My father did not allow khatna to happen to me

By Aiman

Age: 26

Country: United States

I am a 26-year-old Indian female born and raised in the United States. I come from a Dawoodi Bohra family. I only recently found out about khatna, or female genital cutting, when my cousin exposed me to the issue. It came as a shock to find out that this practice had happened to many of the women in my family.

I was overcome with horror and sadness at learning that information. I wondered why khatna hadn’t happened to me. After all, I went to India so many times as a child and stayed with my mother’s family, who supported this practice. Wanting to learn more about it, I decided to reach out to my mother.

My mother told me that at the time it was a very common practice and they all had it done. She also told me that she didn’t know why it was performed. She told me she was mad when it happened to her because it hurt her, but she was not mad at her mother. Her mother didn’t know any better, my mother said, it was tradition and no one questioned it.

My mother went on to tell me that the reason it did not happen to me was because my father was against it, and would not allow it to be done to me. I feel extremely lucky to have such a progressive father, who did not support this practice. But knowing that this has happened to my cousins, in India, and in America, is heartbreaking.

I am in full support of my family members speaking out against the practice and letting the world know that this is not right and should not occur anymore.

I will not let my younger daughter be cut, says a Bohra father

by Hozefa Anik

Age: 40

Country: India

The first time I heard about khatna was some 15-16 years ago, when I was working in Doha, Qatar. I was told that it is a practice prevalent in parts of Egypt, mainly in the villages located in the Nile river basin. The soil of the basin was supposed to be very fertile and had a certain effect on women’s genes, apparently making their clitoris grow ten times bigger than its normal size. Because of this, the women would remain in a constant state of physical arousal – any bodily movement would cause friction and arouse them. To control that, they started cutting the clitoris, which eventually turned into a tradition.

I never thought much about this till, a few years ago, I read about a lady opposing khatna in Australia and discovered that this was being practiced among the Bohras too. And I was against the idea of khatna from the very first time I heard about it. My elder daughter was cut when I was out of India and I was not even informed or consulted.

It is a misfortune that on the one hand, we say that we are advanced and we use the latest gadgets and technology, but on the other hand, we still adhere to age-old rituals and traditions. We are fed such things from childhood, so for us it becomes a way of life and we do not even bother to understand the rights and wrongs. I will give you an example.

When I was in Santo Domingo, we had a live-in maid in our house. She stayed with us during the week and went to her own house on Sundays. One day, I saw her cutting her nails at night and I objected to it, telling her not to do it at night and to try to do it only on Fridays. This was based on the superstition fed to me from childhood that we have to cut nails only on Fridays and never at night. When the maid asked me the reason for this, I was unable to give her a satisfying explanation as I myself am unaware of the logic. I don’t follow it anymore. I cut my nails whenever I want but the problem is I still feel guilty if I cut them at night. This applies not just to Bohras; this is global. Every religion, community, society has some sort of superstitions.

My elder daughter has been cut, but I am not going to do it to my younger daughter. My wife is on board with me about this – we will not let this happen to her.

