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FAQ

Female circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM) have often been confused. They are both completely different things.

Traditional practitioners define it as the removal of a speck of superficial skin, a simple gentle process in which there is negligible if any, pain.

Female circumcision is considered equivalent, but biologically it is remotely invasive as compared to male circumcision. Whilst in male circumcision, the entire foreskin is removed, in female circumcision, a nick or cut, or a tiny excision is made on the foreskin (prepuce). Like male circumcision, the purpose of female circumcision is done to satisfy the religious requirement of taharat (religious purity).

Female circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM) have often been confused. They are both completely different things.

Yes, provided the scraping is only done on the prepuce, which is composed of mucocutaneous tissue. Traditional circumcisers even just wipe the prepuce and call it a completed circumcision, depending on the anatomy of the genitalia.

FGM is a term coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to describe all the various processes that different cultures in the world practice as a rite of passage on their girls. These vary from the slight, almost symbolic nicks to the dramatic infibulation of those who live in the Horn of Africa.

The definition is misleading for many reasons. To begin with, it fails to distinguish between harmless and harmful procedures. Then, some philosophers and academics argue that there is an inherent cultural and racial imperialism in the way the anti-FGM debate is framed. One of the consequences of this flawed approach is that procedures that have nothing in common are clubbed together to be the same thing, and therefore the consequences of harmful procedures are routinely and regularly clubbed with harmless ones.

We do not accept that female circumcision is a mutilation. It is a harmless procedure and as such should not be termed FGM.

No, a small nick or excision does not damage the genetalia. With age the nick grows to being normal and it is indistinguishable, unlike male circumcision, which is more invasive and remains unchanged with age.

There is no place in our religion for any kind of mutilation

Our religious books are clear that as far as circumcision is concerned, only the prepuce can be nicked or cut. No other part of the genitalia can be touched. So any surgery or cutting done on the clitoris, labia minora or labia majora is prohibited in our religion.

Therefore, we do not support any other form of genital procedure, whether done for cosmetic or personal reasons, and also cannot support any activity of any kind that is designed to curb sexuality or oppress women. None of this fall within the meaning of khafz nor can they be accepted as khafz.

Patriarchy is a society that is dominated by men in which women have an insignificant role to play. Anti-circumcision lobbyists base their accusation of patriarchy on the totally incorrect assumption that the practice is designed to curb the sexuality of women, so it must be imposed upon them by men. This narrative may be applicable to some forms of FGM but certainly not to the female circumcision practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras.

To begin with, both male and female circumcision are practiced in the community, and therefore they are gender equal.

Secondly, this is a society in which the daughter of the Prophet (SAW), Maulatena Fatema (AS) is held in great reverence, In fact the Dawoodi Bohras regard themselves as Fatemi.

In a recent sermon, one of the rectors of al-Jamea-tus-Saifiyah, Arabic Academy, compared a woman's position to that of the brain in the body, and a man's, to the heart. This exemplifies clearly how Dawoodi Bohra culture regards its women and the expectations it has of them.

It is true that gender roles differ and follow Islamic norms, but the esteem and respect for both genders are equal.

There is nothing in any book of religion to suggest that. Male and female circumcision are spoken of jointly as being for religious purity, which includes, but is not the same as hygiene. If anything, there is a suggestion in the books that female circumcision would enhance sexual pleasure.

Like male circumcision and many other things that parents do for the good of their child, this procedure is meant to be done, by definition, pre-puberty. Both male and female circumcision are a rite of passage. It is foolhardy to postpone the rites of childhood into adulthood. It defeats the purpose for which it was set out, that the child’s body growing accustomed to the circumcision, in which the pain is long forgotten, the body has healed and there is no psychological impact.

We all have social and psychological identities as much as physical ones. All cultural procedures need to be looked at holistically and in the context of their culture and religion.

It is not in the instance of Dawoodi Bohras.

