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

The Great Muslim Scholars Disapprove of Female circumcision - Djibouti, 2-3 February 2005

(by DR. / MOHAMED SALIM AL-AWWA, Secretary General of the World Union of the Muslim Ulemas)
A -Sheikh Rashid Rida, 1904
Under the heading "Female Circumcision: obligatory or an act of the Sunnah," Sheikh Rida wrote in the Manar Magazine saying, "Ibn Al-Munzir said, 'As for circumcision, there is no report to be referred to nor a hadith to be followed.' Those claiming female circumcision to be an act of the Sunnah support their view with the hadith related by Al-Bayhaqi and Ahmad from Usamah, "Circumcision is an act of the Sunnah for men and an honorable act for women." However, Al-Hajjaj Ibn Arta'ah, to whom the narration of this hadith is traced back, is mudallis (known for his dishonesty in narration).
B - Sheikh Muhammad Hasanin Makhluf
Sheikh Makhluf was the Egyptian Muftî from 1946 to 1950. He occupied many important positions as he was a founding member of the Muslim World League (MWL). He also was selected to be a member in the High Judiciary Council in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Among his works are "Kalimat Al-Qur'an Tafsir wa Bayan" (the Qur'anic Words: Explanation and Clarification), "Safwat Al-Bayan Li-Ma`ani Al-Qur’an" (the Clear Explanation for the Qur'anic Implications), and "Adab Tilawat Al-Qur’an Wa Sama`uh" (the Etiquette of Recitation of and Listening to the Qur'an). He was well-known for his reformative thinking and fatwas that would conform to people's life. Here is his fatwa on female circumcision in detail:
The legal ruling on female circumcision
The principle:
Most scholars agree that female circumcision is not obligatory and whoever abandons it is not sinful. On the other hand, male circumcision is obligatory as it is a rite of Islam and a tradition applied by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham; PBUH).
Question: Is female circumcision legally obligatory or not?
Answer: Scholars of Fiqh have differed on the legal ruling on female circumcision. As-Shafi`yyah have maintained in An-Nawawi’s work "Al-Majmu` (the Compilation)" that it is obligatory for male and female. According to them, their view is the sound one adopted by the majority of scholars. In Al-Mughni (the Sufficient), a Hanbali book written by Ibn Qudamah, male circumcision is obligatory while female circumcision is not obligatory but it is an act of the Sunnah and an honorable act for women. This opinion comes in accordance with that of many scholars. According to Al-Hanafiyyah and Al-Malikiyyah, female circumcision is an act of Sunnah and an Islamic rite. To conclude, the majority of scholars agree that female circumcision is not obligatory (the opinion of Al-Hanafiyya, Al-Malikiyyah, and Al-Hanabilah and some of Ash-Shafi`iyyah). This means that it is not a sinful act to abondon it. On the other hand, male circumcision is obligatory and an act followed by Abraham (PBUH) and thus considered as an Islamic rite (the view of Ash-Shafi`yyah and Al-Hanabilah).
As such, it is not sinful to abondon this tradition as done in many countries.
C- Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq, the Author of "Fiqh As-Sunnah"
Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq is one of the Muslim Scholars of Egypt in the twenty century. The composition of his encyclopedic work "Fiqh As-Sunnah" took about more than twenty years to be completed, as he began to write it at the middle of the forties. Fiqh As-Sunnah, thereby, is considered one of the reference books, because it deals with the Fiqhi issues and questions accompanied with their legal proofs deduced from the Qur’an, the Sahih (Authentic) Sunnah, and Consensus of Muslim scholars. With regard to the issue of female circumcision, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq says in his book, "Hadiths stating the legality of female circumcision are da`if (weak); none of them is sahih."
D -Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, the Egyptian Mufti in the fifties:
The following is the legal opinion of Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut issued in 1959 about female circumcision in detail:
Female circumcision
The questioner says: "The Physicians’ views have differed as regards female circumcision as it is practiced and supported by some of them while rejected and attacked by others. However, people stick to practicing such an act; they hold feasts for it thinking that it is a religious rite matter and an Islamic rite. So, can we know the opinion of Islam on this practice and the age fit to be practiced at?"
