Michigan doctor Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested earlier this spring on federal charges of performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota. On Wednesday, a federal prosecutor indicated that the number of likely victims is in fact much higher.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward told a federal judge Wednesday that Nagarwala’s two recent victims were likely preceded by up to 100 other girls, Church Militant reported.
Back in April, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, were arrested in connection with the case. Both were charged with federal criminal counts of conspiracy, female genital mutilation, and aiding and abetting, CNN reported. The three defendants’ case is the first involving female genital mutilation in the United States.
FGM is the general term used to describe a painful surgical procedure to remove, cut, or cauterize a woman’s clitoris. Advocates of the procedure claim that it is healthy and even necessary for regulating women’s sexual desires.
The attorneys representing Dr. Nagarwala and the Attars have defended their clients’ actions by arguing that the procedure is religious in nature and does not involve cutting. Both Nagarwala and the Attars are Shia Muslims.
Speaking before U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman Wednesday, Attorney Sara Woodward explained that “due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. Nagarwala.” What we do know, she added, is that “the Minnesota victims were not the first victims.”
Church Militant reported that following the arrests of the Attars and Nagarwala back in April, Michigan State Rep. Michele Hoitenga introduced SB1386, a new bill “aimed at keeping religion from being used a defense in court.” In an interview with Church Militant, Hoitenga assured that “a separate bill banning FGM should be forthcoming.”
Hoitenga’s proposed reforms have already received backlash from local leaders, including Representative Abdullah Hammoud, a Muslim legislator representing Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the highest Muslim populations in the country. Speaking out against Hoitenga’s proposals, Hammoud dismissed claims that Islam promotes FGM.
“That’s just not a thing,” he said.
Other Muslims, however, have indicated that FGM is very much “a thing” among the religious faithful.
Church Militant noted that Sharia scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, has claimed that “circumcision is better for a woman’s health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband.”
And more recently, a Muslim religious leader in Virginia made national headlines after a video of him praising FGM went viral.
“(Circumcision is) a sunna [traditional Islamic practice] for the boys, and the honorable thing to do – if needed – for the girls. This is something that a Muslim gynecologist can tell you if you need to or not,” Imam Shaker Elsayed of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, said in the video published last month.
The purpose of the procedure, according to Elsayed, is to ensure that a woman (or girl, in most cases) “is not hyper-sexually active.”
Last month, Muslim writer and reformer Shireen Qudosi wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the damaging effects of FGM on girls.
“FGM is a cultural practice with one key aim: To control an emerging woman’s sexuality by physically removing the most sensitive part of her anatomy,” she explains.
According to Qudosi, FGM comes from a warped interpretation of Islam that reduces women to objects of male pleasure and control. It is a barbaric ritual that has no place in a Western society that acknowledges the inherent dignity and equality of men and women.
More from The New York Times:
Destroying the clitoris means destroying a woman’s ability to fully experience and enjoy sex, including using that experience to communicate her desire and enjoyment even with her husband. She exists simply for reproductive purposes or to service the needs of her husband. What it comes down to is control; it is much easier to control someone who cannot feel. This is not acceptable. We must all stand up for the right of women in all societies to fully develop all aspects of their being.