There are practices where the little girl is put through intolerable pain and trauma, that too by using crude and unhygienic instruments. In those circumstances, where the girl is inhumanly treated, it is child abuse.

The procedure is completely safe. Like all surgical procedures, if not done properly, complications could arise. As the process is institutionalised to be in line with modern circumstances the risk of this is less. In the opinion of most medical practitioners the use of anaesthesia makes the process painless and the child has no recollection of the procedure and the pain if any is medically managed.

This statement is not true. For one, medical advantages of male circumcision are yet to be conclusive. They are still debated upon and questioned. Secondly, the vast majority of male circumcisions done in the world are not done for any medical benefits, but for religious or cultural reasons, and therefore medical advantages or disadvantages are irrelevant. The same applies to female circumcision. Take for instance the practice among some communities of piercing a child’s ear lobes (male and female) when they turn a few months old, or the practice of piercing a girl’s nose when she attains puberty. All these are part of religious customs and practices and cannot be weighed against the measure of medical advantages.

The number of people who have the procedure done by a trained doctor is increasing in the cities, while in the rural areas and among lower income groups, many still get the procedure done by traditional circumcisers who are trained by older circumcisers. We are slowly training our doctors and encouraging more families to get it done in hospitals run for Dawoodi Bohra community, free of cost, this way hygiene and post khafz care is much easier.

Islamic norms of modesty surrounding women apply to most matters to do with women, particularly when concerned with their private parts. It is nothing to do with any belief that there is something wrong with the practice, nor is the secrecy there to hide an illegal practice. So throughout the centuries, female circumcision has always been completely hidden from men, and rarely discussed amongst women. It would be culturally immodest to do so. Therefore while it is not sat down and discussed, it is known to everyone that it is practiced , just as circumcising the boy is known to everyone.

Yes. Female circumcision is a requirement in all schools of jurisprudence of Islam, but different schools put varying degrees of emphasis on it. Of the four Sunni schools, the Shafi'i branch follows it with greatest strictness and diligence, and so it is universally practiced in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Kurdistan and Egypt where Shafi'i Sunnis predominate. India is predominantly Hanafi Sunni, in which it is not practiced with strictness.

Female circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur'an, just as many fundamental practices, such as how to pray, fast and perform the pilgrimage are also not stated in the Qur'an. The Qur'an, the practice and the sayings of the ProphetSAW and the books that describe religious practice jointly contribute to the body of Islam. Female circumcision is mentioned in several books, one being Al-Da'aim al-Islam, written by the Fatimid Chief Jurist, Syedna Qadi Nu'man RA about 1000 years ago. This book is the principal book defining the main beliefs and religious rituals of the Dawoodi Bohras. Female circumcision finds mention in many other books and is clearly a well-established religious practice.

Female circumcision is not obligatory, however it is prescribed by the sunnah (the sayings and actions of the Prophet) and cannot be forsaken under ordinary circumstances – therefore obligatory.

Yes. All congregations in such countries have instructed their members to not practice female circumcision in the strictest terms if there is any possibility that it may be against the law. Being law abiding is also a principle in the Bohra religion, a teaching that is attributed to the ProphetSAW himself. Therefore, it is obligatory for Bohras who are citizens of those countries to abide by the law and not to practice it. However, this is not done in the belief that there is anything wrong with the religious ordinance. Our belief dictates that nothing in our religion can be harmful to any human being and therefore religious rites such as male and female circumcision can only be of benefit to those who practice it. However, we cannot break any law of the land, and therefore in those countries where female circumcision is illegal, or there is a possibility for it to be interpreted as being illegal, we no longer practice it.

Yes it does. But this is not without religious precedence. To perform the pilgrimage to Makkah, for example, is one of the most important obligations on a Muslim. It is an act that one must perform it at least once in their lifetimes. However, it is only obligatory for one who has the monetary means to undertake the journey and only if there is safety in the journey. Therefore, whilst it becomes obligatory on one Muslim (who has the means and safety), it is not obligatory on another who does not have the benefit of means and safety.

