Khatna: A mother’s pain and a son’s search for retribution

By: Anonymous

Age: 31
Country: United States

My mother is a woman of faith. The innate cultism of the Bohra community has never dissuaded her from being a part of it, attending every function on the bright, colorful Hijri calendar. For decades, that bright calendar has served as a façade to hide inexcusable darkness. I’ve been distant from this community for some time. I’ve often voiced some of the blatant ironies of our sect, particularly with the Hijri calendar. Lailutal Qadr, the most holy night in Ramadan, is now a minor blip on it, largely overshadowed by the birthday of his holiness, Mufaddal Saifuddin, which falls on the same day. She does not take my criticisms lightly and always tells me to have an open mind. She pleads with me to forget the cultism for a minute and focus on the community, the spirituality, and the power of prayer. She’s always been pious to a fault, ignoring the many uncomfortable truths of a community that has so many.  

It made it shocking a couple months ago, when she expressed her anger and hostility towards Khatna. Sahiyo has cast a large spotlight on this tribal and destructive practice. Growing up in a household of all boys and in a community that’s kept Khatna so hidden, I only learned of the practice through Sahiyo and the articles by so many women whohave had the courage to discuss its indignities and the havoc it has caused in their lives.

But it hit home, when my mom told me about her own experiences. This deeply religious woman, who has been an advocate for the Bohra community her entire life and encouraged her children to look past certain practices, was not willing to overlook this one. She told my brother and I that if she had a daughter she would never have them undergo this procedure. She told us in excruciating detail about her own experience at the tender age of seven, when she was taken to a dark basement at a neighbor’s home in India. The pain, anger, and sexual frustrations she has suffered since then were self-evident from the tears building up in her eyes. I couldn’t hold back the tears in my own. The anger I felt when reading the stories of other women, rose to a fever pitch when I realized how much it hurt the woman that brought me in this world. A woman I have loved my entire life. She forgave this community and encouraged me to be a part of it. Because, for her generation, community is everything and the thought of becoming an outcast – that fear of being shunned from family and friends – makes you swallow your pain, frustration, and anger and accept the status quo.

No more.

The only beauty in the ugly underbelly surrounding Khatna, is the powerful options we have to confront it and other injustices of the Bohra community. For the first time in thirty years the powers that be are scared to the core. And it’s not just the fear of legal repercussions they will inevitably face in facilitating and encouraging genital mutilation. Their real fear lies in losing the plethora of financial benefits they have always valued – the envelopes filled with bundles of cash, the millions of dollars in Ziyafats, the houses, the cars, and financial control over thousands of small Bohri businesses. The more these injustices are pointed out, the more Bohris – specifically millennials – will go elsewhere for spiritual enlightenment. And with that financial loss, they can never sustain the lavish lifestyle they’ve grown so accustomed to.

But actions always speak louder than words. The first step, and it is imperative, is to find a special woman in your life affected by this practice. Sit down with that woman, talk to her, and understand what she’s been through. It will fill you with the same rage it filled me.

And that’s what we need – a whole lot of rage. We need people in our generation to be angry and to boycott this community unless it returns to serve the spiritual needs of the people it’s tasked with serving. That’s what a religious community can and should be.

I will never forget the pain I saw in my mother’s eyes the night she told me about her experience with Khatna. I will carry it with me moving forward and fight to make sure this practice ends. If we all do our part, it will stop, along with the other immoral practices of a community that has so many. All millennials should exercise the same vengeance. They can’t threaten to destroy our lives like they did to our parents. We hold all the cards here. We shouldn’t be afraid to play our collective strong hand.

How I learned that FGM happens in India

By: Anonymous journalist whose friend underwent FGM

Age: 26
Country: India

“It was supposed to stop me from me doing ‘those things’. I’m not sure if it served the purpose,” M told me.

I would have known about this practice much later if I hadn’t met someone who underwent it.

As we were getting to know each other, one day M drew my attention to the fact that she was different from other girls. That was when I heard the term female genital mutilation for the first time.

“You should read about genital mutilation”, she said.

Later that night, I learned about this horrible practice meant to oppress women. I had so many unanswered questions for her.

~ How did she become a part of this?

~ Explaining what happened to you to all your companions must be tiring…

~ Was everyone as sensitive as me when she told them about what had happened to her?

~ Why does a well-educated family still practice it?

I called her. That’s when I heard her story.

She told me that men don’t take part in ‘matters of female’. She was only six or seven when her maternal grandmother took her for khatna. She thought they were going for afternoon prayers until the point when an old lady laid her on a table and pulled her pants away. But the real terror struck when her legs were pulled apart. All reasoning was silenced just like her protest and this memory was repressed. What does a child know about right or wrong? If the elders do it, it must be for good. Right?

