Country of birth: India
Country of current residence: USA
I am a male born into a Dawoodi Bohra family. My brother and I had remarkably normal upbringings in the United States. We were members of one of the more secular congregations in the in the US. My parents always pointed out to me how different we were from other Muslim sects. Our community stressed education for our sons and daughters. Many women in our community are business owners, doctors, and primary bread winners. Wahabi, we were not.
I distinctly remember watching an episode of the news program “20/20” with my parents when I was a “tween”. One of the pieces was on female genital mutilation in Somalia. We watched the whole piece and a hush came over the room…the kind of awkwardness one experiences when a love scene comes on while you’re watching a movie with your parents. I didn’t know why my parents were squirming, but in a few days everyone forgot all about it.
Fast forward over a decade and I’m in a serious relationship with my now wife. A Dawoodi Bohra woman. The first time we were intimate she began crying uncontrollably. She told me what had been done to her. She herself didn’t know what had been done to her until she learned about it in college. She felt an electric shock like pain down to her toes when it was done, but I was the first to be rocked by the waves of that ripple effect. She felt scarred and damaged. She wanted so bad to connect with me intimately, but it could never happen. That had been stripped away from her along with her ability to be a complete woman, against her will, as a minor. We worked through it together. I went to her counseling appointments. I reassured her that our love would only grow stronger, but she and I both knew no one could ever give back to her what was lost in that moment.
The “20/20” moment finally made sense. With two sons, my parents never had to make the gut-wrenching decision to physically alter their children, but to be perfectly clear, had either of us been a girl, there would have been overwhelming pressure to do it. The community would feed their boilerplate lies: “it is to ensure a good marriage”, “it is to make you a better wife”. I later found out from my parents that all the girls in my family had it done to them. I couldn’t stomach the thought. Why put up the front of modernity when 50% of your offspring are subjected to a medieval practice? Stop flaunting your women’s independence when your prerequisite for them to be complete spiritually is for them to be incomplete physically.
My amazing wife has taught me so much. She has taught me forgiveness, and strength. I would certainly have been much more vindictive had I been put in her shoes. It is time for all Dawoodi Bohras to come to grips with this issue. It is a stain on the faith. It has no precedence in Islam, it irreversibly damages our women, and it runs counter to what we claim to be: modern, moderate Muslims. It’s time to bring this issue out of the shadows and into the light.