Ramadan: Pillar of Faith

Ramadan: Pillar of Faith

At Kyra & Vir, we don’t simply report issues concerning women, but we opine on them. In this holy month of Ramadan, I take the opportunity to voice my opinion on the Fatwa issued by revered Muslim clergymen; prohibiting women from visiting the inner sanctum at Haji Ali Dargah in June 2012.

Nestled amidst the azure blue waters of the Arabian Sea, the famed Haji Ali Dargah has been watchfully guarding the island city, saving it from nature’s onslaught for years. It is believed that the Iranian saint, Pir Haji Ali Bukhari, who was once a wealthy merchant, renounced the world to spread the word of Islamic faith in India. He took to the bay, and decided to set up his adobe in the vicinity of Worli in Mumbai. 

His miraculous doings caught the eye of several onlookers, garnering quickly spreading fame. On his death, he requested that his body be buried in a place that should not be found by any person. In fact, his shroud should be dropped in the sea. Devotees later erected a shrine (500 meters from the coast) in the revered Pir’s memory. The little island, which is in the middle on the Arabian Sea came alive with scores of visitors who came along to pay homage to the saint.

Ramadan Haji Ali Muslim Women's Rights
Haji Ali
Image Credit: HuffPost

In the year 2012, a certain incident compelled the Trustees of the Durgah to issue a Fatwa, prohibiting women from visiting the same. They claimed that women are not allowed to enter a shrine. But according to the Islamic texts; no rule such as this exists or even existed.

 Ramadan Haji Ali Muslim Women's RightsImage Credit: Boston.com

The question is, why was the Fatwa issued in the first place?

It so happened; that a group of women came ‘inappropriately’ dressed to the shrine. And just as they bent down to offer their homage to the saint at the ‘Mazzar’ (inner sanctum), the clerics stated that they seemed to be bearing their breasts proved to be insulting (no, they didn’t literally do that). The Fatwa was instantaneously released in lieu of the incident. 

According to onlookers and a keen follower of Islam, who wished to remain unnamed, stated that Islamic texts, is one of the oldest text and has not gone through any altercations from its very inception. And hence, they are indeed very certain about the fact that there was no refrain imposed on women from visiting shrines. However about 80% women think it is inappropriate for a woman to visit the shrine, as, over the years, women have been conditioned by menfolk that women are a weaker sex, and are not equipped to witness the ritualistic proceedings at a burial.  

 Ramadan Haji Ali Muslim Women's Rights
Haji Ali
Image Credit: Hindustan Times

This is just one instance of how men conditioned women to believe (on religious grounds) that women are fittingly fine only if they complied to religious norms. However, in case of the Haji Ali Dargah, things changed for the better. Women went all out to prove; that they will no longer be tuned by the whims of clerics who’d subjugate their very existence. Thankfully the ban was lifted in 2016, owing to the tireless efforts staged by the committee members of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), who work toward the emancipation of Muslim women.

After the Supreme Court asked to lift the ban there was a separate entrance made for men and women to the inner sanctum of the Dargah. This was done in order to avoid eve teasing. 

The above incident that I have shared is just a report. But I took the opportunity to ask some of my Muslim girl pals what they thought of Ramadan and how did they felt about this ban. None of them wished to be named. They made it very clear that they were not afraid of being ostracised; however they were afraid that their parents who volunteered for the greater good of the community would bear the brunt, and that would be totally unfair!

They added, that the imposition of the ban further impacted their faith, enabling them to question not only the Islamic texts, but also the Indian Constitution in order to fight for their rights as citizens who would freely be able to justify a Muslim woman need for worship, the way she willed it. Prayers are indeed very sacred and very personal to many people. However, the ban had proved to become an eye-opener. These women went an extra mile to fight for their religious and constitutional rights.

 Ramadan Haji Ali Muslim Women's Rights
Women praying on the last day of Ramadan
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

While Ramadan is supposed to be a pious month, where people share, care, and help one another, there is a certain commercial aspect to it too. According to a Muslim friend residing in Kula Lampur, Ramadan is now all about Iftar parties.  People are deeply involved in the external preparations and dole out humongous sums in order to fashion their attiring to the ‘Masjid’ for their evening prayers, for the upcoming 30 days. Women indulge in needless gossip robbing the very essence of the Prophet’s preaching’s, as they get absorbed in these unnecessary engagements.

Another important observation made by my friends included the fact that Ramadan was indeed the most relaxed month for women. Women are allowed to take time off and appoint the less fortunate to serve the family instead.  The spare time could be used to involve themselves in religious and charitable activities. However, there are fewer women who can, for instance, think of maintaining a community fridge like they do so in Dubai (a charitable task, that has now gone viral on a number of social media platforms.).

The modern times are riddled with change of every nature. Some are good, and some others are well more commercially inclined. Take the community refrigerator for instance. A lady in Dubai was ready to discard a refrigerator that was in perfectly working condition. But something stopped her, and she decided to install the refrigerator outside a shop and stock it with food. Anyone was welcome to take the food from the refrigerator at no cost at all. A video on this lady went viral, triggering a very positive reaction. All over Dubai, now one will find a community refrigerator to feed the less fortunate during this month. Some keep it year round too.

“As an individual when I witness polar opposites; I question my understanding of whatever I have learnt of my religion since I was a child… I start by asking; ‘What is Islam? AND Who are we?’ I am compelled to go back to my roots and unlearn all that I have learnt to understand things in a new light. One can derive several connotations of the Islamic text, but one should only rely on the true voice of the Prophet. Islam, just like all other faiths teaches us to walk the path of righteousness. Am I doing the right thing by simply praying or is it better to help someone else get an opportunity to pray in peace? When I asked these questions I got answers that changed me from within as a person. I got to know of how I could be a better human being, and bring quality to others life too.” states A woman who follows Islam, a doctor, and last but not the least a daughter, who wishes to remain unnamed.

As a writer, I might sound atheist, but I have had the opportunity to go though a number of religious texts. I came to the conclusion that the teachings of any religion could make one, a good human being. This is something that is important, and that truly makes life worth living.

I key off, by wishing all my beloved readers a wonderful Ramadan and Id Mubarak.

Written by Heer Kothari

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