A couple of weeks ago I posted a translation of a paper by Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) senior committee member Dr. Hatem al-Haj, PhD, MD, in which he warned American Muslims against working in law enforcement in our 'infidel' nation (see here for more details). Now in my latest translation, Dr. al-Haj explains why female circumcision is recommended and even 'an honor' for women. This is the same practice which is popularly known as female genital mutilation (FGM) due to the pain it causes women. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that "the procedure has no health benefits for women," and causes a range of health problems including "severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth."
Yet Dr. al-Haj, a medical doctor and fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics, ignores FGM's detrimental effects on women's health, and instead argues that it is 'an honor' for women. He justifies this position by referring repeatedly to the words of classical Islamic scholars from the four schools of mainstream Sunni Islamic thought, all of which attest to FGM's legitimacy under Islam. He also refers to the words of the Prophet Muhammad himself, who reportedly counselled people in his day on how to perform FGM in a way that would be "more beautiful to behold and better for [the woman's] husband."
Thanks again to the Center for Security Policy for their assistance and expertise on AMJA.
Below is my excerpted translation of the 41-page Arabic-language paper by Dr. Hatem al-Haj entitled "Circumcision of Girls: Jurisprudence and Medicine" (see the original here and here ):
The ruling on circumcision: Scholars have differed on the ruling on circumcision. They have agreed on its legitimacy for both sexes, but beyond that they have differed. Some--most famously the Shafi’ites--believe that it is obligatory for both sexes. Some believe it is obligatory for men only, and some believe it is recommended for both. At the very least it can be said that for women it is an honor, and for men it is sunnah [i.e. it is in accord with the tradition of Muhammad].
There are many hadiths on circumcision, some of which will be presented here along with the commentary of some scholars:
From Abi-Hurayra, who attributed it to the Prophet: “Five (acts of) al-fitrah [Islamic law or way of nature] are circumcision, shaving pubic hair, plucking armpit hair, trimming fingernails, and clipping the mustache.” Also from Abi-Hurayra: “The Messenger of Allah said, ‘Abraham was circumcised when he was 80 years old’.”’ Allah said: “So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith” [Qur’an 16:123]. Also recorded in a hadith is the saying of (Muhammad) to a man who converted to Islam: “Remove your infidel hair and be circumcised.”
Muhammad also said regarding circumcision: “If you touch the two circumcisions, you must wash.” Here is evidence that women were circumcised, and therefore any of the hadiths on circumcision which do not specify men or women, can be assumed to apply to both.
From Sa’id bin Jabir: “Ibn ‘Abbas was asked, “How old were you when the Prophet (PBUH) died?" He replied, "At that time I had been circumcised. People (in those days) did not circumcise men until they reached puberty.” From the hadith of Umm ‘Atiyah--who used to circumcise girls--the Messenger of Allah said to her, “Reduce it, but do not remove too much, because it is more beautiful to behold and better for her husband.” This is the most explicit evidence in the hadiths of Muhammad for female circumcision being legitimate and even recommended. From Ibn ‘Abbas, attributing it to the Prophet: “Circumcision is sunnah for men and an honor for women.” This was narrated by al-Bayhaqi, and its attribution is weak.
Ibn al-Mundhir narrated from Abi-Barza: “We asked the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) about an uncircumcised man making pilgrimage to the Ka’aba. He replied, ‘No, not until he’s circumcised’.” This was considered a weak hadith by Ibn al-Mundhir and others.
There’s no doubt that among these hadiths there are those which are sound but do not explicitly command or urge women to become circumcised. There are also those which are met with disagreement by scholars, and these hadiths are more explicit in confirming the legitimacy of female circumcision. But the hadiths on the laws of al-fitrah which mention circumcision--and these are sound--do not mean that it is done on men only and not women. It is certain that circumcision includes both men and women, as is clearly stated in the hadith about touching the two circumcisions.
Below are words from scholars on the ruling on circumcision:
The Hanafis: Al-Zayla’i said: “The general ruling is that circumcision is sunnah, and is one of the trademarks of Islam. In fact, if the people of Egypt or some land decided to abandon its practice, the Imam would make war against them, for it cannot be abandoned except by necessity... Female circumcision is not sunnah, but it is an honor for men because it is more pleasing during sex” [ellipses in original].
The Malikites: From al-Kharshi’s brief summary of Khalil: “Its ruling (i.e. circumcision) is that it is sunnah for men, and it cuts off the foreskin. It is recommended for women, and is called khifad [reduction].”
