oday my best friend Zohra met me after 12 years with a cute little daughter; I was playing with the little kid who is just eight-month-old. Somewhere, Zohra was not comfortable and I thought she wants to say something. I started gossiping as girls generally do when they are with their besties. I was teasing her by mentioning her hubby in the conversation. Asked her that how her marriage experience is and those romantic dates with him. She was just expressionless and said, “There is actually no romance Vaidehi.” We woman become sex toys when men get aroused, they get those feeling but we don’t. We just participate in the act but it’s fake and even it’s fake that we are not supposed to show our satisfaction or dissatisfaction levels. We have no say, as our genital mutilation is being practiced when we are toddlers. We are 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 is an act of so-called religious purity — the 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”. The only irony is that the male gets aroused and gets sex craving all the time with his circumcision, and females are exactly the opposite. We become dead — just a machine to satisfy men and produce children. See, I have delivered a baby girl and now horrified because she has to go through the same pain — I have to make her a sensationless female.
I just asked her, why have you not protested? She said that her age was not to be rebellious and the religious customs are imbibed on them. “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 the same pain, told me a hundred times, if you are born in this community, then you have to follow the Islamic practices, no choice!” She said that 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’ genitals 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 a 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 is that these Hadiths prove that female circumcision was already a prevalent practice in the parts of Arabia at the time of Prophet Mohammed – it was not a new religious ritual introduced in the 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 the 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 Khatna 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 the 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?
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