MOSUL, Iraq — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-proclaimed caliphate known as the Islamic State, decreed that in the Iraqi city of Mosul, all women and girls up to the age of 46 must undergo female genital mutilation.
At least that is what some reports indicate, according to Jacqueline Badcock, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.
In a press conference held in Geneva, she said—videoing in from Irbil—that the fatwa presents a major concern to Iraq and the 4 million women and girls who inhabit Mosul and surrounding areas.
But the report was never verified by the U.N. In fact, it is being investigated now by the U.N.’s Population Fund, which has yet to find any corroborating evidence.
Mosul police spokesman Ahmed Obaydi spoke to Kurdistan-based news agency Basnews “Baghdadi’s decision to have all women circumcised is, as he claims, to prevent immorality and promote Islamic attitudes among Muslims. The decision was made by Baghdadi as a ‘gift’ for people in Mosul.”
But ISIS vehemently denies that any such fatwa of forced FGM was ever ordained. The fatwa, or religious ruling, was allegedly circulated through Twitter as a document. But many analysts and independent observers believe the document–touting itself as emanating from the Sunni Muslim militant group–is a fake.
Michael Stephens, an expert on ISIS who works for a military think tank called the Royal United Services Institute, told the Telegraph that “it’s 100 percent not true.” The fatwa, he says, diverges from the language that ISIS has normally come to use. In fact, it is signed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, even though ISIS has recently come to simply call itself the Islamic State. Stephens believes the fatwa may have been planted as negative propaganda to hurt ISIS’s credibility.
Others have noted that the document in question was displayed over a year ago and suspect–like Stephens–that it may be mere propaganda.
While female genital mutilation most commonly occurs in Africa and parts of the Middle East, the practice is rare in Iraq and follows cultural rather than religious lines: FGM occurs more frequently among Kurds than Arabs in the country.
A recent UNICEF report says that FGM is much less likely to occur now than 30 years ago. Rates in the 29 countries where it is practiced have plummeted. Most notably, the percentage of women between the ages of 15 and 19 who were circumcised has dropped from 50 percent in 1980 to less than 20 percent in 2010.
But the news isn’t all good: in Somalia, the rate has dropped, but 90 percent of women still face the practice that was officially banned by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012.
FGM is an extremely painful procedure and can lead to infertility and–in extreme cases–death. It has become a tool for countries with male-dominated societies to prevent marital disloyalty and force early marriages. The flawed logic such societies rely on goes as follows: if women are deprived of sexual pleasure, then they are less likely to cheat and more likely to cling to “prideful” virginity.
In June, ISIS forces conquered Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, forcing it and other regions of northwestern Iraq that the Islamic State has seized to follow its strict rule.
Christian families in Mosul and surrounding areas have all but fled after the jihadists gave them an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face execution.
Homes and institutions belonging to Christians were marked with the Arabic “N” for “Nasrani,” the Arabic word for Christian, to indicate ISIS seizure of their properties.
Statues of Christ and Virgin Mary–along with certain mosques, namely Jonah’s tomb–have been destroyed by the group. ISIS claims such sites are expressions of immoral idolatry.
– Shehrose Mian