What didn’t get much coverage was the fact that the defendants belonged to a pro-FGM, Indian-Muslim cultish sect the Dawwodi Bohra whose websites list 40 mosques and “jamaats” (meaning “communities”) it has in America.
The Bohra also has a branch of medical professionals named the Saifee Burhani Medical Association that designs “jamaat-level initiatives for long-term health and preventative care.” Another Bohra affiliate notably transfers money for unspecified “medical treatments” in South Asia.
The group, Dawoodi Bohra, is led by a cleric in India, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, who publicly preaches that members “must” perform FGM “discreetly.” The Bohra is a small Shiite sect with only about 1.2 million followers, including about 12,000 in America.
“The act has to happen! If it is a man, then it is right, it can be openly done, but if it’s a woman, then it must be done discreetly, but then the act is to be done. Please understand what I am trying to talk about,” Saifuddin said in April 2016.
Bohra members said they understood his “cryptic” language to be referring to khatna and khafiz, their terms for FGM. Some Bohra figures will condemn FGM and then support khafiz, denying that it qualifies as “genital mutilation.”
A Breakthrough Case in Michigan
Among those who apparently understood Syedna Saifuddin’s “cryptic” preaching were the eight people accused of involvement in the FGM conspiracy committed against nine known victims, though authorities believe the actual number of victims is above 100.
Another mosque attendee, Tahera Shariq, a medical biller, was accused of involvement in the scheme. She was allegedly present at the clinic when it happened. The other four accused are the mothers of the victims, who described a procedure that can aptly be described as torture. Federal authorities found indications of a broader conspiracy and began investigating leads in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
In November 2018, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled the federal anti-FGM law is unconstitutional. Many of the charges were dropped, including those against three of the four mothers accused of subjecting their daughters to FGM. Federal prosecutors have filed a notice of appeal to reinstate the FGM charges against the defendants.
The three defendants who oversaw the FGM scheme attended a Bohra mosque in Farmington Hills, Michigan named Anjuman-e-Najmi. The attorney acting as the guardian for Dr. Nagarwala’s children alleged the mosque paid the doctor to perform FGM. The doctor’s husband was the treasurer of the mosque at the time. The mosque denied that it tells members to break the law and said their actions do not reflect the Dawoodi Bohra community.
On the day the FBI raided the medical clinic, former mosque president Saifuddin Bhabrawala was due to board a one-way flight to India. Though he booked the flight before the raid happened, his three-year tenure at the mosque included time when the FGM network was operating. One can’t help but look at the timing and wonder if he had an inkling of forthcoming action and decided it was time to flee to India.
The authorities detained the former Bohra mosque president and searched his devices before letting him leave the United States. Presumably, the search did not yield enough evidence to justify further detention and the filing of charges.
The filing of the charges against the three Bohra members in Michigan motivated women from the sect to publicly tell their stories of experiencing FGM in America. One woman, Nadia Mirza, told The New York Times she was victimized aged six in Houston, Texas. She compared her feelings to those of a rape survivor.
Raja is adamant that the Michigan case is not an isolated incident. It is not the work of a “radicalized” or “rogue” element in the Bohra sect. She writes: “Khatna has been a mandatory religious practice inflicted on Bohra girls all over the world for generations, often in knowing violation of local laws…Privately, many Bohras have been praying for the clergy to end this practice for years, even decades. More than one mother I know wept when she learned she was bearing a girl, dreading what she might have to do to her child.”
The procedures, she says, are often in unsanitary conditions by untrained hands. It is done with such secrecy that even many of the men, including male family members, don’t even know that it has happened.
Another victim in Texas is too afraid to speak out. She shared her story anonymously, similarly describing a community that would never defy its spiritual leader. “It was very, very painful. No painkiller. No anesthesia. They just cut. I still remember the scissors. I remember it very, very well,” she said.
Thankfully, brave Bohra women are now aggressively pushing for change, despite the risks that come with doing so. Five formed an anti-FGM group in 2015 named Sahiyo to challenge the leadership. They conducted an online poll of 400 Bohra women that found that 80% want to end the FGM practice that their community calls khatna.
It should be assumed that much more is happening in the Dawoodi Bohra community in America than we realize. Dissenting Bohras describe the group as a cult, preventing outsiders and even community members from knowing the full extent of what is going on.
A Pro-FGM Islamic Cult
The Detroit News reports “local mosque officials are in charge of following strict orders from Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the Dawoodi Bohra’s spiritual leader in India.”
Raja describes the cult-like nature of the sect: “Despite the prevalence of khatna among generations of Bohra women around the world, there has been almost no public conversation about it until just a few years ago. Speaking out about any of the numerous issues the clergy has come under scrutiny for—khatna, multiple lawsuits over alleged abuses of power, “big brother”-style surveillance of everyday Bohras—is seen as unacceptable. Dissidents can face excommunication and social boycott.
