Munavara Ghauri, UK
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was initiated by the United Nations in 2003 and is marked on February 6th. It is a day designed to raise awareness of the practice whereby the female genitalia of girls and women are removed or altered for non-medical reasons in some societies. Contrary to common misconceptions, there are no religious grounds for this barbaric practice.
The UN are campaigning to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2030 worldwide. Although primarily concentrated in African countries such as Somalia and Guinea, FGM is increasingly a universal problem. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the situation. The UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) has predicted that the pandemic will prevent another 2 million cases of FGM being averted by 2030.
The problem is closer to home than we think. Recently, as I watched a popular British breakfast show, I saw an interview with Hibo Wardere. Wardere, now a campaigner for the awareness of FGM, was keen to highlight that more than 200 cases of FGM were performed on girls and women born in the UK between April 2019 and March 2020.
Wardere, born in Somali and now a resident of the UK, became a victim of FGM at the age of 6 years. It was even more horrifying for me to hear as a mother, that her own mother – the one person universally expected to protect and cherish a child, performed the procedure on Wardere alongside her aunt. Wardere explained that her family thought this ‘social norm’ in their community would benefit Wardere’s future prospects as she herself explained, ‘It’s all about preserving you for your future husband.’
Such an abhorrent concept is completely alien to me as a Muslim woman by birth. Non-Muslims may query why Islam endorses male circumcision and not FGM. The two are very different procedures. Whilst the health benefits of male circumcision have been well established and include reduced risks of genital cancers, urinary tract infections, phimosis and some sexually transmitted diseases, all the effects of FGM are negative. According to the World Health Organization (WH0), they include severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and childbirth complications.
The philosophy of Islam does not justify such a procedure. Each teaching in Islam encourages positive and healthy acts and forbids anything where ‘sin and harm are greater than their advantage’, such as in the cases of gambling and alcohol consumption. Moreover, Islam teaches that ‘There is no compulsion in religion’, and so whilst chastity is highly stressed, it is not the responsibility of any individual to physically obstruct another from sexual activity, which is the purpose of FGM.
More specifically, Allah the Almighty has expressed to Muslims in the Holy Qur’an that He created wives for men so that they find ‘peace of mind’ together and that ‘He has put love and tenderness’ between spouses. Nothing in this verse suggests that the cruelty of FGM would be required or desired, to attain the ideal marital relationship. Also, Allah the Almighty directs men in Chapter 4 of the Holy Qur’an to ‘consort with them in kindness’ when it comes to their wives, again debunking the myth that Islam encourages some sort of tyrannical oppression by husbands over wives.
Hibo Wardere had to endure FGM at the tender age of 6 years. This reminded me of an incident in which the Holy Prophet (sa) safeguarded his young daughter Fatima (ra) against injustice. It illustrates the protection and love which the Holy Prophet (sa)afforded the then oppressed Arab girls of 6th Century Arabia, beginning with his own family. When the young Fatima (ra) came crying to him one day and said that one of the Quraish chieftains, Abu Jahal, had slapped her over some matter, the Holy Prophet (sa) did not ignore his daughter. Instead, he instructed her to tell Abu Sufyan (ra), another eminent chieftain, about the occurrence. When Fatima (ra) related the incident to Abu Sufyan (ra), he took her and led her straight to the place where Abu Jahal was sitting. He then instructed her to slap Abu Jahal on the face in the same manner as he had slapped her. The young Fatima (ra) did so and then returned home and related the whole incident to her father, the Holy Prophet (sa). Interestingly, the Holy Prophet’s (sa) response was not to chide or admonish his daughter. Instead, he benevolently prayed for Abu Sufyan (ra), ‘O Allah, do not forget this (good) act of Abu Sufyan.’
Possibly as a consequence of this prayer, Abu Sufyan (ra) ultimately embraced Islam. Thus, the Holy Prophet (sa)had in fact greatly appreciated the protection that this chieftain provided his youngest daughter. This is only one example of how the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) became the means for the liberation and elevation of women through Islam. Thus, on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, all of us and in particular Muslims, should emphatically condemn this practice and invest in its elimination, where possible. Hibo Wardere reflected that FGM ‘effects your soul’ and no one deserves that.
About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for the Bournemouth Women’s Auxiliary Organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is the Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.
 The UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency
 Tahira Riaz, Bint e Muhammad (pbuh) Hadrat Fatimard, (Urdu), Islam International Publications Ltd, 2008, p5