My decision as a mother to not cut my daughters

By Masuma Kothari

Country of Residence: United Kingdom

A vivid memory of my cut has lived through so many years that I can recall the entire act. This experience always intrigued me and it did lead me to the insights of child psychology as to how tender a 7-year-old is. Even though my personal experience was not very excruciating, I clearly remember the sense of betrayal, and it never went away.

women-meditating-at-sunset_800

I was never convinced with the benefits theory that was proclaimed, and honestly, nobody really knew at a deeper level the real reason to follow this practice when I sought guidance. Because of the social influence, it was apparent that herd mentality, unexposed details, unquestioned thoughts promoted this practice.

When my elder daughter was near the age, I had to figure out for myself if my daughter should also be cut. It felt as if I had Godlike power to alter something natural belonging to my daughter’s body forever, and that did not feel right. For me, the decision was a chaotic fight between the cultural beliefs and the scientific quest. I reached out to a few of my doctor family members to understand if there was any scientific aspect. All of them discouraged the practice. That is when the light in my heart beamed strong.

I chose courage and discussed this openly within my group of Bohra friends. Surprisingly, I found most of the women were also against it and this strengthened my defiance! In fact, my mother secretly regretted having the practice done to me, too.

I was sure I did not want to take away what God had bestowed on my daughters. With this clarity, I announced it to my family that we won’t be conducting this on our daughters. One additional powerful advantage was that we resided in the United Kingdom. Since it is a criminal offence here, it was an easy argument to assure a few of our noisy family members back in India.  Because we as parents were strong, nobody really questioned or bothered to enforce this. It was simply about standing up for what we thought to be correct.

My husband was firm from day one that he was not willing to get this done for our daughters, yet he had given me the ownership of making this decision in case I was convinced that it had to be done. My decision scale had a chunky weight on anti-FGM, which was also a major influence in my decision to not cut my daughters.

There is absolutely no need to do this. If you are a parent struggling with the obligation to have this done, just say no to this age-old trauma-enabling practice and move on guilt- free with loud pride that you have made the right choice.

We need a Bohra Revolution

By: M Bohra

Age: 23
Country: United Kingdom

The ongoing investigation into Dawoodi Bohra doctors engaging in khatna, or female genital cutting (FGC), and the community leadership’s ambivalence regarding this practice, have once again brought up unanswered questions. What message is the leadership in India sending to the Bohra community when it disowns the doctors’ acts, not for their irreligiosity, but for their illegality in the West? Must the Bohra leadership accept the legal and moral responsibility of promoting khatna, especially since they advocate travelling to countries without FGM laws to continue this practice? Or can we expect them to continue throwing their misinformed, fanatical and grovelling followers under the bus to save themselves?

Many Bohris, in the privacy of their friends and families, will complain about the strict social norms that regulate every act of our lives within the community: where we pray, what we wear, who we do business with, what our family roles are, who we befriend, what we say, how we dissent, how we think. These criticisms are kept out of the community arena by the authoritarian diktats of the leadership. They hold the power to socially boycott (which, for many community-linked businesses is linked to economic loss), extort money for officiating religious ceremonies (including permitting travel to the Hajj pilgrimage), and even denying burial in Bohra cemeteries. While we continue to chafe under this authoritarian religious regime, however, we must acknowledge our own prejudices.

Bohris, despite all evidence, believe that we are God’s chosen people. We consider ourselves not only superior to non-Muslims (which is a broader Islamic problem), but even non-Bohra Muslims. We call our own community “mumineen” (the believers), and the others “musalmaan”. Even other Shia groups are generally only respected during the first ten days of Muharram, when we enthusiastically join our “Shia brothers” in the Ashura processions and sermons, only to exclude them from our lives on the eleventh day. We consider our mosques cleaner, our prayers more spiritual, and even our cemeteries as somehow more special. We are “blessed” to be ruled by tyrants, who guarantee us a heavenly afterlife in exchange for worldly money.

