People who desire to fulfill person gains and selfish desires often wrongfully commit atrocities in the name of religion. One such horrifying practice erroneously associated with the religion of Islam is female circumcision. As will be shown in this article, there is no concept of female circumcision in Islam and therefore it can only be suitably defined as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This ancient barbaric practice is cultural in its origins and has absolutely no link to Islamic teachings.
Female Genital Mutilation is also referred to as Female Genital Cutting (FGC). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
Although FGM is carried out in some countries where there is a large Muslim population this does not indicate a connection with Islam. Speaking at the 8th International Metropolis Conference held in Vienna on September 2003, Dr Ashenafi Moges spoke about ‘FGM – Myths and Justifications’. Dr Moges said, “One of the biggest misconceptions about FGM is that it is sanctioned by religion, be it Christianity or Islam. There is no possible connection between FGM and religion as it predates both of them… the practice seems to be extensive among the Muslim population in the FGM practicing countries and as such has acquired a religious dimension. However not all Muslims practice FGM… it is also practiced by the Christians… FGM is neither Islamic nor Christian.”
There are no instructions in the Holy Qur’an or in the traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa that support this barbaric and demoralising act. In reality, FGM is a physically and psychologically scarring act, a violation of human rights, and is recognized as a crime, in most parts of the developed world.
According to an estimate by the WHO, “between 100 and 140 million women and girls in the world have undergone some form of FGM. Although overall figures are difficult to estimate, they do indicate the massive scale of this human rights abuse. FGM affects far more women than previously thought.”
FGM is predominantly practised in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan, but has traditions in other countries and faiths as well. Largely due to emigration, it is now being practiced illegally in areas of Asia, Europe, and the United States.
Growing International Concern to Eradicate the Practice of FGM
It has been reported that an estimated 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. If current trends continue, some 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030.
The WHO, recently organised an Interagency Statement written and signed by a wider group of United Nations agencies, condemning in no uncertain terms all practices associated with FGM. It states, “This statement is a call to all States, international and national organisations, civil society and communities to uphold the rights of girls and women. It also calls on those bodies and communities to develop, strengthen, and support specific and concrete actions directed towards ending Female Genital Mutilation.”
Cultural Origins of FGM
Since ancient Egyptian times, the torturous practice of FGM has been carried out and continues till this day in the Middle East, parts of Africa, Indonesia, and across various ethnic and religious groups. It is not entirely known when or where this practice began but “there are documentary indications, however that existed. Sanderson cites in a statement from Herodotus that Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, and Ethiopians practiced female excision five hundred years before the birth of Christ. She also notes that Aramaics have described excision in Egypt in the Second Century B.C. A Greek papyrus in the British Museum dated 163 B.C. refers to the circumcision of girls at the age when they received their dowries in Egypt at Memphis.” This historical evidence clearly shows that the Pharaonic practice of FGM predates Islam.
Professor Ellen Grurenbaum describes how FGM may have become linked with Islam:
“In the Nile valley, it appears certain that the practices predated and survived the spread of Christianity to the ruling groups of Nile Valley Kingdoms in Sudan in the Sixth Century C.E. waves of Arab migration came later, initially nomadic groups who began to intermarry with the indigenous Nile Valley people. Later, Arab identity was strengthened when Islamic teachers and Sufis successfully spread the new religion in northern Sudan, where it became the dominant religion by about 1500 C.E. … In Sudan, pharaonic circumcision along with other pre-Islamic or non-Islamic beliefs and practices was successfully syncretized into the Sudanese Islamic belief system.”
This demonstrates how the ancient cultural practice of FGM continued from generation to generation long before the revelation of Islam. But with the emergence of Islam the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa brought to light the Islamic teachings related to the rights and kind treatment of women in Islam, a companion of the Holy Prophetsa “Abu Shuraih Khuwailad ibn Amr Khuzai relates that the Holy Prophetsa said: Allah, I declare sinful any failure to safeguard the rights of two weak ones: orphans and women. (Nisai)”
History of FGM Practised in the West
This practice was not just limited to a few countries and was not necessarily linked with cultural traditions, but was also practised in Europe. Ellen Gruenbaum, a professor of Anthropology informs us that “According to Huelsman, the first four decades that the Lancet was in publication (i.e., after 1825) there were numerous case histories of ‘declitorized for a variety of medical reasons, including hypertrophy, tumors, and infantile adolescent or adult masturbation regarded as excessive.’”
During the 1860’s, Isaac Baker Brown gained great popularity about his theory that clitoridectomy (a form of FGM), was the surgical ‘remedy’ for masturbation. This became widespread and accepted across Victorian England and even more recently in the United States.
