Is anyone actually surprised that Michigan physicians Jumana Nargarwala and Fakhruddin Attar are claiming that FGM is protected by the first amendment as a religious practice? Big shocker. As I said in my last piece, it is hard to protect baby girls while simultaneously allowing for the non-consensual cutting of baby boys and intersex babies.
Nargarwala and Fakhruddin are still only being charged with the genital cutting of the two seven-year-old girls from Minnesota, however, eight other victims have been officially identified. It is estimated that there could be as many as 100 victims since Attar admitted he let Nargarwala use his clinic up to six times a year over a 12 year period to see children for genital rashes. Nargarwala’s defense remains that she simply scraped a membrane on the girls despite the fact that an examination on the two Minnesota girls showed that their genitals were altered and that one of the victims has said she bled and could barely move after the procedure.
Nargarwala remains in prison without bond and is considered a flight risk, while the Attars have been granted bond with the condition that they surrender their passports and wear GPS tethers. The Attars will also have to fight for custody of their daughter since it was determined that her genitals were altered as well. Both physicians could potentially get a life sentence, while Farida Attar faces up to 20 years in prison for assisting in the procedures.
This case should be interesting to watch. The defense might actually have some truth to it, shockingly enough. The two physicians are associated with the Dawoodi Bohras church. The Dawoodi Bohras are a small Islamic Sect most concentrated in Mumbai. Bohras are one of the largest groups in India that practice the khatna, the ritual of genital cutting. The practice has been primarily enforced by older women, and often Bohra men have little to do with their daughters’ khatna. The practice is not mentioned in the Quran, and the Bohras are said to be the only Muslims in India practicing FGM. As Bohras immigrated to various parts of the world, some continued the khatna in secret despite laws against FGM in their new home countries. The Dawoodi Bohra spiritual leader, Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin, seems to endorse the secretive continuation of this practice outside of the law, having said in a cryptic sermon “The act has to happen! If it is a man, then it is right, it can be openly done, but if it is a woman then it must be done discreetly, but then the act has to be done. Please understand what I am trying to talk about.”
Laws are not scary enough to combat the prevalence of infant and child genital cutting in the face of long-held dogmatic beliefs that these procedures create healthier individuals physically, sexually, and spiritually. We must continue to speak out against the non-therapeutic cutting of all children. While I believe that people have a right to practice religion in whatever way they see fit, it goes without saying that the exemption is when religion is used to justify harm against another person. And if genital cutting is truly the only way a person can be inducted into a religion, wouldn’t it be much more meaningful if the individual could reasonably consent?