Are we surprised that the leadership continues to promote a domesticated and desexualised ideal for our women, when it promotes a passive and unintellectual ideal for our men? It is important to remember that their power comes from our submissiveness, which is the result of our own prejudices. We need to introspect and question the foundations of our own biases. What is unclean about a non-Bohra mosque? What is inappropriate about performing the Hajj without being led by a Bohra priest? What is the problem with marrying outside the community? Can Bohra women question the religiously-sanctioned ideal of making rotis and handicrafts confined to their homes? Why do we have to control women’s sexuality through physical means, but not men’s? If the current system is broken and cannot be reformed, are we ready to create new religious and social spaces with other disillusioned Bohris? Can we create new inclusive and non-hierarchical spaces to end religious dogmatism, bring financial accountability, provide spiritual healing and engage in progressive social reform without prejudice?

Here’s a little history lesson to conclude this piece. The office of Dai Al-Mutlaq, which is currently held through hereditary means by Mufaddal Saifuddin, is not the same as the position of the Imam, who is considered as the rightful spiritual and political successor of the Prophet in all Shia traditions. The first Dai was appointed by Arwa Al – Sulayhi, a long-reigning queen in Yemen, as a vicegerent (deputy) for the young Imam At-Tayyib. The succession of Dais was not always hereditary, and was likely based on spiritual and political merit. Increasing persecution drove the leadership to settle in Western India, where they were welcomed by a community of religious converts. Note how the position of the Dai was created by a powerful woman ruler (who probably wasn’t told to make rotis and handicrafts), not as a hereditary office, and owed its continuity to the goodwill of the new community of Bohris in India. Over the centuries, the leadership has forgotten who was in charge. It’s time for a reminder.

 

I was stripped of many things the day I was cut

(First published on January 23, 2016) 

by Mariya Ali

Age: 32

Country: United Kingdom

I have very few memories of my childhood, but one memory in particular stands out and haunts me to this day. Unfortunately, it’s a vivid, painful memory and fills me with anger when I recall it.

I was five years old when my mother and aunt took my cousin and I on an “excursion”. I remember sitting in a car and approaching an unfamiliar block of apartments. I was confused; I didn’t know where I was and what I was doing there. Despite my seemingly endless young imagination, I could never have anticipated what happened to me next.

I walked into a small apartment with a cramped living room at the end of a very short corridor. There was a dampness in the air and a slight smell from the poor ventilation. I approached the living room and sat on the floor. It was a warm day and I watched the net curtains of the large window slowly move with the breeze. I had been greeted by an old lady, whose face I can’t remember. I didn’t recognise her and was confused as to why I was currently in her apartment. I watched as she walked out of the room. I peered inquisitively into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of her heating a knife on the stove. I was always told to stay away from sharp knives at that age. Knives were dangerous. I could hurt myself. I remember the open flame on the stove and seeing the silver of the metal and the black handle of the knife while I watched her quickly hold it over the naked flame. She approached the living room with the knife in her hand, trying to conceal it behind her. She approached me.

My mother asked me to remove my underwear. I remember saying no; I didn’t want a strange woman to see me without my underwear on. My mother assured me it would be okay; I trusted her and did as she asked. The old lady told me that she wanted to check something in my private area and asked me to open my legs. I was so young that I wasn’t scared at that time. I was confused, but not scared. I was innocently oblivious to how invasive and inappropriate this situation was and so I obediently did as I was told.

I remember a sharp pain. An agonising pain. A pain that I can still vividly remember today. So intense that I still have a lump in my throat when I recall that moment. I instantly started sobbing, from pain, shock, confusion and fear. My next memory is that of blood. More blood than I had ever seen, suddenly gushing out from my most intimate area. I still didn’t comprehend what had just happened to me. I had believed that aunty when she had told me that she was checking something. I was young and naive enough to believe that people don’t lie and this was my first encounter when I realised that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. In so many ways I was stripped of many things on that day. My rosy outlook on life, my childhood innocence, my right to dictate what happens to my body and my faith in my mother not harming me. I continued to cry, the pain was excruciating and the sight of the blood traumatised me. I was given a sweet and comforted by my mother.  The events after that are still hazy and my next clear memory is that of being back in the car and staring through teary eyes at the apartment building disappear as we drove away.

