Saudi Arabia: Welcome to the 21st Century!

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Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree yesterday, allowing women to finally be able to drive. My mother worked as an OB/GYN in Saudi Arabia in the 1970’s. She was a practicing physician who had to have a mahram (a male chaperone from immediate family or husband) and could not drive to work. This made it very difficult for my father and my mother, since he would have to travel for his work. She tells me stories of how she would be denied transportation by taxi drivers who feared being seen with a woman who was not related to them.

One story stands out in my mind. She had an emergency call from the hospital and they needed her to come to attend one of her patients immediately. My father was traveling to another city and was not present. She called another female friend to come with her so she would not go alone. The taxi driver would not even allow them to explain themselves. He drove away in a hurry. She then called the hospital and told them they would need to send transportation for her. They refused. No one wanted to break the law that would land them immediately into jail for several violations (picking up an unrelated woman, driving her without her mahram, not reporting this to the authorities, etc).

Women in the United States go blissfully about their business daily. We take for granted many civil liberties that are offered to us without a second thought to other women who have to live by antiquated laws. I wrote another blog on women’s identity in Islam here Women have never been able to drive in the country because it was ruled by Muslim clerics that the additional freedom would impede restrictions on them (and yes, one cleric incorrectly hypothesized that driving affects women’s ovaries and pelvis).

While we can celebrate the fact that Saudi Arabia has finally made it to the 21st century, there are many other limitations placed on women. Driving is just the first (small) step. There are strict guardianship laws that are dictated by Islamic Law. Women there still need men’s permission to have medical procedures done and even see a physician! Where is the outrage at that?

Even in the United Kingdom, there are Muslim clerics who call for restrictions on women. There is an article here by the UK Telegraph that shares how a ruling went out that forbids British Muslim women to go more than 48 miles radius without a male family chaperone. All of this reminds me to be thankful of the freedoms we have here in America. We have freedom to drive, to seek medical attention, to go to school and to work. We have freedom to practice religion and to worship.

May we THANK men and women who have fought for our nation and may we THANK GOD for allowing us to live here!

~But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!

2 Corinthians 3:16-17

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Islam & Female Genital Mutilation?

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There was an article that just came out yesterday from the Detroit Free Press about three female Muslim doctors who were arrested in Detroit, Michigan for mutilating six to nine year old girls. The latest one to be arrested was Dr. Nagarwala. There is an 11 page report from the Department of Justice (here) from April 13, 2017 about the Emergency Room Physician. It was reported that “Dr. Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, claimed in her initial court hearing that no cutting of the seven-year-old alleged victims took place and that excess skin was simply scrapped off to be buried in a religious ceremony. The Free Press, however, reports that documents they reviewed show the injuries to the two Minnesota girls’ genitals were “much more severe” than Nagarwala is claiming.”

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It boggles my mind how women in the United States can march about Women’s rights and then blatantly ignore what is happening all around the world. The cases for arrest are especially of notice because they are RIGHT HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, people! This is not just a barbaric ritual done in a dark alley somewhere. This is something that women with their Medical Doctor degrees were doing in clinics here.

Why is this type of thing not looked at? Why is it not reported?

Many Muslims will tell you (including me, when I was a Muslim!) that this is not practiced by all Muslims. This is TRUE. However, this is something that the Hadith (traditions of Mohammad and guidelines for Muslims to use) does not forbid. This is practiced mainly  in Muslim countries in Africa (see map picture) and it is terribly difficult to understand or to research.

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A study done by WADI (a German-Austrian NGO) in 2003 revealed that the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was not just limited to the African continent. After over a year of medical work from all-female teams in Kurdistan began to gain trust with the local women, they found that close to 60% of the women had undergone cutting (see article with citations of study here).  While many Muslims will deny that Islam has a link to FGM, there is no denying the fact that the countries in which it is practiced are indeed Muslim.

