Not just Sabarimala and Shingnapur: Muslim women have been fighting gender bias in dargahs too

After the group came out in support of activists protesting Shani temple rules, many on social media said that the "Muslim group" should "first fight for their women rights".
Not just Sabarimala and Shingnapur: Muslim women have been fighting gender bias in dargahs too
Not just Sabarimala and Shingnapur: Muslim women have been fighting gender bias in dargahs too
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Update: In a historic verdict, the Bombay High Court on Friday permitted the entry of women up to the mazaar (grave) area of the famous Haji Ali dargah located off Mumbai’s Worli seashore. The Bombay High Court said that the prohibition of women’s entry to the mazaar (grave) at Haji Ali was contrary to the fundamental rights of women.

Last weekend, around 400 women defied prohibitory orders and headed towards the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra to offer worship at the shrine which has traditionally barred women.

Women activists of the "Ranaragini Bhoomata Brigade", who were protesting against the gender bias of the temple authorities, received support from several quarters. But one such attempt at showing solidarity, by another women's group seems to have offended some. 

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a rights-based mass organization led by Muslim women, released a statement on Tuesday extending support to the campaign led by Trupti Desai against the rules of the shrine. 

"We salute the women activists for their democratic protest... We condemn the discriminative arrangement at the temple that bars women from entering the sanctum sanctorum and urge the temple trustees to correct their stand in line with the principles of gender justice enshrined in the Constitution of India," the group wrote. 

However, the group's statement seems to have upset the sensibilities of many on social media who were quick to shower advice, including barbs on how the "Muslim group" should "first fight for their women rights" and asked them "to fight burqa n to be allowed in haaji Ali dargah". 

What they don't seem to know is that for several years BMMA has been working towards securing equal rights for Muslim women. From advocating a ban on triple talaq to seeking a gender just reform in the Muslim personal law based on the Quranic values of equality and justice, BMMA has come a long way since its inception in 2007. 

In the year 2013, Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman - co-founders of BMMA - filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court, challenging a ban on the entry of women inside the inner sanctum of Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai which houses the mazaar (inner sanctum) of the saint. 

According to the women, the ban was imposed sometime between March 2011 and June 2012.

"We had been going to the dargah and even entering the mazaar since childhood till as late as 2011. In 2012, when we went there, we were told that women were not allowed to enter the mazaar and barricades were placed to prevent our entry," says Soman speaking to The News Minute. 

When they spoke to the Trust of the dargah, they were given several "sexist" reasons justifying the ban, one of them which was "unko unke pallu ka hosh nahi rahta hai” (they don’t even know how to manage their own clothing).

"We wrote so many letters and sought intervention of the National Commission for Women and Maharashtra State Commission for Women among others. We even tried to talk to the Trust members and negotiate," she says. The Trust, she says, was uncooperative and nothing worked out eventually. "Basically, they did not want to talk to us because we are women," she adds. 

Image source: Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan/Facebook

Defending the ban last year, the Trust argued in the court that "entry of women in close proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint is a grievous sin as per Islam and as such the trust is governed by the Constitution Law and particularly Article 26 of the Constitution of India, which confers upon the trust a fundamental right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion and as such interference is uncalled for by any third agency."

But after the Supreme Court questioned the Travancore Devaswom Board on whether it has the constitutional right to prohibit entry of women in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, Soman is hopeful that their fight will reach its logical end.

Speaking about several cases of women denied entry in religious places of worship that are being highlighted, Soman says, "This is the core of patriarchy. It does not matter if you are Hindu, or a Sikh or a Muslim."

There is, what she calls, a "systematic misrepresentation" of religions, not just in India, but also across the world to suit the needs of a particular section, which are mostly males. 

"Are religions meant for only one part of humanity and does it give license to one section to discriminate?" she asks. 

Calling the "Ranaragini Bhoomata Brigade"'s campaign as "historic" and "heroic", Soman says that they should be supported by both women and men who believe in justice and equality. 

"A public body does not have the right to discriminate. Any violation of Constitutional rights of a person is unacceptable and should be barred by law," she states. 

Fighting for their rights has been "extremely difficult", with strong opposition from the powers they have been challenging, but what has kept the BMMA going is the support it receives from ordinary Muslim women and members of civil society. 

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