Religous tools on FGM
Quran is a new weapon in war on female genital mutilation
By Elizabeth A. Kennedy
SAYYID AZIM / AP
A girl passes elder Maasai women as they join the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation run held April 21 inKilgoris,Kenya. Each year, millions of women undergo FGM, generally done without anesthesia and with whatever instruments are at hand.
“The guiding factor is always Islam,” says 34-year-old Maryam Sheikh Abdi, who grew up in a region of northeastKenyawhere 98 percent of girls are believed to undergo the procedure, a genital mutilation sometimes called female circumcision. Women believe “the pain, the problems, the bleeding — they are all God’s will.”
Health activists, finding that focusing on women’s rights isn’t working to persuade Muslims to stop performing the ritual, are increasingly using theology to make the case that “the cut” has nothing to do with religion. Abdi, who speaks about female genital mutilation on behalf of the U.S.-based Population Council, said invoking Islam penetrates years of cultural indoctrination.
“Women don’t have to torture themselves. Islam does not require them to do it,” said Abdi, who underwent the procedure when she was 6 and was a college student by the time she realized it was not necessary from a religious viewpoint.
With age-old cultural roots, female genital mutilation is practiced today in parts of sub-Saharan Africa andEgyptand other parts of the Arab world such asYemenandOman. In the rest of the Islamic world — the Middle East,North Africa, southeast Asia — it’s nearly nonexistent.
In the most extreme form, the clitoris and parts of the labia are removed and the labia that remain are stitched together. Those who practice it believe it tames a girl’s sexual desires and increases her marriageability.
Knives, razors or even sharp stones are used during ceremonies usually performed by elder women in the bush with no medical supervision. The tools are frequently not sterilized, and often, many girls are cut at the same ceremony, creating the chance for serious infections.
Late last year, the top cleric in Egypt — where the practice is pervasive and many believe it is required by Islam — spoke out against it, saying circumcision is not mentioned in the Quran, the Muslim holy book, or in the Sunna, the sayings and deeds of Muhammad.
“In Islam, circumcision is for men only,” Mohammed Sayed Tantawi said. “From a religious point of view, I don’t find anything that says that circumcision is a must” for women.
Laws against female genital mutilation exist in many of the regions where it is practiced, but poor enforcement and a lack of publicity can hinder the laws, human-rights groups and activists say. They say laws aren’t effective unless those who practice and require the tradition are first made aware of its physical and mental damage.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has taken on the cause inKenya.
“Stated in its starkest terms, there are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who are dead today and who will die tomorrow specifically because of the practice of female genital mutilation,” Ranneberger said in a recent speech.
Ibrahim Lethome, legal adviser of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said he recently started focusing on Islam as a way to stop female genital mutilation after meeting with Muslim university students who were shocked that the practice had no religious basis.
“Even educated people believe Islam demands it,” he said.
UNICEF says an estimated 3 million women and girls undergo female genital mutilation each year.
Abdi remembers when two women led her into the bush near her home and held her down, ordering her not to scream. One of the last images she recalls before the razor sliced into her was one of the women giving her a conspiratorial wink.
“I think she was trying to tell me to get ready for the pain,” said Abdi, who believed the ensuing years of infection and psychological distress were simply part of being a Muslim woman.
It wasn’t until 1995 when she learned, from another Muslim woman at university, that female genital mutilation wasn’t part of her religion.
“I knew that I was a Muslim, and she was a Muslim,” Abdi said. “I just remember thinking, ‘Why was I brought up this way?’ ”
Controversial religious topics
About FGM: Female Genital Mutilation
FGM is a.k.a. female circumcision and female genital cutting.
What It Is:
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an invasive and painful surgical procedure that is often performed without anesthetic on girls before puberty. There are about 100 to 140 million women who have been circumcised. An average of about four girls a minute continue to be mutilated. Their prepuce is removed and their clitoris may be partially or completely removed. In some traditions the operation is far more invasive: the labia minora are also surgically removed and the labia majora are sewn together, covering the urethra and vagina. A small opening is retained for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid. IndyMedia Irelandhas published a diagram showing various FGM techniques. 1
The result is that sexual feelings are either inhibited or terminated. It has been a social custom inNorthern Africafor many centuries.
Many people link FGM with the religion of Islam. Actually, it is a social custom that is practiced by Animists, Christians, and Muslims in those countries where FGM is common. There are many Muslim countries in which the mutilation is unknown.
FGM is occasionally performed inNorth Americaon girls of families have immigrated from countries where FGM is common. An analogous practice, Intersexual Genital Mutilation, (IGM) is sometimes performed on intersexual infants — those born with ambiguous genitalia.
Topics covered in this section:
FGM in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Debates about FGM in Africa,
the Middle East & Far East
Debate Among Muslims:
FGM is a social custom, not a religious practice. However, in those Muslim countries where it is practice, FGM is often justified by a controversial saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed that seem to favor sunna circumcision involving minor cutting of the clitoris. The authenticity of these sayings are unconfirmed, and some scholars have refuted them. Even if true, they only permit the practice; they do not mandate it.
FGM has probably been performed for at least 1,400 years (some references estimate 2,000 years), and started during what Muslims call “al-gahiliyyah” (the era of ignorance). The Qu’r’an, Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament) is silent on the subject. The Sunnah (the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed) contains a reference to female circumcision.