The Shafi’ites: From [Asna al-Mutalib]: “Circumcision is obligatory (at puberty). The reasoning for this is the saying of the Almighty: “So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith” [Qur’an 16:123]. In Abraham’s religion, circumcision was present. Also in the two Sahihs: “He was circumcised when he was eighty years old.” In Sahih Ibn Hibban, and in al-Hakim it was said 120 years, and it was also said 70 years. Also it was narrated by Abu-Dawud: “(The Prophet) (PBUH) ordered a man who converted to Islam to be circumcised.” They said that since he cut off a member which could not be replaced, it had to be obligatory like cutting off the hand. Since the man was injured during the process, he feared it. If it were not obligatory for him, then it would not have been permissible. This is unlike the circumcision of little boys, crazy people, and those who cannot endure it, because the first are too young to be required to do anything, and the last are harmed by it.” Al-Nawawi said in al-Majmu’: “Circumcision is obligatory for our men and women. This was stated by many of the salaf, as al-Khatabi relates. Ahmad was one of those who said it was obligatory. Malik and Abu-Hanifa said that it was sunnah for everyone. This was related by al-Rafi’i. He also related that (circumcision) is obligatory for men and sunnah for women. These were the two approaches of Shadhan, and of the sound and famous school of thought which was penned by al-Shafi’i, in which the multitude of scholars declared that circumcision is obligatory for men and women.”
The Hanbalis: From Ibn Muflih’s Furu’ [body of rules and regulations for man’s behavior]: “(According to Ahmad), circumcision is obligatory on all but women, for whom it is recommended. Our Shaykh said, ‘It is obligatory because cleanliness and prayer are obligatory’.” Ibn Qudama said: “Circumcision is a duty for men, and for women it is an honor, but it is not obligatory. This has been stated by many scholars.” Ahmad said: “The man is more difficult, because if the man is not circumcised, then the skin dangles over the [penis] and cannot be cleaned. But the woman is easier.”
The al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhia (“The Encyclopedia of Jurisprudence”) summarizes scholars’ opinions on circumcision as follows:
“The ruling on circumcision: Scholars differ on circumcision as follows: First, the Hanafis and Malikites--and very rarely the Shafi’ites--hold to the opinion of what Ahmad said, that circumcision is sunnah for men but not a duty. It is one of the acts of al-fitrah, and one of the rituals of Islam. If the people of a particular land decided together to abandon its practice, the Imam would make war against them, just like if they abandoned the call to prayer. This also represents what the Malikites think about circumcision of women. Hanafis and Hanbalis consider female circumcision to be an honor and not sunnah. It is said by some Hanafis that it is also sunnah for [women], and some say that it is recommended. … Second, the Shafi’ites and Hanbalis, as is also stated by Sahnoun from the Malikites, believe that circumcision is a duty for both men and women. … Third, this is written by Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni, that circumcision is a duty for men, and for women it is an honor but not a duty” [ellipses in original].
It appears that for male circumcision the most correct view is that it is obligatory, owing to the saying of Muhammad to the man who converted to Islam: “Remove your infidel hair and be circumcised.” This was obligatory--there was no alternative.
Regarding women, perhaps the most correct view is that it is recommended, however there is consensus that it is (at least) legitimate. Muhammad also endorsed it, as was narrated in the hadith of Umm ‘Atiyah, who used to circumcise girls. He said to her: “Reduce it, but do not remove too much, because it is more beautiful to behold and better for her husband.” He also said, “If you touch the two circumcisions, you must wash.” This shows that female circumcision was prevalent during his day, and he did not repudiate it. Nor did he stipulate anything else regarding female circumcision.
Perhaps the saying that it is (only) recommended is due to the pain women must go through to carry out the acts of al-fitrah, such as circumcision, as stated in the sound hadith. But as we mentioned, this is not evidence of it being confined only to men. The term circumcision was used for both men and women during Muhammad’s time. But it is clear that performing circumcision must be preferable to not performing it, especially when one considers that circumcision includes both pain and revealing one’s nakedness. Thus if there was no benefit to it, the Messenger of Allah would not have agreed to it. However there is still no evidence for making it obligatory. The fact that the Messenger of Allah agreed to it despite the pain and discovering one’s nakedness is not evidence for making it obligatory. Instead, this is evidence for preferring the action over not doing it, as we stated. (Muhammad’s) command to Umm ‘Atiyah is not a command to all women to (be circumcised), but rather he was regulating its practice. He was not telling her not to do it, he was telling her not to go too far and injure the women.
