Thursday, April 28, 2016

Of allowing women inside mosques and shrines (dargah)

There's a lot being said by non Muslims about women not being allowed in mosques. Also, there is an agitation at Haji Ali and some shrines for getting entry for women right up to the graves. I've been to Haji Ali and I feel women are allowed sufficiently inside. Only there is a small barrier on woman's side right till grave. But I wonder why women want to touch the grave?

Haji Ali dargah at Mumbai, India
First of all, there is a difference between a dargah (shrine/tomb) and a masjid (mosque), which we will discuss later. Let us first try to know if Muslim women are allowed in mosques. The answer to that is that there is no such ruling in Islam which disallows women in mosques. Women are allowed as long as there is an arrangement in it for them to pray. There are such mosques across the world. I've heard of a few such in Kerala too. The arrangement is for women's dignity and making it convenient for us to manage prayers with home responsibilities. The Quran states that it's better for women to pray in house and that it's better for men to pray in mosques (masjid). There are more brownie points for the 'better' aspect. It does not state that women are disallowed in masjids. Nor are men disallowed to pray in house in case of emergency or if no time to go to masjid. The procedure is the same. Only in mosques, we pray in a group behind a 'imaam' (one who leads the prayer) and repeat after him. At home, you follow the same process on your own in solitude. And what are masjids/ mosques? It's just a place to gather together and pray (offer namaz) and disperse till next call-to-prayer (azaan). There's nothing in it that you need to view / bow down to. Nor candles or incense sticks to light. People gather in mosques just to offer namaz after call to prayer (azaan) is made. There are 5 calls throughout different times of day, till one last in the night. And mosques could be of small areas too and a simple structure without the fancy walls and entrances. In fact, I knew of a relative living in a joint family in a big house, where they had a prayer room and the head of the family used to call out the azaan and be the imaam also. And the family used to pray behind him as per procedure. So there's no big deal about it as is being made out. Women usually hear 'azaan' and offer namaz (Salaat) in house itself. It's so much convenient that way. After all, we Muslims have to face Kaaba (whichever part of world we are) and pray 5 times of day. Not go to the masjid once in a blue moon.

Another thing which many non Muslims confuse is 'dargahs' with mosques. Both are totally different things. Dargahs are tombs of saints. They are not places of worship. Those saints are called Walis (friends of Allah) and each has his own miracle circle/ blessings from God. Muslims never pray to them. Those who do are wrong. They are a medium. So you either go to dargah to pay respect to them or ask them to pray to Allah for you. This is called Tawassul or Wasila. Using someone's proximity to God as a medium to achieve one's own goal / prayer. Interesting thing which many non Muslims do not know is that there are two schools of thought in Islam regarding this. There is one school which does not recognize the dargahs at all.

Another important thing to note is that many of these saints abstained from women in their lives and lived a life of piety. Quran states indirectly that walis never really die. So in some dargahs, women are not allowed right up to the graves. One needs to respect that. If they stayed away from women or did purdah from women (yes, there is purdah for men from women too), then why would someone not want to honour that after a person's death? It's literally making him turn in the grave!

Those women who really want women to have public places of worship, should come together and pool to form a masjid (mosque) for women. Or root for arrangement for women in masjids as well. I don't understand how touching a grave is considered worship? 

Why is no one agitating for building women's mosques? Because mosques are the real places of worship and we want to shy away from real prayers. Mosques means having to go 5 times daily to offer prayers. So praying at home seems to be convenient for ladies instead of having to dress up 5 times to go to mosques. We need to be presentable while venturing out of house and while praying, a certain dress code is followed. And building a mosque and not going will be disrespectful. Some people are purposely creating issues to put Muslims down. 

Once again, dargahs are shrines/ tombs. Respect the person resting in peace there. If it's a lady's tomb like the one opposite Haji Ali, then women are welcome there. I don't know if anyone has felt it, when whenever I have visited a dargah, I can sense the wali's presence and automatically feel very conscious. In fact, I found it very shocking many years back when we were allowed to touch the tomb at Ajmer Sharif. Some special people are allowed there. And if you get a high profile khadim, you are given straight entry. It happens so fast, you can't think. Please respect the walis, ladies. 

Next we know is that we will want to enter graveyards and built tombstones of our family members there. Slowly, we will want bigger structures and introduce practices that are prohibited in Islam. In a place like India, where there are billions of people and many Muslims too, space has been an issue. Those who do not know, most Muslim graveyards in India follow the recycling process. Suppose, some is buried in a specific area in a graveyard, after some years (considering decomposition cycle), that same point is re-used to bury someone else. This last part is only for information as there seems to be a lot of misinformation about Muslims amongst many.