Sara’s story is brutal, emotional and tears at the soul. Her bravery in telling it is a testament to her survivor spirit.
A young woman from the United States shared her story with us. This is Sara’s journey out of Islam and her voice against FGM.
“My name is Sahara (Sara). I was born in Somalia but grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya for about 12 years. My biological mother died right after I was born. My biological father and I were separated due to the civil war in Somalia in 1991. Many years later, I came to America. I had no formal education and did not even know how to write my first name. I literally started from zero at the age of seventeen!
From an early age, I dreamt that I would someday be able to attend school. I was eager to learn how to read and write. Today, thanks to America and the opportunity it provided, I was able to graduate from college. Many people believed in me and helped me through my journey to become literate!
I remember very well a big event that took place in my teenage years in Kenya. My biological father’s side of the family began to force me to do something that would have had a detrimental effect on my future. I was brutally beaten for questioning their decision. (Children and women are commonly physically and mentally abused in the culture I came from). I eventually escaped from my family to seek a better life.
I came to the USA at the age of seventeen. All the girls I came with got married and a few worked at jobs that didn’t require English. In Kenya, especially in the camp where I grew up, girls got married (arranged and forced) at very young ages between 14- 15. In Somali culture it’s a common practice. I am against girls or boys being forced to marry without their consent. I never pictured that life for myself. I always knew in my heart that there was more than what I was told ! I dreamt of a different world where I could choose what I wanted in life. My goals and dreams were to become literate. I had dreamt as a little girl that someday, I would go somewhere in the world and become someone who could make a difference in humanity and for society. I didn’t quite know what that “something” was, but I knew I wanted to become educated and especially learn how to read and write.
My caregivers wanted me to do the same thing the other girls were doing. This meant they thought I should get married and maybe also get a job and make money so that I could send financial support to people back in Kenya. I stood up for myself because my dream was to go to highschool and then onto college. The caregiver didn’t approve of this. I stood up to them and stuck to my word. I told them that it’s never too late to learn and I was going to become literate!
As I began to comprehend English, I learned how to read and think more critically. I grew up being told that Allah will strike you down if you remove your hijab in public. I was indoctrinated that Islam is the only path in life. Other people were infidels. People who I was told not to associate with (gaalo ) were so kind and welcomed me to this new home with open arms. I always wondered why a creator would create other good people with different beliefs that would go to hell. I feel a creator would know our hearts regardless of what particular beliefs we hold. It is important to be a good person without having to put a label on people. Labels divide people. We are all part of the human race.
When I first removed my headcover (Hijab), it was the first time since I was six or seven. Allah did NOT strike me down ! We are told that in order to put fear in children. I felt good about my decision. It was an empowering experience! It was a beautiful moment to feel the wind through my hair, especially when I rode my bike! I learned how to ride a bike about 3 years ago! I remember where I grew up, girls didn’t ride bikes because that was not culturally acceptable.
I believe it was around 2016 to 2017 when I started looking into Islam and its teachings in an objective manner. While conversing with a coworker, Ayaan Hersey Ali’s name came up. The person I was having a conversation with said “Ayaan needs to die and deserves to be killed!” I replied, “Why would you kill someone? Doesn’t she have the same rights as you?” Then this person said to me, “Do you know that I can kill you (meaning me) if you leave Islam and remove your headcover?” (hijab). I was terrified and so heartbroken that someone I knew justified that she could kill me because her book (Quran) allowed her to do so!
This was my full wake up call. I started reviewing Islam and its teachings, thinking more deeply as I read. I’ve discovered that if individuals simply decide to leave this ideology of Islam and its teachings, they are apostates. This means Islam and its teachings death calls to ExMuslims! These threats, bullies and abuses happen around the world, even in America and other western countries. The hypocrisy in a country that values freedom of speech and religion but allows death threats against ExMuslims is appalling!
We need to deal with Islam’s denials, stigmas and taboos. We are told not to talk about Allah’s words which I find very hard. We need to discuss the rights of the whole human being, women, children, and vulnerable people. It is sad that the religion of Islam cannot tolerate critique/criticism. I have always thought that if religion is truly from a creator, that it should speak for itself, not human beings having to defend it. I have a dream that someday people will look at each other as human beings, rather than at their race or religion. I am not speaking out against the people, who I have nothing against, but against the lies and terrible practices encouraged by the Islamic ideology. Stay humble and spread kindness.
Female Genital Mutilation is prerformed nearly 100% of the time on Muslim girls of Somali descent in Africa. Innocent little girls between the ages of 5 and 6, and older, are forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Even today, years later, many girls who went through these horrible practices still suffer from PTSD. I still struggle from the trauma of that event 25 years later.
