Calls for the introduction of FGM in the Maldives should worry all of us

It is vitally important the UK uses its influence and clout to lead a global campaign that seeks to rid the world of FGM.

Ghaffar Hussain is head of research at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a gross human rights violation that should not be tolerated anywhere in the world.

Despite FGM being illegal in the UK since 1985, there have been no prosecutions to date and a culture of secrecy within communities in which it occurs, combined with misplaced cultural sensitivities, has allowed this practice to thrive.

However, increased awareness and campaigning around the issue has meant there is now more will to enforce existing laws in much more rigorous way.

In spite of the tide swinging in the right way in the UK, the picture is not so good in other countries. Of particular concern is the Maldives. Dr. Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, vice president of the influential Fiqh Academy of the Maldives, who is also a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Adhaalath Party, has issued a fatwa for FGM stating that it is justified on theological grounds.

Due to Dr. Latheef prominent position in Fiqh Academy, which was established by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, there is concern about the influence these calls could have on Maldivian society.

The call for FGM in the Maldives is based on highly literalist and austere interpretations of Islam that have been imported into the country in recent years. These calls are part of a wider lurch towards an archaic form of religious conservatism that is currently taking place and backed by social conservatives in other parts of the world.

My colleague Dr Usama Hasan has challenged the religious justification for FGM, stating:

“FGM has no Islamic sanction – there are just two traditions on the subject, both of which are strongly disputed, with many jurists throughout history discounting them as having nothing to do with the Prophet of Islam, but, like the blasphemy and apostasy laws of medieval Islam, FGM became a theoretical juristic position even though it was rarely practiced. Contemporary Muslim scholars are increasingly opposed to and dismissive of FGM.”

We at Quilliam have welcomed the recent shift towards a tougher approach to the enforcement of existing anti-FGM laws in the UK, and commend the campaign of the young British Somali woman from Bristol, Leyla Hussein, in this regard.

Last Saturday, on International Women’s Day, development minister Lynne Featherstone stated that it was the aim of her department to reduce FGM in Africa by 30 per cent within the next five years. Others, such as Michael Gove, have also made a commitment to stamping out this evil practise.

With this much-welcomed cultural transformation taking place in the UK, it is vitally important that we now use our global influence and clout to lead a global campaign that seeks to rid the world of FGM.

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