Efforts may be on to end the practice of female genital mutilation that young girls in the Dawoodi Bohra community are made to undergo in India but their spiritual leader may not be convinced yet as he went on to publicly encourage the act of khatna (female circumcision) albeit indirectly, in his recent sermon at the Saifee Mosque in Bhendi Bazaar.
A four-minute audio clip from Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin’s bayaan (speech) on the occasion of the 51st Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s death anniversary, has gone viral over a mobile messaging app and generated conversations within the community on how the Syedna’s endorsement may urge close followers of the spiritual head to continue with the painful practice.
The clip begins with a plea from the Syedna speaking in a mix of Gujarati and Urdu. “We should keep our things strong, stay firm. Even the big sovereign states, whatever it is they say, if it makes any difference to our things, then we are not prepared to understand!” he says and then adds. “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…”
A Mumbai resident present at the Hussaini Mosque where the sermon was being beamed live on a giant screen confirmed that the clip was what he had heard being broadcast. “The Syedna was reading from a script which is usually the routine on such an occasion but all of a sudden he went off and started talking in a cryptic fashion. It was confusing at first. Then we gradually realized that he was talking about female circumcision when he used words like amal (act), mamlakat (states) and that the act must be carried out discreetly for women and openly for men. It was very disturbing for me and my wife,” he said. A close friend of the Syedna family dismissed such an interpretation of the Syedna’s speech when press called him. “It was a general comment. Nothing specific. People are interpreting it differently,” he said alleging that, “Those close to the new claimant to the Syedna title are trying to target our revered Syedna (Muffadal Saifuddin).”
A 36-year-old Bohra woman who has lived through the horrors of khatna and currently settled in the US expressed her anguish having heard the clip. “Just a month ago many of us in the US received a letter from the jamaat (local community unit) that works under the Syedna’s guidelines. It said that we must follow the law of the land and not practice khatna. I was thrilled, at peace with my faith. What I just heard reflects hypocrisy. I’m disillusioned and worried.”