Can Brutality be God’s Will? Bohra Cleric Syedna Favours FGM
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or “khatna” is a practice in which a part of the clitoris of young girls, often aged between 6 to 8 years old, is cut off in a crude, and unhygienic manner – and that too, without anesthesia.
In India, FGM is practiced among the Bohra Muslim community, who have a population of over 1 million in India. A women’s collective within the community, ‘Speak Out on FGM’ wrote two letters to
the Syedna in Mumbai, the religious head of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims in
India, asking him to put an end to FGM within the community. The Syedna
hadn’t commented on FGM, or the criticism against the practice.
On 25 April 2016, the Syedna in Mumbai, Muffadlal Maula openly exhorted his followers to follow FGM. In his speech, he said:
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
Even though the Syedna doesn’t explicitly refer to FGM, the ‘procedure’ in the speech has been confirmed by many as relating to khatna as there is no other practice that is done openly to men and in secret for women. He further dismisses the criticism against FGM as ‘harmful’ and tells his followers that it is their religious duty to practice FGM.
Here’s the full audio clip of Syedna’s speech at Saifee Masjid in Mumbai.
The women in the Dawoodi Bohra community, who have been making concerted efforts to raise awareness are disappointed at the Syedna’s comments.
It is for the first time that women in this community have openly come out to speak about this secretive practice and have bared in public the ill effects this practice has had on them. It is the duty of the religious leadership to hear the voices of its own followers and women and address their pleas. A centuries old practice of physically harming little girls genitalia has no place in the 21st century.Masooma Ranalvi, Anti-FGM Activist, Speak Out on FGM
The Dawoodi Bohra community in India is highly educated, yet it is the only Muslim community to practice female genital mutilation in India. As has been argued by the campaigners against FGM, it is not a religious practice, but is a cultural practice - a practice wherein people believe a women’s sexuality is to be brought under control.
The practice, mainly done on young girls, is extremely painful and can lead to genital sores, excessive bleeding, tetanus and psychological trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder. When Masooma and a number of women from the Bohra community formed a collective to end FGM, they feared a backlash from within community.
Furthermore, there has been a negative WhatsApp campaign against ‘Speak Out on FGM’ where the members of the collective have been called ‘mischief mongers’ and ‘crusaders for a wrong cause.’ The pro-FGM argument is that female circumcision is a scientific and highly beneficial procedure. According to the WhatsApp message, there are standard guidelines for a safe procedure called ‘clitoral unhooding’ which is what “khafz” means.
However, Zehra Patwa, a member of ‘Speak Out on FGM’ has issued a rebuttal of this argument where she says,
According to the World Heath Organization, the United Nations, medical community and numerous governments around the world, Female Genital Mutilation has no scientific basis or benefit except as an elective surgical procedure for an adult woman who experiences sexual dysfunction due to a larger than normal amount of prepuce tissue on the clitoris that prevents her from attaining orgasm. Khatna or khafd falls under Type I FGM, which is considered an abuse of human rights.Zehra Patwa, Anti-FGM Activist, ‘Speak Out on FGM’