Religious leader’s battle to end female circumcision in Somalia
Bossaso, Puntland June 2013 – For the past ten years Sheikh Abdirizak Hussein Issa has been a key religious leaders in the campaign for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) abandonment in Somalia.
For Sheikh Hussein, this journey began when he relocated from Mogadishu north to Bosasso to escape the conflict.
During his study of Sharia Law in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Hussein questioned why FGM/C was practiced in Somalia in the name of Islam. As his knowledge of the Quran deepened, so did his wish to work to end this practice that had caused untold suffering to many girls and women in Somalia.
His own family has been tragically affected by the practice.
“A relative was circumcised and died from bleeding,” he says. “Just after I had moved to Bosasso, a couple came to me for counseling on whether they should circumcise their daughters. I advised them not to and they took my advice.”
In another case, he was called to settle a domestic row that started when a husband rejected his wife’s request that their daughter be circumcised. “I went to the house together with a health worker and talked the mother out of it,” he says with a sense of satisfaction.
Over the past 10 years, he has managed to dissuade 15 families from FGM/C through direct contact. He preaches abandonment during his weekly sermons at the mosques and through radio talks but has no exact figures on how many he has managed to convince.
Sheikh Hussein received training through a UNICEF supported project to build capacity of religious leaders in advocating for FGM/C abandonment which was funded by the Netherlands Committee for UNICEF. More than 660 religious leaders in Puntland and Somaliland were trained during the two year programme.
Sheikh Hussein encountered many challenges, particularly from grandmothers, men and religious leaders holding the false belief that FGM/C preserves virginity and fidelity.
“Stigma is still a problem,” he says, recalling an incident where a family had relocated to Bosasso from Saudi Arabia. One day a suitor visited the home to propose marriage to one of the daughters only to walk away without uttering a word when he learnt that girls in that home were not circumcised.
Despite these challenges, Sheikh Hussein believes his message is getting through.
“Somalis are Muslims and accept and obey what the Koran says – we religious leaders must have a common stand that Islam does not sanction FGM.”