The “V” Word | A Fatwa to Restore Virginity Stirs Controversy in Egypt

September 7, 2021
Alexandra Kinias

Hymen Reconstruction Surgeries and the Delusion of Honor. 

A fatwa allowing rape victims to restore their virginity by a surgical procedure (hymenorrhaphy), went viral and stirred controversy. The fatwa came from Director of the Sharia Research Department and Secretary of the Fatwa at Dar Al Iftaa, Dr. Ahmed Mamdouh, on a live broadcast on Dar Al Iftaa’s official Facebook page. 

“In some cases, hymen reconstruction is required and legitimate for a girl who has been raped or deceived, and wants to repent and start a new page. The surgery is permissible to protect the girl, but not to deceive anyone [suitors],” Mamdouh answered a question from a gynecologist and obstetrician who performs hymen reconstruction for girls. “There are some cases where it is forbidden by Islamic Sharia to reconstruct the hymen,” he asserted.  

The shocking fatwa came as a relief for many women, but was also criticized by many others, men and women, that it promotes dishonesty and deception. They suggested that instead of issuing such fatwa, religious scholars should work to change people’s mindsets to accept that virginity is not the ultimate proof of chastity. But has anyone walked in the shoes of women who seek this surgery before judging them? What would happen to these women until mindsets are changed, inevitably not in the near future. 

“Women’s honor is like a matchstick that lights only once.” This quote from a 1940s Egyptian movie became a famous metaphor for women’s virginity, in Egypt and the Middle East. It reveals a disturbing social state of mind and reflects how women’s virtue, until today, is judged by the presence of their hymen; on their wedding night.  

A repulsive scene from another Egyptian black and white movie, set in a village, on the wedding night of the two main characters, demonstrates how women’s virtue is idolized. In the movie, locals gathered in front of the newlywed’s home and waited in anticipation. When the groom showed up in the balcony flapping a white bed sheet stained with the bride’s purity – blood of her virtue, the parents and in-laws congratulated each other, the crowds cheered, celebratory gunshots were fired, music played, and they lived happily ever after — in the movie.   

Unfortunately, and against the belief of many, this tradition is still practiced in some communities in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, where a white handkerchief, instead of a bedsheet, stained with the bride’s blood is presented to family members and friends. 

Thus, how can we blame women who undergo hymenorrhaphy to save their integrity, reputation, and often their lives? No doubt these procedures are acts of deception. Nonetheless, when a woman’s virtue is still judged by her virginity, and its loss, even to rape, not only stigmatizes her, but sends her to the grave, it is unfair to equate the magnitude of the deceit, to restore a hymen, with taking away her life for losing it. 

Burying the past to protect their future is the only option for some women to survive in their unforgiving societies that otherwise wouldn’t give them a second chance. In these societies, a woman’s virginity does not reflect the honor of her father only, but of her extended family’s as well. Thus, losing it disgraces and stigmatizes the entire family, and the price to redeem their honor is often high. They call it Honor Killing; an extreme measure taken to losing one’s virginity. 

For many years, women of marriage age who were deceived into relations, and lost their virginity to these men, only to be abandoned by them, lived in misery and fear. Some committed suicide. Others faked their virginity by spilling a red liquid on their bed sheets on their wedding nights, risking grave consequences. If caught, brides were returned to their parent’s house, like defected merchandise, with a scandal that could send them to the grave. Not too long ago, a woman who declined a marriage proposal raised suspicions over a lost honor, as no other rationalization was accepted as the reason to stay single other than to cover up the “mistake”. 

In Egypt and other similar cultures, men are praised for having experienced pre-marital sexual relationships, but women’s chastity is un-negotiable. Men often lose their virginity to a woman whom they abandon to get married to a virgin. Meanwhile, girls must guard their sacred virginity until they are married, or risk their lives over losing it, even to rape. As a result of living in these double standard societies, controlled by hypocrites many women seek hymenorrhaphy, a 30 minutes’ procedure performed under local anesthesia, to restore their broken hymens before marriage. Others trick their husbands into believing they are virgins, instead of confronting them with the truth. 

A woman in Egypt explained, “My fiancé was not the first man in my life, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. One day on the beach and my period was almost over, we kissed and touched, and he got all excited. The trick worked when he found some blood and he believed I lost my virginity to him. I know this is unethical and I am building the future on a lie, but what options women have in a society that puts so much emphasis on women’s virginity.”

Honor. That’s what it is all about. In societies where women honors is represented by their virginity, the presence of a woman’s hymen on her wedding night is the sole proof of her purity. It separates an honorable girl from a promiscuous one. A girl’s virginity is a natural certificate of virtue, a social declaration of chastity and a proof of innocence from having pre-marital sex. 

Hymenorrhaphies are not only performed in the Middle East where honor is venerated, but also among girls of Middle Eastern and Asian descends who live in European countries. These immigrant communities live under their own codes of ethics and traditions where a family’s pride boils down to their women’s virginity.

No evidence indicates when or where these procedures started, or who mastermind them. Maybe they started when a desperate mother sought a doctor’s assistance to save her daughter from an otherwise inevitable fate. No doubt these procedures were introduced to save girls’ live, but eventually they became lucrative business. In Britain, the half hour procedure costs £3000. In the Middle East, prices are cheaper, but nonetheless, beyond the means of many women. But women no longer had to live in fear or suffer financially. China introduced a fake hymen for women who had lost their virginity at an affordable price. It is intended to trick the husbands to believe their wives are virgins, by simulating the bleeding of the bride on her wedding night. The fake hymen, available online for $30.00, stirred a lot of controversies.

In Egypt, in 2009, when the Chinese fake hymens hit the Egyptian markets, Abdul Mouti Bayoumi, a leading religious scholar demanded the death penalty for the fake hymens’ importers, “for spreading vice in the society, a crime punishable by death in Sharia,” he explained. In the same year, conservative lawmakers spent hours in the parliament debating a ban on their imports because in societies obsessed with virginity, nothing is more important in the competitive global arena than the delusion of honor. The debate in the parliament over banning the import of fake hymens from China was a total waste of time, money and energy, as they were available online and shipped to the doorsteps to anyone with a credit card. 

With men’s obsession over virginity, the existence of women’s hymens became the decisive beacon that secured their masculine existence. It comes as no surprise that both the loss of virginity and restoring it are causing men nightmares. These surgical procedures will keep men content, and their seekers will maintain a respectful social image.

Surgeries to restore the hymens will continue as along as women respect and integrity are judged by their virginity. They have been performed underground for decades. The religious fatwas just gave them legitimacy to be performed openly.  

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