Debunking the age-old male orthodoxies, the Bombay High Court on 26 August allowed women to enter the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah saying it contravenes fundamental rights and that the trust has no right to prohibit women's entry into a public place of worship.
The court refused to accept the arguments of the trust that allowing women in close proximity to the grave of the male Muslim saint is sin in Islam. The trust had also quoted and submitted certain verses from the Quran to support its claim.
"Simply making the aforesaid statement and quoting verses are not sufficient, more particularly, when women were being permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum up to 2012. There is nothing in any of the aforesaid verses which show that Islam does not permit entry of women at all, into a dargah/mosque and that their entry was sinful in Islam," the court had said.
The court has, however, stayed its order for six weeks following a plea by Haji Ali Dargah Trust, which wants to challenge it in the Supreme Court. According to this report by The Indian Express, the Haji Ali Trust has decided to consult public over the next few days so that they come up with a certain 'action plan'.
"We held detailed discussions yesterday over the issue in the wake of the HC verdict and sought the opinion of each of the management members. But we are going to hold a few more rounds of meetings to get the opinion of other stakeholders as well," Sohail Khandwani, a trustee of the century-old Dargah told PTI.
"The trust would meet Islamic theologians as well as sections of the community to get their opinion on the issue," Suhail Yacoob Khandwani, one of the trustees, was quoted as saying in The Indian Express report.
Zakia Soman, one of the co-founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and petitioners in this case, told Firstpost that it's surprising, because these people never adopted any kind of democratic language. "On the face of it, it is a welcome step. But the simple question here is: How many Muslim women will they consult? If they want to speak to other extremists and scholars, it's up to them. We don't buy this argument," Soman said.
"Also, since when have they started caring for public opinion? Their intentions, however, don't seem democratic. In the first place, they were not willing to talk to us, or explain to us, sheerly because we are women. That's the very reason why the need to file a PIL arose," Soman said.
This extra-constitutional means which they have adopted and having normally taken decisions unilaterally, asking public opinion appears more like a ploy to do some kind of politics, the activist said.
When asked what should be the ideal next step.
"They (dargah trustees) should gracefully accept the HC verdict and implement its order. Because it was in the same dargah women were allowed to enter the inner sanctum till 2011. They should accept that they made a mistake by barring the women," she said.
Large sections of the society, especially Muslim women, are really overjoyed with the ruling. The opposing voices are only coming from those with some vested interest or in some way or the other connected to the custodians of religion, the BMMA co-founder said.
Furthermore, Soman questioned the rationale behind gender discrimination when there are so many verses in Quran where Allah is addressing men and women as equal.
"Ask any ordinary Indian: Does it agree with their sense of justice that women should be discriminated just because they are women? When Allah is not discriminating between men and women who are these patriarchal custodians of religion to come in the way?" asked Soman.
Although the HC has given them six weeks to go to Supreme Court, Bhumata Brigade activist Trupti Desai asserted that the high court's decision would be binding. Speaking to Firstpost, Desai said, "The decision we are confident that even the SC would rule in the favour of women. When I met the trustees, I clearly told them not to mix religion in the fight for gender rights. When god never discriminated between men and women, why are you? Instead of moving Supreme Court, they should allow the women to enter the inner sanctum."
When Desai spoke to Abdul Satar Merchant, president of the dargah trust, on lifting the ban, Merchant did not deny but said that he will consult the other trustees of the dargah. However, he reiterated the fact that it is against Islam to allow women inside the sanctum, Desai said.
Echoing Soman's views, Desai said, "The trustees should mainly consult Muslim women, instead of the Islamic clerics. They should ask female Muslim scholars too."
Soman stressed that today, many Islamic and Sufi scholars in India and abroad are speaking out stating that it is sad that the court had to intervene. This shouldn't have been the case because it is simply our right, the activist said.
"Forbidding women from entering the religious places only does further disservice to the religion and Muslims. If you see, there is demonisation of Islam and Muslims all over the world. This kind of behaviour only fuels it. Where is this discriminating mindset going to lead and is it doing any service or it is doing a lot of harm to the religion and to the whole community?" the BMCA co-founder asked.
Indian women are coming out in the open demanding justice and challenging the male hegemony over religion, wrote Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz in a Firstpost article.
Fighting for equal rights is nothing new.
The HC ruling strengthens the hope that the tilting balance of rights against which the women activists have been fighting for ages is perhaps on the course of correction.