Keep the Faith

appeared in India Today’s Woman Special on September 8, 2016

There is no gender difference in Sufism for as Dr Javad Nurbakhsh writes in his book Sufi Women; “women who seriously set foot on the path towards reality are in exactly the same position as men who do so.”

He goes on to say, “Since in the ocean of divine unity neither “I” or “You” exists, what possible meaning can man or woman have?” There have been many famous women Sufi saints and many women who have influenced saints and been their teachers.

Someone once asked the great Egyptian Sufi master Dho’n-Nun Mesri, “Who, in your opinion, is the highest among the Sufis?” He replied, “A lady in Mecca, called Fatimah Nishapuri, whose discourse displayed a profound apprehension of the inner meanings of the Qur’an.”






Delhi has the dargah of Bibi Fatima bin Sam who was known as the Rabia of Delhi. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya had said for her, “When a tiger comes out of the forest no one checks whether it’s a male or female.” Sufism was the way to attainment of the divine and finding perfection in worship or Ihsan.

“Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see him; if you can’t see him, surely he sees you.” A Sufi will discharge all the duties of a believer, spending their time in prayers, fasting and reading the holy text but with most emphasis on zikr or remembrance of God.

As Abu’l-Hasan al-Nuri, a great early Sufi said, “Sufism is not rituals and forms and is not bodies of knowledge, not doctrines, not ideas, not theories. But it is impeccable manner, the manner of the lover in the presence of the beloved.”

Sufi saints became popular because of his or her inclusive teachings which bound together people of all faith, caste and gender. So to me, it’s ironic that the trustees of Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, are trying to bind the tradition of love and spirituality with such orthodox rules.

They use a hadith, which have been abrogated, and others, which are said to be weak when putting a ban on women from entering a dargah. There is a hadith, which quotes the Prophet as telling his wife Hazrat Ayesha who wanted to visit the grave of her brother, “I had prohibited you from visiting the graves, but now I encourage you to visit them.”

[Sahih Muslim (977)] So the argument that women should not visit graves is also not based on strong hadith traditions. There are some arguments that graves are not places of worship and women may get misled. I ask these people aren’t men as likely to get misled if their faith is weak? Nowhere in the Quran are only men called believers.

The Quran addresses both men and women when talking of righteousness and piety. So what’s permissible for men is also permissible for women. We who go to dargahs and I go very often, do not ask the saints to accept our prayers for we know that only Allah will do, but we ask them to become a waseela or intercessor for us to reach Him. Now let us take the argument that it creates a law and order problem for the trustees.

That surely is not the fault of the women if you can’t spruce up your administration. I had no problem when I visited it prior to 2011. It’s time we were allowed equal access once again.

If we can visit the House of Allah in Kaaba, Mecca together with men, do the tawaaf or circumambulation together without any segregation then why can’t we enter a dargah? If House of God allows women how can a mosque or dargah stop them? Men and women of all faiths visit dargahs, and as citizens of India, we are guaranteed that equality under the constitution. I am glad the judiciary is ensuring that right.

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