Is the Dawoodi Bohra community truly as progressive as it claims to be?

By Saleha

Country of Residence: Canada
Age: 45

Having lived in South-East Asia, and being exposed to multiple races and cultures, I grew up in a very open-minded family. As a child, my family and I occasionally went to the local Bohra mosque to socialize with others in the community. I loved going to the “masjid” – there I got a chance to meet my best friend and also eat delicious Bohri food. It was wonderful to see all the aunties dressed up in “onna ghagra” which are colourful skirts with matching chiffon scarves draped around the head. After the prayers, everyone congregated outside and chatted into the late hours of the night.

Then suddenly in the early 90s it all changed. The upper echelons of the Bohra clergy instated new rules. The progressive Dawoodi Bohras were no more; instead, women were forced to wear a form of hijab called “rida” and men were made to sport a beard, wear a kurta, and “topi” or a cap on their heads. The clergy, headed by the Syedna, began to exert control over everything. Permission from Syedna was required not only for religious matters but in daily life as well. For example, permission was needed to start a business, get married or even to be buried. Female Genital Cutting or khatna was deemed necessary, even though that act of it is not prescribed in the Koran. If any of the rules were not followed, or if you protested and spoke against them, you were excommunicated or threatened to be. You’d lose all your ties to friends and family forever.

I can never forget the awful day, when I was seven, while on a holiday in India, my aunt asked me to go shopping with her. She took me to a dingy place where a Bohri man and woman took me inside. They asked me to undress waist down, and when I protested, the man held my hands while the woman removed my jeans and underwear and forced me to lie down. I saw the man take out a blade and I struggled and screamed for help, while they proceeded to cut me. I lay bleeding on the floor, unable to comprehend what had happened to me. It was horrific, painful, and demeaning. I hated what was done to me. I hated that my mom was not there. I was angry at my aunt for allowing them to hurt me.

I remember that experience vividly and to this day I am infuriated that I had to go through this ordeal as a child in the name of religion. While the majority of the Muslim communities around the world have spoken against this, the Dawoodi Bohra religious authorities urge continuing FGC under the guise of cleanliness. The worst part is that some women push this practise on vulnerable children too young to give consent, instead of protecting them as adults should.

It was a difficult time for me. Having grown up with all the freedom in the world, it was  suddenly being taken away from me and I grew cynical of my Bohra culture and wanted no part of it. Today, I am happy I decided to leave the fold. It was not hard to leave. In fact, it was liberating. I was not comfortable with the more rigorous path that my community was taking. I am sure there are many other Bohri people out there who are quietly questioning many of the beliefs handed down to them – some so silly, useless, and others very damaging – Bohris must refrain from using Western toilets; Bohris cannot host or attend wedding functions in secular, non-Bohra venues; brides can apply mehndi only an inch below the wrist and cannot hold the traditional “haldi” functions; and all Bohris must carry a RFID photo ID which will monitor attendance to the mosque.

Humanity has achieved such remarkable progress. We have ventured into space, developed cloning and gene editing technologies, and most importantly, the Internet has resulted in globalization and interconnection between various cultures and communities. In this light, I wonder why we are still talking about FGC and the right to choose to do it to our daughters in this day and age? I am thankful that organizations like Sahiyo and We Speak Out have become a voice for children who are being hurt in the name of religion.

I look at my children and I see the most informed, connected, and progressive generation. Imposing impractical, harmful religious rules such as continuing FGM on such a generation will only drive them further from our culture. More and more Bohri women and men are speaking out against this harmful practise because whenever religion becomes too rigid, too corrupt, it begins to crack. My hope is that our community can find the strength to break free from all the rigid practices and once again become the most progressive community among the Muslims.

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Sahiyo participates in Canadian webinar on FGC

On May 23, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) hosted a unique webinar to help Canadian social sector organisations get acquainted with the practice of Female Genital Cutting. As an organisation working to end the practice in India and other Asian countries, Sahiyo was invited to present some of its work during the webinar.

