NEW DELHI: In a major victory, and after five long years of a battle that finally entered the courts, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has succeeded in regaining the right of women to pray at the Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai. “This is a political victory, as it has challenged the patriarchal order and made it clear to everyone that we do not recognise the arrogance of these self appointed custodians of religion,” said convenor Zakia Soman in an interview to The Citizen.

The Bombay High Court gave Muslim restored the right of Muslim women to pray at the shrine, but stayed the order for six weeks giving the Haji Ali Trust time to move the Supreme Court. Visibly happy, Zakia said that “we are not like them (trustees), we respect the law and democratic rights and yes they can go to the higher court in appeal. We too are confident that given its past rulings on the Sabarimala temple etc the Supreme Court will give us justice.”

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan went on the streets for the right to pray, after efforts to persuade the management of the shrine to give them access failed. As Zakia said, “we tried hard to resolve it, we wrote them letters, we sought meetings, and it was only after they refused to respond to all our efforts that we approached the courts.”

BMMA will now study the observations, wait for the apex court ruling as per the stay order. As Zakia said, “it is not as if women are going to rush to pray at the shrine, we will go of course when it is finally decided, but it is a major victory for us.”

How? Well it has been a political fight, where we have used the Quranic argument to call these bearded mullahs bluff, as well as the Constitution and the law, Zakia said. We pointed out that Muslim women have full rights to pray, with both women and men taking active part in Haj. On the other side, it is a patriarchal state and the effort by all these self appointed custodians of religion has been to suppress women. We made it very clear that we are not going to accept this, and we have religious rights equal to that of the men.

This verdict, if upheld by the Supreme Court now, is expected to go a long way in strengthening Muslim women’s case against triple talaq and some parity in the personal laws. There has been considerable resistance to this with BMMA and Zakia Soman determined not to allow this suppression of women to continue.

“What nonsense they (mullahs) are all talking, this is not Islam. And Sufi Islam is even more empowered with love and respect for all, but these chaps like to make it an exclusive preserve, “ she said. And this we will not allow.

The women were represented by lawyers who barely charged a fee unlike this “rich Haji Ali trust that is flushed with money and can go to the higher courts without blinking an eye.” Till 2012 women were allowed to pray inside, and suddenly the right was taken away without any explanation. The argument even now is flimsy and as Zakia says “shameful and pathetic” with the Trust maintaining that women are not allowed to pray as it is anti Islam. This the women rights group insists is absolute rubbish as major shrines and mosques, as well as the Kabaa in Mecca, are open to women.

Earlier even as the Muslim women were marching on the streets for their rights, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust broke decades long tradition and allowed women to enter the sanctum sanctorum. This was in response to a high voltage campaign by activists led by Trupti Desai, with the Bombay High Court directives for unrestricted access being implemented by the Trust.

Women of all communities critique these religious restrictions as an attempt to exert an essentially patriarchal order, with the denial to pray being used as a weapon of male authority and control. This has been punctured now by determined women, with the powerful Haji Ali Trust being dealt a severe blow by the court.