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Profile: Dr. Yousif Al Kouda, Islamic scholar in the frontline of Sudan’s efforts to abandon FGM/C

Dr. Yousif Al Kouda
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Issraa El-Kogali
Dr. Yousif Al Kouda, national ambassador for the Saleema initiative

By:  Issraa El-Kogali for UNICEF

Khartoum, November 3, 2011. To explain how he became one of Sudan’s leading campaigners against the practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), Dr. Yousif Al Kouda looks back to his beginnings, growing up in the eastern state of Kassala.

Wedged between Sudan and neighbouring Eritrea, Kassala is an area where FGM/C remains a fact of life for many girls and women. According to the 2010 Sudan Household Health Survey, over 78 per cent of Kassala women have undergone FGM/C, while 66 per cent of females aged 15-49 believe the practice should be continued.
 
In the face of this reality, it was no surprise to Dr Yousif that girls in his own family were traditionally cut.
 
Dr Yousif’s views on this harmful and dangerous traditional practice began to change during his years as a student of Shari’a law.  The uniquely liberal Islamic perspective on women’s rights in society which he developed led him to challenge the widespread belief (prevalent in Sudan as in many other countries) that Islam somehow condones FGM/C.  His studies brought him to the firm conviction that a woman had a right to be intact (“saleema” in Arabic) and to live a full healthy life as a wife and mother.
 
Realizing the difficulty of changing a practice that dates back centuries, Dr Yousif says the first task is to work with communities to address the problem of FGM/C and build a general consensus to abandon it.

“It’s important that we debate this issue in order to begin the process of change,” he says. “Social change in all aspects of life is slow and cannot be achieved without the cooperation of government and families.”“Social change in all aspects of life is slow and cannot be achieved without the cooperation of government and families.”
This outlook and his reputation as an independent Islamic scholar led Dr Yousif to become one of ten national ambassadors for the UNICEF-supported Saleema initiative, set up in 2008 in partnership with Sudan’s National Council for Child Welfare to press for the collective abandonment of FGM/C.

Soft spoken and eloquent, Dr Yousif presents his arguments simply, reinforcing them with references to the Kuran and Hadith (traditions/statements of the Prophet).
 
“The prophet Mohamed (pbuh) taught that the soundest way forward is to walk the middle ground,” says Dr Yousif. “This can be done through open and honest discussion of ideas”.

© UNICEF Sudan/2011
Lightbox promoting the Saleema initiative in Red Sea state, Sudan

Dr Yousif advocates his views on the importance of keeping girls uncut through television show he hosts, and through public statements and lectures. His weapons are debate and in-depth knowledge of the Shari’a laws and Islamic traditions. Meanwhile, in a visible statement of support for Saleema he regularly appears in public wearing the campaign colours.

As the father of seven daughters, FGM/C is far more than just an academic interest for Dr Yousif. Although his first two daughters underwent the minimal form of cutting (known as “sunna”), he has fought the practice privately within his family and community just as determinedly as he works publically through Saleema.
 
Today, FGM/C has stopped in his family and he is building a network of families in support of Saleema.

His reputation has reached outside Sudan as well. Dr Yousif recently joined scholars at an international conference on Islam and FGM/C in Mauritania which came out with a fatwa specifically de-linking FGM/C from Islam.

 

 
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