“Where was your mother when all of this was happening, did she even know?” I asked her.

M said, “I don’t know. She hadn’t joined me when it was done to me. I can’t imagine her watching me go through something like that.”

Her mother probably didn’t want to inflict the pain on her, and at the same time, her mother could see there was a flawed reasoning behind the practice. Her mother accepted that the tradition had to continue in silence.

Life went on as usual until M turned twenty. She was no longer a little girl. After she had sex for the first time, the repressed memories came up. She could no longer hide. She wondered, are my genitals different, am I different because of it?

M often felt she was not normal and even felt she was asexual.  It was not just the altering of her genitals that made her feel different, but the lack of understanding of her body as well.  

“Remember I would often wonder if I was asexual because of it? Well, those doubts are gone. I finally know I have the urge to have sex like anyone else,” M said to me to explain the doubts she had around her ability to orgasam.

She still remembers the first time her family openly talked about khatna. M was in college and an aunt was visiting from abroad. She heard her aunt speaking to her parents about the “mindless practice of female circumcision.” She joined the conversation, speaking publicly for the first time about her anger for having undergone it. But the conversation ended with her parents saying the following words “Daughter, you will understand later. It has to be done so that the girl doesn’t go out of hand.”

Like within most families in India, parents and their children do not speak about sexuality. She couldn’t let her family know she was sexually active. I sense that because parents see pre-marital sex as wrong, this idea has a very big role in the continuation of the practice. Therefore, while addressing FGM we can’t separate it from the need for sex education. Sex education must also include sensitizing the emotional and psychological aspects of sex as well.

“How can we bring an end to all this?” I asked her the last time we spoke.

“One thing is for certain,” M said. “I am not making my daughter go through this.”

Her decision is significant. Pledging not to continue it on the next generation is important, particularly when perhaps twenty years ago, many women never made this pledge.

“Will you ever talk publicly about it?” I asked her.

“I don’t know”, she said, “It’s not like I’m not trying to make any difference. I just feel I’m not ready to be public and deal with the attention I would get afterwards.”

Her answer made me realize that the people who are affected by the reckless act are not the only anchors of social change. We needed to focus equally on institutions that allowed such harmful traditions to continue.

Speaking to the religious heads about FGM is important. The most crucial aspect of reforming this age-old practice is educating people. Simply banning it by law is not the solution because this may lead some families to carry out khatna in secret, on their own.

She said, “Today’s young priests who get more educated think like us. I’m sure if they are encouraged to bring about changes, it will have a larger impact on the community.”

As a journalist, I’m sharing the story of my friend, because I believe media’s role is critical in achieving social justice, and helping to get those larger institutions to think about creating change.

‘Girls must be circumcised or they will grow up loose’: Three Sri Lankan women talk about Female Genital Cutting

by: Bintari Hamza Zafar, a concerned Sri Lankan Muslim citizen

Country: Sri Lanka

Female Genital Mutilation is a serious problem in Sri Lanka. Almost all Sri Lankan Muslim women are circumcised. Both Moors and Malays (ethnic Muslim communities in Sri Lanka) are of the Shafi school of Islam which regards female circumcision, or “sunnat”, as compulsory. They account for 98% of the local Muslim population. The Bohras who follow an Indian leader called Syedna also practice it very strictly. Local Bohras number about 10,000 people.

The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU) which is the Supreme Council of Muslims of Sri Lanka has declared female circumcision obligatory in a fatwa in Tamil பெண்களுக்கு கத்னா செய்தல் (Pengalukku Khatna Seydal) and are very strict about it. I also heard that the Bohra leader Syedna has said it must be done.

Local Muslim girls are circumcised on the 40th day of birth or a little later. Bohra girls are cut between 7-10 years of age.

The amount of genital cutting differs from child to child. The operator is a woman called Ostha-maami. Usually, they nick the clitoris for a little blood to come and leave it at that. Educated families get it done by lady doctors who cut off part of the foreskin of the clitoris. But more severe mutilation also takes place and has been reported to us.

I give below some interviews that I recently conducted with women of my community.

Banu Mariyam (40 years, name changed)

Muslim girls must be circumcised or they will grow up to be loose. I have two daughters and got them circumcised when they were babies. The local Ostha woman came and did it. She took a large needle and pricked the clitoris till the blood came. She then wiped it and put some grey powder. I think it was ash.

She told me the blood has to come out or the girl’s clitoris will be big, and she will always touch there and grow up to be a loose woman. I don’t regret it. All our girls must be circumcised.

