European Muslim women go to extremes to be virgins (again)

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Chastity can exact a painful price from young Muslim women, forced into lies or surgery to go to the marriage bed as virgins.

Hymen repair, fake virginity certificates and other deceptions, said to be commonplace in some Muslim countries, are practiced in France and elsewhere in Europe, where Muslim girls are more emancipated but still live under rigid codes of family honor.

Such ploys have saved many a young woman from scorn and worse. But they also clash with the more liberal social mores of France and Europe, where some decry it as an attack on human rights.

The procedures are legal but shrouded in silence — "something that passes through non-official channels," via friends or the Internet, said Dr. Nathan Wrobel. "There are circuits that lead women to me."

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Through the ages, virginity has been prized across religions and cultures, and doctors note that only a few generations back European brides also had to furnish documentary "proof" of chastity.

In today's France, with an estimated 5 million Muslims — the largest such population in western Europe — it's part of the larger question of how to deal with cultural clashes ranging from head scarves in schools to sexual segregation in swimming pools.

A 2005 government report addressing culture clashes in hospitals, and issued a year after Muslim head scarves were banned from classrooms, briefly mentions the virginity issue, asking doctors to refuse to issue false certificates.

Isabelle Levy, author of Religion in the Hospital, decries both certificates and hymen repair, saying deception "increases the moral suffering."

In Islam, virginity is linked to bridal purity and family honor, said Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris Mosque.

He notes that tradition holds that "adre," virgins, are among the delights of paradise. However, Boubakeur, a doctor and a moderate Muslim, says the Quran does not address premarital virginity, and he is against the deception, counseling bride and bridegroom to confide in each other.

It is not known how many doctors in France or elsewhere in Europe help Muslim women to fake virginity. But in Germany, Turkish Muslim immigrants are increasingly seeking virginity certificates, said Serap Cileli, who survived a forced marriage and now helps victims.

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In an interview, a French Muslim woman from the northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis, recounted how she was forced to procure a virginity certificate at age 12 "after my mother surprised me with a friend." Although nothing had happened between her and the boy, her suspicious brothers beat her up, she said, requesting anonymity.

By age 19 she had lost her virginity and underwent hymen repair before marrying a man who demanded a virgin.

"I wanted to leave home. I took the first one who came along," the woman said. The marriage ended after five years.

Source: USA Today (English)

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