Sub-Regional Conference on Female Genital Mutilation, "Towards a political and religious consensus against FGM"

Female Circumcision From Islamic Perspective BY DR. / MOHAMED SALIM AL-AWWA SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE WORLD UNION OF THE MUSLIM ULEMAS - Djibouti, 2-3 February 2005

Female Circumcision From Islamic Perspective
 
BY DR. / MOHAMED SALIM AL-AWWA

SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE WORLD UNION OF THE MUSLIM ULEMAS
 
(Basic document distributed among the participants to the Djibouti Conference on FGM)
 
Answer 1: It goes without saying that the rulings of the Islamic Legislation (Shari`ah) are to be deduced from the authentic sources of legalization, namely the Qur'an, right Sunnah (i.e., right Prophetic Traditions), Consensus of Muslim Scholars in case it fulfills its conditions stated in the science of the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence as well as the sound Qiyas (i.e., Analogical Deduction).
Hence, if we come to seek the ruling of practicing female circumcision in the light of the Islamic legislation, we are to refer to the Qur'an, right Prophetic Sunnah, then Consensus of Muslim Scholars, and if we fail to find an answer in such sources, we are to resort to the Analogical Deduction taking into consideration to what extent it is possible to practice it.
• As for the Qur'an, there is absolutely no text tackling the issue of female circumcision. Moreover, no consensus of Muslim Scholars on such a matter is reported. Furthermore, practicing Analogical Deduction to prove the legality of such an act may be unacceptable.
• As far as Sunnah is concerned, there are some Prophetic Hadiths that may indicate the legality of practicing female circumcision despite the fact that none of these Hadiths have an authentic chain of transmitters so that it is not possible to deduce a legal ruling from them on such a very serious human matter.
• Thus, it is unacceptable, according to scholars, to use Hadiths of an unauthentic chain of transmitters as an argument for some matter as only Hadiths of authentic chain of transmitters can be applied as an argument.
 
Prophetic Hadiths pertaining to the issue of female circumcision
 
The First Hadith
The most common Hadith in this regard is the saying of the Prophet Muhammad “Peace and Blessings be Upon Him (PBUH)” to a woman called Umm `Attiyyah who used to circumcise females in EL Medina El Menora:
["O Umm `Attiyyah, take a little part and do not exaggerate; doing so will preserve the fairness of the woman’s face and satisfy the husband”]
It means: ["O Umm `Attiyyah, take a little part (of the female genital organs) and do not exaggerate (in cutting when circumcising); doing so will preserve the fairness of the face (of the circumcised woman) and (sexually) satisfy the husband (when having sexual intercourse with the circumcised woman in such a way)."]
 
This Hadith has been narrated by Al-Hakim, Al-Bayhaqy and Abu Dawud with similar wording but through weak chains of transmitters; the same is stated by Al-Hafiz Zayn Ed-Din Al-`Iraqy in his Commentary on Al-Ghazaly's book "The Revival of the Religious Sciences" (1/148).
Abu Dawud, whose narration of this Hadith is different in wording, comments on the Hadith saying,
"It is reported with the same meaning and the same chain of transmitters by `Ubaydul-Lah Ibn `Amr on the authority of `Abdul-Malak; moreover, it is not of a strong chain of transmitters as one of its narrations is Mursal (i.e., has no companion in its chain of transmitters). Above all, Muhammad Ibn Hassan, the narrator of this Hadith, is anonymous and the Hadith itself has been categorized as a da`if (weak) Hadith."
 
Imam Shams Ed-Din Al-Haqq Al-`Azim Abady comments on the saying of Abu Dawud, "This Hadith is not strong because of the weakness of the narrator “Muhammad Ibn Hassan Al-Kufi….." . Ibn `Aidyy and Al-Bayhaqy have attested to the anonymity of Muhammad Ibn Hassan, the narrator, while Al-Hafiz `Abdul-Ghany Ibn Sa`id disagrees with them about the narrator saying, "He is Muhammad Ibn Sa`îd who was crucified for being an atheist . He is a weak and an unreliable narrator." Whether being Muhammad Ibn Hassan or Muhammad Ibn Sa`id, the narrator is a liar as scholars maintain that he fabricated four thousand Hadiths and attributed them to the Prophet (PBUH) . About him, Imam Ahmad says, "Al Mansur killed and then crucified him as a punishment for atheism. "
In addition, some of the contemporaries have compiled all narrations of this Hadith and concluded that all the ways through which this Hadith is transmitted are weak and cannot be considered a proof of a legal ruling. In his thesis on female circumcision, Muhammad Lutfy As-Sabbagh, Professor in Islamic Studies in Riyadh University, says, "See, may Allah guide you, how the two great Imams, Abu Dawud and Al-`Iraqy, have judged this Hadith to be da`if and pay no attention to those late scholars who deem it as a Sahih (authentic) one. Shams Ed-Din Al-Haq Al-`Azim Abady beforehand said, "The Hadith of female circumcision has been reported through so many ways all of which are weak, blemished and defective, and thus it is unacceptable to prove a legal ruling through such ways."
To conclude, the Hadith in question does not benefit and no argument can be derived from it.
 
