‘Can I Check Your Khatna?’

by Anonymous

Age: 32
Country: Bahrain

One of my male cousins married a lady who is not Bohra and not Muslim. He had a court marriage with her in the country where he resides, while his mom (my aunt), lived in Bahrain. For the sake of his mom’s happiness, he decided to get a nikah done by the bhai saab of the Bahrain Dawoodi Bohra masjid.

When my aunt went to this bhai saab to inquire about what needs to be done and how to go about it, the bhai saab told her that the girl should have ‘sunnat’ done to her. Meaning, khatna. How creepy! Being a man and asking that a young girl’s genitals be cut. My aunt was really irritated by this but she said nothing. She decided that she’d just go back to the bhai saab a few days later and tell him that it was done, without actually doing it of course, and sparing her daughter-in-law the trauma and humiliation.

When my aunt went back to the bhai saab to say it was done, guess what he said this time? He said that the ben saab (his wife) would need to check that it was done to the bride. Yes! He actually said that his wife would have to check a grown woman’s genitals to make sure she had undergone the process of female genital cutting.

Needless to say, my aunt was enraged by now and my cousin dropped the idea of getting the nikah done by the Bohra masjid in Bahrain. According to my cousin, this happened in either 2011 or 2012.

Female genital cutting or khatna, as it is known in the Dawoodi Bohra community, is already rampant and is done to girls as young as 6 years old, without their consent. This in itself is horrifying. It is sexual abuse and child abuse.

But to ask a grown adult woman who isn’t from your community or religion that she needs to undergo a process that’s traumatizing, humiliating, and completely unnecessary, JUST so she can be a part of the community, and as if the khatna is the only thing that makes us Bohra this borders on cult behaviour! As if getting khatna done is the way for the bride to prove that she will do anything to be a part of the community ‘legally by nikah’ (even though they are already legally married). But what’s more disgusting is that the bhai saab had the gall to ask that his wife check whether the girl’s khatna was done or not.

Sometimes I wonder if these priests even know what they’re asking, and how would they like it if the situation were reversed? Would they be willing to show their private parts to a higher priest to check if they were circumcised properly when they were children? Or show their private parts for any other reason, to someone who is not even a medical professional, just a high ranking person within the community?

No, right? Then how can they ask that for a woman?

And then the bigger question:

What does this have to do with the girl’s nikah or being a part of the community? Nothing. It has nothing to do with it. They could have asked my cousin sister-in-law to recite something, or done any other simple ritual like the misaaq (which just involves answering a few questions and confirming that you’ll be a part of the community, follow its rules, etc) that doesn’t involve having any part of her body cut, let alone a part of her clitoris! How dare you think you have any right over a woman’s body and what has to be done to it?

The thought that angers me the most is that this story has only just reached my ears now. Other Bohras probably don’t even know about the creepy thing this bhai saab demanded, or about the fact that my aunt didn’t get enraged and yell at him for asking such a thing for her daughter-in-law. It also angers me that so many other Bohras would have probably still continued to follow his words even if they came to know of this story.

A priest from your community should NOT be telling you that the women in your community need to have their genitals cut. And if they are, why would you still listen to another word they’re saying or follow any other advice they’re giving you? I’m sure you have a capable enough brain and conscience to know what’s right and wrong, and to act upon it. It’s high time you stop letting bhai saabs get away with things like this.



Why I am a proud supporter of Sahiyo

By: Anonymous

Age: 38
Country: India

As a Dawoodi Bohra woman, I am proud of Sahiyo and the work it is doing.

Because I am tired of people assuming that we as Muslim women are hapless victims that need to be rescued from their Islamic cultures steeped in orthodoxy and patriarchal traditions. Or that we are consenting participants in our own oppression and so self absorbed that we cannot look beyond our homes, families and ourselves.

It is because of Sahiyo that I can feel proud of my roots again and be aware that there are responsibilities that come with the privilege that we have gained as a community in society. And that change begins with oneself.

I am proud that Sahiyo is reminding us to think and act for ourselves and uphold the true spirit of Islam – reason, justice, fairness and benevolence.

It is high time that Dawoodi Bohra women speak out fearlessly against patriarchal censorship within the community.

Whenever Muslim women raise their voices they are accused of playing into orientalist projects or the Hindu right.

When will you stop suspecting our motives and listen to what we have to say?

I think Sahiyo is reminding us to put our liberal education and economic freedoms to the right use. To speak up so that mindsets of our brothers and sisters change and our coming generations make true progress.

Let us not be known as women who quietly suffered from the practice of khafz and looked the other way when our sisters and daughters suffered too. Let us not be known as women who unquestioningly perpetuated the practice on our young girls. Rather let us be known as women who questioned a harmful practice, putting an end to it to begin a new chapter for themselves and the community for generations to come.


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.

‘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.

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.

The story of my start to the holy month of Ramzan

by Insia Dariwala, Sahiyo

Ramzan — the time of peace, love, and prayers; a time for family gatherings, breaking fasts together and collectively praying for individual good, and the good of all in this world.

Unfortunately, this Ramzan is showing me exactly the opposite, as I see the entire Bohra community (well almost), rising up to bring us down, in the guise of reinstating religious freedom.

Over the past few days, as this circus on social media unveiled, I have been inundated with text messages, phone calls and emails about how Sahiyo is being talked about at every community gathering. We are being called names, our personal lives are being attacked, our religious loyalties are being questioned, and anyone who speaks for us is being targeted with a lot of viciousness.