Why do People Associate FGM with Islam?
UNICEF has researched extensively and written about the roots of FGM. A section of a report by UNICEF mentions the Role of religion in the continuation of FGM, it states:
“FGM/C is often seen to be somehow connected to Islam, a view that is perhaps unsurprising given the frequency with which it is practised by many Muslim African groups. However, not all Islamic groups practise FGM/C, and many non-Islamic groups do……. Despite the fact that FGM/C predates the birth of Islam and Christianity and is not mandated by religious scriptures, the belief that it is a religious requirement contributes to the continuation of the practice in a number of settings.”
A major factor in the misrepresentation of FGM as an Islamic practice is lack of knowledge on the actual teachings of Islam, which enables critics and proponents alike to hold fast to this misconception, in this article we are clearly telling our readers that this practice has no place in Islam.
Professor Barbara Crandall agrees that:
“Female genital mutilation is an ancient practice dating back to the pharaohs. Its goal is to control female sexuality and parents promote it to make their daughter acceptable as wives. It is not confined to Islamic countries but is more common there … and it is not mentioned in the Qur’an.”
By contrast however, male circumcision, which originated from the time of Prophet Abrahamas is a required practice in Islam, with medically confirmed hygienic benefits. Prrofessor Gruenbaum comments on this:
“Most Jews consider only male circumcision to be commanded by God. But most theologians in the Islamic faith consider female circumcision to be completely unnecessary and argue it is contrary to Islam. And yet followers of all three of the monotheistic religions have at times practiced female circumcision and considered their practices sanctioned, or at least not prohibited by God.”
As Discussed previously, communities may have continued the ancient Egyptian practice of FGM as a cultural practice and unfortunately somewhere along the way it has wrongly become associated with the teachings of Islam even though it is not an Islamic practice.
There are absolutely no Qur’anic verses in relation to Female Circumcision (FGM). There is also ample disagreement on this issue in the Hadith (Traditions of the Holy Prophetsa) and among all four schools of jurisprudence in Islam as well as with the Ja‘fariyyah sect of the Shi‘ites.
Various schools of thought in Islam have differing points of views on the issue of Female Circumcision. Some deem it obligatory while others regard it as being Sunnah, in that if someone intentionally evades it, he will be committing a sin. Others regard it only as an act which is favoured; meaning that although it is not necessary for women to be circumcised, it is preferred if they are. This confusion and misinterpretation all stems from a weak and unauthentic Hadith, recorded tradition of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.
Sahih Bukhari, the most authentic book of traditions of the Holy Prophetsa does not relate any such tradition. Second to Bukhari in terms of authenticity is Sahih Muslim, which again does not record any tradition with regards to this matter. Indeed, of the six authentic books of traditions, five do not contain any mention of the subject. Only the sixth authentic book of traditions, Sunnan Abu Dawud mentions a tradition. Poignantly, Abu Dawud has a note recorded with this tradition which reads, “this report is Da‘if (substandard)”. Similarly, in the account of Islamic Law offered by Abu Dawud, it states, “the tradition reporting female circumcision has many different versions and each of them are substandard, unsound and seriously doubtful.”
The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa has explained every matter in Islam regarding all situations plainly and candidly. He did so in great detail to ensure that his companions understood Islamic law extensively. Neither women nor men lagged behind in any way in correctly understanding these issues, no matter how sensitive the subject matter.
Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa had several daughters and this practice was never mentioned as having occurred or been recommended or encouraged for his daughters. It is well known that the Prophetsa was strict in observing the same rules for his own children as he advocated for the Muslim Ummah (Nation). For example, when he explained the punishment for stealing, he mentioned that if his own daughter were to commit theft, she too would be subject to the same punishment. In other words, her family affiliation would not supersede the Islamic law. Therefore, if Female Circumcision were an Islamic practice, then he would certainly have instructed Muslims to make it as part of their faith, and this would, similarly, be evidenced by not only his various traditions but also seen as an accepted practice in his own family circle.
With no Qur’anic or Hadith reference instructing women to be circumcised, and no examples of the Prophet’ssa family practising it, one can firmly conclude that FGM is NOT an Islamic practice. There is no evidence of Female Circumcision ever being a part of Islamic tradition or teaching and those who consider it to be an Islamic practice base it purely on unauthentic traditions and cultural norms that predate Islam. Thus, the practice of FGM must not be condoned in Islam in anyway, or under any circumstances.
Why do People Carry Out this Practice?
