The ban was imposed almost six months back. But it came to light only when a women's advocacy group, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), objected the decision of the trust to ban women from entering the sanctum sanctorum.
"Since childhood we have all been going to the Haji Ali dargah to offer prayers. We were always allowed inside and we could even touch the tomb. I went there a year ago and there were no issues," says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a member of BMMA.
"When it comes to spiritual and social issues, men and women are both given the same rights. I am a Muslim. I believe in Allah. If God sees men and women as equals, then who are these trustees? This is an attempt to subdue women. It is this misuse and abuse of Islam which is un-Islamic," questioned Niaz.
The women's group plans to write to the state authorities over the restricted entry to women at dargahs in the city.
A group of women from the organisation had visited the Haji Ali shrine in August. The ban over the entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum triggered their survey. Of the 20 city dargahs visited in Sept, seven prohibits women from visiting graves.
"When we asked with the trustees, we were told that the decision was taken after the authorities noticed that a woman came inappropriately dressed last year," said Niaz.
"If Islamic scholars have issued a fatwa, in accordance with the Islamic law of Sharia, and have demanded that women not be allowed in dargahs, we have only made a correction," explains Rizwan Merchant, trustee of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust and also a noted criminal lawyer. "Women will not be allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum."
Practically this means that women will be allowed only within the dargah's large and open premises. "There are no restrictions. They can read their prayers, do namaz and offer shawls and flowers. All that we are requesting to our sisters is not to enter inside the dargah," said Merchant.
According to some Muslim clerics, the Sharia prohibits women from visiting graves and since the tomb is in essence the grave of the Pir, women consequently stand debarred. The decision has now been implemented by seven other dargahs across Mumbai, which have welcomed the new diktat.
However, the irony is that official website of Haji Ali Dargah welcomes one and all.
"People from all parts of the world without restrictions of caste, creed and religion visit the Dargah to offer their prayers and for the fulfillment of their wishes by the blessings of the Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari," stated the official website of Haji Ali Dargah.