The Hindu contacted the office of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin and asked for the leader’s response to the accusations of the activists and reformers. The Syedna’s spokesperson declined to comment, but subsequently a senior member of the community contacted our reporter and agreed to present the establishment view on condition that he not be named.
“It is its religion that gives [the community] its culture, traditions, language and even its historical narrative,” the spokesperson says. “Therefore, a Dawoodi Bohra unable to subscribe to its faith has lost everything that is Bohraesque and retains only its name. Obviously Syedna, as the guardian of the faith and the community, preaches and exhorts his followers towards adherence to the religion, which is his duty to do. It is left up to the individual to take up some or all of the teachings. There are many Bohras who do not wear beards or wear ridah s and yet face no discrimination within the community.”
He says the youth are strong adherents to the community’s cultural and religious norms as it helps them find their roots. Though he pooh-poohs the allegations of social boycott at the instance of the Syedna, he admits that “there had been some occasions of social boycott some decades back, but it must be remembered that the mechanism of protecting one’s faith against innovation and distortions by staying away from those with distorted or unsound beliefs is a well-established principle in all religions.”
To the charge that khatna ’s purpose is to curb woman’s sexual urges, the spokesperson quotes the Da'aim al-Islam ( written in the 10th century by Syedna al-Qadi al-Numan, scholar and chief jurist of the 14th Imam), as saying that it will, on the contrary, “increase the radiance on the face of the woman and the pleasure with that of her husband”. Dismissing Ms. Ranalvi’s campaign as driven by a desire to defame the community and shame its women rather than concern, he says, “This is not an uncommon agenda amongst those born in the community who have disowned the religion.”
He does not deny that khatna takes place, but does not accept the term FGM as a correct or even helpful description of Islamic female circumcision. He insists that the form in which it is practiced is “mild and harmless” and that the vast majority of Bohra women — who, he points out, are well-educated — do not share the allegations made by the campaign, which he says are without clinical or empirical evidence. He says that a few cases, with no independent medical verification, have been hyped and repeated to create an impression of repressed women in a patriarchal community. Anti-FGM activities all over the world, he says, are ‘afflicted’ with little evidence and depend on the emotive strength of the subject; he claims that WHO has not had a single piece of empirical evidence that the Type I procedure — within which circumcision of the prepuce falls — does any harm whatsoever, unlike a Type II (excision) or III (infibulation) procedure.
To the argument that khatna violates agency — and that since it is usually carried out on girls at 14 or even younger, that it is a child rights violation — the spokesperson says that like male circumcision, female circumcision has been enjoined upon Muslims and is followed with varying degrees of strictness. (For instance, the Shafi’i Sunni branch, mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Kurdistan practice it universally and strictly, but it is uncommon amongst other Sunnis in India because they are mainly Hanafi Sunnis.) To the allegations of mental trauma, he says that this is certainly not the experience of the vast majority of the Bohra community, or of millions of Muslims all over the world. Anti-FGM lobbyists, he says, justify the acceptance of male circumcision (which is far more invasive than female circumcision) by claiming it has some medical benefits, but they forget that that during the long history of male circumcision, there have been times when no medical benefit was perceived for it either. What is to say, he asks, that science won’t find a benefit for female circumcision in the future?