The reasons behind the practice of FGM are linked to a variety of cultural and social factors within families and communities. Professor Ellen Gruenbaum comments on this. She says:
“Female Circumcision conveys meaning in a similar range of ways in different cultural contexts. Age status, marriageability, gender, identity, social status, ethnicity and even moral quality can be socially established, strengthened or weakened in the eyes of others by an individual female’s circumcision status or type of operation.”
Professor Gruenbaum further adds, “Female Circumcision practices are also deeply rooted and entwined with ethnic identity and this continues to serve as such a marker of ethnic and in some cases, class identity.”
Social pressure appears to be a major reason why this inhumane crime continues. In some communities, families may feel that they have to carry out FGM on their girls, as they fear being shunned and stigmatised by members of their own community, who believe that this practice will makes girls more ‘desirable’ or ‘suitable for marriage’.
FGM is associated with certain cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are ‘clean’ and ‘beautiful’ after the removal of body parts that are considered ‘male’ or ‘unclean’. Within such communities, FGM is considered to be a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. Thus, some parents who may be unaware of the damaging consequences and possible complications of FGM, allow their daughters to be mutilated, genuinely believing that this is the best for them. According to UNICEF, in countries with available data. it is believed that FGM is carried out on girls from the ages of 0-15 years of age and women between the ages of 15 -49.
Are There Any Health Benefits to this Practice?
There are no known health benefits to women who have been circumcised. Instead there can be detrimental, lasting physical and psychological ramifications. These include:
Inexperienced people, with little to no medical training, often carry out these procedures using non-sterile instruments, which can lead to severe infection, gangrene and sepsis. Additionally, young girls may contract severe debilitating blood borne infections such as HIV or Hepatitis B.
This procedure can also cause obstruction of the birth canal, which is both painful and dangerous for both mother and baby. It is also associated with a high risk of infant mortality.
FGM can cause compounding health issues including cysts, infections, infertility, recurrent miscarriages, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
Heavy bleeding during or after the operation, which can result in severe anemia and may lead to death from acute, severe blood loss.
Additionally, young girls may contract severe debilitating blood borne infections such as HIV or Hepatitis B and it can also lead to infertility and recurrent miscarriage.
The trauma of this procedure puts women at an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as depression, psychosis and neurosis. They may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and report chronic irritability, nightmares and horrors of reliving the procedure. Women subjected to FGM have described feelings of incompleteness, helplessness, inferiority and suppression, which affect the rest of their lives.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded by the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, who came with a mission to revive Islam to its original teachings. The entire purpose of his advent was to remove all misinterpretations and misinformation wrongly attributed towards the teachings of Islam, the Holy Qur’an and towards the Prophet Muhammadsa. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community advocates for the equality, education, and empowerment of women. For several years, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been condemning the barbaric practice of FGM, which has resulted in millions of young girls and women suffering the pain of unbearable torture and even death. Today the entire Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is actively raising awareness that FGM is not an Islamic practice and stands united around the world conveying a key message ‘FGM – Not in the Name of Islam’.
1. “Female Genital Mutilation”, World Health Organization, last modified February, 2014, https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/.
2. Dr. Ashenafi Moges, “What is Behind the Tradition of FGM?”, African Women, https://www.african-women.org/documents/behind-FGM-tradition.pdf.
3. “Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting”, UNICEF, republished May, 2008, https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/fgm_eng.pdf.
4. “Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An Interagency Statement”, World Health Organization, https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw52/statements_missions/Interagency_Statement_on_Eliminating_FGM.pdf.
5. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy, 43.
6. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy, 44.
7. Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Woman In Islam, (Tilford, Surrey, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd, 2008), 31.
8. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy, 9.
9. Akeya Bolden, “The Affects of Female Genital Mutilation”, Alder Graduate School, April, 2011, https://www.alfredadler.edu/sites/default/files/Bolden%20MP%202011.pdf.
10. “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change”, UNICEF, accessed December 8th, 2014, https://www.childinfo.org/files/FGCM_Lo_res.pdf, p.69.
11. Barbara Crandall, Gender and Religion: The Dark Side of Scripture, 182.
12. The Female Circumcision Controversy, 60.
13. “An Analysis of Female Circumcision According to Islamic Law”, Al Islam, https://www.alislam.org/library/articles/Female-circumcision-and-its-standing-in-Islamic-law.pdf.
14. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy, 67.
15. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy, 102-104.
16. “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change”, UNICEF, accessed December 8th, 2014, https://www.childinfo.org/files/FGCM_Lo_res.pdf, p.50.
17. “International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation”, https://www.un.org/en/events/femalegenitalmutilationday/.