I remember that it was mid morning when an elder woman came to our one room house with a dirt floor. We were forced to lie on the dirt floor without a blanket. We, as little girls, were told it was something good for us. This was done to all girls and it was normalized in Somali culture! To be quite honest everyone was going through these horrible practices. It was part of the culture, and also religion encourages that girls must be purified so they can be clean and to make sure they’re virgins until their marriage. Just thinking about this now makes my stomach literally turn upside down. It was absolutely disgusting and disheartening. These forms of child abuse and sexual abuse have been allowed even in the west, the free world.
It was very painful and this was done without any medical procedure without pain killers, or medicine. In other words, they don’t use anesthesia for numbing the areas that have been cut off and scraped out. I don’t remember a lot because we passed out from the pain. I have seen it being done to other girls. The procedure is called Firauni. The girls’ hands and feet are held down by a couple of adults. Everything is scraped and cut out of the genital area. The girls’ legs are tied together so the skin will fuse together. After several weeks (while remaining tied up), if the fusion did not take place, the whole procedure would be repeated again! There is only a small hole left for urination and menstrual blood. It’s horrible and inhuman and it should not be done to any human being! I believe that many Somali girls have gone through the dangerous Firauni procedure. Approximately 80 % to 95% of Somali girls have gone through the FGM. A razor blade is used without being sterilized.
Usually the individuals who perform FGM are older persons between 50 to 70 years of age or even sometime older. Most of these ladies are illiterate individuals and aren’t educated about the long term health risks and childhood trauma that come with these experiences. These elderly women do get paid for performing these practices. I would say that in the places where I grew up in the Kenya camp, that it was done 100% to little girls because every girl I knew had gone through FGM! If you didn’t go through this, these girls would be bullied, excommunicated, excluded, abused, and singled out from the Somali community! Literally, if you didn’t go through this, you are an alien in the world and invisible.
In the West it’s happening secretly. We know that children (girls) are taken overseas and I have no doubt it’s also being practiced here secretly even though it’s illegal. It is still happening in America and other western nations. This part of my memory has been partially suppressed because the pain and the darkness that comes with it hasn’t been easy. It was definitely therapeutic to write about it. That’s why individuals like me need to speak out about these barbaric practices! This practice has long term negative effects. It is difficult when having a period. It can cause problems urinating. There is increased risk in childbirth. It makes having sex painful. There is no joyful pleasure in it for women. There is no reason for it. It produces negative emotional and physical pain. You may suffer low self esteem from having undergone FGM.
Now that I live in this great country , the USA, I can heal myself and also help expose this issue and help put an end to this inhumane and cruel practice. I can help others to heal from this awful trauma by letting them know that they are not alone. Also, I am grateful that now I’m able to read and write and use my voice and fight these horrifying practices. It breaks my heart that this is still happening today, in a world such as America and the Western world that is supposed to protect little children from these horrifying trauma.I hope that this message will resonate throughout the world !! Even if it is widely practiced today in the world where I grew up, it does NOT make it ok. It absolutely makes me sad and angry that I had no choice. In the camp where I grew up, every girl went through because it was something that was normalized through the community. We should recognize its physical and emotional harm.
No human being, especially children, should go through these awful dark traumatic experiences! I’ll fight for those who are voiceless, children and vulnerable people! That’s why it’s important for me to share my story and voice.”
I have a message for those of us who care for humanity. If you truly do care, I urge and challenge you to take a immediate action to stop FGM forever and ever! Join the good fight by educating yourself and others. Speak out so that others are aware. There are organizations that are fighting FGM and child forced marriage. Go to the AHA foundation by (Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
I am an “ExMuslim, and although I don’t like labels,I feel compelled to use this word to normalize the abandonment from Islam ; that it’s ok to leave Islam without consequences!
People should have a right to question, practice, or not practice, but never inflict harm upon other people. We should have a common ground which is to live in peace and harmony!
Currently, I live in America. . I cannot thank enough what America has done for me! I’m grateful and thankful to live in the USA. I’m lucky and privileged to be a proud American citizen! I’ve learned how to read, write, and speak English because of hard work and dedication. I am presently writing my autobiography.
Thank you for reading my story and stay humble and spread kindness”
Sara’s letter to “This American Life” organization
FGM is practiced all over the world. The story below is reminiscent of Sara’s story. This was reported on several years ago on Iraqi television.
