Today my best friend Zohra met me after 12 years with a cute little daughter; I was playing with little kid who is just eight months old. Somewhere Zohra was feeling uncomfortable and I thought she wants to say something. I started gossiping as girls generally do when they are with their companion; I was teasing her by mentioning her hubby in conversation. I inquired with her about her marital life and those romantic dates with him. She was just expressionless and replied there is actually no romance Vaidehi. We women become sex toys when men get aroused, they get those feeling we don’t. We just participate in the act but its fake and despite this we are not supposed to show our satisfaction or dissatisfaction levels. We have no say, as our genital mutilation was being practiced when we were toddlers. We hail from Dawoodi Bohra community and we practice this hidden ritual of female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), for centuries, with no public discussion on its need. This circumcision as an act of so called religious purity, main reason for female and male circumcision, according to Da’im al-Islam (a 10th century book of jurisprudence), is hygiene or taharat – not just physical but also “spiritual” and “religious”. Only irony is that the male get aroused and crave for sex all the time with his circumcision and female is exactly opposite. We become just machines to satisfy men and produce children. See I have delivered a baby girl and now horrified because she has to undergo the same pain, I have to make her sensationless female.
I asked her why you did not protest. She said her age was not to be rebellious; the religious customs are imbibed on us. No man in our community will marry a female if her khatna is not done. The very basic fact is that by saying no to mutilation is disrespecting the religion. My, other friend who has gone through same pain told me hundred times, if you are born in this community then you have to follow Islamic practices as you have no choice. She said, Khatna serves to increase the warmth on the face of the woman and the pleasure with that of her husband. The mothers cut their daughters either to moderate their sexual desires, or to unquestioningly follow a religious tradition. In fact, several Bohras refer to the clitoris as “haraam ni boti” or sinful lump of flesh.
There are certain Hadiths, particularly from the Shafi, Hanbali and Hanafi schools of Islam, which mention female circumcision as either permissible, honourable or as a sunnah practice. Many Islamic scholars around the world have disputed the genuineness of these Hadiths. But even if we were to take them at face value, the main thing that these Hadiths prove is that female circumcision was already a prevalent practice in parts of Arabia at the time of Prophet Mohammed – it was not a new religious ritual introduced in Islam. One Hadith that is frequently cited is Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 41, which contains this particular story:
“Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (PBUH) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” This same anecdote – of the Prophet cautioning the woman against cutting too much – has been interpreted and translated in slightly different ways by different scholars: some translate it as “do not cut off too much as it is a source of pleasure for the woman and more liked by the husband”, others have translated it as “…it is a source of loveliness of the face and more enjoyable for the husband”.
In Volume 1 of The Pillars of Islam (Ismail Poonawala’s English translation of Da’im al-Islam), on page 154, a very similar sentence is translated like this: “O women, when you circumcise your daughters, leave part (of the labia or clitoris), for this will be chaster for their character, and it will make them more beloved by their husbands”. This is what the spokesperson of the community, in his aforementioned interview to one of the reputed publication, seems to have translated as “increase the radiance on the face of the woman and the pleasure with that of her husband”. All Muslims would agree that old Islamic Arabic is not easy to interpret, because its words are often ambiguous or have multiple undertones. But this vagueness could help us understand why many generations of Bohra women have believed that khatna is done to control a woman’s sexual desires, and why other Bohras can possibly use the same text to claim that this act is done to increase sexual pleasure. Some believe that the removal of the clitoral hood, necessarily leads to a satisfactory sex life among women, thus ensuring their chastity. The classical jurists were not such parochial men after all. They deduced from this one statement of the prophet what it really meant. In other words, by ensuring that a woman is sexually satisfied in her marriage, khatna would ensure that she does not stray out of marriage. This connection between the multiple interpretations of the Prophet’s words does sound reasonable, and if it is to be believed, then khatna does boil down to sexual control of women. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what reason you choose to believe in, because no reason can justify the practice of cutting a girl’s genitals, however “minor” the procedure.
No one has the right to curb or control a woman’s sexual desires, or to tell her to be pure. These are male-controlled ideas that have no place in today’s world. Similarly, no one has the right to try and enhance the future sexual life of a young girl by altering her genitals. Seven-year-old girls should not be sexualised at all; they don’t even understand sex or the functions of various genital organs. Why can’t we leave their genitals alone, untouched, the way they were naturally born?
(This is the first part of the editorial and the remaining portion will continue tomorrow)
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