What Sabarimala can learn from Haji Ali Dargah

Parallels are being drawn between women devotees being stopped at Sabarimala but being allowed inside Haji Ali Dargah after court order since 2016.

 |  3-minute read |   23-10-2018
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“We can't decide everything. God will” is the argument adopted by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust while allowing women inside.

Parallels are being drawn between women devotees being stopped at the Sabarimala temple and women being allowed inside the Haji Ali Dargah after a 2016 court order. Though one would argue that sentiments and beliefs are different in the above mentioned case, gender discrimination based on biological conditions is common.

In 2016, the Haji Ali Dargah Trust lost its appeal in the Supreme Court and decided to implement the order of the Bombay High Court to allow women into the sanctum of the tomb. The office bearers got four months from the SC to implement this order. They had to keep Muslim personal law (Shariah) in consideration while implementing this decision.

On the one side, there was Islamic tradition that does not allow women to visit graveyards, while on the other, there was the Supreme Court order, saying women have an equal right to worship.

sabarimala_102318065157.jpgWaiting to enter: Women at the Sabarimala Temple. (Photo: PTI)

Legally, the Dargah Trust had exhausted their options and hence, accepted implementing equal rules for men and women. Yet, despite allowing people from both genders to enter the tomb, the dargah administration has made the tomb beyond reach for all, except the people who manage the shrine.

The trust has also put in place security measures for women's safety and paved a separate entrance till the sanctum. Inside the sanctum, the tomb, which could previously be touched by men, has now been barricaded. Both men and women can’t touch the tomb now, fulfilling in effect the gender equality promise. Currently, women from all over the country and foreign tourists visit this 200-year-old shrine of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

When it came to deciding about menstruating women entering the sanctum of the dargah, the Trust made a decision that it is for women to decide whether they want to visit the dargah during that period. The Trust authorities accepted that it’s a person's belief (Iman) and as such, the decision is between that individual and the Almighty. Accepting this rationale made it easier for the Trust to allow women in the sanctum of the dargah, regardless of their age.

The menstruation cycle still remains a hindrance as far as the Ayyappan temple in Sabrimala is concerned.

The question now is that when the highest court of the nation has upheld gender equality above tradition, what are the options left with the temple trust?

haji-ali1-copy_102318065435.jpgThe famous Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai is now acessible to all. (Photo: PTI)

For how long can violence and intimidation stop women from entering the temple? After all, the rationale of restricting them from entering the temple premises just because they are menstruating will not hold ground in the court.

Thus, in light of the above argument, accepting the SC's order and implementing it is an unavoidable reality – one that the Sabarimala Temple Trust should accept. 

The biggest lesson one can take from the Haji Ali episode is accepting that belief is personal.

Trusts can take administrative decisions — but they can’t impinge on an individual's right to worship. Accepting that it's in the hands of the Almighty to accept and reject prayers is the way forward. This acceptance will help religious trusts to draw up peaceful implementations of court orders and avoid violence in the name of faith and beliefs.

Courts have – and will continue – to take stands which are bound to change age-old traditions. Religious trusts can buy time — but not avoid the inevitable.

Also Read: Kerala’s 'progressive secular' CM knew Sabarimala crisis was brewing. Why didn’t he do more to avert it?


Mustafa Shaikh Mustafa Shaikh @mustafashk

The author is a principal correspondent with India Today and Aaj Tak.

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