Four-year-old “Shwin” enters the room, cuddling a plastic toy, not knowing what awaits her. Her mother holds her down on an old blanket, and moments later, an elderly woman takes out a razor and cuts off a small part of the baby’s reproductive system (clitoris). The woman says that “the circumcision of the girl child is dependent on her physical development. (development of the clitoris) It may happen in some at the age of three or four, but it does not appear before seven in others.” The woman then sprinkled the affected part with ashes “in order to heal the wound quickly and for blood to clot and the child not to bleed. I learned the profession 20 years ago, and a doctor advised me to pay attention when cutting the clitoris, so that this does not negatively affect her sexual feelings and to avoid bleeding.” She adds that “cutting must be according to the Sunnah (sharia) of the Prophet Mohmad only, because this tradition we inherited is old and it is present in Islam. The Messenger ordered us to follow his Sunnahs and this is why we practice it.”
The woman who carried out the FGM explains that she receives 2,000 Iraqi dinars (one and a half dollars) for each FGM and that she circumcises more than 100 girls every year.
This is not an unusual practice in Iraq either. A study was conducted in 190 villages in Kurdish region of Iraq. Between 75% to 95% of women and small girls have faced FGM. Generally today, the age of procedure is 14, but it is done younger as well, as in the story above. No anesthetic, no disinfectant, no sterile instruments. It is done by local women, behind locked doors of the home.
The World Health Organization has published an extensive article on the practice.
- Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
- The practice has no health benefits for girls and women.
- FGM can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
- More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated
- FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
- FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
- Treatment of health complications of FGM in 27 high prevalence countries costs 1.4 billion USD per year.
Women circumcision is practiced in 27 African states, in Indonesia and in Kurdish region in Iraq. Parts of women genitals will be circumcised without any reason except that sharia requires it .
Parents force their daughters or sisters to undergo FGM. It is not a government directive, but much pressure is put upon families to perform FGM on their females. Women who faced FGM feel ashamed and have suffered not only pain, but lack of confidence in their sexuality. They have less desire to have sex. Many women try to hide the fact that they have undergone FGM.
Many girls in the community, if they voice misgivings or refuse, are attacked by the women in the community. They are threatened by the men that marriage is out of the question unless they are circumcised.
FGM IN WESTERN COUNTRIES
FGM has been revealed to be practiced in Canada and the United States as well. Often, girls are sent to their country of origin to have the procedure, but it is also performed here in secrecy.
In 1997, the Parliament of Canada passed an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada expressly prohibiting all forms of female genital mutilation in Canada. Under the code, it is prohibited to aid, abet or counsel such assault and to interfere with genitalia for nonmedical reasons. Moreover, the amendment expressly prohibits the transport of a child outside of Canada for the purpose of obtaining female genital mutilation. Anyone found to have carried out these offences faces up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine.
Such a law does not prevent communities from performing FGM. The Somalian community is known for this practice, and it is done within the community. Other Islamic communities in Canada also practice it, but it is sometimes fought against by the women in the community.
In the United States, a doctor was charged for involvement in FGM procedure. The case, believed to be the nation’s first involving female genital mutilation emerged in April 2017 when a Dr Nagarwala was arrested and accused of heading a conspiracy that lasted 12 years and involved seven other people. In 2020, a federal judge dismissed the most serious remaining charge against the doctor.
Sara’s story, and the stories of many other women like her need to be told. Although she has gone through so much trauma in her life, she is full of hope and thankfulness for her opportunities in her new home, the United States of America. Many of her communications with us ended with expressions of peace and kindness.
Much more needs to be done to expose this barbaric practice. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us, we need to expose this practice more and more so that it is truly eradicated.
I previously mentioned that I left Islam because I remembered as a little girl, I never had the choice to decide if I wanted to be Muslim or follow this ideology! I was unfortunately (I feel) born into this ideology and to be Muslim was expected of everyone who was Somali!
When we leave the religion of Islam, it’s not like other religions like Christianity. Individuals who leave this particular ideology, their lives are on the line! Since I am no longer practice Islam or I should say not Muslim and especially speaking out, sadly it comes with consequences that even in the west we have to be careful and avoid going to places that will put us in danger!
I’m much happier to not belong to a toxic and unhealthy ideology and community any longer! I’m stronger and a better human being. 2021 is the year that I finally am no longer staying silent and hiding who I am! I am very passionate regarding freedom, especially freedom of religion!
It’s time for individuals like me to speak out and share their voices and stories! Stay humble and spread kindness .
As a Somali-American I agree with what Ayaan says. Ayaan’s story and experiences overlap with mine and there are much similarities with experiences. Reading her book The infidel was reading my own story! It so relatable for me, especially to someone who grew up in a refugee camp! As I am new to this journey of sharing my story and voice in public, I am learning a lot and willing to listen and learn from others. I’m nervous and excited for where this journey is going to take me! Thank you for reading my story!