Bohra men must speak up to save their daughters from female circumcision
The fatwa given during the Zikra majlis by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in favour of female circumcision dug up the wound that still exists in my heart and eventually made me write this post.
Listening to parts of the audio clip leaked from the majlis, at one point, 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 the pressure of 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 added that there is no scientific/medical basis for khatna or FGM. There is no mention of it in the Holy Quran and other Muslim sects do not practice it. I even informed her that it is illegal in the western world and has been declared a violation of human rights by the United Nations.
I also initiated a discussion within my close Bohra friends circle. I raised the issue as to why a girl who doesn’t understand 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 realising 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, no religious basis and is a violation of human rights was acceptable. 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 can we say about the elders who still dominate decision making in a majority of Bohra households?
My wife agreed with me and was reluctant to put our daughter through the horror. She told our mothers that I was against the decision. Yet in return, she was told that there would be no argument and this centuries-old practice had to continue, just like 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 is 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 protect my daughter from this atrocity. But, now that there is a perfidious attitude where on one hand there is this fatwa in favour 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 openly raising your voice against the Syedna has dire consequences, it is going to be difficult to get rid of this practice by mobilising support from within the community. Some people may be against it, but they are not open about it.
In my opinion, building support in the larger civil society and legal recourse is the best way to end the practice. Maybe Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India will get a positive result. There is already a raging debate in India over triple talaq (divorce) after a lady filed a PIL against it, and it has gained 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.
This post originally appeared here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.