His command to the man who converted to Islam does not apply to women. Even though the principle is that “women are men’s sisters”, and women are often included when addressing men and vice versa, that only applies when there is no reason to differentiate between them. Here the issue is different for men and women. The man’s foreskin could trap urine at the end of it and affect his cleanliness. The issue is not the same for women. Therefore it is appropriate for this to be stressed more for men, and this is apparent in the words of scholars and the works of the ummah.
I have summed up the words of Muhammad and of scholars to show that circumcision is legitimate, and that the principal issue in the study is the limits of circumcision.
The Child Bride and the Old Man of Arabia
An excerpt from a book by Dr. A. A. Ahmed
What troubled Malaika was the primitive and cruel way that operation was performed by a woman who had nothing to do with medical knowledge and surgeon’s experience. As part of her observation duty Malaika forced herself to attend that barbaric practice. The woman subjected the four years old girl to the most brutal operation she ever experienced in my life.
The little girl was tied with ropes hands and legs. Then, her mother carried her on her arms and taken her to a dark room lighted with a dim local lamp. There was a woman who was known as a midwife whose duty was to help women deliver their babies. That woman had never been to school in all her life. The little girl did not know what they were going to do to her. Most probably, she thought they wanted to squeeze a baby out of my stomach.
After that, her mother removed the ropes from her legs and forced her to lie on her back. The little child began to scream. Her fear was intensified when she saw the midwife holding a razor in her hand. Her mother closed her mouth to stop her screaming. The child was so terrified that she thought the woman was going to slice her throat with the razor. However, the neighbors Sakina and Salwa who happened to be there were asked by the mother to help. Each one of them held one leg of the child and spread it as far as she could. The child could not scream because her mother was putting her two hands on her mouth.
Then, the midwife began to examine or fondle the private parts of the child. She used wet cloths to clean up the vagina of the child. Those clothes were soaked into normal hot water. She did not use any freezing or apply anything else except water. Then, she began to cut off the child’s clitoris and slice her labia majora and labia minora. Although three grown up women were holding that child still the terrible pain made the child to struggle for relief and release from that unbearable pain.
Then, the midwife used a reed to measure the hole that should be left open after the operation was over. The pain increased to an unbearable state when the woman began to seal the two sliced parts together. The blood was gushing out of the child’s privates like water. Both hands of the midwife were smeared with blood. Even the blood reached the clothes of the mother, Sakina, and Salwa. Then, the woman inserted in the child’s vagina a tiny reed, as small as a straw such as the one used in sipping a soft drink or juice. This straw-like reed is used to keep a small opening for the girl to urinate after everything is closed up.
In fact, the main purpose of FGM is to lock up the girl’s vagina so that she would not be able to practice sex before marriage. Moreover, the small hole would not allow any male to have normal sex with the circumcised girl unless he would rape her. Before sealing the two labas together, the circumciser filled the open vagina with mimosa nilotica powder (from Acacia nilotica tree). This powder causes so much burning and pain as if filling someone’s eyes with hot chili powder or pouring burning acid on somebody’s face. The purpose of this power was to glue the two labas together forever and leaves only a small hole after the reed was removed. The Acacia powder was used by ancient Egyptians for palming and creating the mummies of their Pharaoh Kings. The circumciser also used needle and something called strong thread called Asab in the place of stitches.
Then, she began to stitch up together the two labas until she reached the reed. The reed was placed at the lower end of the vagin which was near the rectum. The vagina’s opening was fully sealed from one end to another end. The woman placed five stitches and closed almost all the opening except that straw size opening. This stitching or sealing would create huge scar which would make the girl’s vagina when she grows up looks like a face which was deprived of its nose, eyes, mouth, etc.
This closed up area would not be easily open up again. In Europe, some doctors tried to help genitally mutilated Muslim girls by opening their vaginas. However, those surgeries were not so successful and they could not restore back the clitoris and laba majora and laba minora. That poor child fainted before the stitching/sealing of her two labas was completed.
Then, the midwife used ropes to tie the legs of the girls together. The girl would remain in those ropes for at least one week until the wounds are healed. She would be lying on the bed and would not be allowed to go to the washroom. She would urinate and defecate in a small bowl until she was healed. Anyway, Malaika collapsed on the floor and fainted before the midwife finished placing those five stitches on the child’s vagina Ever since that day, she always shuddered and got very terrified whenever she remembered that primitive, barbaric, and painful FGM’s operation.
The horror of female genital mutilation
By Siobhan Courtney
An estimated 66,000 girls have been illegally mutilated in the UK, but no one has yet been prosecuted for this practice.
"After the pain, it was the screaming that I'll never forget. It wasn't just mine and my sister's screams, there were so many other girls there - all being cut. I've never heard screams like that again and I don't think I ever will."
