This week, many rejoiced after the Haji Ali dargah trust told the Supreme Court that it would allow women to enter the sanctum of the shrine from now on. This was seen as returning to the position before 2012 when women were allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum. But here’s the big catch everybody missed. From now on, neither men nor women will be allowed to touch the tomb. If the additional affidavit submitted by the trust before the Supreme Court is to go by, the trust has said it is going to construct a restricted area around the tomb called “mujawar area”. Neither men, nor women will be allowed in that area. The new scheme has been devised by the trust on the basis of “the concept of equality between men and women in Islam”.

In the already space-crunched mazhar sharief, a sizeable 12 square metres area around the tomb will now be out of bounds for both men and women. In a reconstruction plan submitted to the Supreme Court, this 12 sq m area has been marked as the mujawar area. The trust has sought four months to implement this new scheme involving “redesign (of) the flooring of the parts of the area which houses the sanctum sanctorum.” 

“The trustees believe in complete equality of men and women as envisaged in Islam and to give effect to the said principle of equality have decided that both men and women shall be allowed to enter the room which houses the Sanctum Sanctorum of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari (R.A.) right up to the Sanctum, however, neither men nor women shall be allowed to touch the Sanctum Sanctorum of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari (R.A.),” stated the resolution passed by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust on 11 October this year. This was submitted to the Supreme Court this week. The Sunday Guardian has a copy of this resolution. This resolution has scrapped the previous resolution passed on 6 August 2015.

It can be a matter of debate on whether this will really mean “status quo ante” as per the Bombay High Court’s order. The Bombay High Court had ordered that the position previous to 2012 be restored, wherein men and women were allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and to touch the tomb. Can the trust then unilaterally alter the conditions of “status quo ante”?

“Earlier, women were allowed to touch the tomb. But now it seems that since they don’t want women to touch the tomb, they have disallowed even men to do so. The trustees seem to be under the wrong impression that the status quo ordered by the High Court has been in some way replaced or superseded by the status quo which the trustees have agreed to abide by in their additional affidavit in the Supreme Court. This is not correct. 

The landmark High Court judgement of 26 August has now attained finality. In fact, the Supreme Court has granted BMMA the liberty to move the High Court again if the trustees try to avoid implementing the High Court’s direction. And if required, we will do it,” said advocate Raju Moray, who represents Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan led by Noorjehan Niaz, the primary petitioner in the matter.

This week, as everyone hailed the trust’s declaration in the court to allow women inside the sanctum sanctorum, barely anyone went through the fine print of the additional affidavit. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.


The affidavit clearly says that women are discouraged from going to dargahs. But there is no active prohibition. “The offer of worship at the dargah will be enabled keeping in mind the guaranteed and recognised aspirations of equality,” the affidavit says on the first page.

That is why a segregation in the place of worship. Referring to the Quran, the affidavit states, “Islam believes in equality among men and women. However, segregation between the sexes in the place of worship is contemplated.”

As per Islam, equality assumes a different meaning. At one point, the affidavit states that the religion treats men and women equally. But within a few paragraphs, it puts additional restrictions on women. It does not stop at it. It also puts the onus of obeying those additional restrictions on women. It then says that there will be higher reward for women who offer prayers within the confines of their homes.

“Islam does not encourage women to visit graves. However, it does not prohibit women from visiting graves, which would include shrines as well. Many regard discouragement of women from visiting dargahs as a soft prohibition since a believer would not prefer to act in a manner disapproved or discouraged in Islam,” it states. 

Just two paragraphs before saying this, the affidavit talks about the reasons why going to graveyards was recommended by Prophet Muhammad himself: “Visiting graveyards generally, was recommended by Prophet Muhammad because the purpose of visiting graveyards is two-fold. One is to be reminded of the inevitability of death and to be accountable for one’s actions in the hereafter, and two, to offer prayers for mercy and forgiveness to Allah for the departed souls.” 

At another place in the additional affidavit, the petitioner states, “There is no prohibition against women from having access to places of worship in Islam as women used to pray contemporaneously in the same mosque as Prophet Muhammad.” It then cites a few Hadiths to back it. It then states that the religion allows women to visit those places where there is segregation of sexes. “It is relevant to state that while Hadiths do not bar women from entering places of worship where there exists infrastructure for segregation, hadiths do indicate that in Islam there is a higher reward for women if they were to offer prayers (Namaz) in the house. In fact, even for men, offering Sunnah Namaz at their house carries greater rewards.”