Female Circumcision – is it Islamic?

Around 2-3 million girls are circumcised each year, especially in Northern Africa. 

The WHO distinguishes among four types of genital mutilation:

    * Type I, or “clitorectomy”: Excision of the skin surrounding the clitoris with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris
    * Type II, or “excision”: Removal of the entire clitoris and part or all of the labia minora
    * Type III, or “infibulation”: Removal of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching together of the vaginal orifice, leaving only a small opening
    * Type IV: Various other practices, including pricking, piercing, incision and tearing of the clitoris.

One out of every three girls dies as a result of infibulation, also known as pharaonic mutilation.

Many families circumcise their daughters because they believe it to be an Islamic requirement. But is it?

The Hadith related to female circumcision (that I could find):

“When two circumcised parts unite then bathing becomes obligatory.” (Sahih, Reported by Ahmad and Al-Baihaqee)

The saying of the Messenger (SAW) in the Hadith of Umm ‘Atiyyah to a female circumcision:

“When you circumcise then do not cut severely, since that is better for her and more pleasing to the husband.” (Reported by Abu Dawud and Al-Baihaqee and declared Hasan by Shaikh Al-Albani).

“Circumcision is Sunnah for men, a noble action for women” (Related by Ahmad & al-Bayhaq).

Scholars who approve of these Hadith claim that they are simply recommending circumcision, not saying it is required.

At a conference in Cairo in 2006 both Sheikh Tantawi and al-Qaradawi confirmed that the practice was un-Islamic. Every doctor at the conference agreed that there is no medical justification for female circumcision. The Grand Mufti of Egypt signed the resolution condemning the practice the next day.

One argument is that God has created us and thus we do not have the right to mutilate our bodies. Another is that in Islam husband and wife are supposed to fulfill each other sexually, almost impossible for a man to do if the woman has been circumcised.

In 2007 a debate was aired on al-Arabiyya between Egyptian Al-Azhar University scholars Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mussayar and Sheikh Mahmoud Ashur. 

Ashur said: “Female circumcision is a traditional custom, and not a religious act. All the hadiths dealing with female circumcision are unreliable. Moreover, the hadith cited by those who support circumcision calls to refrain from it more than it calls to perform it.”

Al-Mussayar said: “All the jurisprudents, since the advent of Islam and for 14 centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted by Islam. But they were divided with regard to its status in shari’a. Some said that female circumcision is required by shari’a, just like male circumcision. Some said this is the mainstream practice, while others said it is a noble act. But throughout the history of Islam, nobody has ever said that performing female circumcision is a crime. There has been a religious ruling on this for 14 centuries.”

Interesting! I didn’t know about this. If this is the case, what does it mean? That as Muslims we can’t condemn the practice?
Ashur responded with: “In the days of Jahiliya [i.e. the pre-Islamic period] and in the early days of Islam, a man whose mother carried out this custom was scorned by people who called him ‘you son of a clitoris cutter.’ This proves that it was never part of the religion of Islam.”

Al-Mussayar responded with: “”First of all, there are reliable hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim which support female circumcision. The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘If a circumcised woman and man have intercourse, they must undergo ablution.’ Unreliable hadiths do not cancel out the reliable ones. People would curse one another by saying: ‘You son of a clit woman’ – the son of a non-circumcised woman. ”

So they have different versions – one says a woman who wasn’t circumcised was an embarrassment, the other says a circumcised woman was an embarrassment.

Al-Mussayar then argues: “Some sources said: ‘Reduce, but do not remove.’ In other words, it is neither about removing the organ, nor about leaving it. It is a trustworthy Muslim doctor who makes the decision. She decides whether the girl needs it or not. We do not obligate every girl to undergo circumcision. We say it should be left up to the doctor, and she can evaluate the case and determine whether the girl needs circumcision or not.”

Ashur responds with: “If it is left up to the doctor, then it is a custom and not part of the religion.”

I found this debate very interesting. If al-Mussayar is right and there are reliable hadith about this, what does it mean in terms of the campaign against FC? Do we have the right to demand that the practice ends? I did find his notion that a doctor should decide strange: like Ashur said, if it is up to the doctor, then it isn’t really Islamic. I think al-Mussayar’s point in the end is that although FC is not required, it is either recommended or allowed. This negates the argument of many Muslims (and Westerners) that FC is not an Islamic practice.

Once again a controversial issue comes down to whether or not the hadith relating to it are reliable.

What do you all think?


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