Aissa, from Mali, West Africa was just six years old when she and her one year-old sister were told: "We have to go somewhere". The sisters were taken on a journey by the female members of their family, oblivious to the torturous destination that was waiting for them. Aissa and her sister were then forced to endure a depraved ritual, scarring them for perpetuity: female genital mutilation.
I ask Aissa, now 29 and living and working as a midwife in London, what she can remember of that day when she and her little sister arrived at the place they were taken to by their step mother. "Isn't it ironic?" says Aissa, "That I can remember everything so clearly, like it happened yesterday, but that is only because the memories of the blood, the pain, the screaming will always haunt me, like a re-occurring bad dream".
Aissa describes how her sister was taken away by a woman to "wait for her turn" while Aissa's stepmother instructed her to lay down on a bed. Aissa did as she was told, as four women stood over her pinning her to the bed as another woman began to cut her. No anaesthetic was used to remove Aissa's clitoris with a razor blade. Aissa explains that it doesn't matter how tightly you are held down, your body instinctively convulses, which results in deeper and longer incisions.
"The pain is, well, it's so difficult to describe to you what it is like. Imagine when you cut your finger, it's a million times worse than that. But that doesn't even begin to describe the type of pain that takes over when the part of your body that has the most nerve endings in it is cut away. Only girls who have been cut will ever know what that level of pain is like. I honestly thought I was going to die, and then everything went black."
Aissa then tells me there is another reason why she will never ever forget that day. Almost whispering, she says: "It was the first time I had ever slept in a real bed; we had always slept on the floor before. I can't remember how long I stayed in the bed, maybe one or two weeks until I was able to walk again."
As you read this, vulnerable young girls (children in the majority of cases) across the world are being led to a place by their mothers, stepmothers, aunts and grandmothers where they will be subjected to physical and emotional pain like no other. That physical and emotional pain inflicted on them, on so many levels, will be and will stay at such an intensity, there are just no appropriate words to attempt to describe the young girls' ordeals. To listen to another woman reflect back to the time she was betrayed by those whom she loved and trusted the most, through the most invasive, barbaric and brutal treachery, is only comparable to torture so extreme it just can't be real, except it is.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also referred to as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The World Health Organisation says FGM also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. The United Nations, Amnesty International and UNICEF are just three of many organisations across the world working tirelessly to 'consign FGM to history'.
The World Health Organisation has classified FGM into four types:
1.Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris, and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
2.Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia (lips) minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
3.Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. (The seal is then cut open and stitched up again to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth; hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, increasing immediate and long-term risks.)
4.Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes
Latest figures show around 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. The latest statistical exploration from UNICEF states it is most common in western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa. It is also prevalent in many countries in South-East Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. Despite it being illegal in Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, Kenya, Egypt and the UK, Female Genital Mutilation is still widely practiced.
An utterly useless UK government
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, introduced to close the loophole of the Prohibition of FemaleCircumcision Act 1985 (which permitted parents to take their daughters out of the UK to undergo FGM abroad before bringing them back) does not scare or stop those intent on mutilating our future generations. This act tragically fails to uphold the UK's zero tolerance to FGM. There has not been one single prosecution of FGM in the UK, despite thisabhorrent crime being outlawed in 1985.
Like any illegal practice, thriving ferociously deep and dark underground, it is impossible to be precise regarding the number of girls in the UK who have suffered and are currently suffering at the hands of this brutal and barbaric ritual. The UK charity FORWARD estimates from their research that 66,000 girls in the UK have been mutilated, while 24,000 girls under 16 are at risk from the most severe form of FGM in England and Wales. One would assume then, faced with this alarming calculation, that the British government would swiftly take action and act as a matter of uttermost urgency. That sadly though is just an idealistic aspiration of what should be happening. Our government, whose duty it is to protect its citizens, have adopted what can only be described politely as a pitiful and pathetic 'attempt' to safeguard and protect the thousands of children at risk in the UK. Utterly useless bureaucrats are depriving vital funding, resources, information, care and support to those desperately gasping for it.
If you search FGM on the Home Office website, the search results give little comfort or re-assurance to its victims, merely facts, figures and three telephone numbers. The Home Office re-directs most of the responsibility for the charity FORWARD to deal with. On the Department of Health's website there are just seven search results for this ignored and neglected crime - none of which have been updated for over a year. The Home Office and the DofH refused to put anyone forward for interview to answer my questions on what exactly the British government's approach is in dealing with the illegally practiced and prevalent FGM in the UK. They also refused to provide details on what measures have been and are being put in place to safeguard and protect the victims, how the illegal underground networks plan to be broken and how much funding has and is being allocated to fight FGM in the UK.
