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Why freedom of religion is an illegitimate defense for doctor accused of performing FGM on 2 young girls

By Shireen Qudosi on April 21, 2017

The barbaric ritual of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a primitive practice that grew out of tribal custom predominantly in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. It’s the act of dismembering the clitoris — sometimes brutally, with cut glass and no anesthetics — to deter girls from desire and “sexual promiscuity” before they begin puberty.

FGM has long been seen as an “over there” problem, confined to dirt-floor shacks in third-world countries and carried out by the uneducated and ignorant. We don’t imagine it happening in America, in clinics run by American-born U.S. citizens who secure prestigious medical training from places like Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Even among Muslims, it is unthinkable that a female hijab-wearing doctor who has professed dedication to Islam through an outward expression of it, could succumb to such a primitive and un-Islamic practice. And yet, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has been charged with a multiple-count criminal complaint in a groundbreaking first case of FGM on U.S. soil.

The Michigan-based Indian-Muslim doctor made headlines recently for allegedly performing genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls who are still in confusion and don’t understand how they’ve been monstrously violated. On Friday, federal authorities made another arrest in the case, taking a second doctor, Fakhurddin Attar, and his wife, Farida Attar, into custody and alleging that the doctor allowed Nagarwala to use his medical clinic to perform the mutilations, according to the local Fox affiliate.

In the criminal complaint against Nagarwala, the two girls said they were brought to Detroit for a “special girls’ trip” and were told they had to go to the doctor because “our tummies hurt.” One of the children is quoted in the complaint as saying that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place [where] she goes pee” and that she was told not to say anything about the procedure. A doctor who later examined the girl said that her genitals “are not normal in appearance,” and that parts of them had been altered or removed, according to the complaint. The young girls, the complaint goes on, were brought to Dr. Nagarwala from Minnesota, and she is suspected to have subjected “multiple” other girls to the procedure, which is often done without the consent of the minor child in what is a painful and life-altering mutilation of the human body that strips women of the ability to feel fully.

Dr. Nagarwala’s defense attorney is pushing back against the charges under an argument of religious protection, The Detroit News reported this week. However, there is nothing in Dr. Nagarwala’s Islamic faith that condones or justifies this horrific act. Subjecting young girls to this deeply invasive procedure is a form of physical, mental and emotional abuse that grossly departs from the American values immigrant communities must adhere to when they come to the United States. Legally, a defense attorney would also be hard-pressed to mount a convincing argument that mutilating children is protected by the U.S. Constitution, even under the guise of religious freedom.

The mutilation of little girls has received the protection of faith by critics and proponents of the practice, both of whom often rely on “Hadiths” to support their positions on the issue. Hadiths are a collection of theological references curating strictly vetted sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. However, Hadiths are glorified second-hand accounts of what supposedly did or did not happen more than a millennium ago, and collected many years after the prophet’s death. They’ve been wrongly ossified as a part of the Islamic faith when in fact Hadiths are nothing more than a primitive game of “he said, she said.”

There are no religious practices that allow for mutilation. Sheikh Uth-man Khan, Academic Dean of Critical Loyalty, a leading online school of Islamic sciences, strongly denounces FGM. In an email, Khan shares, “FGM is not a religious right at all. For something to be a religious right, there needs to be textual evidence. The scripture of Muslims doesn’t talk about it. Rather, the Quran warns against any type of mutilation.”

Surah 4:119 of the Quran strictly warns against behavior that will “change the creation of Allah.” Certainly, a brutal cut to the most intimate and sensitive part of a woman’s anatomy is a complete violation of what the highest authority text in the Islamic faith has to say. Surah 4:119 sees alterations that are against the natural design of God as allying with Satan, causing the individual to suffer a profound spiritual loss.

Across secular societies women have been rallying to end FGM, including the launch of a 2016 celebrity-studded U.K.-based campaign hashtagged #BrutalCut. And for years, many activists who value their old-world cultures have tried to simultaneously raise awareness of the dark underbelly of those civilizations that have failed to adapt to a modern world that protects the individual and cherishes human rights. FGM, often also seen as a right of passage into puberty, is another act of sexual violence against girls enacted by those closest to them, including their own mothers. It has no place in Western society and it must be challenged as aggressively at home as it is abroad.

Health organizations have also been working to draw attention to this hidden crisis of FGM that often goes undetected and unreported. The World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned the practice. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a 2016 report revealing a staggering figure: More than half a million U.S. women and girls had undergone FGM or were at risk in 2013. The number has escalated as immigrant communities continue to grow without reinforcements to integrate and adapt to American values — key among which is the right of an individual to be in full possession of her body and protected against abuse and victimization.

Shireen Qudosi is a Muslim Reformer and Director of Muslim Matters at America Matters. Follow her on Twitter @ShireenQudosi.


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