In the past weeks, I have been researching the position of women in Islam. I am hoping to share here a little of what I have learned. Today I would like to address a critical topic, and one that it is, refreshingly, quite uncontroversial.
This topic is Female Genital Mutilation as seen within Islam. FGM is sometimes referred to as female circumcision by its proponents. And sadly, the western world tends to assume that because it is commonly practiced in Muslim cultures, it surely is inherent to Islam itself. I am here to join the din of nearly all of the one billion Muslims the world over, and shout, “NO!”. FGM is not Islamic. It is decidedly and definitely UN-Islamic. Here is why I say that….
For the purpose of concision, I will largely refrain from specifically addressing FGM as practiced by non-Muslims. I will assume that it is obvious that I, as should we all, strongly condemn any FGM practiced by anyone. It is without exception completely inexcusable.
First of all, let’s examine the argument of the Islamic clerics, Imams, etc. who promote, and even obligate the practice of, FGM. It is all based on a certain Hadith (The Hadiths are quotes and characteristics attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), recorded by Imam Abu Dawud. It says the following: “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” Now, to exam this Hadith we must understand something. Any and all Hadiths are given an official rating of “true”, “good”, or “weak”. This Hadith is professed to be weak. Who says so? It’s own author! Imam Abu Dawud stated: “Its chain of transmitters is not strong. Besides, it is reported not as a direct quote attributed to the Prophet … This Hadith is poor in authenticity.”
As any researcher, scholar, or journalist knows, one must have multiple sources before resting your case upon something. In this case, proponents of FGM have no other support. This is the only Islamic text that even remotely supports the practice of FGM. In judging how to use a Hadith, one must judge it by its rating, and by its confirmation by other strong Hadiths. It also should be in clear alignment with the Quran. This Hadith is in no way supported by the Quran. Truthfully, the Quran never directly addresses the issue of FGM. However it does make some important statements about women that perhaps shed some light on what would be an Islamic attitude towards FGM. Let’s see some examples.
~”For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” –Quran 33:35
This verse is important because scholars and casual readers alike have often noted that the Quran refers to and addresses both men and women at once. (It is worth noting that this is a sharp contrast to the Holy Bible being addressed to and nearly always referring to men.) This side-by-side reference to men and women alike demonstrates the equal treatment of women, especially in an ancient society that would’ve traditionally ignored women in such an important – and therefore public – text.
~”And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” – Quran 2:228
That speaks for itself in my opinion….
~”O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from this pair scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you.” – Quran 4:1
Not only does this passage make clear that not only are men and women given equal rights, respect for women is also specifically prescribed. I doubt that anyone could make a very compelling argument that mutilating one’s genitalia and traumatizing them for life, causing them a life of pain and agony, and robbing them of any chance for decent health – let alone sexual pleasure-, could possibly be considered respectful by any stretch of the imagination.
Perhaps my readers are convinced that it is technically un-Islamic to commit FGM. However perhaps my readers are wondering if, on a popular, traditional level it is considered un-Islamic. The answer is of course yes. In fact, countless Muslim leaders have condemned the practice. A dean of Al-Azhar University of Cairo condemned FGM as a criminal act, in 2005 (see here). The International Islamic conference in Cairo was held specifically to speak out against FGM (here). Shaykh Ali Gomaa issued a fatwah (Islamic ruling which a shaykh/sheikh expects his followers to obey) against FGM. In 2008 Kenyan Clerics claimed to find no religious justification for FGM, thereby speaking out against the practice. Just last month, Maulana Mufti Mukarram, the Naib Imam of the 17th century Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi, spoke out against FGM saying that it is “completely against Islam”. This list could go on for ages upon ages. I think that this should give you enough of a start to begin your own research, if you are not yet convinced.
Finally, I want to make it clear that FGM is, in fact, a cultural practice, not an Islamic one. According to stopfgmmiddeast.com, FGM is a cultural relic “is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike.” Even Egyptian Coptic Christians commonly participate in this horror. Basically all those who do this use their religion of choice as an excuse, in hopes of deflecting the protests of the local authorities, and even the west. All of this together should make it very clear – the ancient practice of female genital mutilation is a cultural relic, long overripe and ready to be tossed out by all who practice it. It is not endorsed by Islam, the Quran, or any reliable Hadith. It is time to stop blaming Islam. It is time to speak up against this barbaric and intolerable atrocity.