“Dargah needs to do some secular introspection and come out with a progressive stand on women’s entry into Haji Ali,” the SC bench said.
“Be it Islam or Hinduism, we need to look progressively at customs,” the apex court observed, adding that similar problem, a ban on entry of women in inner sanctorum of the temple, exists in Sabarimala in Kerala too.
On October 4, the Haji Ali Dargah Trust moved Supreme Court challenging the Bombay high court order lifting the ban on women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the renowned Muslim shrine in south Bombay.
The high court on August 26 had held that the ban imposed by the Dargah Trust, prohibiting women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah, contravened Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution and said women should be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum like men.
The ruling came after a public interest litigation had urged lifting restriction on women inside the inner sanctum which houses the mazaar or tomb of the saint.
A quick recap of the case
The ban was imposed in 2012 by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust. The bench held that it is in contravention of Articles 14 (Right to Life), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination)and 25 (Right to practice religion) of the Constitution of India. It directed the status quo ante to be restored and women be allowed entry on par with men. The state and the trust running the dargah should take steps for safety of women.
The trust defended the ban saying entry of women in close proximity to the tomb of a male saint is grievous sin in Islam. Its advocate Shoaib Memon argued that Article 26 of the Constitution of India confers upon the trust a fundamental right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion and as such interference is uncalled for by third agency.” Memon also informed that the existing arrangement provides for a secure place for women to offer prayer.
Haji Rafat, MIM of the Haji Ali Dargah, said the high court should not have interfered in the issue. The trust will now approach the Supreme Court, he said. The Maharashtra government had batted for women saying that they cannot be banned inside the inner sanctum unless it is shown that banning them is integral to Islam. Advocate general Shreehari Aney argued that if the trust says it has a fundamental right to manage its religious affairs, then it has to be weighed against Articles 14 (Right to Equality) and 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) of the Constitution.
The petitioner’s advocate Raju Moray also said documents show that the government while giving the land on 999 years lease has retained pervasive control including in the appointment of the trustees. He said their defence cannot be that it is a purely religious trust.
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