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FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION OR CIRCUMCISION: WHERE DOES ISLAM STAND?





By

Dr. Ibn Ya'qûb An Naijiree

Fellow Muslims, a war is raging, with extremists on both sides, over the issue of circumcision. On one side are fanatic secularists whose antipathy to religion has induced them to engage in a crusade against all forms of circumcision, including male circumcision, as a form of child abuse. On the other side are ignorant traditionalists who erroneously subscribe to religious belief and submit to cultural traditions involving horrific forms of female genital mutilation (FGM, which they defend as a form of "female circumcision"). In between the extremes are many well-meaning people confused about the actual nature of the scientific evidence and the religious prescriptions regarding all sorts of practices involving any form of cutting in the genital areas. A concise discussion of the main subject requires a detailed prologue to clarify some issues regarding both the nature of Islamic law and the medical terms used to identify the various forms of FGM.

Forms: 

(a) Removal of the hood (or prepuce) of the clitoris. This procedure is, to some degree, analogous to male circumcision since in both cases, no part of the sexual organ is cut off. In both cases also, it is only the foreskin, or outer fold of the skin, which is cut off. Properly done, it will not cause any "matrimonial" problem. 
b) Removal of the entire clitoris (clitoridectomy ) along with part of the labia minora, which is satured together leaving an opening. This is a form of mutilation.  

c) Removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and medial part of the labia majora, with both sides of the female organ stitched together leaving a small opening. This procedure requires tying together the child's legs of nearly three weeks. [9] It is called the Pharaonic procedure but may as well be called "mutilation".  
Understanding the background of the matter will permit the reader to understand the Islamic position on this question.

It must be understood that Islamic law has a well-defined tradition of jurisprudence. The sources of Islamic law include both revelation (Quran/Sunnah and Reason). The efforts of scholars to attain understanding of the sharî`ah (i.e., the Divine Law) through various tools is called ijtihâd.

One fundamental aspect 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. When such practices came to be unpopular (or unfashionable) in future centuries, the tolerance of Islamic jurisprudence was mischaracterized by those inimical to Islam as "backward." It was as if someone from a genteel class of society were to condemn America's toleration for body piercing among its young people as proof of the "barbarism" of American law. It would be wise to remember that there is a great burden of proof that Islam puts upon those who wish to prohibit a practice, and that the requirement for such proof is strength of the Islamic law. Toleration is strength, not a weakness. 

In this discussion I shall refer to any form of permanent cutting the genitals as "genital mutilation" as clearly highlighted above. Some may feel this is prejudicing the case, since the words certainly sound pejorative. I think the term is fair, however, since the purpose of all the procedures under discussion–and the purpose of male circumcision and of the now commonly practiced forms of body piercing, including the piercing of the ears done by almost every Western female–is unquestionably to mutilate those parts of the body cut or pierced. The issue of interest, then, is not whether mutilation is involved but rather whether it is religiously (or morally) and/or medically desirable or contraindicated. 

The practice of Circumcision should be evaluated objectively, on the basis of  

a) Whether it is required religiously or not 
b) Whether there are medical and other relevant issues to be considered in evaluating this practice. 

Circumcision is one of the Sunnan of the fitrah, as is indicated by the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): 
"The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, plucking the armpit hairs, cutting the nails, and trimming the moustache." narrated by al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257). 

Undoubtedly with regard to the Sunnahs of the fitrah, some of the wisdom behind them is obvious, and that includes circumcision. There are clear benefits to it which we should pay attention to and understand the wisdom behind it. 
Circumcision is prescribed for both males and females. The correct view is that circumcision is obligatory for males and that it is one of the symbols of Islam, and that circumcision of women is mustahabb but not obligatory. 

There are reports in the Sunnah which indicate that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam. In Madeenah there was a woman who circumcised women and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to her: 

“Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman and more liked by the husband.” Narrated by Abu Dawood (5271), classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

In another version, the Rasul is reported to have said "Cut off only the foreskin (outer fold of skin over the clitoris; the prepuce) but do not cut off deeply (i.e. the clitoris) for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favorable with the husband." (Al-Tabarani, quoted in Muhammad Naasiruddeen Al Albani Silsilat al-Ahadeeth Al-Sahihah, Al Maktab Al-Islami, Beirut, Lebanon, 1983, vol. 2, Hadeeth no. 722). 

 It is obvious that the second and third forms(b and c above) were never mandated, encouraged or even consented by the Prophet. They even violate a known rule in Shari'ah prohibiting the cutting off of any part of the human body except for unavoidable reasons (e.g. medical treatment, trimming nails or hair, or for an explicitly specified reason such as male circumcision).  Nothing justifies genital mutilation. In fact, no mutilation is allowed by Islam even in the battlefield. Not only are these two procedures unjustifiable, they are brutal, inhumane and in violation of Islam. Female circumcision has not been prescribed for no reason, rather there is wisdom behind it and it brings many benefits. 