Many of those who speak for us have come back to us feeling saddened and helpless. Helpless because they want to stand up to the bullying, but are very afraid of the verbal attacks on their parents, on their relatives, and other family members. They are afraid of the humiliation, of the subtle ostracism, and the backlash from their jamaats, so they choose to stay anonymous.

Anonymity has its own comfort. It allows you to speak up. It allows you to have a voice, and that’s exactly why we have so many girls and women who have chosen to let go of their right to be visible, only to stand up against this practice. They choose to live the duality of having a voice, and yet pretend they are voiceless, because that is the only way they will be accepted into the fold.

For these very reasons, when I am asked why I, or my other Sahiyo girls, are not responding to the ‘Sahiyo is not my voice’ campaign against us, my answer to them is very simple — we never ever claimed to be anyone’s voice. We just made space for the women who wanted to have a voice. Why then are all these people feeling so threatened?

It amuses me to see how a few voices of dissent could become such a big threat to an entire community. I am also amused to see the kind of efforts put into creating content to beat us up, acquiring social media handles, blocking our social media handles, and going to such great lengths to reinforce their identity.

It’s sad to see how our attackers are just dismissing what so many women went through after they were cut. This backlash is exactly what prevents survivors of any trauma to share their stories. The pain endured may or may not have been the same for all, but the shame which they are being put through for speaking up about it, is the same.

Unfortunately, it also reminds me of what so many survivors of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and rape go through. It’s always the fault of the one who went through it.

“She should have shut up.”

“She should have been clothed more appropriately.”

“She should have never disobeyed her husband.”

And so the cacophony of society’s empty culture and tradition continues.

Would it be safe to then say this has nothing to do with ours or anybody else’s religious beliefs? Would it also be safe to say that it’s disheartening to see, how an entire community’s faith rests on what’s cut between a girl’s legs? Is faith so weak, that it requires to be enforced through archaic and harmful traditions carried out thousands of years ago? Is it so weak that one needs to resort to bullying, and exploitation, in order to sustain its own existence?

This message is for all the women who want this practice to continue — You can hate us all you want, and trick yourself into believing that you are doing this for your religion. But no religion practices hate. No religion asks you to put someone down to look good. No religion asks you to hurt, humiliate, threaten, and isolate someone who has a different point of view. Religion is what you ‘are’, not what you ‘pretend’ to be. It is about forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the ability to reach out and accept.  

Today, as you pray while breaking your fast, do ask yourselves, Am I all of this? Then and only then, will it truly be the month of Ramzan.

I underwent Female Genital Cutting in a hospital in Rajasthan

(Trigger Warning: Below is the account of one woman’s experience with FGC. We thank her for being brave and sharing her story with us)

By: Jamila Mandsour

Age: 25
Country of Residence: Kuwait
Country where Khatna took place: Banswara in Rajasthan, India

That day, I was taken to the hospital to see my newborn cousin. Although the mom, my aunt, and her baby boy were already discharged, my mom told me they were still there. I was five and so very excited to see the baby. My excitement crashed when I was thrown into a dark room and a nurse put me on a stretcher. I screamed and was slapped on my face. My voice was silenced. After ten minutes, I came out of the room wounded and in tears.

I had no idea what happened to me in those ten minutes because I fainted. I was partly aware that a knife had been held towards my genitals, but a five-year-old does not have the guts to ask the adults why she was thrown into a dark room. My brain did not have the ability to understand that my legs were spread to cut some skin from my clitoris. After coming out of the room, I was not aware of that injury and could not understand why I was bleeding.

Since childhood, I have been an active person, always running from here to there. But on that day, after leaving the hospital, I was totally exhausted from the crying and yelling because of the pain that knife had caused me. I went home and slept, not waking until the evening. Upon awaking, I saw that blood on my mattress and finally, I asked my aunties (my mother’s sisters) why I bled. I don’t remember any of them answering me. They told me not to wear my underwear for the rest of the day. Even at that young age, I felt awkward about going without my underwear. I wanted to rise from my bed, to run around and do my daily somersaults, but I could not because of my injuries. For the next few days, I couldn’t even walk properly.

That day left a mark on my memory forever. After a few days, I returned to my regular daily routine. Not thinking about that day until eight years had passed and my sister suffered through the same thing I did. I was thirteen then, and I can recall her sad face, filled with pain, asking me the question, “Why was I cut?”  

What could I say to her? I had no answer to give her and it broke my heart. For the second time in my life, I went through the same emotional pain and felt helpless, keeping mum on the subject. An invisible hand had slapped me once again with the reality of what I and my sister had undergone. Even now at this moment, while I write this story of mine, chills run down my spine.

In my 20s, for the first time in my life, I really tried to find answers to my question of why we were cut. I got no answers. One thing I was sure about: it shouldn’t have happened to me in the manner that it did, even if the religious authorities had deemed it valid.

Even today, not many want to talk about this hideous act, but every pain has a scream and on some days the pain reaches out and my scream is loud. In time I did get answers, but I still wonder why the community practices this ritual when there is nothing reasonable about it. Out of a hundred women, I think ninety-eight would either not know of any scientific or religious reason to perform it, or would say they do not want to discuss it with others. If some women are adamant about being silent and feel guilty about speaking about khatna, then I wonder why they make sure their kids undergo it?

I don’t know how, to sum up this article. One thing I know is that khatna is painful, it is harsh, torturing, shattering, and heart-breaking. It affects the sexuality of women and causes emotional and mental suffering (this is true in my case).

While writing this piece, I couldn’t control the tears flowing down my face, as it expressed my pain. I request all of you who read this story of mine, please stop practicing khatna. One piece of skin should not decide the character of your daughter. Please be sensible about what happens to your baby girl.