Mumbai, Nov 29: After five years and a series of legal battles and agitations, a group of women activists will enter the famous Haji Ali dargah here on Tuesday afternoon, an activist said. A group of around 75-80 women from all over India would visit the mausoleum of the saint for prayers around 3 p.m., said the activist, keen to enter the dargah on the rocks off Worli in the Arabian Sea. “It will be routine now, we have not informed the police or the dargah trust. We shall pay our respects and come out,” Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) co-founder Noorjehan S. Niaz told IANS.
Till June 2012, women were allowed entry up to the sanctum sanctorum comprising the mazaar (grave) of the revered Muslim saint, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, but suddenly the entry rto women was barred. In 2014, the BMMA and others challenged the move of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust in the courts. On August 26, Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice Revathi Mohite-Dhere ruled in favour of the petitioners and directed the trust to allow equal access to women, which the trust challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on October 24 delivered its verdict upholding equal access to men and women, and the trust expressed readiness to allow women inside till the sanctum sanctorum. The trust authorities sought four weeks time to make certain infrastructural changes and alterations to accommodate the women devotees, who would now throng the shrine. Niaz said the women would offer floral tributes, ‘chadars’ and pray for peace at the dargah on Tuesday.
“It was a fight for equality, ending gender bias and our constitutional rights. We are happy that it has resulted in women and men getting equal unrestricted access right till the sanctum sanctorum,” Niaz said. A trustee of the dargah, Suhail Khandwani, said that there would be separate entries to the shrine for men and women and henceforth nobody would be allowed to touch the peer’s tomb. Under the new arrangements, all devotees would wait and pray nearly two metres away from the tomb with rights of equal access to all. The dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant Sayyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari of Bukhara in modern Uzbekistan.
At one time, he renounced all his worldly possessions, travelled all around the world, made a pilgrimage to Mecca and finally settled in the then Mumbai in the 15th century. According to local legends, once he saw a poor woman crying over oil spilt from her vessel, afraid that her husband would thrash her. He took the woman to the spot where the oil had spilt and jabbed his finger in the earth and oil gushed out. The happy woman filled up her vessel and went home.
Later, the saint had tormenting dreams of how he had injured the earth by his action. He fell ill and asked his followers to throw his coffin into the Arabian Sea. He died during his pilgrimage to Mecca and the casket carrying his body miraculously was swept back to the shore of Worli and got stuck in the rocks there. His dargah was constructed at the same spot and on Thursdays-Fridays, it is visited by large number of pilgrims of all religions from India and abroad for the saint’s blessings.