The Detroit Free Press reported Thursday that documents obtained by the paper show much more serious mutilation of Dr. Jumana Nagarwala’s alleged victims’ genitals than the doctor admitted.
The arrests of Dr. Nagarwala and two others last week represent the first federal female genital mutilation (FGM) investigation in United States history. FGM is common in the Islamic world, particularly in Africa. According to UNICEF, 98 percent of Somali girls and 87 percent of Egyptians have endured the procedure. FGM involves removing varying amounts of the victim’s — usually a pre-pubescent girl — clitoris, labia majoria, and labia minora. In its most extreme form, the victim is “infibulated,” having virtually all her external genitalia removed and being sewn up, leaving her with only a tiny hole from which to urinate and menstruate.
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 scraped 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.
Previously unheard of in the United States, the criminal complaints against the three suspects in this Michigan-based conspiracy to commit FGM — Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, and his wife, Farida Attar — describe them as members of a “particular religious and cultural community.” That community has since been revealed as the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim sect, a branch of Shi’ite Islam popular in India, Pakistan, and East Africa. The worldwide leader of that sect, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, has repeatedly called for the tradition of FGM to continue, describing it, according to a State Department report, as an “act of religious purity” and “a religious obligation for all women and girls.”
According to the complaints, the alleged victims in this case were brought by their parents, in what was described to them as a “special girls trip,” all the way from Minnesota to Dr. Attar’s Burhani Medical Center in Livonia, Michigan. The girls, who are not related, were allegedly told the cutting was needed to “get the germs out” and that they were not to tell anyone about what happened to them.
One of the victims told the FBI she screamed in pain as Dr. Nargawala operated between her legs and that she was barely able to walk as she left the clinic. According to the complaint, doctors working with the FBI found that both seven-year-olds’ genitals were “abnormal looking” with “scar tissue” and “small healing lacerations.”
Authorities believe many more than these two girls have been mutilated by this suburban Detroit FGM operation. Evidence suggests girls have been brought to Michigan from around the Midwest to undergo the gruesome operation since at least 2005. According to the complaint, several Michigan girls have complained to authorities that they were mutilated by Dr. Nargawala in Dr. Attar’s clinic. Authorities believe Nargawala came to the Burhani clinic on weekends to perform FGM separately from her weekday job as an emergency room doctor at Detriot’s Henry Ford Hospital. In her interview with the FBI, Farida Attar, the clinic owner’s wife, claimed Nargawala came to their clinic to see six to nine girls a year.
The defendants will face up to five years in federal prison for each count of FGM in this first case, in a wider push to eradicate the barbaric Islamic practice from America.