January 17, 2022

Should Americans excuse FGM as a minority cultural practice?

Two Muslim bioethicists ask for more understanding

Dr Jumana Nagarwala

Eight people have been charged with involvement in female genital mutilation in Michigan – the first case in the United States. Dr Jumana Nagarwala is the central figure because she performed the procedure – nicking the clitoral hood of two Minnesota girls who were brought to her by their parents.

All of the defendants are members of an Indian Muslim sect called Dawoodi Bohra.

In a post on The Hastings Center blog, two Muslim physicians from the University of Chicago attempt the difficult task of calling for a compromise on this incendiary issue. They call for more understanding of ancient traditions.

Informed discussion can only take place when we use language that does not marginalize and pre-judge, that opens dialogue rather than obstructs it. Thus, like others before us, we believe that the term female genital mutilation, or FGM, should be discarded in favor of more neutral terminology. No doctor willfully seeks to mutilate. As we ask others to reexamine their rituals, we should reevaluate our use of language. For the terminology we use might reveal our unconscious biases, and a neutral stance is needed to allow the voices of those who engage in the practice to be heard.

Next, we require an accurate understanding of the procedures and data about their harms. To have a productive conversation about harm-reduction we need to understand all of the harms involved, both when the procedure is performed and when it is not. Thus, the medical data on harms and complications post-FGC; information about the social and psychological harms that accrue when these procedures take place and, importantly, when they are not performed; and anthropological data about the significance of these procedures in their cultural contexts all need to be brought to the dialogue. We need to objectively and critically examine both what we do and do not know before making moral assessments and delineating a path forward.

The two Muslim bioethicists, Aasim I. Padela and Rosie Duivenbode, claim that Dawoodi Bohra practices a form of gender equity, with the boys being circumcised and the girls being “nicked”. 

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