It is quite common when discussing this topic for critics to say that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an ancient and widespread practice, and has nothing to do with Islam as such. Well, the critics are right about the first half of their claims, but much less so on the second.
FGM, or female circumcision, has indeed been around for some time, and has been practised widely in various cultures. But it is also a key element of at least parts of Islam as well. Today FGM is mainly practised in the Middle East and Africa. FGM is supported by sharia in many Muslim countries.
Tahara (female circumcision) is quite widespread in Islam, and has the backing of many even so-called moderate Muslim leaders and scholars. Consider for example Dr Muhammad al-Mussayar from the Al-Azhar University in Cairo:
“All jurisprudents since the advent of Islam and for fourteen centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted in Islam. But they were divided as to its status in the sharia. Some said that female circumcision is required by the sharia, just like male circumcision. Some said this is a mainstream practice, while others said that it is a noble act.”
Dr Mark Durie writes, “Of the four Sunni schools of sharia, it is the Shafi’is who have said that circumcision of girls is compulsory. The Reliance of the Traveller, a respected manual of Shafi’i jurisprudence, states ‘Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the clitoris’.”
Nonie Darwish, in her important volume, Cruel and Usual Punishment says this: “Female circumcision is commonly practiced among Indonesian Muslims, where the Shafi’i’ school predominates, such as Egypt, southern Arabia, Bahrain, Kurdistan, Somalia, Brunei, and Malaysia, as well as Indonesia.”
She continues, “While many say that there is nothing in Islam which requires female genital mutilation, one of Sunni Islam’s ‘Four Great Imams,’ Ahmad ibn Hanbal (from whom the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence takes its name) quotes Muhammed as saying ‘Circumcision is a law for men and a preservation of honour for women’.”
One expert on how Islam treats women, Rosemary Sookhdeo, puts it this way: “Some Muslim leaders have spoken out to condemn the practice as un-Islamic and culturally bound, but many communities see it as Islamically sanctioned, as well as being essential for preserving the woman’s chastity and family honour. An estimated 7,000 girls in Britain are at risk from this procedure at any given time.”
Indeed, that is the big problem here: not only is this occurring in Muslim-majority countries, but increasingly it is happening in the West. Consider the situation here in Australia. Take this frightening headline from a few years back already: “Doctors consider introduction ‘ritual nick’ procedure on baby girls.”
The article begins: “Australian doctors are considering backing the introduction of controversial ‘ritual nick’ procedures on baby girls in a bid to wipe out female circumcision in migrant communities. But the move has outraged some women’s groups and health professionals, who say ritual nicks entrench the abuse of baby girls. Supporters of the procedures say they are designed to appease families who would otherwise take their baby girls overseas for female genital mutilation operations.”
Things are also troublesome in the US. One article states, “Last month the US legal assistance website, TrustLaw, carried a report that girls living in America increasingly are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) both at home and abroad – and was promptly slammed by one commenter for failing to identify the chief culprits, namely Muslims…. The [Sanctuary for Families] report said up to 200,000 girls and women in the United States are at risk of FGM and that the number is growing.”
Meanwhile the practice continues unabated overseas, with young girls dying as a result. We even have this tragic story emerging in today’s media: “A thirteen-year-old child died Thursday evening while being circumcised at a private clinic in a village of the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahliya. The child’s family filed a complaint at the police station, accusing the doctor who performed the operation of having caused her death.
“The victim’s father, Mohamed Ibrahim, a farmer, told Al-Masry Al-Youm: ‘We left our daughter with the doctor and the nurse. 15 minutes later, the nurse took my daughter out of the operation room to a nearby room, along with three other girls whom the doctor was circumcising.’ Ibrahim added: ‘I waited half an hour, hoping that my daughter would wake up, but, unfortunately, unlike the rest of the girls, she did not.’
“‘The doctor brought her back to the operation room, and then we were surprised when an ambulance transferred her out of the clinic. When we asked the doctor what was going on, he told us that she was weak and that the clinic did not have the necessary [medical] equipment to treat her. When we reached Aga Hospital, they told us that the girl was dead’.”
So while FGM does indeed predate Islam, it has become a big part of Islam in various places. And with girls still being tortured and killed by those who practice it, it is time to say enough is enough.