hadith: from Burayda by Muslim, al-Tirmidhi (Hasan Sahîh), Abu Dawud, al-Nasa'i, `Abd al-Razzaq (3:569), and others).
Going by the above Prophetic tradition (Hadith), both Muslim men and women were prohibited from visiting graves and shrines in the earliest period of Islam. According to Imam al-Tirmidhi who has also relayed this Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) had forbidden the grave visitation or Ziyarat due to temporary reasons. Men were prohibited because they used to recite inauspicious elegies and would write un-Islamic quotations over the graves of their dead relatives. They were influenced by the superstitious customs of the pre-Islamic era of ignorance, which is called Jahiliyah in Islamic history. Similarly, women were prohibited from visiting graves, as explained by Imam Tirmidhi, because in pre-Islamic times in Arabia, women would mourn and wail so much at the graves of their relatives that they would harm themselves by cutting their hairs and nails. But with the advent of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) endeavoured to reform the superstitious tribal customs of the Arabian society. He broadened people’s minds and intellectual horizons, and so they could rise above their pre-conceived notions and superstitions, including with regard to visiting graves.
Prophet (pbuh) not only lifted his prohibition on visiting graves, but also encouraged his followers, men and women alike, to visit them in pursuit of abundant spiritual benefits. It is noteworthy that the Prophet (pbuh) did not make any distinction between men and women while lifting the temporary prohibition on visiting graves. He issued a general permission for people to perform Ziyarat; to visit graves and shrines in order to seek spiritual blessings. Addressing his companions, both men and women, the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“I had prohibited you from visiting graves. But from now on, you can go for Ziyarat because it will make you feel unattached towards this world and remind you of the Hereafter.” (Hadith Hasan, narrated from Ibn `Abbas by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa'i in both in al-Sunan and al-Sunan al-Kubra, and others).
In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) himself would visit graves (Ziyarat-E- Qubur), especially on the Night of Mid-Sha`ban (Laylat al-Bara‘at). He used to visit the grave of his mother regularly and cry out of his love for, and remembrance of, her, as the following report says:
“The Holy Prophet (pbuh) visited the grave of his mother and cried near her grave and also made others around him to cry. Thereafter he said: I have taken permission from my Lord to visit the grave of my mother. You too should visit the graves because such a visit will remind you of your death.” (Reported in Sahih Muslim)
Not only the Prophet (pbuh) but also his wife Hazrat Aisha would visit the graves of great figures of Islam, like Hazrat Amina the Prophet’s mother and Hamza ibn `Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle who was martyred in early Islamic period. Prophet’s daughter Hazrat Fatimah (r.a) used to visit the grave of her uncle every Friday and she would pray and cry there. (Narrated by `Abd al-Razzaq, 3:572). Even she had marked the grave with a rock in order to recognize it (mentioned by al-Qurtubi in his Tafsir, 10:381).
Given this general Prophetic permission of grave-visiting, there is no reason why women cannot visit the graves or shrines of Sufi saints. In Islam, women are no less than men in any sphere of life. They equally deserve to acquire taqwa (piety and righteousness) and Tazkeer-E-Akhirat (remembrance of Hereafter), which are the core objectives of grave-visitation in Islam. Only men are not to be blessed with the spiritual influences of remembering the Hereafter. This is a line of exclusivist and patriarchal thinking. Women equally need to be God-conscious and mindful of the Akihrat (Hereafter). Therefore, the Prophet’s general permission to visit the graves should be taken in an inclusive and broader sense.