KORAN school was a shed down the road. The other pupils were from the neighbourhood. At first I liked it. I learned to mix ink from charcoal, water, and a little milk, and to write the Arabic alphabet on long wooden boards. I began learning the Koran, line by line, by heart. It was uplifting to be engaged in such an adult task.
But the kids at madrassah (Islamic religious school) were tough. They fought. One girl, who was about eight years old, they called kintirleey, “she with the clitoris”.
I had no idea what a clitoris was, but the kids didn’t even want to be seen with this girl. They spat on her and pinched her; they rubbed sand in her eyes, and once they caught her and tried to bury her in the sand behind the school.
The madrassah teacher didn’t help. Once in a while he called her dammin, dunce, and kintirleey, too. My teenage cousin Sanyar used to pick me up after madrassah. One day she arrived just as a girl hit me in the face. Sanyar took me home and told the story. “Ayaan didn’t even defend herself,” she said in horror. “Coward!” my family jeered.
The next day Sanyar waited for me outside the madrassah with another teenager, the older sister of the girl who had hit me the day before. They caught hold of the two of us and tugged us over to an open space, then ordered us to fight. “Scratch her eyes out. Bite her,” Sanyar hissed at me. “Come on, coward, think of your honour.”
The other girl got the same encouragement. We flew at each other, fists tight, hitting, wrestling, pulling each other’s hair, biting. “Ayaan, never cry!” Sanyar called out. The other children cheered us on. When they let us stop, our dresses were torn and my lip was bleeding, but Sanyar was delighted. “I don’t want you to ever let another child hit you or make you cry,” she said. “Fight. If you don’t fight for your honour, you’re a slave.”
Then, as we walked away, the other girl shouted after me, “Kintirleey!” Sanyar winced. I looked at her, horror dawning on me. I was like that other girl? I, too, had that filthy thing, a kintir? In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made “pure” by having their genitals cut out. There is no other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five.
After the child’s clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off, or, in more compassionate areas, merely cut or pricked, the whole area is often sewn up, so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of the girl’s own scarred flesh. A small hole is situated to permit a thin flow of pee. Only great force can tear the scar tissue wider, for sex.
Female genital mutilation predates Islam. Not all Muslims do this, and a few of the peoples who do are not Islamic. But in Somalia, where virtually every girl is excised, the practice is always justified in the name of Islam. Uncircumcised girls will be possessed by devils, fall into vice and perdition, and become whores. Imams never discourage the practice: it keeps girls pure.
Read it all, if you have the stomach.