Islam and Female Genital Mutilation

Source: Let us Build Pakistan

I am not competent to comment on Why anyone widely considered as the bearer of divine authority did or did not do something.

Apart from that, it is true that female genital mutilation (FGM) existed and continues to persist in wide swathes of Muslim populations for which the Muslim men and their manipulation of religion can be rightly blamed. Men have always employed all means to exploit women and continue to do so in patriarchal societies in the name of religion, culture, customs, tribe, family and what not. However, I think Islam is not the right peg on which to hang the blame for FGM. It’s not a matter of Islamic law.

The practice started in Egypt centuries before the advent of Islam and then spread across Africa before it penetrated the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, it was an old custom which was not made unlawful by the Prophet of Islam. Why? As I said, I am not competent to comment. However, based on all historical evidence, it was certainly not encouraged by him as he did in the case of male circumcision which was a lot more prevalent in Arabia as an Abrahamic tradition.

Unlike my comment on slavery, many a day modern day Islamic authorities, including the Al-Azhar Supreme Council, have clearly ruled FGM having nothing at all to do with Islam. It has never been rife in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest cities, although there have been reports of it in that country, perhaps among immigrant communities. In South and Central Asia too it was never a perceptible practice. As you may have seen in your work, Christians from many of the countries where FGM is rife also insist that the tradition is mandated by their religion as well.

People often confuse traditions rooted in local culture with religious requirements. Another important thing in my view is that Islam protects a woman’s right to sexual enjoyment and health and if female circumcision violates those rights, automatically the practice would be considered forbidden. Since FGM has neither hygienic nor religious value, there is no justification for Muslims to engage in this painful and potentially harmful practice and it would be best to stop it completely.

Some claim that there are hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) that support circumcising a female but these hadiths are considered “weak,” which means they cannot be used to create an Islamic ruling based on the fact that it is not certain if they came from the Prophet. Another important matter to consider is that all these weak reports presented are the ones which instruct on how to do female circumcision and upon some of its attendant factors but there is no tradition in existence that reports that the Prophet saw, instructed, or commanded women to go and get circumcised.

Even the promoters of the idea do not put any such tradition forward in support of their assertion. The Qur’an, however, is silent in the matter but, in broader sense, does condemn anything that compromises the health of a person. One fundamental of the Islamic law is that what is not prohibited is allowed. This makes for a great deal of tolerance in the religious law. As a result of this tolerance many pre-Islamic practices were not immediately eradicated by Islam. However, with the changing times and emerging knowledge if the custodians of Islam fail to proscribe certain things like slavery and FGM then the tolerance of Islamic jurisprudence (which is how every successful religion has made inroads at the inception) is characterized as “backward.” That is the price to pay for intellectual inertia.


Categories: Asia

5 replies

  1. Brother Zubair,

    As salamu alaikum. This is the BEST article I’ve read about Islam and FGM. Thank you so much for stating the true and accurate facts. I’m going to share this article with many people.

    Our nonprofit/NGO’s mission is to eradicate FGM and forced marriages in rural Kenya. We strongly encourage and support girls’ education and currently have 6 sponsored students. Education = Empowerment = Equality.

    Jazakullah khair,

    Sayydah Garrett
    Pastoralist Child Foundation

  2. There are many sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam. Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).
    He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.
    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.
    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”
    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.
    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).
    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.
    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).
    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).
    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.
    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.
    Another good reason why women need a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision). It can prevent cancer arising from oral sex. Here’s an interesting news item:
    US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.
    Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State and we do not know the answer as to why.”University. “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males
    It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the part that harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.
    For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see

  3. Brother Z u b a i r is right. There is no such thing as F G M. we have never heard of it. But male circumcision is a S u n n a t of Abraham a.s. We will not find any proof of F G M in the Jews too. It is false to attach that bad practice with the prophet s.a.w.s. There are many other false news being circulated amongst Muslims in the name of religion due to weak traditions. I may present a list of all those bad beliefs and practices here very soon for the information of all friends.
    F G M is unknown. Not many may have even heard about it. So leave the practice of it away. Forget it. some silly people will try to cut the clitoral of the girls in the name of circumcision. How bad! I will come back on this topic again.

  4. The long thesis of Miss Feroza in favor of female circumcision is full of wrong conclusions and misinterpretations and misrepresentations. Ascribing this practice to the Prophet and declaring it mandatory is simply a lie.
    1) Please note that not a single verse of the Quran has been given in favor of this practice.
    2) The ahadith mentioned in favor of this practice are of dubious authenticity, possibly false.
    3) The scientific article quoted in favor of this practice from Malaysia is also misquoted. In that article the authors do not mention anything about female circumcision. This is a conclusion falsely presented by Firoza.
    4) Majority of Muslims live in the Middle East and Asia where this barbaric practice is an exceedingly rare exception rather than the rule. In India and Pakistan, where 400 million Muslims live it will be hard to find any case of female circumcision. If this was an obligatory practice in Islam then it should have been the norm.
    5) Miss Feroza is an outright liar. There are many like her who are trying to fabricate evidence and ascribe it to Islam. Female circumcision is not an Islamic teaching.

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