Over the years I repressed this memory. There was no need to recall it. It was never spoken about and I still remained unaware of what transpired that day. A decade later, I was amongst some of my female friends. The topic of Female Genital Mutilation came up, or as I was to discover that day, “khatna”, a Bohra ritual performed on young girls. Hearing their recollections of what had happened to them, I finally realised that this is what had happened to me that day.

I was mutilated.

Thankfully for me, I had a lucky escape. The unskilled, uneducated woman who barbarically cut me did not cause me too much physical damage. Emotionally and mentally, there are many repercussions. I have a deep phobia of blood and a simmering resentment that my mother chose for this to happen to me. Although my mother believed that she was acting in my best interest, I struggle to come to terms with the fact that I was so barbarically violated.

It may have been just a pinch of skin, but it was a part of me, a part of my femininity and a part of my womanhood.

Notices by Sydney, Melbourne and London’s Anjuman-e-Burhani Trusts on ‘Khafd’ (Khatna) or Female Genital Cutting

On 8th February, 2016, the Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust of Sydney held a meeting and on 9th

February, a notice was released to all members of the Dawoodi Bohra community in their jurisdiction to honour the laws of the land in which they reside and, accordingly, instructed them to refrain from carrying out the practice of ‘khafd’ or ‘khatna’ (also known as female genital cutting) on their daughters.

In their statement, the Sydney jamaat quoted the Prophet Mohammed Rasulullah (SAW) to ask the community members to respect the laws of their respective countries, like they would their religion, in the lines below:

“Hubbul watan minal imaan”, which means “love of the land of abode is part of faith.”

The Sydney jamaat also informed the community that ‘khafd’ or ‘khatna’ is classified as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) under section 45 of the Crimes Act of NSW and that the practice would ‘…be interpreted to fall within the specific laws in relation to FGM in other states or territories of the Commonwealth of Australia.’ Clearly stating that ‘khafd’ is illegal, irrespective of the place where where it is carried out, Australia or overseas, community members are advised in the strictest terms to not engage in this illegal act. (Letter can be accessed on the Sydney jamaat website: http://www.sydneyjamaat.com/site/login)

This was followed by another notice on 10th February by Melbourne’s Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust, which was along the same lines as Sydney.

Melbourne Resolution pic
Letter to Melbourne jamaat by the Anjuman-e-Saifee (Melbourne)

On 13th February, the London Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust held an ‘extraordinary’ meeting, whereby they passed a resolution instructing all community members to follow in the footsteps of their Australian brothers and sisters and abstain from the act of ‘khafd’. In line with Australia, they quoted the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq, HH Dr Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin (TUS), who used the Prophet’s words

to drive the message home, and emphasized on the seriousness of the crime of performing FGM on a minor which has resulted in the conviction of three (3) members of Dawoodi Bohra community in Australia by the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

In their statement to community members, they have highlighted the new guidelines on Safeguarding Children from female genital mutilation (October 2015) and said in no uncertain terms that ‘khafd’ is against England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003 and Scotland’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2005. **Also, on the website of the Home Office and the Department of Education, UK government, there are guidelines on Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information (October 2015), which, unfortunately, has not been mentioned in the statement released by London’s Anjuman-e-Burhani.

A welcome step and wise decision, indeed, by our community leaders from Sydney, Melbourne and London. However, it is surprising to note, like Dilshad Tavawalla did in her blog on 17th February  that “All men in the forum were present to reflect, interact and deliberate about the very personal, private, delicate, sensitive, traumatic and grave issue of “Khafz” (Khafd) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) impacting the lives, physical and psychological integrity, and general well-being of thousands of Dawoodi Bohra girl children and women.” And, she asks a most pertinent question that is on all our minds:

“Why no women?”

