(Editor’s note – The courageous woman who shared this letter would like it to be known that sahiyo’s platform was the official outlet for her letter.)
Country of Residence: United States
To Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin,
We are the ones who showed up. We are the ones who wore the right thing, said the right thing, didn’t ask too many questions. When you became our 53rd leader, we changed our license plates and phone numbers to include the number 53 in your honor. We came to you in our moments of deep grief and our moments of sweet joy to ask for your permission to bury a loved one, get married, move to another country. We parted with our money in Dawoodi Bohra taxes to benefit you and our community. We put photos of you up on our walls. We traveled to Texas, Nairobi, Mumbai to hear your sermons. We prayed to you and for you. We did all of this in the name of the community, in the name of feeling supported by the ballast of history. We trusted your goodness, your wisdom. We believed that when we called to you for help, you would come.
Last year, on Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s death anniversary – a day when you knew that people around the world were watching – you spoke out about “keep[ing] our things strong, stay[ing[ firm. Even the big sovereign states [i.e. United States], whatever it is they say, if it makes any difference to our things, then we are not prepared to understand!…The act has to happen! If it is a man, then it is right, it can be openly done, but if it is a woman then it must be done discreetly, but then the act has to be done. Please understand what I am trying to talk about…”
We understood; we all knew what you were talking about. You were speaking about khatna, a globally reviled practice in which someone cuts part of a girl’s clitoris. You instructed us to carry out khatna on our young girls regardless of what the “big sovereign states” (read: US law) had to say. One month later, US-based jamaats published letters stating that community members should follow the law and not practice khatna in the US. These letters didn’t say that khatna was inherently wrong; they impliedly encouraged us to travel elsewhere for the procedure. We were confused – how could we not be? But we kept our heads down. We did not understand or agree with this practice, but we believed in you.
Khatna has gone global – The New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, UK Parliament – are associating the Dawoodi Bohra community with this heinous act, accurately reporting on a procedure that has abused and denigrated our women. In encouraging this procedure, you sanctioned violence against young children.
And now here we are. April 2017. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala committed a crime in flagrant disobedience of her role as a healer and doctor. But we can’t place the blame entirely on Dr. Nagarwala. She didn’t come up with this idea. She did it for you, in your name, under your instruction. On April 26, 2017, a federal jury indicted Dr. Nagarwala, Fakhruddin Attar and Farida Attar. Your followers are in hot water now and what did you do? You washed your hands of them. Less than a year after your pronouncement that you were “not prepared to understand” what “big sovereign states” say, you swiftly worked to ally yourself with US law enforcement. You issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate” Dr. Nagarwala had not followed US law, that the Dawoodi Bohras do not support any violation of local, state or federal law.
So much for staying “staying firm.” You threw Dr. Nagarwala under the bus and bailed.
So now we know. We know that it doesn’t matter how much we gave and prayed and observed. We know that even if we show up and wear what you want, say what you want, do what you want, you won’t show up for us when it matters. You will not take responsibility for your actions. You will not stand by your followers.
I will continue to go to the jamaat and pray alongside my fellow Bohra women. I do this now only for the love of my family, for the peace that this brings them, for the Allah who sees everything we do – including you, Syedna. But I do not believe in your wisdom and power anymore. I have lost all faith in your goodness, your grace. I will not listen to your edicts about what I should wear, how I should educate my children, how I should live my life. You took no responsibility for your follower who carried out your instructions – a mother of four who is now facing jail time. You abandoned her when she needed you most. You would do the same to me and my family. I know that when the reckoning comes, you will not stand by me, and so I will not stand by you anymore.