CanWaCH is an Ottawa-based umbrella organisation with a focus on women’s health and gender equity. Its members come from across civil society, research and health sectors. The webinar on May 23 was for CanWaCH’s member organisations as well as the wider public, and it aimed to stimulate greater participation from Canadian NGOs, charities and institutions in the global movement to end FGC. Through presentations by various global organisations already working in the field of ending FGC, the webinar focused on sharing knowledge and best practices with the audience.

 

Participants included Anne-Marie Kamanye and Peter Nguura from Amref, a CanWaCH member organisation that has anti-FGC programmes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; Jenna Richards from Orchid Project, a UK-based organisation that supports anti-FGC partners in Senegal, Kenya and India, among others; Aarefa Johari from Sahiyo; and Alissa Koski from McGill University in Canada. Sahiyo shared information about the key elements required in an individual or organisation’s efforts to end FGC. Koski discussed the methods and challenges of conducting monitoring and evaluation of anti-FGC programmes.

Sahiyo to be a part of a new global movement for progressive Muslims

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From September 29 to October 1, at a unique convention held in Tunisia, more than a dozen progressive Muslim organisations from around the world came together to create a new global movement: the Alliance of Inclusive Muslims, or AIM for short.

AIM and its founding conference were spearheaded by Muslims for Progressive Values, a transnational advocacy organisation, and the convention was attended by a range of other liberal Muslim organisations from Malaysia, Tunisia, Pakistan, USA, Canada, Argentina, Burundi, Somalia, Kenya, Netherlands, Germany and more. Sahiyo co-founder Aarefa Johari also attended the AIM convention.

AIM has been founded as an umbrella organisation that will strengthen and promote the voices and work of progressive Muslim organisations that are working to end various human rights violations and structural violence carried out in the name of Islam. AIM’s founding principles are Human Rights and Dignity for All, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of and from Religion and Belief.

On the bedrock of these principles, the AIM coalition will work against radicalism within Islam, violence against women and other human rights abuses, as well as Islamophobia.

To learn more about AIM, click here.

 

FGM/C is neither beneficial nor relevant to modern times. Let’s end it

By Ali Asghar Akhtar

Country: Canada

Age: 33

I recently came to know about something very prehistoric (well I am not being overdramatic, but it was truly shocking for me).

We are living in a digital, global, mobilized world where everyday living dynamics are being challenged and improved. Changes in technology, social norms, cultures, historic traditions and even daily mundane rituals have been drastic and entire paradigms have shifted. We term these changes as “progress”.

However, when I recently learned that FGM/C (Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting) is still prevalent in today’s “modern era”, I was very surprised and shocked. I learned that FGC was still happening from one of my cousins living in the United States of America, who is a subject matter expert in this area. She told me that FGM is still practiced and that in fact in our community, many are very proud to keep our “traditions alive”. When I delved further on this subject, allowing for a benefit of doubt that it might be beneficial medically for women (as certain learning through religious teachings/beliefs have proved to be beneficial for mankind over the course of history), I learned that this practice has NO significant relevance medically or in terms of religion. This is simply a non-relevant practice which has traditionally been followed over the decades without any benefits.

I was again very surprised to learn that no support group had ever challenged this unrealistic tradition until recently when a small group named SAHIYO was formed. I support this group to work towards ending this irrational and illogical tradition which should be banned. Continuous progress only happens when certain traditions are constantly reviewed, challenged, and improved. Progress is not limited to tangible outcomes. Social change and progress happen when attitudes change to help end harmful practices.

I humbly request everyone who reads this snippet of information on FGM/C to become part of this organization and help Sahiyo stop this non-beneficial tradition. The existence of such bygone social norms is very perplexing to understand and relate to in today’s 21st century. Let’s together work to STOP FGM before it becomes a part of the next generation’s DNA.