In addition, all these statements come as a shock due to the contradictory nature of the fact that the practice of ‘khafd’ finds mention in the Dawoodi Bohra community 3-volume  publication called ‘Sahifa’ (picture attached of the Ninth Print edition: August 2013) that is published by the Aljamea-Tus-Saifiyah – Academy of the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, HH Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.  In the book, as pointed out by Ms Tavawalla in her blog on 16th February, “the passage enjoins the performance of ‘khafd’ or Female Genital Mutilation on Dawoodi Bohra girls at the age of seven (7) years and the recommended extent and manner for performing it.”

Sahifa – Published by ALJAMEA-TUS-SAIFIYAH – Academy of 52nd al-DAI-AL-MUTLAQ These are editions in Ninth Print: August 2013 (Eid ul Fitr – 1434H). Three (3) volumes.
Sahifa – Published by ALJAMEA-TUS-SAIFIYAH – Academy of 52nd al-DAI-AL-MUTLAQ. These are editions in 9th Print: August 2013 (Eid ul Fitr – 1434H). Three (3) volumes.

It is clear that despite these statements counseling against the practice, not all Dawoodi Bohras subscribe to the decision made by the jamaats of Sydney, Melbourne and London. I will direct you to the 17th February blog of a Dawoodi Bohra woman named  Rashida Mustafa, who passionately advocates for the practice in the name of tradition.  It is truly disturbing to read someone argue in favour of a violent ritual that can leave little girls with terrible and indelible, lifelong scars. Even so, it is obvious from the sacntimonious tenor of Rashida Mustafa’s  blog that the letters from any of three jamaats – Sydney, Melbourne and London never reached her attention.  As Dilshad Tavawalla says in her blog, Rashida Mustafa must “[…] be afraid – very afraid, […]”. The laws in UK, USA and Canada considers anyone who aids, abets or counsels the carrying out of FGM to be a party to the offence, and hence punishable under those respective countries’ laws (even in countries where the practice is legal, according to the FGM Act, 2003, in the UK).

And, last but not least, there remains the big question of eliminating this practice in India – home to the vast majority of Dawoodi Bohras – and where there is no law per se against ‘khafd’.**

What can we expect from our learned brethren at the Anjuman-e-Shiate Ali, which administers and conducts all affairs of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Mumbai? Can we hope that a notice in line with the praiseworthy and proactive statements against ‘khafd,’ like those released by the Sydney, Melbourne and London jamaats (all based in countries where there are strong laws banning FGM/C), will follow suit?

NB: In a recent article by Anahita Mukherji from the Times of India published on 25th February one can read about the existing laws that can be used against ‘khatna’ in India. Noted lawyers Dilshad Tavawalla and Flavia Agnes were quoted in the article and they pointed out specific sections in the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) that can be used for the purpose of taking a case to court.


Give us your feedback on the Sydney, Melbourne and London jamaat notices on ‘khafd’ by writing to us at info@sahiyo.com or tell us what you think of Rashida Mustafa’s blog! We would like to hear your views on any of these topics, especially if you feel strongly about the resolutions released by the London, Sydney or Melbourne jamaats, and would like a similar statement to be put out to the Dawoodi Bohra community in India and elsewhere.

Mariya Ali – London Bohra Resident – “Last Generation to Lose a Pinch of Our Skin”

By Mariya Ali

I was born and raised in London, England and have been a lifelong member of the London Jamaat. Although FGM has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985, myself and many other girls have been subjected to this barbaric ritual, despite it being outlawed.

After the Australian court case and subsequent convictions for circumcising two minor girls, the Sydney Jamaat issued a notice urging followers not to circumcise their daughters in Australia or abroad. On February 15th, the London Jamaat followed suit and issued a similar notice.

The letter, similar in wording to the one that was issued by the Sydney Jamaat, points out that Islam mandates that its followers be loyal, contributing citizens who abide by the law of the land in which they reside.

Despite the UK law explicitly stating that it is illegal to take a UK citizen outside of the UK for the purpose of circumcision, I know of many minors who were circumcised while abroad. It is important to note that this has also been addressed by the letter issued by the London Jamaat. It states that “You must not take your children outside UK for purpose of khafd as that is equally prohibited by law”.