The most often mentioned narration reports a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”[38]

Abu Sahlieh further cited Muhammad as saying, “Circumcision is a sunna (tradition) for the men and makruma (honorable deed) for the women.”[39] So, as you can see, the Quran DOES NOT make mention of it, only Hadith and even in the Hadith, it is not forbidden, but to simply not cut severely.

There are fatwas (Islamic decrees) Fatwa 60314 that address this issue:

We would add here the fatwas of some modern scholars who have responded to this war that has been launched against female circumcision on the grounds that it is harmful to health.

Shaykh Jaad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jaad al-Haqq, the former Shaykh of al-Azhar, said:

Hence the fuqaha’ of all madhhabs are agreed that circumcision for both men and woman is part of the fitrah of Islam and one of the symbols of the faith, and it is something praiseworthy. There is no report from any of the Muslim fuqaha’, according to what we have studied in their books that are available to us, to say that circumcision is forbidden for men or women, or that it is not permissible, or that it is harmful for females, if it is done in the manner that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught to Umm Habeebah in the report quoted above.

Then he said: From the above it is clear that the circumcision of girls – which is the topic under discussion here – is part of the fitrah of Islam, and the way it is to be done is the method that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) explained. It is not right to abandon his teachings for the view of anyone else, even if that is a doctor, because medicine is knowledge and knowledge is always developing and changing. End quote.

In the fatwa of Shaykh ‘Atiyah Saqar – the former heard of the Fatwa Committee in al-Azhar – it says:

The calls which urge the banning of female circumcision are call that go against Islam, because there is no clear text in the Qur’aan or Sunnah and there is no opinion of the fuqaha’ that says that female circumcision is haraam. Female circumcision is either obligatory or recommended. Even though there is a fiqhi principle which says that the decree of a ruler may put an end to a dispute regarding controversial matters, the decree of the ruler in this case cannot be but either of two things: that it is either obligatory or recommended, and it is not correct to issue a decree banning it, so as not to go against sharee’ah which is the principal source of legislation in our land, whose constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country. It is permissible to issue some legislation that provides guidelines for performing this procedure (female circumcision) in the proper manner in such a way that does not contradict the rulings of sharee’ah.

The words of the doctors and others are not definitive. Scientific discoveries are still opening doors every day which change our old perceptions. End quote.

No one wants to talk about this in Islam. Why? Taboo. Shame and honor culture. For a culture that forbids women to interact with men who are not family, it is very difficult to even speak about personal female matters.

When I speak and teach about Islam and how to build a bridge with Muslims, I am inevitably asked about FGM and whether or not I was involved in this practice. I can thankfully say that Pakistan is shown on the map as “rare occurrence.” This is not something Pakistanis would even speak about within their families (my mother was an OB/GYN in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan- I never heard her mention this in my life). The first time I ever heard about this practice was in college and I thought it was ridiculous that such a claim was being made about Islam, since I had no knowledge of it. I was ignorant of what was being practiced in the world.  Seems like I wasn’t the only one who was ignorant. There were many others around the world who were ignorant of this going on… it took the WADI report to bring it to the 21st century. Updates were given in 2010 by the Human Rights Watch that yes, indeed this is not just limited to Africa, but is prevalent in Kurdistan and no one reports it due to “embarrassment.” Another Update was given in 2016 by the New York Times that FGM was not just limited to the African continent, but was also prevalent in Indonesia (another predominantly Muslim nation).

Even living in the United States as a Muslim, with the freedoms given here, many Muslim women do not speak up about divorce, about domestic violence and beatings, or about FGM. It’s simply not done. It brings shame upon your household and your family name. You will be looked upon as someone who is out of control and needs to be brought back in line by the family or the community. Talk about embarrassment – maybe someone will find out you are talking about private parts and we simply cannot have that.

Where is the outrage? Where are the parents of the little girls who brought them across state lines to have them be mutilated? Why are we not hearing about this atrocity being committed in the US? Are we truly fighting for women’s rights or is it more about fulfilling other agendas?

May we arise from our sleep and walk in the light of Christ!

Ephesians 5: 13-15~ But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes a light itself. 14So it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise upfrom the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…