Quite why no minister is able to speak out to re-assure British citizens that the government are doing everything in their power to tackle the illegal practice of FGM in the UK is just mystifying. A standard statement was sent from both departments to attempt to provide a response. From the Home Office, Minister for Equalities and Overseas Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls, Lynne Featherstone says: "Female Genital Mutilation is an abhorrent crime and we are very clear that those found to practice it should feel the full force of the law. As a government, we are also working with UK and international agencies on the ground to help prevent women and girls being subjected to this practice."
From the Department of Health, a spokesperson says: "We have written to the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists about making sure we are doing everything possible together to eliminate this abusive and abhorrent practice and protect future generations of girls and women from harm. The current professional guidance highlights that NHS professionals have a clear duty of child protection if a doctor is approached to perform a mutilating procedure or if it becomes known to them that a child is to be taken abroad for that purpose." Neither the Home Office nor the DofH provided details about the type of work they say is happening to protect future generations of girls and women in the UK from harm.
Saria Khalifa, the Youth Programme Officer for FORWARD, tells me the charity is extremely concerned about the British Government's patchy approach to tackling FGM, which is failing to safeguard all children at risk of FGM who reside in the UK. She says: "The UK government has a duty to develop effective primary prevention measures particularly in London where FGM has become a growing concern. Additionally there is need for protection strategies that offer safety nets and specialist support to women and girls. There is no national action plan on FGM nor a strategy in place to engage key communities and key opinion makers on ending FGM. More importantly, the Government funding cuts which have hit the women's sector very deepy, coupled with lack of a comprehensive strategy is making our work even more difficult and a greater struggle."
The poisonous power of patriarchy
Female Genital Mutilation is without a doubt powered by the poison of patriarchy. In a FGM affected community, there is a fundamental belief that mutilation is the only way to initiate a girl into becoming a "good woman" ready for marriage and childbirth. The bitter irony is that the very process of FGM is achieving the exact opposite. Removing part of a girl or a woman's anatomy, disturbing and forcefully changing the way her body is intended to function not only takes away her femininity, but biologically changes the composition that makes her into the woman that she naturally is intended to be. Women across the world are torturing other women to accommodate and appease an ideology and disorted history of male supremacy. FGM is practiced to satisfy the wishes of a patriarchal family structure, but in reality the men distance themselves from the procedure of the practice, maintaining a dominating presence in the "background" and are not concerned enough with the consequences to stop inflicting this depravity onto their daughters.
Despite the "cultural justification" that FGM "turns a girl into a woman" there is also the assumption that when she does become a "good woman" she needs to be appropriately controlled and oppressed. It is widely believed that removing parts of her genitalia reduces her libido and in turn makes her less sexually demanding, supressing the level of pleasure she is "allowed" to receive and sustain. It is not uncommon in some cases for a woman's vulva to be stitched up, leaving just a small opening for urine and menstrual blood to pass through, before the woman is then re-opened for sexual intercourse and childbirth.
Aissa says it is not only the damaging physical effects that victims are forced to endure for the rest of their lives:"I still need to work on myself psychologically because of all the feelings of self-loathing I have towards my body. I am different and I look different - for a very long time I didn't even feel like a woman. It was impossible to have sex, the pain was horrific and I have suffered with lots of urinary infections. Still now I find it so difficult to have any medical appointments, which is part of the reason why I wanted to become a midwife to help others who are like me."
There are no cultural or religious justifications ever for mutilating another woman's body. There is no endorsement of FGM in the Bible, the Tanakh or Quran. Charity Forward has published aresearch on FGM and Islam as many Muslim (as well as non-Muslim) communities tend to associate FGM with Islam. "Words like 'sunna' and 'tahur' used for FGM by Muslims erroneously endorse the link of Islam to FGM and brings the great religion into disrepute. All religions say God created human beings in the best forms and wanted them to keep the nature in which they were created. It is forbidden to make changes in God's creation unless there is a compelling reason ie for medical reasons."
Aissa recently returned to Mali to take the brave step of explaining to her father how the life she dreamt of living was cruelly snatched from her through the destructive and devastating consequences of the Female Genital Mutilation she endured. She tells me she wanted to make the visit to protect future generations of her family - to make sure they never ever have to suffer like she has. After many difficult and emotional discussions with her father, he has now promised Aissa that no other girls in her family will ever be mutilated again.
"And do you believe your father's promise?"I ask
Aissa pauses, then responds slowly: "Yes I do, what other choice do I have, but to have faith in those whom I love and trust the most"?