Likewise, a member of the Bohra community told the Milli Gazette in 2012 about the deep control that Syedna Saifuddin and the spiritual leadership has over the membership.
“Their social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns are commonly found in cultic environments. The present Dawoodi Bohra Da’i dictates, in great detail, how members should think, act and feel, how they must get permission to observe prayers, Hajj, change jobs, marry, what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so on and so forth. Dawoodi Bohras feel there can be no life outside the walls of their community. These are visible components of a cult which are against Islam.”
The Bohra member explains that community members are “intensely devoted to the cult-head and they worship him,” confirming Syedna Saifuddin is the “sole owner of Bohra mosques and the sole-trustee of the community’s charitable properties.” He uses the community’s wealth to live a “luxurious life of living in palaces, high-flying and big-spending.”
Saifuddin’s “absolute authoritarian control over the Bohra community” is maintained through cultish preaching that includes claiming he is capable of supernatural feats and rules over the souls of his followers. The Bohra member said that Saifuddin even required Bohra members to refer to themselves as “Slave[s] of Sayedna.”
The tight control includes isolating followers from other Muslims, rejecting non-Bohra Muslims from mosques, regulating attire and requiring the registering of each Bohra member into an online system and distributing ID cards.
Members also pay taxes to the leadership to help afford what one publication calls “a parallel autocratic government.” Those who disobey rules or challenge the leadership have been targeted for retaliation.
One Bohra near Dallas, Isufali Kundawala, emphasized that Bohra mosque officials are nothing more than “figureheads.” The dissident said, “Nobody can dissent or you’re excommunicated. People literally kiss letters that come from the Syedna.”
Bohra’s Physician Network
Based on the Michigan case, these testimonies of Bohra women victimized by FGM, and Syedna Saifuddin’s preaching, it should be most concerning that the sect has a branch of medical professionals named the Saifee Burhani Medical Association. It launched in 2015 with $252,000 in startup funds. Its website says it’s a “subsidiary of Dawat—Hadiyah, America.”
Dawat-E-Hadiyah America is the non-profit corporation administering the affairs of the Bohra community in America. According to NonProfitFacts.com, Dawat-E-Hadiyah, located in Calabasas, California, administers the affairs of dozens of Dawoodi Bohra mosques in America, including the mosque in Metro Detroit that the Bohra FGM operation was linked to.
According to their tax filings, the purpose of the organization is to “advance, safeguard, defend and protect the religious principles…of the Dawoodi Bohra Community led by His Holiness Syedna Khuzaima Qutbuddin.”
The organization says that it does not accept the leadership of Syedna Saifuddin, the successor to Qutbuddin, who died in 2016. They follow a different Bohra leader named Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, who they view as the legitimate successor. Tax forms for the organization show the group has made direct payments of $4,674 for “Cost of Medical Treatment” to a medical organization in South Asia.
Given the Dawoodi Bohra’s history with FGM, it is fair to question what unspecified “medical treatments” it is sponsoring in South Asia and elsewhere. The Ansaar-E-Fatemi Dawat told the Clarion Project that it did not fund FGM.
The organization sent a message to the Clarion Project denying that they support or fund FGM, along with articles showing that their favored Bohra leader has condemned FGM of girls. The statement more generally criticized the rival Bohra leadership for “limiting the education of girls, forcing a glass ceiling on the role women play in society and undermining the position they have in a marriage.
However, Fakruddin’s statement still supports khafiz (khatna) once females are legally adults and without force. He endorsed CDH (clitoral de-hooding) and CHR (clitoral hooding reduction). In our opinion, this still qualifies as FGM, albeit one that is more limited and not forced upon young girls, as has happened to girls in the Bohra community on a widespread scale for decades.
The Dawoodi Bohra Network in America
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2012 that about 500,000 girls in America had experienced FGM or are at risk of experiencing it. For those that want to stop FGM in America and around the world, the Dawoodi Bohra network in America should be of the utmost concern. In fairness, over a dozen Bohra communities in the U.S. and Europe have issued directives to members “to respect the laws of the land” and “you are strictly directed not to engage in khafd.”
However, the cultish loyalty to the pro-FGM leader, his demand that FGM be practiced “discreetly,” and the FGM operators’ efforts to mislead authorities, provide plenty of reason to doubt that these directives are sincere or are being followed by Bohra members. Below is a list of the 40 Dawoodi Bohra mosques and “jamaats” in America, according to the group’s website:
Arizona - Phoenix: Phoenix Jamaat
Colorado - Denver: Denver Jamaat
Maryland - Baltimore: Affiliated with the Washington DC jamaat.
Nevada - Clark County: Clark County Jamaat, covering Henderson, Nevada – Metropolitan Las Vegas
Oregon - Portland: Portland Jamaat
Washington DC - Washington DC: Anjuman-e-Ezzi