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 Sara. I was born in Somalia but grew up and lived in a refugee camp in Kenya half of my life. My biological mother died right after I was born. My biological father and I were separated due to the civil war in Somalia 1991. Many years later, I came to America without a formal education and did not even know how to write my first name. Today, I graduated with my bachelors degree in social service and am seeking my masters for social worker!
I am an ExMuslim, and though I do not like labels , I feel compelled to use this word ExMuslim to normalize the dissent of Islam, that it’s ok to leave Islam without consequences! Getting beaten up is something normalized in the Somali community.
I remembered very well a big event that took place in my teenage years, one time my biological father’s side of the family wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do, so I was beaten for questioning since I was a small girl. Beating of women happens all the time in the Somali community, even here in America, because it is written in the Quran. There was an incident one evening, I was told to do something that I didn’t agree to. During this incident, I was beaten brutally, abused emotionally and physically.
I escaped from my biological family to seek a better life. Many years later, I came to America with basically no formal education. In other words, I didn’t even know how to write my own name! This means I literally started from zero at the age of seventeen!
Currently, I live in America, and with hard work and dedication I’ve learned how to read, write and speak English! Today, I’m writing a book to share my story and voice. I’m grateful and thankful for having this opportunity to be able to explore my potential and most importantly, I was able to free myself from the Hijab and Islam! This was difficult to do, being part of the Somali community, because I was looked down on as bad girl! It was very difficult to take off my hijab and speak out and challenge the old narrative!
Since working in the school system, I have seen that girls are scorned if they do not wear their hijab, (here in America) so almost all of them wear it. I was told not to associate with non-Muslims, even though many of the people who have been kindest to me are non-Muslims.
I remembered when I first came to the USA at the age of seventeen, all the girls who I came with all got married and got jobs. I remember that back 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 and community, it’s common practice. I was against girls being forced to marry without their consent. This should not happen to anybody. I never pictured myself in a life like that. I dreamed of a different world where I could choose what I wanted in life. My goals and dreams were to become literate. I had dreamed as a little girl that someday, I would go somewhere in the world and become something! 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 some financial support to people back in Kenya. I stood up for myself because my dream was to go to school and get education even though the family didn’t approve of this. However, with determination and dedication I stood up to them and stuck to my word. I said it is never too late to learn and I am going to become literate!
I discovered that it’s a lie that Allah will strike you down if you remove your hijab in public. When I first removed my headcover (Hijab), it was the first time since I was six or seven. I felt good about my decision and it absolutely 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 acceptable and was said to be cultural appropriation.
I believe it was around 2016 to 2017 when I started looking into Islam and its teachings in a critical manner. One day while I was having a conversation with a Somali coworker, Ayaan H Ali’s name came up in the conversation. 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). That day I was terrified and so heartbroken that my coworker told me she can kill me and Ayana because her book (Quran) allowed her to do so!
I would say this was my full wake up call and I started reading about Islam and its teachings. I’ve discovered that if individuals simply decided to leave this ideology of Islam and its teachings, they are apostates. This means Islam and its teachings call for my death and many other ExMuslims! These threats, bullies and abuses happen around the world, even in America. That this happens in America is not right to me!
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. I have a dream that someday people will look at each other as human beings, rather than at their race or religion.
Between the ages of 5 to 6, I and many other innocent little girls including one of my cousins were forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Even today, 31 years later, I and many girls who went through these horrible practices still suffer from PTSD and trauma.
I remembered that it was mid morning when an old lady came to my house at a refugee camp. We as little girls were told it was something good for us. This was done to all girls and it was normalized in this community. To be quite honest everyone was going through these horrible practices because 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 my stomach literally turns upside down and how absolutely disgusting and disheartening these forms of child abuse and sexual abuse are been allowed in this century!
It was very painful and this was done without any medical procedure. No medicine. In other words, no Novocain for numbing the areas that have been cut off and scraped off. I don’t remember a lot, my mind has blanked most of it out, but I have seen it being done to other girls. The procedure I had is called Firauni. The girl is held down, everything is scraped off, the girls’ legs are tied together so the skin will fuse together. After several weeks, if the fusion did not take place, the whole procedure is repeated. There is only a small hole left for urination and menses. It’s horrible and inhuman and it should not done to any human being! I’m myself and many Somali girls have gone through the Firauni type. 80 % to 95% of Somali girls have gone through the FGM.
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 don’t do anything about health risks and childhood trauma that come with these experiences. These elderly women do get paid for performing these practices. I would say places where I grew up in the Kenya camp, I can swear that it was done 100% to little girls and every girl I know has gone through FGM! If you didn’t go through this, these girls were bullied, excluded, abused, and singled out from the Somali community! Literally, if you didn’t go through this, you are or were an alien in the world and invisible.
In the West it’s happening secretly. We know that children (girls) are taken over seas 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. Going back to this part of my memory that I’ve sort of deleted because the pain and the darkness that comes with it hasn’t been easy but it was definitely therapy to write about it.
Now that I live in this great country USA, I can heal myself and also help others to heal from this awful trauma from childhood! 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 this is happening still today especially in a world such as America and the Western world that is supposed to protect little children from these horrifying things.
It absolutely makes me sad and angry that I had no choice. The camp where I grew up, every girl went through it because it was something that was normalized through the community I grew up in. The irony of this is that here in the USA, we should not allow these horrifying practices to be continued, but it still happens!
I have a message for those who claim to say they care for people such as immigrants. If you do care, I urge you to take a immediate action to stop FGM forever and ever!
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is my hero, and I was so excited that I could meet her! The Somali community hate her and threaten her, but she keeps fighting against FGM. She is my inspiration! Her story and her voice is forbidden in the community. If people hear her name, automatically they jump to the conclusion that she is awful and she shames the Somali culture and Islam!
Yes, I would like to bring awareness and also encourage and empower individuals to share their stories/perspectives and voices! Yes, I am against any ideologies especially Islam gender-discrimination and many other problematic issues that take place within this ideology. In my opinion, it is so sad that the religion of Islam cannot tolerant, any critique/ criticism. In my opinion, Allah’s words takes human dignity/rights away
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.”
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!