See Western ladies, see Princess Diana, how many men she had affairs with. Our women are much more decent. That is because we take the blood out and make it small. Then they can control themselves.

Fathima Nilufa (33 years, name changed)

I did not know of this practice till my daughter was born. My mother said she must undergo sunnat. I told her only boys undergo sunnat. She said no, girls also. Then she brought home the lady doctor, who cut my daughter. My baby cried a lot. The doctor put some kind of white powder on the wound and said it will heal.

Later I noticed baby’s clitoris was pink and swollen. I got angry and asked the doctor what she had done. She said she removed the skin over it like she did for the small boys. She said nothing to worry. It healed a little later. She is ok now, but I am still angry because my daughter was hurt. I don’t know why they do it. My mother said it must be done for Muslim people.

Sameena Begum (29 years, name changed)

I was married to an Aalim (religious scholar). A few days after my wedding night, he said he wanted to see my private part before having sex. Then he got angry and said I was not circumcised. He even shouted at my mother. My mother kept saying she had got me circumcised as a baby, but he did not listen.

He brought home an old Ostha-Maami in a taxi and ordered her to cut me. My husband held one leg and forced my mother to hold the other leg while the Ostha-Maami cut me. My mother was crying and told me not to scream as the neighbours could hear. It was very painful. I wish my mother had got it done properly when I was a baby.

Announcement: A new research project on Khatna in Mumbai

by Keire Murphy and Cleo Egli

An exciting new research project is being undertaken in Mumbai and its environs this summer which hopes to bring a new perspective to the international discussion of khatna. The project, which is a cultural study on khatna, the Bohra community, and the current activist movement against the practice, is being carried out by Keire Murphy from Trinity College Dublin and Cleo Egli from University of North Carolina, who have been awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship in order to complete the project.

It will be interesting to see how an entirely external perspective engages with the Bohra culture and cultural specificities of khatna, which is so distinct from the practice portrayed in Western media. The stated goal of the project is to explore and understand not just the practice but also the culture (or cultures) of the Bohra community. The researchers hope that this will enable them to make recommendations to activists coming from outside of the community hoping to work on this issue on how to engage with this issue in a culturally sensitive and culturally specific way.

Murphy and Egli claim to have undertaken this project because of the lack of research that has been engaged in not only on the subject of khatna but also on the Bohra community itself, which they believe is an essential step to effecting lasting social and cultural change. For them, “In order to change, we must first understand”. The women want to explore the identities of the members, particularly the female members, who comprise the Dawoodi Bohra community, how the community defines itself, the tensions and divisions within the community as well as its unifying factors. They want to explore the “beauty and pride of the community in order to better understand its controversial underside.” They are particularly interested in exploring the current movement within the community, led by SAHIYO and Bohra women; how the movement is perceived by the people it is aimed at and what factors are integral for a woman deciding whether to continue the long-standing tradition or face the possible repercussions of breaking with the ancient mould; and what distinguishes a woman who simply doesn’t continue the practice from a woman who goes further and actively campaigns against it.

This project will hopefully be a significant stepping stone to bringing global humanitarian and academic attention to this issue that has often been overshadowed by African practices that, although put in the same category globally, so little resemble the experience of the Dawoodi Bohra. This project is also hoping to act as a precursor and guide for the more comprehensive studies that this issue deserves. This is an incredibly important time for the Bohra community both within India and Pakistan and abroad, with media attention being dramatically drawn to the issue by the highly publicised arrests of practitioners of khatna in the United States. The community may be facing a large amount of media attention in the coming years and it is the aim of this project to provide the members of the community with an opportunity to set the story straight from the beginning about who they are.

The study will take place in Mumbai from the June 24 to July 23, 2017, and researchers are calling for research participants, both in Mumbai on these dates, or in other parts of India from July 24 to the August 7. They also have an open call without date restrictions for participants who would like to engage in interviews over Skype. Participants can be male or female, and do not have to speak of their experience of khatna if they would prefer not to.

All Bohras are encouraged to participate, so that the research will be representative of all groups and opinions in the community. Submissions are also welcome, but interviews will be given more weight. All interested parties should contact mgfmumbai@gmail.com.

A part-time translator job opportunity is also available. To view job description, click here

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Lubaina Plumber

Lubaina Plumber is a U.S. based volunteer who has been with Sahiyo for a year now. She was a human rights lawyer in Mumbai who just graduated from Washington University School of Law, St Louis with her Masters in Law. She plans to continue her education in the field of public policy and management to build a career and life in which she can effectively support every cause believes in. To learn more about how she has supported our work at Sahiyo, read her interview below.Photo 2

  1. When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I got in touch with Zehra Patwa, whose article I read a few years ago and she, in turn, put me in touch with Mariya Taher. I spoke to Mariya about opportunities to work for the cause and began my journey, being involved with Sahiyo.