Mentioning some of these benefits, Dr. Haamid al-Ghawaabi says:  The secretions of the labia minora accumulate in uncircumcised women and turn rancid, so they develop an unpleasant odour which may lead to infections of the vagina or urethra. I have seen many cases of sickness caused by the lack of circumcision. Circumcision reduces excessive sensitivity of the clitoris which may cause it to increase in size to 3 centimeters when aroused, which is very annoying to the husband, especially at the time of intercourse.

Another benefit of circumcision is that it prevents stimulation of the clitoris which makes it grow large in such a manner that it causes pain.  Circumcision prevents spasms of the clitoris which are a kind of inflammation. 

Circumcision reduces excessive sexual desire. Then, Dr al-Ghawaabi refutes those who claim that female circumcision leads to frigidity by noting: ‘‘Frigidity has many causes, and this claim is not based on any sound statistics comparing circumcised women with uncircumcised women, except in the case of Pharaonic circumcision which is where the clitoris is excised completely. This does in fact lead to frigidity but it is contrary to the kind of circumcision enjoined by the Prophet of mercy (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) when he said: 

“Do not destroy” i.e., do not uproot or excise. This alone is evidence that speaks for itself, because medicine at that time knew very little about this sensitive organ (the clitoris) and its nerves’’. From Liwa’ al-Islam magazine, issue 8 and 10; article entitled Khitaan al-Banaat (circumcision of girls).  The female Gynaecologist Sitt al-Banaat Khaalid says in an article entitled Khitaan al-Banaat Ru’yah Sihhiyyah (Female circumcision from a health point of view): 

 ‘‘For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the Sunnah which encourages it. We all know the dimensions of Islam, and that everything in it must be good in all aspects, including health aspects. If the benefits are not apparent now, they will become known in the future, as has happened with regard to male circumcision – the world now knows its benefits and it has become widespread among all nations despite the opposition of some groups’’. 

Then she mentioned some of the health benefits of female circumcision and said:  
It takes away excessive libido from women

It prevents unpleasant odours which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce.

It reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections

It reduces the incidence of infections of the reproductive system.  Nonetheless, it clearly forbids severity in circumcision and bases such limitation on both the potential to harm the woman and the potential to make her less desirable to her husband. Yet, despite the restriction against severity, the Prophet did not here prohibit circumcision completely.  

Permitting such a ritual constitutes an act of tolerance by Islamic law for pre-Islamic practices, and may be overruled by the Islamic prohibition against harmful acts. Consider, for example, that Islamic law protects a woman's right to sexual enjoyment, as demonstrated by the fact that a woman has the right to divorce on the grounds that her husband does not provide sexual satisfaction. It follows that Islamic law prohibits clitoridectomy (partial or complete removal of the clitoris) or infibulation (excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening), or any genital mutilation which impairs the woman's ability to enjoy sexual relations. Such prohibitions are consistent with the hadithic warning against severity in female circumcision.  
If the Islamic law does not mandate female genital mutilation and tolerates only the most mild form of circumcision (and that only if it produces no adverse effects in the child), then how does it come about that so many people from certain countries with large Muslim populations insist that savage acts which exceed these limits are not only permitted, but required by Islamic law? The answer becomes obvious when one realizes that Christians from many of these countries also insist that the tradition is mandated by their religion as well. People often confuse traditions rooted in local culture with religious requirements. Immigrants from such countries now residing in the United States stand between the culture of their heritage and the American culture of their environment. They cannot and should not be expected to abandon their religion. There should be no doubt, however, that the young amongst them, at least, will be willing to abandon old-world cultural practices at odds with their adopted culture when such practices are unsupported by religion. (This is because they carry no cultural bias towards such practices. On the contrary, they may absorb biases against them from their adopted culture.) 

For Muslims, clitoridectomy and infibulation should be considered harâm (prohibited) practices and opposition to it should be part of our ongoing mandate to fight against superstition and oppression. 

 Conclusively, female genital mutilation is only another propaganda warfare on Islam, however Islam prescribes and recommends female circumcision and we are never ashamed of reiterating a matter that medical experts themselves have highlighted clearly its benefits and merits which unambiguously is in line with the prescriptions of Allah through the most learned and wisest of all times, Muhammad, His last and final Apostle.

I seek Allah’s forgiveness for the mistakes here and I pray He rewards us for and in where we have said something right. May this be beneficial to us and may we actually be counted amongst those who will enter Jannah through the gate of Rayyan. Amiin 

Wa Sallallahu ‘alaa sayyidina Muhammad wa ‘alaa alihi wa ashabihi ajma'een.

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