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Genital Mutilation Charges Spark Bill to Keep Foreign Laws Out of Michigan Courts

Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R) said that the story of a Detroit-area doctor being charged with genital mutilation of young girls motivated her to sponsor a proposal that would ban the use of foreign countries’ laws in Michigan courtrooms.

Although House Bill 4499 does not mention it by name, Hoitenga also wrote in an email to her colleagues that Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who faces federal charges of genital mutilation, was “practicing a fundamental version of Sharia Law.”

Democrats and civil rights activists didn’t wait to pounce on the legislation that Hoitenga offered April 17.

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D) immediately accused the Republican of targeting Muslims with the proposal, said she was wrong about genital mutilation being part of Sharia.

“It’s disappointing that Rep. Hoitenga would use this sad event to perpetuate such a harmful stereotype on our state’s Muslim community,” said Hammoud.

The Detroit News published a letter from Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in which he argued “female genital mutilation has no place here or anywhere else among any cultural group — including Muslim Americans — and that we stand firmly against it.”

Hammoud said no version of Sharia law permits female genital mutilation, which is a cultural custom and not a religious observance.

“This bill is simply a xenophobic, Islamophobic attack on Michigan’s Muslim community, which already abhors the practice of mutilation and does not want to be identified with it,” Hammoud added.

Faced with being called, in effect, at best ignorant or at worst a religious bigot, Hoitenga dashed off an email to MLive in which she claimed the legislation was never intended to take on any specific religion.

"It's important to affirm our state and federal constitutions and the freedoms they provide, as they are constantly under assault,” Hoitenga wrote. “A clear message must be sent that our state will not tolerate the application of any law that would result in inhumane actions against women and children, even if such are accepted in other countries.”

Yet, the Detroit Free Press reported Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, said at a detention hearing that the doctor had removed membranes from the girls’ genitalia and gave them to her patients’ parents so they could bury it per the tradition of a sect of Indian Muslims, the Dawoodi Bohra.

This case involves two 7-year-old Minnesota girls who were brought to Nagarwala by their mothers. The children, according to court documents, thought they were coming to Michigan as part of a special “girls trip.”

Prosecutors say the case could be the first of its kind in the nation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said in court that Nagarwala, an emergency room physician for the Henry Ford Health System in the Detroit area, performed many of these procedures, never billed for them, always performed the surgery late at night, and never kept any records.