The Role of Men in Ending FGM in the Bohra Community

By Ammar Karimjee
Age:24
Country: Pakistan
I found out when I was 19. I’d just heard about the practice of female genital mutilation Ammar(FGM) in an Anthropology class, and had dismissed it as something that simply happens in rural African villages. After class, I’d expressed disgust to a friend about it, something along the lines of “Can you believe people still do things like this?” The friend was a fellow member of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who in this moment realized I must not have known.
After she spoke to me about it, I remained in disbelief. I was sure she must be wrong. I reached out to my mom and sister, and after a few in-depth conversations with them, it settled over me. A mix of emotions – anger, frustration, humiliation – all overcame me simultaneously. I didn’t do anything at first, I just needed some time to let it all sink in. After I’d had time to process, I realized I needed to do something.
At first, most of my involvement in my personal anti-FGM campaign came through conversations with people I knew, primarily men. Even in this initial stage, I realized how essential it would be to effectively engage men as part of this movement. Over time, I became involved in a few more formal networks that were also working on this issue, and through these, I’ve had the chance to speak at the United Nations on this issue as well as be a small part of the This American Life podcast a few weeks ago. It’s been an amazing journey to be a part of.
Below, I’ve shared some of the major learnings/thoughts I’ve developed over the last 5 years. I hope it can serve as a way for some of you to help think through this topic. If you have questions, there are a ton of us here to help guide you to the answers. If you’d simply like to talk further about this, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can always contact Sahiyo at info@sahiyo.com to become connected to others working on ending FGM.
Some men don’t want to even engage in the conversation about FGM. Part of this is because they dismiss it as an unimportant issue on face value, but I believe a larger part of this may have to do with the discomfort that comes with talking about the female body and the lack of knowledge that it results in. As men, we do not intuitively understand the female body and biological processes that occur within it. Of course, we never will be able to truly know what being a woman feels like, but by gaining an understanding of how their bodies work, we can begin to have an idea. Naturally, we compare things that happen with a woman to its closest direct male counterpart. As such, we associate FGM, or circumcision as many people chose to incorrectly refer to it as, as the equivalent of male circumcision. This is a dangerous fallacy for men to turn to in their justification. The function of the male penis and a woman’s clitoris are not identical – not even close. Further, the benefits that come from male circumcision are simply not present in FGM. Please, please, please, do your research and understand the impact of this practice. It is terribly important for men to be aware of women’s bodies – not just specifically to be able to understand FGM, but for so many other reasons, health and otherwise.
For the men who were willing to talk about it, one constant held true – they had never talked about it before. Creating a space to have these conversations became an important part of the larger effort to engage men. But the snowball effect definitely holds true. Individual conversations I was leading turned to group conversations I was just a part of. Soon after, conversations started happening without me there at all. Awareness of FGM in the Bohra community has increased exponentially since I started speaking about this issue, especially in the last few months. However, the conversations happening are still dominated by women. It is of course amazing that so many women have started sharing their stories and thoughts. But we still live in a patriarchal context. Religious leaders are still men. Decision makers in families are still largely men.
We – the men – MUST start caring. We don’t have the option to be silent or ambivalent anymore. We can not keep pretending that it isn’t our problem. These are our friends, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, and our wives. Read their stories. Understand what FGM is and how it affects them. Once you do, you’ll be as angry as I am. You won’t want it ever happening to anyone you’re close to. We can’t undo what has already happened to hundreds of thousands in our community – but we CAN prevent it from happening from this day forward.
To men everywhere – Start reading. Start talking. STOP FGM.

Dear daughter, I am sorry you were circumcised

A heartfelt letter from a Bohra father, who wished to remain unnamed, to his grown-up daughter:

Dear Daughter,

Many years ago, I made a mistake. Your mother came to me and said “I’m going to have our daughter circumcised”. I knew nothing about this procedure, assuming that your mother knew best. My ignorance is no excuse for what you went through.

I’ve asked your mother many times since this occurred, why an educated woman who resides in a country where this is illegal subjected her daughter to this practice? I never received a valid reason. Simply saying that “it’s in our religion” is not a good enough answer for me to accept that my daughter went through this.

When I read your account of what happened, my eyes filled with tears. For all of these years I was oblivious to the trauma that you underwent. You were an innocent child. I wonder how many other fathers are in the same position as me – finally learning about this heinous practice and unaware of how their daughters have silently struggled with this for so many years.

I remember the first time I held you in my arms and thought to myself “she’s perfect”. You were my little miracle, after years of wanting a daughter, you finally arrived. I’m sorry that something was removed from you, because there was nothing wrong with you to begin with. I know that it is your upbringing and your strong values that prevent you from sinning and nothing else.

To think that you were only 5 years old, completely oblivious to what was happening to you and frightened, I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to protect you.

Ignorance is never an excuse. Nor is it acceptable to turn a blind eye. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to support the noble cause of finally putting an end to this practice – and ensuring that other fathers become aware of what goes on behind closed doors. A crime against girls, committed by those who love them due to incorrect beliefs and reasons.

One day, when you become a mother, I will stand behind you, like I should have done years ago and ensure that this family’s next generation never has to suffer the way that you did.

