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Female Circumcision: The Dawoodi Bohra Community – Myths and facts

Tasneem Dhinojwala

Female circumcision was an unheard thing in the Indian sub-continent till some years back. Female Circumcision ( FC ) is a term that many prefer to interchange with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice that is supposed to be followed by some tribes in Africa. In the Indian sub-continent, especially in India, the Dawoodi Bohra community was brought into the limelight for their practice of FC, which those opposing its practice prefer referring to as FGM. A small community that believed in minding its own business was suddenly left open to public scrutiny and allegations. The reason being, lack of clarity on FC and FGM, and how the two are different.
Here is a list of myths around the practice of FC practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community:
Myth 1: The Dawoodi Bohras practice FGM
Reality: The procedure or practice followed by the community is not of FGM but of FC, which is referred to as ‘khafz’ in the community. Just as the menfolk in the Muslim world undergo male circumcision, similarly, women in the Dawoodi Bohra community undergo female circumcision. While FGM damages the genitalia, FC only involves a small nick on the prepuce. Therefore the practice followed by the community is definitely not FGM.
Myth 2: It is practiced to curb female desire.
Reality: It doesn’t cause any damage to the genital area, as it is just a nick on the prepuce. Therefore there is no question of it affecting the female desire or becoming a hindrance to a woman’s married life as is claimed by some.
Myth 3: Khafz causes irrevocable damage to the genital area especially the clitoris.
Reality: It is a harmless practice followed for more than 1400 years. More than 72,000 practicing Dawoodi Bohra women back this claim. It is just a nick on the prepuce, so there is no question of it causing damage to the genital area or any harm to the clitoris.

Myth 4: It is yet another practice started by men to control women.
Reality: Not at all. The fact is that the tenets of the Dawoodi Bohra community are gender inclusive. Just like male circumcision followed by the entire Muslim world, female circumcision is practiced by the women in the bohra community as an act of ‘Taharat’ or cleanliness (the first of the seven pillars on which Islam is based), a benefit only the males avail elsewhere. The practice of khafz is present in the community’s religious texts that are more than 1000 years old, and is mentioned as a practice similar to male circumcision. Although written over 1000 years ago, the texts condemn marital rape and looking upon women as objects of sex and propagate gender equality.
Myth 5: Male circumcision is Islamic whereas Female circumcision/Khafz is unIslamic.
Reality: Khafz or Female Circumcision is based on and motivated by a gender equal interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17 of the Hebrew Bible). It can be traced back to the hadiths (sayings/words of wisdom) of Prophet Mohammed.

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