The United Nations said Thursday that Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, ordered all women between the ages of 11 and 46 to undergo female genital mutilation. Jacqueline Badcock, the UN’s second most senior official in Iraq, told reporters “It is a fatwa from ISIS, we learnt about it this morning. We have no precise numbers.”
Despite the UN’s information, several experts suspect that the fatwa, or religious edict, may have been a hoax. Yahoo! News reports that a number of journalists said their contacts in Iraq have not heard of it being issued.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Bookings Doha Center and expert on Iraqi and Syrian extremist groups, noted that the UN claim appeared to be based on a “quite clearly faked statement” that started circulating online the day before.
Lister stated, “It would certainly be a very big coincidence if the UN source was separate but happened to arise at the same time as this fake statement online. [Female genital mutilation] just doesn’t fit with the Islamic State’s image, notwithstanding how brutal an organization it has proven itself to be.”
The Islamic State took over large portions of Iraq last month and has since started to impose its extreme Salafist interpretation of Islam. Reuters notes that, if the fatwa is true, it would potentially affect 4 million women and girls. Badcock explained of the genital mutilation report, “This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed. This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists.”
FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia. It is a tradition practiced in many African and Muslim countries and is often justified as a means to prevent “immoral” behavior in women. More than 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM around the world.
There was no immediate comment from Islamic State about the alleged fatwa, though the world body has “zero contact” with the group, according to Badcock. She explained that the U.N. works through tribal leaders in affected areas, adding, “I can’t give you any more details until we have been on the ground to get information.”
Islamic State has claimed Mosul, Iraq as its new capital city. The city has about two million people, more than half of whom are women. Several more million people live in surrounding areas, according to the U.N., which will investigate the reported female genital mutilation fatwa.
[Image by U.S. Army Spc. Kieran Cuddihy]