  1. What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I have written some articles, worked on a handbook and other material and actively participated on the Whatsapp group, set up the Instagram page, and try to do as much as time permits when the opportunity presents itself.

  1. How has your involvement impacted your life?

Working with an organization teaches one a lot about group involvement, support, and unity. Being involved with an organization that fights for a cause that is very personal for me, is like having a platform for your voice. Sahiyo has given me the gentle push and reminder to keep fighting for my cause, whether or not I see results immediately.

  1. What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

I am an advocate and fan of being involved with organizations that support the causes you believe in. Support is the best way of showing your concern and using your time wisely. I would say that people should be open-minded and not hesitate to raise questions — if there is something you don’t agree with, ask and you will receive answers. My personal experience has lead me to believe that Sahiyo respects their volunteers and their opinions as much as we do the cause and the fight for it.

Part-time Translator Job Opportunity in Mumbai

Looking for an individual willing to assist in translation between Gujarati and English, with a preference for those also able to speak Lisan al-Dawat, for the month of July in Mumbai and surrounding provinces.

Translator will be working closely with two student researchers from the University of North Carolina and Trinity College Dublin who will be conducting research on the Dawoodi Bohra community via interviews with different members of the Dawoodi Bohra community.

Familiarity with the community and culture of Dawoodi Bohras is strongly preferred, as ideally the translator would help the student researchers by helping coordinate interviews and acting as a liaison between community members and researchers.

Pay will start at ₹ 250 / hour, with an average of 10-15 hours per week of work available. Pay and hours very flexible.

To express interest or for further information, please email CV to: mgfmumbai@gmail.com

 

‘Far from enhancing my marital bliss, khatna had all but devastated it’

by: Anonymous

Age: 30
Country: United States

I first learned that khatna had been performed on me when I was 11 years old. My mother told me, and even then the hair on my neck rose and I had a clear instinct that what had happened wasn’t right. I asked my mother why Bohra girls were cut when there was no evidence that it had the same benefits as male circumcision. She responded with the familiar refrain: hygiene, marital bliss.

At that time, I had no idea what a clitoris was supposed to look like. My mother described it to me, never using that word, but saying that it was a “long thread of flesh” that hung out of the vaginal hood. It had to be cut because it would otherwise rub constantly against my underwear. For the Potterheads out there, the image that sprang to my mind was of an Extendable Ear in my panties, a long flesh-colored string that had to be snipped to curb continuous arousal. I had never seen a picture of a clitoris, nor could I. I’d grown up in a country where the Internet was heavily censored and the chapter on reproduction was ripped out of our Biology textbooks. That image of the clitoris as a long flesh-colored string stayed with me until I looked at cartoon pornography as a teenager in the United States. But let me be clear, because this detail about my education is a gateway to Orientalism: I had an excellent primary education, and I was far better prepared for graduate school than many of my US-educated peers. The fact that schools in that region refused to include human reproduction in the curriculum was shortsighted and foolish, but not unlike the abstinence-only curriculum I’ve learned about since moving to the US.

But let me return to that moment my mother told me I’d been cut: since it never crossed my mind that I would or could be sexually active before marriage, I only thought about khatna once or twice a year until I was married. And that’s when I realized that sexual intercourse was extraordinarily difficult for me. My vagina would convulse, and even the thought of using a tampon triggered these convulsions. My condition went undiagnosed until years later, when my OB/GYN attempted to do a pelvic exam. She had no warning because I did not tell her about my difficulty with intercourse. Peering over the stirrups, she apologized for causing me pain, and asked me to breathe deeply while apologizing rapidly: “Just one finger, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry almost done almost done and relax.” I learned that I had vaginismus, and needed physical therapy.

As I talked through my condition with my wonderful doctor, I learned that an early childhood trauma was likely the cause for my vaginismus. The symptoms pointed towards a psychological trigger rather than physical limitations, and the more I reflected on my condition the clearer it became that I had always been unable to tolerate even the idea of penetration from around the age khatna had happened to me. Any kind of insertion seemed laughable to me as a teenager, whether I was washing myself in the shower or attempting to masturbate. This points to the idea that women who don’t consider themselves victims – and I certainly didn’t and don’t – can experience long-term effects of khatna that we may not even (or ever) be aware of.