All my love,

Dad

Bohra men must speak up to save their daughters from female circumcision

Name: Yusuf
Country: India

The fatwa given during the Zikra majlis by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in favor of female genital cutting dug up the wound that exists in my heart which makes me write this post.

Looking at parts from the audio clip leaked from the majlis, at one point, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin says what translates to English as:

“It must be done. If it is a man, it can be done openly and if it is a woman it must be discreet. But the act must be done. Do you understand what I am saying? Let people say what they want.”

The Syedna made no direct mention of the word “khatna” or “khafz”, but asks that the act be done discreetly for girls so that the community does not get tangled in any legal trouble. He cryptically says, “Do you understand what I am saying?” It was a clear reference to female genital mutilation (FGM). It is obvious that this was in response to the raging debate on FGM that has occurred in public after three Bohras were convicted in Australia for practicing khatna on two minor girls. No one from the clergy has come forward to participate in this debate, and the Syedna in his fatwa said, “We are not willing to talk to anyone on this issue”.

The reason this issue dug up a wound in my heart is that a couple of years ago my daughter was made to undergo this barbaric ritual, against my wishes, under pressure from family elders and the ladies in particular.

A year before my daughter turned seven, my wife told me that when our daughter turns seven we have to do her khatna. Unlike most men in the community, I was aware of what khatna or FGM is and I told her that I will not allow this. I told her this practice was started centuries ago by Bohras who wanted to curb the sexual desire of their women, as they frequently travelled for business.

I told her that there is no scientific/medical basis for khatna or FGM. There is no mention of it in the Quran and that other Muslim sects do not practice it. I even told her that it is illegal in the western world and has been declared a violation of human rights by the United Nations.

What I also did was initiate a discussion within my close Bohra friends group. I raised the issue as to why a girl who doesn’t understand what is going on or what’s being done to her has to go through this, especially when the ones taking her for the cut are people she trusts.

One reply I received from a female friend in the group is etched in my memory. She said, “Would you want your daughter to have multiple sex partners and have extra marital affairs?”

I was taken aback by the reply, particularly as this friend is a well-educated person otherwise! It left me in despair on realizing the extent of falsehoods that have been propagated within the community, with people being brainwashed into believing something as barbaric as khatna, which has no scientific basis and is a violation of human rights. Forcibly doing something that is thought to curb sexual desire is in itself a violation of human rights. If educated young women of the community think in this manner, what to say of the elders who still dominate decision making in the majority of Bohra households?

My wife agreed with me and was reluctant to put our daughter through the horror. She told my mom and her mom that I was against the decision. She was told by both that there would be no argument and that this centuries-old practice has to continue just like how they went through it.

I being the only son, live with my parents. My wife was torn between me on one side and my mother and her mother on the other. Talking to my parents did not help and ended with the usual invocation that it’s a “religious obligation”, Moula, tears, emotions etc.

My wife and I left the matter there hoping that when the time came, we could fake it. But, when my daughter turned seven, my mom said she would accompany us to take our daughter to get her khatna. She wouldn’t let us go alone. She made sure the appointment with a Bohra gynecologist (sigh!) was made.

My daughter was put under the blade. The fault is mine. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough or forceful enough then to prevent that atrocity on my daughter. But, now that there is a perfidious attitude where on one hand there is this fatwa in favor of the practice, while on the other hand, jamaats in Western countries have issued letters telling citizens to refrain from the practice, I thought it is time we men from the community spoke out against it. It is time for Bohra men to be informed about this evil practice and come out against it to save their daughters.

As it is well-known that the consequences of openly raising your voice against the Syedna has dire consequences, it is going to be difficult to get rid of this practice by mobilizing support from within the community. Some people may be against it, but they don’t say it openly.

In my opinion, building support in the larger civil society and legal recourse is the best way to end the practice. Maybe a public interest litigation (PIL) in India will get positive result. There is already a raging debate in India over triple talaq after a lady filed a PIL against it, and it has got larger public attention and support.

I commend the members of Sahiyo who are fighting against FGM. This post is my small contribution in support of their effort for a common good.

~ Written by Yusuf, a guilt-ridden and remorseful father belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community