Although social changes in this century have altered the situation of women in society opening opportunities for their participation in various fields of endeavour, patriarchal attitudes are reasserting themselves, particularly, in the religious domain. The Haji Ali Dargah in 2011 abruptly barred women from entry to the sancta sanctorum, reverting its earlier stance where there was no restriction of space for the entry of women to the confined area. This attitude, besides bringing to the forefront misogynistic attitudes and patriarchal assertions of male domination, is surprising for a secular democracy like India where the Constitution clearly speaks of no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or gender.
Islam endorses the Constitutional clause. There is no authentic scriptural injunction in Islam for debarring equal rights to women or the entry of women into the sancta sanctorum of a dargah or mausoleum. The negative approach articulated by a strong patriarchy is far from the ideals and values of Islam where women and men stand on an equal spiritual ground and are assigned the same religious duties and the equivalent spiritual rewards. The prevalence of such unwarranted patriarchal control has tended to restrict women’s access to many aspects of Islamic religious/spiritual space and life. It must be stated that there is no segregation of women in the obligatory duty of the Haj pilgrimage obligatory upon all Muslim men and women.
In Islam, in the eyes of Allah women and men are equal participants in both spiritual and material aspects of life. In several verses, the Quran says: “For Muslim men and women… For believing men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity. For men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise — for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward”.
Several verses in the Quran speak in the same vein.
“Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another...” Again, “He that works evil will not be requited, but by the like thereof: and He that works a righteous deed — whether man or woman… such will enter the garden of bliss and therein will they have abundance without measure.” The recommendation by the Prophet for visitations to graveyards was said to be twofold: one, the reminder of the inevitability of death and accountability for actions in the hereafter; two, to offer prayers for mercy and forgiveness for departed ones.
Women were not excluded from this approval. Hence the purpose of visiting graves is a reminder of the inevitability of death and remembrance of the hereafter. Men are by no means more in need of this reminder than women. It was never to go there and pray for ourselves, or make the dead speak or help us in our prayers. It must be noted that in Islam worship is meant only for God and there is no second opinion on that.
There is no authentic prohibitory order forbidding women to enter graveyards. Imam Malik, some Hanafi scholars and most of the scholars hold it permissible for women to visit graves basing their understanding on the following tradition from Hazrat Ayesha when she once asked the Prophet what should she say when visiting graves and he replied “Greetings to you, people of the abodes among the men and women believers! May Allah grant mercy to those of you and us who went ahead and those who tarried back! Truly we shall — if Allah wills — join up with you.”
There was no mention that it is not permissible for women to visit graves. (Muslim and Nasai and other authorities as well.) Hazrat Ayesha often visited the grave of her brother. When Abdallah ibn Abi Mulaikah inquired of Hazrat Ayesha whether the Prophet prohibited visiting graves? She said, “Yes, he did forbid visiting graves during the early days, but later on he ordered us to visit them”. Several traditions of the Prophet endorse this view. “I had prohibited you from visiting the graves, but now I encourage you to visit them.” (Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Daud and Musnad Ahmad; Nasai) Perhaps visiting graves was not held permissible for men and women alike in early Islam as attachment and supplication to the dead were widespread.
Thus it was avoided as a preventative measure to avoid grave worship. But once the teachings of Islam were well established, visiting the graves became permissible since they were reminders of death and the hereafter. As the earlier prohibition was equally for men and for women similarly, the lifting of the prohibition, applied to both men and women. Further, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq narrated that Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet used to visit the grave of her grand uncle Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib every Friday.
It is significant to note that Prophet Muhammad is laid to rest inside the room of the house of Hazrat Ayesha. The grave of Hazrat Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam and father of Ayesha, is in a room of the house of Ayesha buried next to the Prophet; the grave of Hazrat Umar al Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam is in a room of the house of Ayesha buried next to the Prophet and Abu Bakr.
Hazrat Umar requested to get buried beside the tomb of Prophet (Bukhari narrates in his Sahih, Book of Janaiz or funeral) “When Umar was stabbed he sent his son Abd Allah with a message to Ayesha to ‘Ask her if I can be buried with my two companions,’ that is, in her room, next to the Prophet and Abu Bakr. Ayesha replied: ‘I wanted the spot for myself, but I shall put him (Umar) before me today’.”
The Barelvis who are also Hanafis, the Malikis, the Shiahs hold it permissible for women to enter the sancta sanctorum of a dargah. The negative implication in the contemporary Muslim world where women are barred from entry to the sancta sanctorum is not witnessed in several Muslim countries. In Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Iran and other countries both men and women visit Sufi shrines and tombs alike. In India, without fuss, men and women of every faith and creed visit the celebrated shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and several others.
The Sufi wisdom, enlightenment and radiance have touched the hearts of tens of thousands of people across the country, irrespective of gender. It is interwoven within the mosaic and fabric of our great country India. The myth that women cannot get entry into the sancta sanctorum of a dargah due to the imposition of religious restrictions needs to be nullified. It goes against the spirit of spiritual equality granted to women in Islam.