When I eventually saw a picture of a healthy and anatomically accurate clitoris for the first time, what I’d already suspected was confirmed: there was no hygiene-related reason to snip it, and far from enhancing my “marital bliss” it had all but devastated it.

But learning about khatna revealed something about me to myself: even as a child, I recognized the value of empirical research when it came to making decisions about altering bodies – particularly female bodies, which have historically always been more vulnerable. Even as an 11 year old, I knew the benefits of male circumcision – I had just learned about trench warfare during World War II, and the infections that raged among uncircumcised men living in those filthy conditions. And as I reflect on that moment when I was 11, it makes perfect sense to me that I chose a career in research.

Another thing I recognized is that not only is the term “victim” disempowering when referring to women who have experienced khatna, but also entirely inaccurate. Activists have argued against the term “victim” for decades, particularly when it comes to describing women and gender-queer survivors of physical abuse. However, the term is misleading too. It is an easy label assigned by the status quo, and a particularly effective way for those in power to demonstrate their investment in “women’s issues.” It is a gateway to continued imperialism, where the narratives of marginalized groups are stripped of nuance, or hidden entirely.

It has been incredibly easy, even comforting, to vilify Dr. Jumana Nagarwala for performing khatna in the US. But let us not buy into the clash-of-civilizations narrative. Each time a US news outlet says the practice will not be “tolerated in the US,” there is an implied comparison to those “backward” countries that tacitly endorse it. Additionally, it implies a wounded nationalism, where (White, male) individuals are almost more outraged that it is happening in the United States than that it is happening at all. And so we are forced to view the practice through an imperial lens. We must not let khatna become a political talking point for US politicians to show how they have “zero tolerance” for “brutal” practices while forwarding a facile concern for women’s rights.  We must not forget that khatna is endorsed by the largely male leadership of the Bohra jamaat. While Dr. Nagarwala is culpable, and there is no question that she must face legal action, she has been turned into a scapegoat by both US discourse and the Dawoodi Bohra leadership.

This is a brief account of how khatna shapes my personal narrative, but I want to complicate some of the stereotypes that public discourse about khatna is attempting to forward: that it is an Islamic practice (it is not), that it is a result of poor formal education (again, no), or that it is a violent and barbaric practice that consumes the victim – the answer to that is more complicated than a yes or a no, should someone actually care to engage those who have experienced khatna.

To those who say that Sahiyo is not their voice…

By: Anonymous

Country: United Kingdom

The past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster for me.  I deeply believe in the values that Sahiyo espouses and wholeheartedly wish for the practice of FGC to end. To my dismay, I have witnessed a hate campaign against not only Sahiyo, but the brave people who have been vocal against this practice.

To those who say that Sahiyo is not their voice, I would like to clarify what Sahiyo is. Sahiyo is a cacophony of voices, a roar from a collective of activists whose voices unite. We are individuals who speak for ourselves and on behalf of minors, who have tried and continue to try to engage in dialogue to end this practice. In return, we have received silence and now slander. Our character, faith, morals and intentions have been questioned and attacked.

I, along with the community of activists who share my sentiments, do not speak on behalf of Sahiyo, or indeed any other adult. I speak on behalf of young girls who are forever altered without their consent; I speak on behalf of the innocent young girls across the world who have undergone this procedure or who will do so in the future; I speak on behalf of the girls who do not have a voice and are not old enough to understand what is happening to them and I speak on behalf of my 7 year old self, who did not choose to undergo a procedure that has affected me for decades, and will continue to do so.

Now that I have a voice, I am being attacked for using it. I gain nothing from speaking up. No amount of campaigning will ever undo the permanent emotional, psychological and physical damage that resulted from a procedure that was deceptively forced upon me. To those who slander me, this is what I have to say to you: You are right to an extent – I do speak on behalf of others. I speak on behalf of your daughters, sisters, cousins, children’s friends, and every young girl who will undergo this invasive procedure, so that they don’t suffer the way that I have.

I hope that you remember this the next time you say laanat on me.

