Two Metro Detroit doctors have been indicted by a federal grand jury for performing female genital mutilation on underage girls.
On Wednesday, the charges were brought up against both physicians, Jumana Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar, as well as Attar’s wife, Farida. The case against the group alleges that Nagarwala made use of Dr. Attar’s medical office in Livonia, MI, a large satellite city saddled up against the western outskirts of Detroit.
Only Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure, while the Attar husband-and-wife duo are named in the indictment as conspirators.
In a Washington Post article covering the breaking case, Samantha Schmidt defines female genital mutilation as being “the removal of all or part of a female’s genitals for nonmedical reasons. It is condemned by the United Nations and considered a human rights violation, but the practice is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East.”
The practice of female genital mutilation is largely confined to a swath of economically challenged Muslim-majority countries in North Africa, with fewer incidences in Iran and the Arab Gulf. Over half of all women in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Oman, Indonesia, and a number of other nations suffered the procedure – one which is often criticized by modern Islamic scholars as having roots in tribal tradition rather than religion.
All of the accused are members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam, which is itself an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Prominent Bohra clerics in South Asia have encouraged adherents to covertly perform female genital mutilation in countries where the procedure is illegal.
Reports from The Washington Post suggest the girls who went under Nagarwala’s knife, aged 7 at the time, were from Minnesota. Their parents allegedly brought them to Attar’s Livonia office after-hours; they were also members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect. Nagarwala maintains that she did not cut or lacerate the girls’ genitals but rather scraped off a portion of membrane for use in a “religious ritual.”
The larger Dawoodi Bohra community in Detroit and Minnesota has said it will cooperate fully with the communities and urges others not to draw judgment. In statements issued to the press, the organization’s leadership said what Nagarwala and the Attars did “does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America. We take our religion seriously but our culture is modern and forward-thinking.”
The federal indictment is the first brought in the United States for female genital mutilation. The acting special agent in charge of the investigation, Steve Francis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations department, declared in a statement: “As the first federal indictment in the U.S., these charges will hopefully deal a critical blow to stamping out this inhumane practice in the United States and around the world.”
Nagarwala was fired from her position as an emergency physician at the Henry Ford Health System shortly after her arrest and detainment midway through April.
Her attorneys are standing by Nagarwala’s story that the procedures she performed were not illegal or otherwise unethical.
“What happened at the clinic was not FGM,” said defense attorney Mary Chartier. “I believe they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and I do not make that allegation lightly.”