There are indeed such reports, but whilst we sympathise with anyone who has suffered as a result of circumcision, it is important to realise that the reports are anecdotal and cannot be fully relied upon for a number of reasons. The first is that the most of them are from people who have left the fold and have a vested interest in challenging the mainstream religious community and the practices they have disowned. Secondly, none of the presumed injuries have been independently verified by doctors or psychiatrists and are attributed to circumcision for dubious reasons.

The other point to make is that WHO has not got a single clinical study to show that Islamic female circumcision, that is a nick, cut or excision of prepuce, leads to any harm whatsoever. WHO and anti-FGM advocates unfairly and incorrectly apply the narratives of extreme procedures to all procedures, including to the harmless Islamic circumcision. WHO did not even invite representatives of Dawoodi Bohra community as stakeholders when putting together material on Female Circumcision. Instead it has wrongly clubbed Dawoodi Bohra with communities that practice extreme forms of female circumcision.

The fact that it is harmless is felt by a vast majority of Bohra women, and the vast majority of Muslim women in Indonesia and Malaysia. The procedure is as regarded in the same vein as inoculation and ear piercing. That is why they see no difficulty in having their daughters and grand-daughters circumcised.

Dawoodi Bohras are a community based on a common religion which defines its traditions, culture, language and history. Religion is the only thing that binds them together. However, of the estimated one million Dawoodi Bohras, there are a few hundred men and women who no longer subscribe to the religion and have therefore left the fold for all practical purposes. Some of these non-religious Bohras have adopted a dissenting stance and attack the community at every opportunity.

The campaigners in India are led by a few women all of who have left the fold. They have almost no connection with the community and have no understanding of why male and female circumcisions, , are performed. They now only challenge all the practices of the community and appeal to the sympathy of the listeners as if they are the victim. As a result of their media campaign, the easily identifiable mainstream Bohra women have had to bear the gaze of the public who look upon them as mutilated or mutilators, and unenlightened in turn.

This increasing media attention and accolades as a result of which the campaign has become a convenient platform for fame and self-promotion.

What is very crucial to state here is, under the religious tenets, female circumcision is not enforced upon and therefore those who do not want to do it can choose not to do it. The entire campaign is therefore completely unnecessary and its main aim is simply to use the prevailing worldwide anti-FGM sentiments to assail the community.

In reality, mainstream Dawoodi Bohra women, whilst asserting their religious identity and religious practice, are well-educated and play a very strong role in Bohra society. They pursue careers in medicine, teaching, law and many other professions, many of them becoming leaders in their fields. However, their religion teaches them to be mindful of their enormous responsibility of rearing children and holding the family together. In an anthropological study of the Dawoodi Bohras, Mullas on the Mainframe (UCP, 2001), the author Jonah Blank says, "Bohra women are now among both the best educated and the highest-status women of any community on the Indian subcontinent".

This is contrary to the rampant media portrayal of the Dawoodi Bohra women being suppressed and voiceless.

The trial was conducted in New South Wales. Medical examination showed no evidence of any injury or harm to the two girls. The mother of the children (a qualified pharmacist), the circumciser (a qualified midwife) and the Amil were found guilty based on circumstantial evidence largely to do with intercepted phone conversations. The trial has been widely criticized as not having served justice and one ridden with flaws. The principals were given 15 months of home detention, the accessary was jailed for 15 months. The judgment is being appealed.

Yes. Eminent sociologists, gynaecologists and academics have asked for a review of WHO's classification of FGM.

In February 2016, two eminent gynaecologists wrote in the Journal of Medical Ethics to call for a reclassification of procedures by their potential for harm rather than by the detail of procedure itself, and allow the less invasive ones (including female circumcision practiced by Bohras) to be legalised. In June 2016, the Economist also promoted the same view.