U.S. Muslim Leaders Stance on FGM/C (also known as Female Circumcision)

(Originally document can be found here. Republished with permission on 6/7/2017)

We, Muslim organizations, FGM/C Survivors, Islamic scholars, and leaders, strongly condemn the remarks made in the video of Imam Shaker El Sayed where he clearly distinguishes between Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) and female circumcision, and recommends  the performance of female circumcision on young girls “when needed” to prevent them from becoming “hyper-sexual”.  We commend Dar Al Hijrah on their response to these remarks condemning FGM/C.  To further clarify, FGM/C is the same as female circumcision.  When we refer to FGM/C, we are including female circumcision which falls within the definition of this practice. More than half a million women and girls living in the U.S are at risk of undergoing FGM/C both in the U.S. or abroad or have already undergone the procedure, including 169,000 girls under the age of 18, creating a clear urgency for action.  The following presents our stance on the issue of FGM/C:

  1. FGM/C includes all forms of excision of the female genitalia. FGM/C is known as female circumcision, but they are the same practice.  There is no reference to FGM/C in the Holy Quran and the practice is against Islamic doctrine. 
  2. According to the World Health Organization guidance from 2016, FGM/C has no health benefits and serves no medical purpose.  All forms of FGM/C can cause lifelong physical, psychological and spiritual harm to the young girls forced to endure this.  Because FGM/C causes harm, it is prohibited under Islam.  Examples include:
    • Physical harm: This includes health complications such as severe pain: excessive bleeding: general infections;  urinary tract infections; wound healing problems; injury to surrounding genital tissue; menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.); sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.); increased risk of childbirth complications; the recurring  need for additional surgeries; and death
    • Psychological harm: This includes mental illness diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder/ low self-esteem
    • Spiritual harm: This includes tension on one’s spiritual relationship with God and with one self; detachment from the spiritually-ordained sexual self; strain of physical and mental harm on one’s spiritual connection; feeling ostracized from one’s community as a result of feeling unworthy and ashamed
  1. Islam is a religion rooted in social justice.  Arguing that FGM/C is recommended to curb the sexuality or so-called “hyper-sexuality” in females is wrong.  Islam supports the sexual health of both males and females, and controlling female sexuality is a form of patriarchy, not Islam.
  1. We would like to reiterate that all forms of FGM/C are against the law in the United States. Federal Law makes it illegal to perform FGM/C in all its forms, including female circumcision on girls in the U.S  or to transport a girl out of the U.S to have FGM/C performed in another country. In addition, 25 states in the U.S, including the state of Virginia,  also have laws against FGM/C.

We would like to make clear that FGM/C  is a universally recognized human rights abuse.  It is a form of child abuse, sexual assault, and gender-based violence.

We, the undersigned, unequivocally stand against the practice of FGM/C. We cannot and will not stand for any leader who endorses human rights abuses antithetical to our beautiful faith.

We call on all Muslim organizations to provide sexual/ reproductive health education and sexual violence awareness trainings to ensure that leaders are well equipped to serve the needs of their community. Muslim organizations must provide access to both accurate information and support resources on FGM/C and create safe spaces where open conversations about FGM/C and sexual health can take place and FGM/C survivors can share their stories and have their voices heard without judgment.

Every one of us has a moral responsibility to work toward creating safer communities for our children. Support for this unjust practice under the guise of religion has gone on too long. Today, we invite you to join us in facilitating this change in the following ways:

  1. Speak up when you hear someone promoting FGM/C in the community
  2. Share information and raise awareness in mosques and other community centers
  3. Link up with other service providers to be up to date with latest policies, legislations and referral systems in your state
  4. Be visible and engage at various inter generational, multi-sectoral forums
  5. Make a commitment to educating yourself,  your families , and your communities on sexual & reproductive health and sexual violence in general, and reach out to social workers, and other expert organizations when necessary

Organizations that are equipped to facilitate these activities and conversations are: Dahlia Project, Face of Defiance, Safe Hands for Girls, Global Campaign to End FGM, Sahiyo, WeSpeakOut, HEART Women & Girls, and RAHMA. These organizations can be reached at:

Sahiyo – info@sahiyo.com

WeSpeakOut – info@wespeakout.org

HEART – info@heartwomenandgirls.org

Global Campaign to End FGM – Naimah@globalmediacampaign.com 

RAHMA – info@haverahma.org

Dahlia Project – Leylatheraphy@hotmail.co.uk

Face of Defiance – Leylatheraphy@hotmail.co.uk

Safe Hands for Girls – info@safehandsforgirls.org

DAH statement:

1- The harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is prohibited in Islam as well as the laws of the land.

2- We at Dar Al-Hijrah, DO NOT condone, promote, or support any practice of FGM.

3- The reference to “Hyper-sexuality” is offensive and it is unequivocally rejected. The Board of Directors is particularly disturbed by such comments.

4- We call upon the Muslim Scholars (clergy) to be on the forefront of the campaign against FGM and to condemn silence in the face of these harmful practices.

5- We at Dar Al-Hijrah, are committed to continue sensitivity training of our staff regarding these critical issues.

