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Indian Muslim spiritual leader supports barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation

Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin's support has angered activists and many others.

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Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (2nd R), the new spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims visits the Imam Ali shrine, in Najaf, 160km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, March 1, 2014. Picture taken March 1, 2014. REUTERS/ Ahmad Mousa (IRAQ - Tags: RELIGION)
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A speech by the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, in which he appears to be urging followers in India to continue the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), has angered and upset campaigners trying to end the centuries-old practice.

The audio clip of Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin’s speech at a mosque in Mumbai, has been authenticated by several members of the community. According to a transcript, he said: “The act must be done. It needs to be done discreetly when it is a woman, but it needs to be done.”

Calls and e-mails to a spokesman for the Syedna and the administrative office of the leader received no response.

A person described as a close friend of the Syedna family told the Times of India newspaper that the remarks were a “general comment” and that people were “interpreting it differently”.

Campaigners in the city spoke out against the speech.

“The speech is a huge disappointment for us,” said Masooma Ranalvi, who was cut as a seven-year-old and leads an online petition as part of the ‘Speak Out on FGM’ campaign, which has drawn almost 50,000 signatories, including Mia Farrow, who tweeted her support on Thursday.

Also Read:Female genital mutilation among India’s Bohra community/

“Ever since we began the campaign, there has been only silence from the clergy. But now that it’s out in the open, at least there’s no ambiguity about where they stand,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION

Little is known about FGM in India where the ritual is carried out in great secrecy by the close-knit Shi’ite Muslim sect thought to number over 1 million.

FGM, which can cause serious physical and psychological problems, is more commonly linked to African countries which have led international efforts to end the practice.

India is not included on U.N. lists of countries affected by FGM. Campaigners say Dawoodi Bohras are the only Muslim community in South Asia to practise FGM, estimating that up to three quarters of Bohra girls are cut.

Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin of Dawoodi Bohra community meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin of Dawoodi Bohra community meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

Although it is not mentioned in the Koran, the Bohras consider ‘khatna’ – the removal of part of the clitoris – a religious obligation, and debate on the subject has long been taboo.

But the practice among Indian Dawoodi Bohras hit the headlines in November when a court in Australia found two members of the diaspora community guilty of cutting two girls. A Bohra religious leader was convicted of being an accessory.

You may like to read this:7 controversial Muslim born authors who have taken on Islam

Since then, more than a dozen Bohra communities in Europe and the United States have passed resolutions against the practice.

“The strongest form of opposition to khatna is now coming from within the community,” the non-profit group Sahiyo, focused on ending FGM in India, posted on its website on Friday. “Those opposed to the practice have strong reasons for their views.”

Campaigners will now focus on petitioning the government, said Ranalvi.

“There is hypocrisy in the clergy’s stance, so the government is the most important route open to us now,” she said. “We need them to step in to protect our girls.”

(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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  • defending truth

    Its not just bohra muslims practice this there are many Muslim, christian, Jews communities in India , iran, africa, and in many parts of the world practise it . So just stop just naming the bohras and making are syedna responsible for what so ever you want to publish without knowing the facts .

  • defending truth

    Its not just bohra muslims practice this there are many Muslim, christian, Jews communities in India , iran, africa, and in many parts of the world practise it . So just stop just naming the bohras and making are syedna responsible for what so ever you want to publish without knowing the facts .

Next Story

Will prohibiting Burqa result in freedom from under house arrest or religious bias?

According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face.

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Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons
Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons

In recent years there have been several incidents involving the Burqa. In 2009, a state college in Karnataka told a student she was not allowed to attend classes wearing a Burqa. It was later reported that the young girl reached a “compromise arrangement” with the college but did not continue in the same college. Days later, violent protests sparked in Hyderabad after a college principal allegedly told students not to wear a Burqa.

But opposite episodes have also occurred. In July 2010, a teacher at Kolkata’s Aliah University, which has a focus on Islamic studies, was not allowed to teach without a Burqa. The report followed an official notice released in April 2010, in which the university dismissed suggestions it enforced a dress code, mentioning specifically the use of the Burqa within its campus.

There is steep rise in the cases related to crime against burqa clad women. Wikimedia Commons
There is a steep rise in the cases related to crime against Burqa-clad women. Wikimedia Commons

At some point imposing a ban on Burqa will be beneficial…
Point 1:
According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face. Hands and face can be uncovered. So banning won’t conflict freedom of practicing religion. And it will not be against any religion.
Point 2:
There are security issues. Imagine man/women under burqa leaves a bag in a public place which later blasts. Now, what do police have? CCTV cameras, forget face they cannot determine if is it male or female due to Burqa. It is the biggest security Loophole.
Point 3:
Many Muslim women do not have a bank account because they are not allowed to cover their face in bank premises. If you didn’t know then yes you cannot cover your face with bank premises and ATM.
Point 4:
It’s easy to have multiple voters ID. Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election.
Point 5:
Crimes under Burqa are on the rise. Murder, kidnapping, robbery are been carried out using Burqa. It’s the biggest advantage for criminals.

What Noorjehan Safia says…
Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a founding member of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a movement which works to improve the status of Muslim women in India, said security concerns have not been a major issue when it comes to dressing. “Muslim women in India comply with all the laws. They are active participants when it comes to elections and has their photos on their passports. So identification and security have never been an issue as such,” she said.
Discrimination, however, has sometimes caused problems, said Ms. Niaz. “There are cases when women are not considered for a particular job because they wear a Burqa. In such cases, women have negotiated. They do not wear Burqa while at work but before and after it they put it on.” Overall, Ms. Niaz said that women themselves – not the law – should decide what to wear. “Let each woman decide what she wants to wear. Neither can you enforce a ban on Burqa nor can you force women to wear it.”