The Second Hadith
 
The Prophet (PBHU) was reported to have said:
 
"Circumcision is an act of Sunnah for men and an honorable act for women."
 
On his commentary on the book "the Revival of the Religious Sciences," Al-Hafiz Al-`Iraqi has judged the concerned Hadith as da`if, which is the same judgment of Al-Bayhaqy, Ibn Abu Hatim, and Ibn `Abdul-Barr. Further, all the narrations of this Hadith are traced back to Al-Hajjaj Ibn Arta’ah whose narrations are not to be taken as a proof of a legal ruling for being Mudallas (dishonest) in his narration.
In his book "Talkhis Al-Habir fi Takhrij Ahadith Ar-Rafi`y Al-Kabir," Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar has spoken of the weakness of such a Hadith citing the saying of Al-Bayhaqy that it is da`if (weak) and Munqati` (disconnected). Ibn `Abdul-Barr has also stated in his work "At-Tamhid Lima fi Al-Muwatta' min Al-Ma`ani wa Al-Asanid" that the narrations of the Hadith in question are taken from an unreliable narrator. Ibn `Abdul-Barr has maintained in the same book, "Such a Hadith is taken as a proof of the permissibility of circumcision by those deeming such an act as one of Sunnah despite that this Hadith is originally received from Al-Hajjâj Ibn Arta’ah whose reports are not to be taken as a proof in case he is the only narrator of such reports; that is to say such reports are not narrated by anyone of his contemporaneous narrators. However, only male circumcision has been unanimously agreed upon by the Muslim scholars."
Therefore, this Hadith is not a proof of female circumcision as it is categorized as weak; moreover, it is traced back to a narrator whose narration is not fit to be a proof, thus how is it reasonable to deduce a legal ruling from such a Hadith to make some matter as one of Sunnah or even of the honorable actions?! Being honorable means to be at least desirable and being desirable entails being a legal ruling proved by nothing but authentic evidence.
Deeming that the Hadith of Umm `Atiyyah implies some proofs that attest to the connotations of the Hadith in question is refuted by the fact that all these proofs cited by those deeming such a Hadith as Sahih (authentic) are too defective to be accepted as evidence of a legal ruling. Hence, the support given to female circumcision becomes weaker.
Even in case we assume that this Hadith is acceptable – though it is not so – it is worth mentioning that the legal ruling on male circumcision does not stand on equal footing with that on female circumcision. This is because the Hadith makes male circumcision as an act of the Sunnah while female circumcision as an honorable one; it declares that female circumcision is not of the Sunnah but it is a mere honorable act that does not reach the rank of being from the Sunnah. According to such an assumption, it seems that when Islam came, it wanted to show Arabs, who were accustomed to practicing female circumcision before Islam, how to regulate such a habit. This can be perceived clearly in the very exact and fine words mentioned in the first weak Hadith,
 
"Take a little part (of female genital organs) and do not exaggerate …."
 
Above all, some virtuous ladies have directed my attention to that the beginning of the Hadith of Umm `Atiyyah contradicts its end, as it first enjoins female circumcision but later indicates that leaving some of the part to be removed causes to "preserve the fairness of the face and sexually satisfy the husband." Thus, why do we not leave the creation of Allah without change that the woman's face becomes more perfect in fairness and the husband attains more sexual satisfaction?!
Anyway, the two hadiths, according to the assumption of being sahih (authentic), do not carry interpretations other than we have mentioned. Moreover, if the Prophet (PBUH) had wanted to make male circumcision on an equal footing with that of the female, he would have said, "Circumcision is an act of the Sunnah for men and women," or "Circumcision is an act of the Sunnah," which will be a general legal ruling in such a case.
Accordingly, it seems true to attest to the saying of Imam Ibn Al-Munzir, a great scholar in Fiqh and Hadith :
 
"As for female circumcision, there is neither report to refer to nor tradition to follow."
 
The same opinion is held by Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Rida in reply to a question published in Al-Manar Magazine.
Imam Ash-Shawkany has maintained that “regardless of being unacceptable to use such a Hadith as a proof of a legal ruling, it has no evidence of the legality of what is ordained in it, as the word "Sunnah" when mentioned by the Lawgiver connotes a meaning more general than that connoted when mentioning it by the scholars of the Principles of Fiqh. As for male circumcision, there is no evidence that it is obligatory; however, what is agreed upon is that it is an act of Sunnah. Besides, all acts of natural disposition are not obligatory” (see Nail Al-Awtar 1/135).
Furthermore, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq, in his well-known work "Fiqh As-Sunnah," has said that the Hadihs that enjoin female circumcision are da`if (weak); none of them is judged to be Sahih.
 
