By Rashida Mustafa
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend from my school days, going back 50 years, wrote to me to say, with indignation, anger even, that she was disappointed that I refused to come out and speak up for all these (sanctimonious) women protesting against “fgm” among us Dawoodi Bohras. For all these days since, I have been wondering whether or not I should be egged out of this sweet private world in which we live and enter the muck of this media battle where awfully threatening men want us to come on national television to discuss matters of delicacy - women’s matters, in which the gentle forms of Indian culture are thrown to the wind and women must bare all for entertainment in the public arena. Here we are, veiled women quietly going about our business in Bhendi Bazaar or small Indian towns, dragged out in media, in heinous insult.
So hear it, these my words.
The Prophet, Mohammed Rasulullah SAW was sent as a blessing for the whole world. There is no practice in his authentic traditions that would in any way, impair or injure a follower. The ways of Islam are beautiful and peaceful, and the practice of Islam for all of us, leads from peace to peace, in our hearts, our homes and our lives.
Colonialism, on the other hand, was founded on different principles. Its aim was to have power over the native people of all the colonies, whether they were in India or Africa, and to subjugate them so that they could better control them. One of the tools they used were schools in which, while receiving an English education we were made to adopt English practices and begin to believe that our own were inferior. Today, you would hope that that isn’t true, but the same work is being done by global bodies, like the United Nations and its subsidiaries who promote the same aim under a different guise, in attempts to make themselves relevant in the world, over those they can terrorise (like us) or patronise (like Africa) in exchange for aid.
Yes, there are some very serious practices out there like infibulation that can have serious consequences. Female circumcision is not one of them. We are told that the FGM lobby doesn’t care to discriminate between these. Well, if one has to deal with human activities and can declare blatantly that I do not wish to make the distinctions that may make us man or beast, then one is not in a position to either legislate, discriminate or define and has declared oneself unfit for the task. You do not become worthy of being either judge or jury or United Nations of World Health Organisation if you are incapable of making distinctions. In law, a hair’s breadth of doubt overturns a judgement and one is trusted when legislating to keep this in mind. Nobody says that because a certain group of people in India allegedly perform castration, male circumcision must be banned all over the world. Distinctions are carefully maintained. The same should be true for women. Discrimination for being Muslim, discrimination for being women, a double whammy.
Because consider this: in the west, they promote, what they call - hoodectomy, charging thousands of dollars for an operation that is made to enhance a woman’s sexuality – which is completely legal and pricey and posh – but if the same procedure is done on a Muslim woman it is called FGM and they are on a witch-hunt to send us to jail for it. On a western woman, yes yes, queue up, but on a Muslim woman, a crime. If you don’t believe me, look it up yourself. One of the sites that I referred to was called www.clitoralunhooding.com but there are several all over the place and if, and only IF you are a western white non-Muslim woman you can pay a couple of thousand dollars for what your grandmother organised for you in your neighbourhood if you were lucky enough to be circumcised.
In several countries the law completely and shamelessly says this. It is okay to have a prepuce clipped if you are white and western and Christian or Jew or any other, but not if you are Muslim. If you are Muslim and request this, you have to be reported to the police. I know you will be incredulous but it is true.
It is easy to be sensationalistic about sex especially in repressed western societies. I would have hoped that the media in India was enlightened enough by their own experiences of colonisation and by virtue of living in an emancipated and progressive country with its history of multiculturalism, to approach the matter with more insight. I’d like to suggest that one of the things we could do, instead of advocating a ban, is advocate a drive in which every doctor can perform female circumcision as easily as they do male circumcision so that our personal and sexual lives could benefit from the procedure and every sad woman who wonders what an orgasm is, or every couple who laments the death of their marriage, could have a second chance.
We want progressive people all over the world who are not Islamophobes, who believe that in being non-racist, tolerant and inclusive they do themselves a favour because it’s their own minds they stretch and illuminate, to refuse to allow themselves to be part of this fascism. Muslims live all over the world in the belief that we have a lot to learn from other people, but we have a lot to offer too. And the first thing right now, is the opportunity to hear this voice and consider how you want to deal with your own fear of the “other”.
And to my sisters I want to say, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but there’s this great scene in Django Unchained in which Django’s just walked out of the cart and with one natural shrug of his shoulders, shakes off the prisoner’s cloak and steps out, free, unconquerable and with a job to do. So the next time someone approaches you, in the guise of a friend, asking you to sign off your legacy of faith, independence and sexuality, don’t be afraid to put them behind you. Be like Django because you don’t want to put your freedom in somebody else’s silky hands. But if you fearfully, have neither the courage nor the wit, to say, "Begone!" OMG, run for your life.
Rashida (not pictured) is a trained psychologist and mother of five who currently lives in Manchester, England.
Dear Rashida, these are my words too and those of millions of our sisters globally...thank you for elegantly and boldly speaking up. If there is anything good that has come out of this fgm battle, it is the realization that we are not alone. We are many - Muslim, Christian, African, Indian, Malaysian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and yes, even white, western women (who are now appropriating our ancient genital aesthetic traditions and renaming them "female genital cosmetic surgery"). We are connecting through our shared experiences of persecution for these very traditions. But we are also learning to stand up as empowered women and embrace our equality with others in the world. FGM is a terminology invented by Franz Hosken, a German American radical feminist who knew little and cared less about our diverse cultures, religious beliefs and herstory. Certainly some of our sisters have embraced this dehumanizing terminology and self-concept - and this is their prerogative - but we are a new generation who will stand up and restore voice, honor and dignity to our mothers and grandmothers. All women are free to choose!
Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, PhD