Bohra Leader Speaks Out on Female Circumcision in India, Again

While he validated ending the practice where it’s illegal, he said that circumcision was a religious obligation.

Updated08 Jun 2016, 01:07 PM IST
4 min read

Clarifying his stance on the issue of female circumcision, a practice common in India’s Bohra community, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohras, has categorically said that the practice of female circumcision ought to be continued in countries where the practice is not against the law yet, including India.

Making his views clear in a press release, the statement also validated the decision of Bohra trusts in other places to end the practice where it’s illegal.

Bohra Leader Upholds Female Circumcision

“These resolutions reflect the repeated directions of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin to respect the law of the land and live as worthy and contributory citizens within prevailing laws,” the press statement said.

Even though the statement legitimised ending the practice where it’s illegal, it did not stop the Syedna from conveniently clarifying that circumcision was a religious obligation for all Bohras.

Male and female circumcision (called khatna and khafz respectively) are religious rites that have been practiced by Dawoodi Bohras throughout history. Religious books, written over a thousand years ago, specify the requirements for both males and females as acts of religious purity.

This is not the first time that the Syedna has spoken out on the much debated issue.

On 25 April 2016, the Syedna in Mumbai, Muffadlal Maula openly exhorted his followers to follow FGM.

The procedure, the procedure, the procedure has to happen! If it is a man, then it is right, it is openly, and if it is a woman then discreetly but it must be done. You understand what I am trying to talk about, you understand properly about. In the man it is open, in women it is secret, but the procedure must be done! Whoever it is, whoever says it.
Syedna Muffadlal Maula, Cleric, Dawoodi Bohras

A bride in a traditional attire after participating in a mass wedding ceremony of the Dawoodi Bohra community. (Photo: Reuters)
A bride in a traditional attire after participating in a mass wedding ceremony of the Dawoodi Bohra community. (Photo: Reuters)

Activists Take A Stand

Although the statement comes as a sign of the Bohra leader breaking his silence on the issue, it’s still not enough for several activists working in the field.

Activists around the world have expressed disappointment with the Syedna’s statement.

I’m disappointed that the Syedna is not willing to listen to the voices of so many Bohra women who have suffered as children, and continue to suffer as adults, and proclaim khafz a practice that is the choice of an adult woman rather than being forced on a young girl.
Zehra Patwa, Member, Speak Out Against FGM

“If there is no compulsion in Islam, then a Muslim must choose to do those things that are prescribed by Islam, not have them forced on them,” she added.

Sahiyo, an Indian organization that has been working to empower Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end genital mutilation, retaliated to the Syedna’s statement on their website.

“We maintain that khafz is a form of gender violence, an unnecessary ritual that has left many Bohra girls and women with life-long psychological and physical scars. We will continue our campaign to bring an end to this practice of khafz within the community. We urge our leader to engage with Bohra women who have been negatively impacted by this practice and pay heed to our voices.”
Ending female genital mutilation in India. (Photo: <a href="">Sahiyo</a>)
Ending female genital mutilation in India. (Photo: Sahiyo)

Ending female genital mutilation in India. (Photo: <a href="">Sahiyo</a>)
Ending female genital mutilation in India. (Photo: Sahiyo)

India’s Well Kept Secret

The Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim sect in India has been practising female genital mutilation on its young girls for a long time. The community, however, refers to this not as mutilation, but circumcision.

In the procedure, young girls are stripped from the waist down, while a woman cuts her clitoris, all without anesthesia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. 
A Dawoodi Bohra Muslim bride in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)
A Dawoodi Bohra Muslim bride in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)

In march this year, women of the Dawoodi Bohra in the country, decided to launch a crusade against the regressive practice through a petition.

Internationally, anjumans, or trusts have been issuing letters asking their followers to stop practicing female circumcision. At least 20 anjumans in countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have followed suit.

In the absence of legal intervention, the Dawoodi Bohra community continues to practice female genital mutilation.

The Syedna’s comments don’t help the cause.

Hence, the question regarding banning the ‘procedure’ in the community in India remains relevant.

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Published: 07 Jun 2016, 03:47 PM IST

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