The Third Hadith
 
It stands for the Hadith reported by `Abdullah Ibn `Umar and in which the women of Al-Ansar (i.e., the Supporters of the Prophet in EL Medina) have been enjoined to practice female circumcision. This Hadith is da`if (weak) as Ash-Shawkany has said that it is related by Abu Na`im with a chain of transmitters that contains Mindal Ibn Ali who is deemed weak in narration. Ash-Shawkany also adds that such a hadith is related by Ibn `Addiy with a chain of transmission having Khalid Ibn `Amr Al-Qurashi, who is deemed weaker than Mindal.
 
The Fourth Hadith
 
`Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated an authentic Hadith that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
 
"If the two organs to be removed by circumcision are met, then performing Ghusl (ritual bath) is obligatory."
 
(This Hadith is in the well-known books of collections of Prophetic Hadiths , written by Malik, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and others)
 
The point here is that since the Prophet (PBUH) says "the two organs to be removed by circumcision," which indicates the place of circumcision for the man and woman, some people may consider this as a proof of the legality of female circumcision.
 
Such an argument can be refuted by the fact that in Arabic language, two things or persons may be given one quality or name that belongs only to one of them for an effective cause. Such an effective cause may be that this quality or name given to such two things or persons combined together – though belonging to only one of them – is more famous and commoner than that of the other. Other criteria may be strength, potency, eminence, or easiness in pronunciation. Such a form of duality given one quality or name is common in Arabic regardless of whether the two things or persons forming duality are two males or females or a combination of a female and a male, and whether the common quality or name belongs to a male or a female. Some examples may be as follows:
1-     The name “Al-`Umran” is given to Abu Bakr and `Umar.
2-     The names "the two moons" and "the two lights" are given to the moon and the sun together despite the fact that the moon is visible by reflection of sunlight.
3-     "The two `Isha's" is given to the two prayers of the Maghrib and `Isha', and the "two Zuhrs" is a name for the two prayers of the Zuhr and the `Asr.
4-     The term "the two black things" is given to dates and water combined despite the fact that water has no color.
5-     The river and the sea are called when combined together "the two seas" as Allah says, "the two seas are not alike…." (Qura'ân, Fatir: 12). The first of the two seas is a river and the other stands for a real sea; however, the river and the sea, when combined together forming duality, are called the two seas for the sea is greater than the river. Here, the greater name takes priority.
6-     "The two Marwas" is a term given to the two hills of Safa and Marwah in Mecca. Likewise, “the two yellowish things" is a name for the two materials: silk and gold, though silk is of many colors.
 
Hence, the phrase "the two organs to be removed by circumcision" in this authentic Hadith involves no proof on the legality of female circumcision, as it has been reported while bearing duality (i.e., giving priority to the stronger; men over women) as mentioned above.
Another refutation of this argument is that the Hadith concerned is originally quoted in what makes Al-Ghusl (i.e., having ritual bath) obligatory and not in the matter of circumcision. In addition, all scholars interpreted such a Hadith, as follows: “Mere meeting of the sexual organs does not require Ghusl except that the act of having sexual intercourse actually happens. Hence, if the literal meaning of the Hadith has been left, then how can we accept the implication of such meaning?!
 
The Fifth Hadith
 
The Prophet was reported to have said:
 
"Acts of natural disposition are five: circumcision, removing the pubic hair, shaving the mustache, cutting the fingernails, and plucking the armpit hair."
 
(Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i, Ahmad, and Malik in his "Al-Muwatta")
 
This Hadith reported also by `A'ishah and other Companions of the Prophet's, the acts of natural disposition are said to be ten among which are shaving the mustache and growing the beard.
This Sahih Hadith (authentic Hadith) does not constitute a proof of female circumcision as shaving the mustache and growing the beard are acts peculiar only to men. The original narration of this Hadith is recorded by Imam Malik on the authority of Yahya Ibn Sa`id that Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham; PBUH) was the first to be circumcised. This is agreed upon by Muslim scholars. The same saying is stated by Ibn `Abdul-Barr in his book entitled "At-Tamhîd" as he maintains that circumcision is one of stressed traditions for messengers and thus it is inevitably applied to men. The same author also denies the validity and legality of female circumcision as we have mentioned before.
Therefore, it is not permissible to deem female circumcision as one of the acts of natural disposition, unlike male circumcision which is considered as one of these acts.
Another proof to negate the legality of female circumcision is that there is no evidence that any of the Prophet's daughters or wives had been circumcised, which proves that if the female circumcision was categorized as one of Islamic rites, then the Prophet (PBUH) would be the first to apply it to his daughters and wives.
In conclusion, it becomes clear that there is no sahih Sunnah (authentic sunnah) to prove the legality of female circumcision as all hadiths cited in such a matter are da`if (weak) and no legal ruling can be deduced from them. Such a practice (female circumcision) is nothing but a habit which Islam has left for time and medical progress to invalidate.
 
