Female Circumcision: A Viewpoint
by Mardiana Abu Bakar, a reporter with The Straits Times (The Sunday Times, Oct 30th '94)

A horrendous picture of a 10 yr old Egyptian girl, Nagla, screaming in pain as a barber cuts off parts of her genitals has stuck in my mind. And I hope this picture will remain in many other minds too, and for a very long time.

The circumcision ceremony of Nagla was shown worldwide over Cable News Network (CNN) last month and it created an international furore. Let it be a reminder of the crime that should never be inflicted on daughters in the name of culture or misconceived religious injunctions.

For it is precisely that combination of antiquated culture and distorted religious injunction that had brought about the unforgiving pain on Nagla and on many other young girls in the Middle East, Africa, and now with mass immigration, in Europe and North America.

Nagla's pain will not end with that horrendous episode. She might haemorrhage and suffer severe infections that might lead to death. Even if she recovered, sex, which is a conjugal right within marriage, will be less a pleasure than a chore, and childbirth a battle with death.

What is even more difficult for me to accept is the revelation by International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics which met early this month, that every day, 5500 similar mutilations take place. Details of the rituals in these countries vary according to region and culture, but the basics are the same: between infancy and adulthood, all or part of a girl's external genitalia are cut away with knives or razor blades. The Federation therefore, moved that this mutilation ritual, euphamistically termed "female circumcision", be outlawed.

As a woman and as a mother of a nine-year-old girl, I will vote 5500 times over if only I could wipe the practice off the face of this earth. I wept for the physical pain that Nagla must have been put through, the indignity of being held down by strong men, and the violation of her body. Which is why, as a Muslim woman, I find it outrageous that the practice has become associated closely with Islam in many minds.

A colleague reacted to the picture by saying, "Why do Muslims do this to their daughters?" I am not sure how this association with Muslims came about. To begin with, the practice of female circumcision is encouraged, but not compulsory, according to three out of four main schools of thoughts of Islam. One the fourth pronounced it is a must. And even then, the spirit of the injunction is not to mutilate. As the Mufti of Singapore pointed out to me earlier this year, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) stated emphatically that female circumcision should be done "as minimally as possible". The Mufti declared that the practice of female circumcision in Singapore "involves cutting off a tiny part from the outer portion of the clitoris" - about 1mm to 3mm is snipped off the very top of the clitoris. Other parts of the geinitalia remain untouched, and the woman's sexuality is not put into any danger.

Here too, the practice is carried out by a woman, a doctor or a midwife - in the privacy of a room, with the mother and the aunts in attendance.

I am not an advocate of female circumcision: I belong to the school of thought that says this injunction is optional. But I think we should respect the choice of Muslims who choose to circumcise their daughters, so long as the practice remains true to the spirit of the Prophet's injunction, and that they protect their daughters' dignity and well-being.

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Female Circumcision Is NOT Required by Islam
by Dr Hassan Hathout, a gynaecologist, a Board Member of the Minaret, a bi-monthly magazine published by the Islamic Centre of Southern California

1. Female circumcision is a habit practised long before Isla. Its map of distribution does not coincide with the Islamic map, and includes parts of Russia, some Asian (uncluding some Arab) tribes, parts of South America and the Nile valley (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia). Female circumcision is still being practised by both Non-Muslims and Muslims in these countries. However, at present in Egypt and Sudan only Muslims practise it, (a minority in Egypt and more in Sudan).

2. Female circumcision is not an Islamic requirement. There is a hadith "circumcision is sunnah (obligatory) for men and charity (good deeds) for women", but various sources do not consider it authentic. In another hadith, the Prophet (s.a.w.) instructed Omm Atiya, a woman practitioner of circumcision, "Take the minimum, Omm Atiya, and don;t exceed it, for this would be more pleasurable for the husband and protective of chastity by satisfying the wife's desire" (narrated by Ibn Majjah). This is taken to refer exclusively to the tribes of that time who would insist on the procedure, since Islam did not recommend or forbid female circumcision (same stand in Christianity and Judaism: both knew it).

3. Female circumcision is not practised in Islamic countries other than Egypt and Sudan and possibly exists in few others. Women of Mecca, Medina, Najd, the Persion Gulf, Iran, North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, etc are not circumcised. This is established fact as well as first hand knowledge - I am a gynaecologist and I have dealt with all those nationalities.

4. Female circumcision does not diminish sexual desire, for this depends mainly on psychohormonal factors. All circumcision does it to make the woman less able to get satisfaction, and this is certainly a frequent cause of marital disharmony and problems. The major factor of chastity before marriage and fidelity within it remains to be the conscience and proper Islamic upbringing. There is no evidence whatsoever that moral standards in Islamic countries that do not have circumcision are lower than in Islamic countries that have it.

5. In view of this, it seems that there is no Islamic basis of making circumcision a requirement for women/Muslim converts or, for that matter, non-converts.

Regarding the question on circumcision versus female genital mutilation: they are techinically one and the same. The degree is quite variable. In its most minor form it is trimming of labia minora. A higher degree is to add amputating part of the clitoris. The severest form, the one still practised in Sudan and called "infibulation", is wide removal of both labia minor and clitoris and sticking both sides together leaving only a small opening for the egress of urine and mestruation, and the entry of the penis at intercourse (sometimes against great difficulty necessitating surgery).

Medicla complications are possible, including haemorrhage, sepsis, scarring, difficulty at childbirth which has to be tackled surgically, apart from the psychological aftermath.

Male circumcision is a different story. It is definitely a sunnah (although not compulsory, fardh) and it takes after the convenant of Prophet Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham). It is clearly meant for males only and scriptural referance to it is the Torah, none in the Quran, but ofcourse in the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). The Torah says, "And Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all that were born at his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the self-same day as God had said unto him" Genesis 17:22, see also Genesis 17:12.

The fact that Christians (unlike Jews and Muslims) ceased to circumcise their boys, was not a decree of Christianity proclaimed by Jesus (a.s.). It was Paul who later exempted Christians from circumcision and permitted them to eat pig's meat. Jesus was circumcised and he did not eat pig's meat. Conclusion: Female circumcision is not required by Islam.

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