RECENTLY a women’s organisation in Mumbai, Akhil Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Association, conducted a survey and found out that in 18 of the total sufi mausoleums, women are prohibited from entering Astana i.e. sanctum and sanctorum in which they were previously allowed. Prominent among them is Haji Ali Dargah, which is highly popular among non-Muslims also.
The report created a media stir. Everybody wanted to know on what grounds are they prohibited.
When press questioned some clerics about it, they promptly quoted hadiths which prohibit it. Some quote hadith from Imam Bukhari, saying it is prohibited, while other from Sahih Muslim, saying it was prohibited but later on the Prophet (PBUH) allowed it. Our clerics simply quote a hadith while completely ignoring the context. It was for this reason that the Prophet (PBUH) discouraged people from collecting hadith, as he knew it will create problems when he is gone.
The real reason why the Prophet (PBUH) prohibited women from entering cemeteries was because of some women who would wail and beat their breasts while embracing the grave of a loved one. He discouraged such public show of emotions. Women were found doing it more than men and hence he first disallowed them from entering cemeteries but later allowed it on the condition that they behave in a dignified way. Many clerics thinking women are weak and unable to control themselves, ignored this later relation by the Prophet (PBUH) and treated it as an absolute ban.
The Prophet (PBUH) had asked women to avoid cemeteries out of human consideration, but some of his followers treated it as a complete no. One cleric even went to the extent of saying that women’s entry to dargahs is banned, as when they enter a dargah, the sufi saints buried there see them naked. It’s absurd to even think that saints who strictly controlled their physical desires during their lifetime would give in to these temptations after death. It shows the intellectual level of the so called followers of Islam.
In South Asia women are not allowed to enter mosques whereas they are allowed elsewhere, including, the holiest mosque in Makkah, where men and women pray and circumambulate together around the Kabah.
The Prophet (PBUH) clearly allowed Allah’s female servants to enter His House. Yet our clerics stop them from going to mosques. Is this not misogyny? I asked one cleric if friday prayer is obligatory for women, should they not pray in mosques as men do! He answered, “Yes, but then who will cook the afternoon meal if they go to mosque?” He did not even know that under maintenance, it is for men to serve cooked food to his wife (see Fatawa Alamgiri). Fatawa Alamgiri, in one of the fatwas, clearly says that it is for men to either serve cooked food to his wife or pay for a cook’s charges.
Qur’an, through its teachings allowed women to realise their full potential and dignity. Unfortunately, men with their hardened patriarchal attitudes and egos were not ready to accept gender equality, and through various means managed to lower a woman’s dignity to pre-Islamic level. The Muslim world still has a bad record as far as women’s rights are concerned. If they are serious about Islamic teachings, it is time they accord women their due as prescribed by the Qur’an.
Qur’an and hadith both lay great stress on acquiring knowledge (‘ilm’) and yet our clerics have issued fatwas not to teach women beyond what is necessary (prayers, etc). It is a matter of great shame. Women’s education and high status is sine qua non for our progress.
(Dr Asghar Ali Engineer is a reformist-writer and activist. He is known for his work on liberation theology in Islam. He is also a leading voice against communalism in India and South Asia.)