Question 2: The Four Schools of Fiqh give many different legal rulings with regard to female circumcision. It is said to be obligatory for men and women according to Imam Ash-Shafi`y, obligatory for men and an honorable act for women according to Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and an act of the Sunnah for men and an honorable act for women according to Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik. Hence, none of them claims the prohibition of female circumcision. Can we conclude, accordingly, that such a practice (i.e., female circumcision) is, at least, permissible as long as practicing it is not prohibited by any of the Four Imams?
 
Answer 2:
Fiqh is defined as the science of Islamic Jurisprudence . Such science must be dependent on the detailed proofs included in the Qur'an, the Prophetic Sunnah, sound Consensus of Muslim Scholars, and sound applicable Qiyas.
In addition to being acquainted with the knowledge related to Fiqh and Sharî`ah, the Faqîh must be aware of the social circumstances where he lives and thus gives his fatwa and teachings taking into consideration the circumstances and conditions of his society.
 
Since Fiqh is a human science through which specialists in religious and Sharî`ah science are to show the legal ruling of every matter Muslims are interested to know the judgment of Sharî`ah therein. Then the opinion of a Faqih is not to be considered as a core part of Sharî`ah or a religion and thus be used as a legal evidence. Rather, the Faqih's opinion is merely a product of exerting his discretion in understanding the legal texts, thus it is affected by the problems of the world surrounding the Faqih. Such a process is considered a trial for reaching a well understanding of the texts and knowing how to apply them. Thus, the Faqih is not infallible, for he may be wrong and may be right. However, the Faqih qualified to practice Ijtihad receives a double reward if he reaches the right course and one reward if he errs. In this regard, Ash-Shafi`y said, "My opinion is right but likely to be wrong and the opinion of others is wrong but likely to be right."
Besides, not all what is tackled in the books of Fiqh and Hadith is considered religious matters; there are many issues tackled in such books while not being of a religious affairs such as that related to medicine, food, clothing, etc.
As for religious handling of worldly affairs, the Prophet (PBUH) set for us an example when he ordered Muslims not to pollinate palms, which negatively affected their output. Seeing the output of palms falling with production unexpectedly, the Prophet (PBUH) said addressing Muslims, "You are more knowledgeable of your worldly affairs." In this way, he (PBUH) shows us the difference between his instructions related to the religious affairs, and those related to worldly or socially ones.
Therefore, the Faqih, when giving his fatwa on a certain field he is not familiar with, must follow opinions of those having more knowledge of the field concerned, considering the public interest of people unless such opinions contradict an evident religious text.
As far as medical issues, tackled in the books of Fiqh and Hadith, are concerned, they are considered pure worldly affairs for which the judgment of the Faqih is asked but after knowing that of the medicine and science. This is because science and the profession of medicine basically deal with reality for which the Faqih is called to give his legal fatwa. Hence, the opinion of the Faqih is to be built on that of the physician and not vise versa.
If we apply the criteria mentioned above to the issue of female circumcision, we can reach the conclusion that the one, who is to tackle such a matter and instruct people about such a serious issue, must fulfill the full conditions of the Faqih and not that of callers, preachers, exegetes, or scholars of Hadith. To fulfill these conditions, the Faqih must be acquainted with different religious sciences especially the science of Fiqh and its principles. In addition, he must have accurate knowledge of this habit (i.e., Female circumcision); for example, he must study its historical origin, cultural and social reasons behind practicing it, and scientific facts related to the organs removed through such a practice. Among the scientific facts he should be aware of, are the nature of the organ removed and its vital functions and how this organ has positive effect when left as created by Allah while it has negative effect when removed in such a process. In other words, removing this part may cause the two spouses to be deprived of the full sexual enjoyment, while leaving it may guarantee such enjoyment.
Fulfilling such conditions, the Faqih becomes competent to give a judgment built on his knowledge of scientific facts and not on the popular groundless knowledge and culture.
As for the scientific view on female circumcision, it is crystal clear; it states that female circumcision is “a partial or complete removal of the female's external genital organs”. Accordingly, such an act may negatively affects the natural functions for which such an organ is created as well as the legal sexual pleasure. So, such a practice is nothing but a social practice that aims at controlling the woman and depriving her of her rights.
 
Having acquainted with all these modern social and scientific facts about this old habit, is it reasonable for the Faqihs today to justify and defend the continuity of such a practice?!

 
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