According to the Muslim Women’s League:
|“Those who advocate for FGM from an Islamic perspective commonly quote the following hadith to argue that it is required as part of the Sunnah or Tradition of the Prophet:
‘Um Atiyyat al-Ansariyyah said: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (pbuh) said to her: Do not cut too severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband‘.” 1,8
One interpretation of this passage is that the woman was going to proceed with the circumcision anyway; Muhammad suggested that she remove a smaller amount of her genitalia than she had perhaps intended to.
This passage is regarded by many Muslims as having little credibility or authenticity. The Muslim Women’s League comments: “According to Sayyid Sabiq, renowned scholar and author of Fiqh-us-Sunnah, all hadiths concerning female circumcision are non-authentic.” 1 An extensive analysis of classical Muslim authors is available online. 2
Many Muslims see passages in the Qur’an which, by implication, oppose FGM. they reason:
God apparently created the clitoris for the sole purpose of generating pleasure. It has no other purpose. There is no instruction in the Qur’an or in the writings of the Prophet Mohammed which require that the clitoris be surgically modified. Thus God must approve of its presence. And so, it should not be removed or reduced in size or function.
The Qur’an promotes the concept of a husband and wife giving each other pleasure during sexual intercourse. For example:
- “It is lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the (day’s) fast: they are as a garment for you and you are as a garment for them.” (2:187)
- “…and He has put love and mercy between you.” (30:21)
Mutilated genitalia reduce or eliminate a woman’s pleasure during the act.
The Qur’an (An-Nisa’: 119) states that Satan will try to trick humans into body modification: “And I will surely lead them astray, and arouse desires in them, and command them and they will cut the cattle’s ears, and I will surely command them and they will change Allah’s creation.” This might be interpreted as forbidding FGM as well as tattoos, piercing and any other modification that alters the design of the human body as Allah created it.
Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim victim of infibulation, stated:
“The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’ external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.” 3
Fatwas are published opinions by Muslim religious scholars. They are non-binding in law. But Muslim believers are expected to follow them. In Egypt, a number of Fatwas have been issued by the influential Egyptian Fatwa Committee on FGM:
1949-MAY-28: They decided that it is not a sin to reject female circumcision.
1951-JUN-23: They stated that female circumcision is desirable because it curbs “nature” (i.e. sexual drive among women). It stated that medical concerns over the practice are irrelevant.
1981-JAN-29: The Great Sheikh of Al-Azhar (the most famous University of the Islamic World) stated that parents must follow the lessons of Mohammed and not listen to medical authorities because the latter often change their minds. Parents must do their duty and have their daughters circumcised.
2007-JUN-24: As noted elsewhere, the Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gum’s announced that: “… this custom is prohibited.”
2006 international conference:
TARGET, a German human rights group, sponsored a conference on FGM inCairo,Egypt. Muslim scholars from many nations attended. At the conclusion of the conference on 2006-NOV-24, their final statement declared FGM to be contrary to Islam, an attack on women, and a practice that should be criminalized:
“The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam’s teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being. … The conference reminds all teaching and media institutions of their role to explain to the people the harmful effects of this habit in order to eliminate it. … The conference calls on judicial institutions to issue laws that prohibit and criminalize this habit … which appeared in several societies and was adopted by some Muslims although it is not sanctioned by the Qur’an or the Sunna.”
According to The Age online news source:
“Egypt’s two top Islamic clerics, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar, the foremost theological institute in the Sunni Muslim world, and Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, attended the conference, which drew scholars from as far afield as Russia. Tantawi’s and Gomaa’s edicts are considered binding. 9
Reaction by the rest of the world
The United Nations has supported the right of member states to grant refugee status to women who fear being mutilated if they are returned to their country of origin. Canadahas granted such status to women in this situation. A judge of a Canadian Federal Court declared it a “cruel and barbaric practice.”
In 1994 CNN broadcast footage of the circumcision of a 10 year old Egyptian girl by an unskilled practitioner. This program drew international attention to the operation. A 500 million dollar lawsuit was brought against CNN for allegedly damagingEgypt’s reputation, It was rejected by the courts.
In the West, the procedure is outlawed in Britain, Canada, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerlandand the United States. A US federal bill, “Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation of 1995” was passed in 1996-SEP. Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily resident in Canada, (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from the country and subjected to FGM. In theUS andCanada, the very small percentage of immigrants who wish to continue the practice often find it impossible to find a doctor who will cooperate. The operation is often done in the home by the family.
Legislation against FGM can be counter-productive in some cases. It might force the practice deeply underground. Women may not seek medical care because their parents might be charged.
In 1958, the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations invited the World Health Organization (WHO) “to undertake a study on the persistence of customs involving ritual practices on girls and on the measures in effect or planned to put an end to those practices.” 4 The WHO responded that “the ritual practices in question, resulting from social and cultural conceptions, are not within the WHO’s jurisdiction.“ 5 They subsequently changed their position. 6 In 1989, the Regional Committee of the WHO for Africa passed a resolution urging participating governments “to adopt appropriate policies and strategies in order to eradicate female circumcision” and “to forbid medicalization of female circumcision and to discourage health professionals from performing such surgery.”
In 1980, UNICEF announced that its anti-FGM program is “based on the belief that the best way to handle the problem is to trigger awareness through education of the public, members of the medical profession and practitioners of traditional health care with the help of local collectives and their leaders.” 7
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is ambiguous about FGM. On one hand, Article 24, paragraph 3 states: “States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.“. But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for: “The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.”
Bans on FGM:
During 2007, FGM was banned inEritrea. The Egyptian Health Ministry is seeking a law banning FGM in that country. That would leave Somolia, which lacks a central government, andSudanas the two main countries where the practice will remain legal.