The Imam of Dar Al-Hijrah, Sh. Shaker Elsayed, in response to his recent statements reaffirms that, “FGM is very harmful to women’s health, and anything in Islam that is harmful is in fact prohibited”.  He also advises the community to seek their doctors counsel to inform them why it is illegal and harmful. He follows that his reference to “hyper-sexuality” is an observation that he admits he should have avoided. He declares, “I take it back, and I do apologize to all those who are offended by it”.

You may refer to Imam Shaker’s statement below.


Statement of clarification
By Imam Shaker Elsayed

On May 19th, 2017, I gave a lecture about the rights of children in Islam at Dar Al-Hijrah. The lecture was aired live online and was later posted on our YouTube channel. The part in which I talked about children’s circumcision created a lot of misunderstanding, specifically regarding girls. I would like to clarify the following:

  1. I specifically said in the lecture that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is considered by Islam to be a very harmful to women’s sexual health. And in Islam anything harmful is prohibited. Therefore, Islam agrees completely with the legal prohibition of FGM, and hence the laws of USA. That is why I referred the audience to their OBGYN to inform them why it is illegal and harmful.
  2. Islam would never support anything that harms anybody’s well-being, such as FGM. As such, this is my position and the position of Dar Al-Hijrah. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Let there be no harm upon yourself or others.”
  3. Regarding the statement I made on “Hyper-sexuality”, I admit that I should have avoided it. I hereby take it back. And I do apologize to all those who are offended by it. 

Signed By:

Imam Mohamed Magid, All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center

Imam Johari Abdul- Malik, Director of Outreach, Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center

Imam Suhaib Webb, SWISS

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director, The Islamic Center at NYU

Imam Jamal Rahman, Interfaith Community Sanctuary, WA

Khadijah Abdullah, RAHMA

Zehra Patwa, WeSpeakOut

Farzana Doctor, WeSpeakOut

Alifya Sulemanji, WeSpeakOut

Mariya Taher, Sahiyo

Leyla Hussein, Dahlia Project

Jaha Mapenzi Dukureh, Safe Hands for Girls

Sister Linda Sarsour, New York, NY

Safia Abulaila, Resident in Counseling, VA.

Ilana Alazzeh, Muslims Against Homophobia

Salam Al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Laila Al-Marayati, Muslim Women’s League

Eman Hassaballa Aly, Collaboryst

Shahed Amanullah, Affinis Labs

Dr. Saman Hamidi-Azar, Orange County, CA

Yasmine Badaoui, Miss Muslim

Alejandro Beutel, Washington, DC

Maha Elgenaidi, Director, Islamic Networks Group (ING)

Seemi Ghazi, Lecturer in Classical Arabic, U. Of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada

Nadia Hassan, Young Leaders Institute

Khalil Ismail, Finding Peace Project

Ameena Jandali, Islamic Networks Group (ING)
Ghada Khan,
Washington, DC

Maryam Khan, Community Leader, Islamic Center of Connecticut in Windsor

Youssef Kromah, Do it for the Deen

Edina Lekovic, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Jenan Matari, Miss Muslim

Priscilla Martinez, Salam Mama

Dr. Karen McDonnell, Washington, DC

Nadiah Mohajir, HEART Women and Girls

Naeem Muhammad, Native Deen

Muhammad Oda, Muzbnb

Riham Osman, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Angela Peabody, Founder/Executive Director, Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation

Tynan Power, Founder/Leader, Masjid Al-Inshirah

Sameera Qureshi, HEART Women and Girls

Asifa Quraishi-Landes, Madison, WI

Mariam Rauf, Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project

Hadi Shakuur, Muzbnb

Sis Sarah Smith, Pennsylvania, USA

Hanaa Soltan, Mideast Global Advisors

Hussain Turk, Esq., Los Angeles HIV Law & Policy Project

Asma Uddin, AltMuslimah

FGM before the Indian Supreme Court

By: Koen Van den Brande

Age: 55
Country: India

It was to be expected…

The Indian Supreme Court has been asked to look at the practice of ‘khatna’ – commonly known as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) as a result of a Public Interest Litigation filed by Sunita Tiwari, a Delhi based advocate.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Suleimani community was known for people who showed great wisdom and leadership. For example when the educator, jurist and author Asaf Ali Asghar Fyzee  advocated “the need to incorporate modern reforms in Islamic law without compromising on the ‘essential spirit of Islam’.”

FGM has been in the news of late in India as well as the US, the UK and Australia, as a result of legal action taken against practitioners of ‘khatna’ and discussions on how to make existing legislation more effective.

In the Mumbai-based Suleimani community, which I belong to, we have also been having some discussions on how to address this practice, which remains prevalent albeit more and more in what I would call an ‘intellectualised’ form. After all, we are not talking here about primitive tribal communities as in some countries in Africa, where in 10% of the cases, we can talk about ‘mutilation’ in the fullest, most horrific, sense.