The London Jamaat is the first Jamaat after Sydney to publicly discourage followers from performing this procedure on girls. Although this is a huge step in the right direction, the notice that was issued does not condemn the practice itself, but rather it discourages followers from breaking the law.

As a woman who has undergone this barbaric ritual, and on behalf of all of the other women who have suffered, do suffer and continue to suffer, I hope that this is the first of many Jamaats to follow suit and finally stamp out this practice. I thank the decision makers of the London Jamaat for taking this step and I sincerely hope that my generation is the last generation to lose a pinch of our skin.

It was a part of me…part of my womanhood…

(Trigger Warning: The story below is a powerfully, vivid account of one woman’s memory of FGC. We are grateful to her for sharing with us the details of her experience)

By Mariya Ali

Country: United Kingdom

I have very few memories of my childhood, but one memory in particular stands out and haunts me to this day. Unfortunately, it’s a vivid, painful memory and fills me with anger when I recall it.

I was five years old when my mother and aunt took my cousin and I on an “excursion”. I remember sitting in a car and approaching an unfamiliar block of apartments. I was confused; I didn’t know where I was and what I was doing there. Despite my seemingly endless young imagination, I could never have anticipated what happened to me next.

I walked into a small apartment with a cramped living room at the end of a very short corridor. There was a dampness in the air and a slight smell from the poor ventilation. I approached the living room and sat on the floor. It was a warm day and I watched the net curtains of the large window slowly move with the breeze. I had been greeted by an old lady, whose face I can’t remember. I didn’t recognise her and was confused as to why I was currently in her apartment. I watched as she walked out of the room. I peered inquisitively into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of her heating a knife on the stove. I was always told to stay away from sharp knives at that age. Knives were dangerous. I could hurt myself. I remember the open flame on the stove and seeing the silver of the metal and the black handle of the knife while I watched her quickly hold it over the naked flame. She approached the living room with the knife in her hand, trying to conceal it behind her. She approached me.

My mother asked me to remove my underwear. I remember saying no; I didn’t want a strange woman to see me without my underwear on. My mother assured me it would be okay; I trusted her and did as she asked. The old lady told me that she wanted to check something in my private area and asked me to open my legs. I was so young that I wasn’t scared at that time. I was confused, but not scared. I was innocently oblivious to how invasive and inappropriate this situation was and so I obediently did as I was told.

I remember a sharp pain. An agonising pain. A pain that I can still vividly remember today. So intense that I still have a lump in my throat when I recall that moment. I instantly started sobbing, from pain, shock, confusion and fear. My next memory is that of blood. More blood than I had ever seen, suddenly gushing out from my most intimate area. I still didn’t comprehend what had just happened to me. I had believed that aunty when she had told me that she was checking something. I was young and naive enough to believe that people don’t lie and this was my first encounter when I realised that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. In so many ways I was stripped of many things on that day. My rosy outlook on life, my childhood innocence, my right to dictate what happens to my body and my faith in my mother not harming me. I continued to cry, the pain was excruciating and the sight of the blood traumatised me. I was given a sweet and comforted by my mother.  The events after that are still hazy and my next clear memory is that of being back in the car and staring through teary eyes at the apartment building disappear as we drove away.

Over the years I repressed this memory. There was no need to recall it. It was never spoken about and I still remained unaware of what transpired that day. A decade later, I was amongst some of my female friends. The topic of Female Genital Mutilation came up, or as I was to discover that day, “khatna”, a bohra ritual performed on young girls. Hearing their recollections of what had happened to them, I finally realised that this is what had happened to me that day.

I was mutilated.

Thankfully for me, I had a lucky escape. The unskilled, uneducated woman who barbarically cut me did not cause me too much physical damage. Emotionally and mentally, there are many repercussions. I have a deep phobia of blood and a simmering resentment that my mother chose for this to happen to me. Although my mother believed that she was acting in my best interest, I struggle to come to terms with the fact that I was so barbarically violated.

It may have been just a pinch of skin, but it was a part of me, a part of my femininity and a part of my womanhood.