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RECENTLY a women’s organisation in Mumbai, the Akhil Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Association, conducted a survey and found that in 18 Sufi mausoleums women are prohibited from entering the astana, or sanctum sanctorum, in which they were previously allowed.

Main among these mausoleums is the Haji Ali dargah, which is highly popular among non-Muslims as well. Hundreds of non-Muslims, particularly Hindus, can be seen visiting this dargah.

The report was released to the press and caused a furore. It became a hot topic of discussion attracting full media attention. A number of newspapers and TV channels began focusing on why women cannot enter mausoleums and mosques.

Is it really prohibited? And if so why and on whose authority? In fact for everything Muslim maulvis and maulanas rush to consult hadith, and if something is stated in the hadith they follow it without question.

They do not want to understand that even if a hadith is authentic it has a context and the Prophet (PBUH) said something in a particular context. Our ulema simply quote hadith completely ignoring the context. According to some scholars, it was for this reason that the Prophet discouraged people from collecting hadith as he knew it would cause a lot of problems after his passing.

Naturally, when the press questioned some ulema about prohibiting women from entering dargahs they promptly quoted hadith and said since it is prohibited in the traditions they cannot be allowed. In fact they were not even honest enough to state that the whole issue is controversial. Some quote hadith from Imam Bukhari saying it is prohibited while some quote hadith from Muslim saying it was prohibited but later on the Prophet allowed it.

In fact the Holy Prophet had prohibited women from entering cemeteries because some women would embrace the graves of their loved ones and wail. The Prophet always discouraged excessive weeping, wailing and breast-beating and encouraged dignified ways of grieving.

Women were found to be grieving in such a manner more than men and hence the Prophet discouraged women from entering cemeteries but later allowed it if they visited graves in a dignified way.

But many ulema (aslaf), who thought that women are weak and unable to control themselves, ignored this later tradition of the Prophet and treated it as an absolute ban and enforced it wherever they could.

The Prophet was very humane and had asked women to avoid going to cemeteries out of consideration, but some of his followers treated it as an absolute ban. There is no other reason for banning entry of women in cemeteries and in fact they are as much entitled to enter cemeteries and visit the graves of their loved ones as men.

One maulana even went to the extent of saying that women’s entry to dargahs is banned as when women enter a dargah they (the Sufi saints buried there) see them unclothed. There is a limit to absurdity of belief.

How could the saints, who strictly controlled their passions during their lifetimes, give in to temptation and be disturbed by women after their deaths? Religion is something noble and transcendent and should not be stretched to such absurd lengths. Such comments show the intellectual level of some people.

In fact, instead of raising ourselves to the high moral level of religion we drag it down to our lowly thinking. I need not repeat here that the Quran has accorded equal dignity to women.

In South Asia women are not allowed to enter mosques whereas they are allowed everywhere else, including the holiest mosque, the Kaaba, where men and women pray together and perform the tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba together.

The Prophet clearly has said that do not stop Allah’s female servants from entering His house, yet our ulema do not allow them to enter mosques. Is it not because of their misogyny?

I asked one maulana if Friday prayers were obligatory for women and should they not pray in mosques on Friday as men do? He said they should but then who would cook the afternoon meal if women were in the mosque? The maulana did not even know that under the rules of maintenance it is for a man to either serve cooked food to his wife or pay for a cook, as per the Fatawa-i-Alamgiri.

The Quran, through its teachings, has tried to take us beyond the status quo so that women could realise their full potential and dignity but men, with their hardened patriarchal attitudes, have not been ready to accept gender equality as it hurts their male ego. Hence through various means men have managed to lower women’s dignity to pre-Islamic levels.

The Islamic world has an unenviable record as far as women’s rights are concerned. If Muslims are serious about Islamic teachings it is high time they raise themselves to the level of the Quran and accord women what is due to them.

The Quran and hadith both lay great stress on acquiring knowledge (ilm) and yet our ulema have issued fatwas instructing believers not to teach women beyond what is necessary to perform their obligatory rituals like prayers etc.

It is a matter of great shame and the earlier we rectify things the better it would be for us. Women’s education and high status is a sine qua non for our progress.