The community is well accustomed with the Islamic principle that the law of the land is to be respected. In the Prophet’s (PBUH) words ’Love of one’s country is a part of one’s faith” So at one level, the introduction of a new law would be the easiest way to address the issue… Or would it?

In the UK such a law has been on the statute books for many years without ever leading to a single case in court and yet it is well-known that the practice continues there for thousands of girls.

Or take the case of Egypt, where despite a law which declares the practice a crime, 98% of women continue to be cut. As an Egyptian government official comments in the highly informative as well as emotional documentary The Cutting Tradition, soberly narrated by Meryl Streep, you cannot put the entire population of a country in jail…

A study in Senegal concluded that the introduction of specific legislation can be helpful, where it complements other efforts to educate and gain support for abandoning such a practice. However the study also observed that such legislation without the necessary work on the ground can build resistance if it is primarily seen as interference in a religious practice.

In India there is no lack of existing legislation under which FGM would be seen as a criminal offence, as Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development recently spelled out in no uncertain terms, in response to a referral by the Supreme Court.

In addition, supra-national bodies like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation take a clear stand on the subject. India is a signatory to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it was not even on the radar of the UN until a group of women submitted a petition to recognise India as one of the countries where FGM is still practiced…

In India there is the additional problem that the Muslim minority is always likely to find a new law addressing ‘khatna’, considered by some a ‘religious practice’, an imposition by a Hindu-dominated government – even if the law makes perfect sense. Such resentment could result in the practice being driven underground and once again reverting to the earlier back-alley horrors, which so many women have attested to.

In fact, following the successful efforts of Sahiyo and others, a new site has recently been set up protesting ‘interference’, as expected. It would of course be much better if the two sides agreed to sit together to work out a sensible way forward.

Sunita Tiwari is quite clear. She wants ‘khatna’ to be made an offence which is ‘cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable and offenders to get maximum punishment and penalty’.  

In reality, and for many Suleimani families today, ‘khatna’ has become what a father of two daughters called ‘a minor procedure’, when I asked him about it. That is to say that the ‘intellectualised’ form of the practice already insists on a medical procedure which simply removes a small bit of skin — the clitoral hood. Such a procedure may be justified and carried out legitimately to assist a grown-up woman. Which still leaves the question how one can justify making that decision for a child.

As a result of my initial conversations and a bit of research, I wrote an article a while back in which I advocated a possible approach which would respect the view of those who consider this a spiritual matter and the rest of us. I believe this approach would also address the urgent need for reform and recognise that a large majority of the world has deemed this practice, for some time already, a crime against a girl child.

What I proposed was that the community leaders could simply teach and mandate that a woman had to be of the age of consent to allow what should then be a largely symbolic ‘cut’ and that it should always be performed under medical supervision.

At least one of the Bohra community’s spiritual leaders seems to have taken a similar view. He was reported in the media recently as saying ‘FGM should be by choice for adults’. Unfortunately this statement has become somewhat ‘politicised’ due to the succession struggle which is currently before the court in Mumbai.

This proposed approach would also address another ‘law’. It could help resolve the current dilemma for any medical practitioner who would prefer not to break his or her Hippocratic oath. This oath – ‘do no harm’ – insists that a doctor can only perform a procedure on a patient which is actually in that patient’s interest. It must be difficult for any doctor to argue that ‘khatna’ is really in the interest of a young girl from a medical perspective in the face of clear warnings from the WHO about associated health risks.

The initial response from the Suleimani religious leadership was encouraging. I learned that it is a long-standing principle in our community, to first understand why something should be done and then – only if there is a good reason – to commit to doing it.

I was also told that there is no compulsion for this practice.

I had already found out that many women were unsure of why this practice is considered ‘required’ and trusted that the leadership knew and would clarify.

Our spiritual leader felt, when we met, that a bit of research was required to get to the bottom of where this practice originated, why it was considered necessary at that time and why it is still considered relevant today.

In due course it became clear that the source of the common belief that this is required, is a book known as the Daim al-Islam.

Sadly, AA Fyzee is no longer with us, so we cannot ask him for his view on ‘khatna’ as an influential author, jurist and devout Muslim. But my guess is that if we could, he might have suggested that there is a way to align with modern international norms and to protect the rights of a child, without abandoning the spiritual ‘cleanliness’ angle.

The time has come for the Suleimani leadership to lead…

Make ‘khatna’ haram, prior to the age of consent.

I trust the Supreme Court will.