Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Friday allowed women to enter the inner precincts (mazaar) of the famous Haji Ali Dargah. The court upheld a petition filed by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which had challenged the decision of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust to bar women from stepping inside the inner sanctum though they could enter the main premises of the Dargah in the Arabian Sea along the shoreline. A two-judge bench of the high court, comprising Justice V. M. Kanade and Justice Revati Mohite Dhere, also gave six weeks to the Haji Ali Trust to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. The ruling will stay suspended till then, and if the Trust appeals it in the Supreme Court.

Abdul Sattar Merchant, chairman and managing trustee of the Haji Ali Trust, did not respond to calls made on his mobile phone. Another office-bearer of the Trust, who did not wish to be named, said the board of trustees would meet and study the judgment. “We will decide future course of action after that," this person said.

The Trust had imposed a ban on the entry of women into the inner sanctum of the Dargah in June 2012 on the grounds that the Sharia law did not permit women to be near the grave of a male Muslim saint. A resolution unanimously passed by the Trust in August 2015 said “entry of women in close proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint is a grievous sin as per Islam." The BMMA, a Mumbai-based non-profit organization that works for the rights of the economically backward Muslim women and gender equality in Islam, filed a public interest litigation in November 2014 challenging the Trust’s decision.

Noorjehan Safi Naaz of the BMMA argued that the Trust’s decision was a violation of the women’s right to pray and gender equality. The BMMA also pointed out that the ban on women’s entry was imposed between March 2012 and June 2012 which clearly meant that women were allowed access to the mazaar before that. In February, the government of Maharashtra, through the advocate general, told the high court that it was in favour of women entering the inner sanctum unless the Trust was able to prove that women’s entry was against the religious practices of Islam.

In April 2016, progressive activists formed a forum called Haji Ali Sabke Liye and supported the BMMA petition. Activist and commentator Javed Anand, who is the convener of this forum, welcomed the court’s ruling lifting the ban on women’s entry. “We heartily welcome the ruling which is in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India," Anand said when contacted.

Earlier in April, the Bombay high court had passed a similar ruling lifting ban on women’s entry to the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The ban imposed by the Shani Shingnapur Trust was based on a 400-year-old tradition which proclaimed against women entering the inner sanctum of Lord Shani temple. Women’s organization Bhumata Brigade had challenged the ban in the Bombay high court. Within a week of the HC order lifting the ban, the Shani Shingnapur Trust allowed women to enter the temple.

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