The writer is an Islamic scholar who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

F Hyat Dec 08, 2012 02:14am
There were no saints or dargahs at the time of the prophet, so there can be not hadith qualifying or disqualifying women to enter such places. The tradition of loud wailing and ranting at deaths is uniquely arab where this tradition prevails to present day. I have been to many funerals and have always seen a quiet dignity among the mourners.
Wajid Hussain Dec 09, 2012 11:09am
Every body needs to search about columnist who write about particular contemporary issues, that to which sect or thought he belongs to.
rana Dec 07, 2012 11:14pm
yes where else IF women are prohibited from visiting graves on the context that the dead can see them naked THEN it would justify that the dead saint can grant your duas through his wasila either by visiting the grave or make a dua using his name.
We Dec 07, 2012 06:25am
Excellent article! Thank you for choosing to write about this topic. Religion is so misunderstood in our society that people often mistake Islam as a religion that oppresses women.
Vgp Dec 08, 2012 04:08pm
Will anybody explain to me me why all pakistanis refer to PBUH when they speak of the prophet. Do you mean to indicate that he is always troubled by the actions of all muslims. Hope I get an answer and Dawn does not delete this cause I have never seen a Indian muslim say this
Sumit Dec 08, 2012 08:28pm
Noor Jehan was not a ruler by herself.
Sumit Dec 08, 2012 08:30pm
I would love to know how the killings are justified ``within context''.
Shirin Dec 08, 2012 12:28am
Imamat is specifically reserved for men (very few men). That doesn't mean women are inferior. If one draws that conclusion then one should also draw another conclusion that not all men are equal either as very few men can be imams. Women and men are equal because all human beings are basically souls, and the souls have no gender. They physical body allows the soul to be functional, but when you leave this place, the body stays behind. Per Islam, men and women have different responsibilities. Islamic laws are pretty straightfoward. Now of course, women are absolutely free to wrestle if they feel like it, provided they are not exposing themselves to men. Hijab is a requirement, and as long as one is obeying shariat, it doesn't matter if you wrestle or not. Agreed, you won't have much of an audience. I find it very amusing when we mock others who feel solace by praying at graves, and yet buy into this foolish notion tha the dead have xray vision and can see right through our clothing.
Tanvir Dec 07, 2012 08:01pm
That's why so many queens ruled India. --- Razia Sultana and Noor Jehan to name a few.
Monarchian Dec 08, 2012 01:02am
Sadly, it seems no one is aware when women's presence being shunned in Mosques and the motive behind it. It was shunned in Caliph Hazrat Umer (R.A) era and the motive was to avoid any unnecessary evil temptation which may act as an hindrance whilst one is standing before ALLAH (S.W.T) alongside for women ease to offer prayers in much comfort and safer way at home. By the way I am not finger pointing any gender, Islam has awarded equal respect to both genders and we should abide by it. But, guess we love controversies, so we can waste our lives in fueling the controversies, yet no one will try to follow ALLAH's direction in utmost submission of One's will. Year back I saw a documentary on T.V which showed Muslim women in US ( please pardon me as I have forgotten the State's name ) were standing alongside men while offering prayer. Do you all believe Islam has offered secular space to set in or its just our delusions which let us play the blame game all the time. By reading your comments I just feel how much hatred you people have for each other than why blaming others for our weak status in the world, when we don't respect ourselves, how can we expect others to give us the same. At least be kind to each other. We fight on religious issues when we don't have any command on it. Ijtehad is established so all the followers follow the same principles, and your attitude shows everyone wants to follow his own interpretation of Islam. lets take an example for normal subjects, say, Maths, Physics, Corporate Finance, when there are books available, why we consult teachers, because they keep themselves afloat with research and guide us in more convenient way, off course some are good and some are not up to the level required but you cant blame the whole bunch of teachers unless you are stereotype just like west stereotype us as being criminals. Similarly, Mufti Hazraat do research on Fiqah and stuff and only then they act as a Guide. I would like to add one last thing, keeping religions aside, atleast treat eachother humanly, Religion mainly talks about manners and its the code of life so depict it as you are a learner not a monster, who just know when to hurt or finger point others. Hope this helps !!!!
Shreyas (@shreyasdesai) Dec 07, 2012 06:24pm
Author doesn't realize that what is practiced s religion not what is written. And so much for women's treatment please tell what's your stand on Burqa?
Hur Dec 07, 2012 06:27pm
useless article... i think writer is unaware of natural processes...
Marina Dec 07, 2012 11:58am
Tomorrow you would come with another conclusion under the garb of your gender equality and secularism, that women are eligible for Imamat. Finally, we would witness women wrestlers in muslim countries with an argument, if muslim men can wrestle why should muslim women lag behind.
enlightened Dec 07, 2012 01:44pm
