October 22, 2019
When did you first become aware of FGM?
2008 – in Egypt. There was an essay on the internet about the dangers of circumcision for both boys and girls, not just girls. The essay was written by a famous female doctor and I found out that she had written a whole book about it. I bought the book and read it and became completely convinced that it shouldn’t happen to anyone.
In what ways do you think men can make a difference when it comes to FGM? (in creating awareness/changing mindsets/ending the practice)
Obviously, the situation for women in the Middle East is not good – they’re not the same level like men, they can’t make decisions like men. So, when a woman speaks her mind, it can be a problem for her. But when it’s a man that’s doing this, it makes a difference because he’s got the power.
Since they introduced the law against FGM in Egypt, with fines and prison sentences, lots of people don’t do it after that. But there’s still habits, customs and traditions, especially in the countryside.
What reasons do you think are given for FGM?
History, I think. Egypt has been invaded by many other nations, such as Greeks, Persians, Romans and Arabs. And when they come and stay in the country for a long time, they start bringing their history, customs and habits with them. I think this is where it came from – as far as I know, Ancient Egypt didn’t have FGM. The only thing that was happening in Ancient Egypt was circumcision for men when they are 16 – this marked going from a child to a man. But female circumcision must have come from Africa or from Arabs.
Why do you think that families still practice FGM?
Religion – ignorance is so strong. And people look at it as a ‘shame’ if you don’t do it.
And mainly people see it as a way to stop girls from doing the wrong things. That’s the main reason why people do it – ‘we don’t want her to be a…’
Any text in Islam which suggests the advocation of FGM is not authentic, it’s a weak hadith – if you live in a small village with no access to books, internet or phones – if all you do is farm then whatever the holy men tell you, you will do it / you will believe them. You will do only what you’re told to do.
Did you ever talk about FGM with family or friends?
Well, usually these are things we don’t talk about. What happened when I decided not to do it to my son was that my wife told me the story that my mum had told her, which I didn’t know. Then she told me about it – that my mum had tried to run away when they had tried to cut her – this was in the countryside. But they caught her, brought her back and did it to her. That happened to my mum and her sister. My mum told me that when there is a flood in the Nile, that’s when they do it to girls. It’s seen as a sign that her body is ready.
My mum was one of 4 sisters – her and her older sibling were done on the same day as they were the oldest. But the other two sisters were lucky – every time there was a flood coming, something happened in the family that kept them busy and meant that they couldn’t perform the FGM – so the other two didn’t have it. The flooding is like a sacrifice / thanks giving.
I think it may be different in the North and South of Egypt.
I had that pressure on me to cut my son, even from my wife. But over time my family came to see my point of view. The thing that helped me most was thinking about / talking about ‘Sunna’ – the idea that you don’t have to do it, it’s optional. It’s not like fasting or praying or whatever. If someone is healthy, why should we change them? I have seen many boys die. Does he need it? No. It’s simple logic.
I suppose that’s why education is so important.
It’s not about education, as long as there are religious opinions in this, it doesn’t matter what education you’ve had. If an Imam says to do something, then people will follow it.
They keep saying (especially about men, not women) that if they don’t circumcise their sons then they are going to get HIV, he’s going to be unclean all the time, have all these problems – 75% of the world is not circumcised! – are you saying that 75% of the world has problems?
It’s simple. The way I look at it: if you have a problem then go to the doctor.
For females it’s much worse – especially in Sudan and Somalia. If your daughter is not circumcised then she’s seen as a whore – that’s the way they look at it.
Do you think men see women’s sexual pleasure as important?
Lots of problems in Egypt and divorces are caused by this because women who have had FGM may not enjoy sex. For examples, in a type 3 FGM women may have to fake it all the time to make them think that she’s alright. It’s really sad, that’s all I can say.
Do you think it can be helpful for the campaign to end FGM if men say that they are happy to marry an uncut girl?
It depends what your background is – I’m from Cairo so more open-minded than the countryside of course. More educated and more inclined to question things. So, I think for us it’s completely different from if you’re from the countryside. I think that sometimes it’s almost impossible to change people – you have to force it by law.
In what ways do men in your community have the power to make decisions and stop FGM from happening?
They have the power but where is the will? Only holy people can change people’s minds. I’ve seen this with my own eyes.
Do you think that if more families speak out and say that they’re against it, that influences other people in the community?
No, I think there should be a lot of efforts to make them try to understand why they shouldn’t be doing it, but if the organisations here are talking to the holy men and convincing them of this and then they spread the message to their followers, then their followers, etc.
Do you think that the holy men can be trusted with that responsibility, or do you think it depends on the Imam?
It depends on the Iman. I am a bookworm, I love reading, and I have noticed since I came here that there is a difference between Pakistani Muslims and Egyptian Muslims.
I saw on BBC iPlayer years ago that Bangladeshi men used to urinate in the street instead of look for a toilet. So, to stop them from doing that they would put Arabic writing on the walls – they can’t read Arabic, but they know how the Arabic letters look and the men thought it was words from the Qur’an, and so they would go away. That’s how powerful religion is here – it stopped them from doing this silly habit.
With Asian Muslims, lots of them don’t eat prawns, crab. They have some kind of fatwa against them. They don’t eat anything from the sea that is not fish.
They don’t eat it to be on the safe side, just because someone told him not to. He thinks, ‘you know better than me’. They often take the holy man’s word and don’t question him. They also don’t want to ask another one for a second opinion.
Have you had any conversations with men about FGM? If yes, what have their thoughts been?
Only my one friend who said he doesn’t do it in his family – I think that’s the only one.
For me, it’s just about children – it doesn’t matter what their sex is, you’re causing damage either way.
In what ways can we act to end FGM?
Translate materials – when people see things in their own language it’s much more accessible.
Do you think that there are particular tools which are helpful to have conversations? The hashtag, the app, hard copy e.g. booklet, etc.
Awareness-raising in original language. At your stall what caught my eyes was FGM in Arabic.
Just a brief description/information. Words can really get people’s attention – like using words to describe how dangerous it is. People care about children’s safety and about their mental health. It has to be a strong message to make someone start thinking about it and not just ignore it.
Who do you think is best placed to talk about FGM with men?
Have you had conversations with your family now that you’re older?
I spoke to my mum today as she had never told me the story before, she’d told it to my wife. I just wanted to make sure that I got the right information from her. I think she had talked to my sisters about it. The older you get, the more open you get.
If you ever meet anyone who is hesitant about it and you want my support, I can help.