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Haji Ali Trust knocks at Supreme Court’s door against Bombay HC order on women entry

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Mumbai: Haji Ali Dargah Trust moved Supreme Court on Monday challenging the Bombay High Court order lifting the ban on women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the renowned Muslim shrine in South Bombay. The High Court on August 26 had held that the ban imposed by the Dargah Trust, prohibiting women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah, contravened Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution and said women should be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum like men.

The High Court had allowed a PIL filed by two women Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz, from NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, challenging the ban on women’s entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah from 2012. It had held that the trust had no power to alter or modify the mode or manner of religious practices of any individual or any group.

The High Court in its 56 page-judgement had also noted that the “right to manage the Trust cannot override the right to practice religion itself”. It had said the trust has not been able to justify the ban legally or otherwise, and hence it cannot be said that the prohibition is an essential and integral part of Islam and whether taking away that part of the practice would result in a fundamental change in the character of the religion or belief.

The court had also refused to accept the justification of the trust that the ban was imposed for safety and security of the women, in particular, to prevent sexual harassment of women at places of worship. The trust had claimed that the ban was in keeping with an order of the Supreme Court wherein stringent directions have been issued to ensure that there is no sexual harassment to women at places of worship.

The court noted that the aims, objectives and activities of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust are not governed by any custom or tradition and held that it was a public charitable trust and hence open to people all over the world, irrespective of their caste, creed or gender. The Maharashtra government had earlier told the court that women should be barred from entering the inner sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah only if it is so enshrined in the Quran.

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