I think the writer had done justice based on conclusive evidence he provided. You on the other hand like most weak creature, liviling in you fantacy land of paranoia of what would come next. Wake up please and read the Quran and hadid to enlighten yourself with facts rather than living in false traditions and paranoia. -A male muslim
Anonymous Dec 07, 2012 01:32pm
Because of some natural restrictions, perhaps, a woman has not been allowed to perform Imamat. Otherwise there can not be any restrictions for a woman to move religiously as a man is supposed to move. A woman is allowed to enter the Haram of Khana Kaaba, Masjid-e-Nabvi, all the masjids in KSA,the Holy Shrines and their connected Masjids anywhere in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and many parts of India. The Maulana speaking against this norm are totally illiterate and have no common sense. So far various Muslim Books of Ahadiths are concerned they are not flawless and have a lot of contradictions. Just read them objectively.
Ben Dec 07, 2012 01:32pm
A complete useless article and a poor research done to write this, just to proof ones own perception to degrade others. Islam is not secular but much better than all other 'isms'. Writer must do quality research when commenting on Islam.
shirin Dec 07, 2012 02:13pm
In the US, Muslim women accompany the mayyat, and enter cemeteries, and participate in the Namaz-e-Janaza, because there is no credible hadith saying women shouldn't be at the burial site or cemeteries. The educated ulema don't ban women. On the other hand there are also those who do. The ulema in US put far more emphasis on hijab than in Pakistan, and far more concerned with following the Quran and authentic traditions, as opposed to cultural practices. Many of us who never did hijab growing up in Pakistan, now do it even at work places where majority of the workers are American males. This is thanks to the teachings of Muslim ulema, yes, the same ulema who see no rhyme or reason why women can't be at any place of worship or cemetary. And yes, women are very very capable of controlling themselves, better than men even, in grief.
maverick Dec 07, 2012 09:44am
An eye opner. Reading this it seems that the religion practised now has very little in common with what was envisaged.Its more tribal customs prdominating rather than the higher thoughts of Islam. If the spirit of the teachings were followed, the texts understood in context, this would be a better place and there would be lesser conflict between religions. More stress is given to physical forms of appearance and dress (beard, lenght of trouser, how much and how to cover up than the purity of thought, difference between sects etc).
Nasir M.Tahir Dec 07, 2012 07:59am
I admire the writer for his very deep and balance knowledge about Islam. The way he has highlighted the matter is not only very much impressive and logical but also presents the pure and the true picture of Islam and Prophet saw regarding this issue. As mentioned that the holiest place on the face of earth in nor else than Khana Kabaa, where Muslim women are fully allowed entrance. If women are not prohibited to enter Kabaa than all other holy places are not more holy than the places where they are being refused entry.
Vatsyayan Dec 07, 2012 09:17am
What do you mean by Pre-Islamic levels ? Even during the Islamic Golden period, The condition of women was not better
KKRoberts Dec 07, 2012 04:46pm
"The Islamic world has an unenviable record as far as women?s rights are concerned.".Since the birth of Islam,most of the muslim scholars spent a good part of their life's time thinking about what women should wear, what they should study, how they will go outside of their home , whether they should use cosmetics or nail polish , whether they should sing and dance, how many children they should bore etc etc.Unfortunately all these scholars were men and they dictated what women should do or think.What a waste of time.Even today this debate is continuing...It will will continue for another 1500 years or more.
Basit Dec 07, 2012 04:18pm
KKRoberts Dec 07, 2012 04:09pm
"Religion is so misunderstood in our society that people often mistake Islam as a religion that oppresses women." What about muslim women wearing black cloth from head to toe ? That is the most visible form of suppression.Are muslim women faceless human beings?
george Dec 07, 2012 12:31pm
Some even quote some hadiths (without context) where they justify killing of non-muslim women.
Dr Khan Dec 07, 2012 03:56pm
what does your research say?
Pradip Dec 07, 2012 03:11pm
I visited the Nizamuddin Aulia's Dargah in Delhi with a friend and his wife some time in 2007 - visiting India along with my 8 year old son. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to discover the graves of Amir Khusro and of Jahan-Ara inside the complex as well - an important part of our history. I was also scandalized to find that while my son was allowed in, my friend's wife had to wait outside as she was not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Without going into a diatribe about misogyny, I remembered as a young boy I often accompanied my mom to a Kali temple. The temple was essentially filled with women with few men inside -the priest being one notable exception. It is time, we gave women their rightful place - no men will be born without a mother!
Kadir Dec 07, 2012 04:21am
Finally something thoughtful coming out from the religious quarters...long due. We need thinking religious scholars rather than the maulvis who follow and practice without common sense.
khomi100 Dec 07, 2012 04:40am
Shouldn't the issue of women only allowed to travel in the company of the Mehram (especially for Haj to Saudi Arabia, where this tradition is still being followed) be solved in this way? By taking the hadith in context and by acknowledging the increased impowerment and education of modern women? Why not?