To commence, the questioner is not the first to ask for the opinion of Islam on the act of female circumcision and this is not the first time to answer such a question. This is because I wrote on such an issue many times beforehand but my writing dealt with the case of the questioner only not with the issue in general. This time I prefer to discuss the issue of female circumcision in public from the viewpoint of Islam, which all people are interested to know about. I will show to all people, be they questioners or non questioners, the opinion of the Islamic Shari`ah on this issue so that the reader may be aware of the relation between this practice and the Islamic Shari`ah.
Circumcision is an ancient habit many people used to do in early history and continued to practice it even after the coming of Islam; they applied such a practice to males and females. However, it is not exactly known what was the real motive behind initiating this practice: Was it motivated by human thinking and natural disposition that require removing extra parts which have no use or may cause harm and impurity in case they are not removed, or did such people build their practice on a religious teaching given by a prophet or messenger at some age? Irregardless of this, what concerns us in this regard is to know the relation between religion and circumcision and the legal ruling pertaining to it.
Faqihs and circumcision
As for circumcision, Faqihs have adopted different views regarding the narrations from which they deduce their legal rulings. This has been their case with each matter lacking an evident textual proof. So, some Faqihs maintain that it is an obligatory and honorable act for male and female. As they have differed on the legal ruling of circumcision – about which their views diverge to the highest degree of divergence and also converge to the highest degree of convergence – they have also differed as regards the legal time when such a practice is t be applied. Among their opinions cited in this regard are:
1- There is no specific time for it.
2- It is prohibited to be applied to a child before reaching the age of ten years.
3- It is allowable seven days after birth.
This is in addition to other different opinions in this respect.
Different Viewpoints
The first lesson to be drawn from this Fiqhi difference, which is a common thing among Faqihs in each matter lacking an evident textual proof, is that those Faqihs enjoy great freedom of opinion when seeking the legal ruling from reports or other legal proofs pertaining to matters that lack an evident textual proof. Despite their difference, none of them would find fault with the opinion of the other; they would listen to the proofs offered by each other then support or refute while showing neither inflexibility nor excessiveness.
The oddest deduction in this context comes when some of those deeming the obligation of circumcision prove their view quoting the verse that reads, "So we have taught thee the inspired (message), follow the ways of Abraham, the true in Faith." (Qur'an: An-Nahl "the Bees": 123) To illustrate, they have worked on the two premises that Ibrahim (Abraham), according to a Prophetic hadith, was circumcised when he reached the age of eighty years, and the verse in question commanded the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers to follow the footsteps of Ibrahim (PBUH). As such, they conclude that circumcision practiced by Ibrahim is obligatory on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers. Such is the excessive deduction that has been met with disapproval.
A similar deduction is that of others who prove the obligation of circumcision by saying, "Circumcision is one of Commands Ibrahim was tried with, which is mentioned in the verse that states, "And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain Commands, which he fulfilled." (Qur'an: Al-Baqarah "the Cow": 124) They say Ibn `Abbas said, "These Commands stand for the acts of natural disposition: circumcision, removal of the pubic hair, shaving of the mustache, cutting of fingernails, and plucking the armpit hair." Such a saying is frequently stated in the books of Tafsir.
My Own View on the Issue
Regarding the aforementioned narrations pertaining to female circumcision, we can conclude that none of them is fit to be a proof of the Fiqhi Sunnah or the Fiqhi occurrence. This opinion is adopted by some scholars and expressed as saying that, concerning circumcision, there is no report to be referred to nor a hadith to be followed. Further, the word "Sunnah," which is mentioned in some narrations as an adjective for circumcision, refers, if true, to the common tradition of the people at that time; uttering the word "Sunnah," the Prophet (PBUH) did not mention this Fiqhi meaning of Sunnah known later on.
Thereupon, I view that the legal ruling on circumcision is not to depend on a transmitted text, but to a legal general norm that reads, "Causing pain to a person is not legally permissible unless it brings benefits that exceed pain."
Male Circumcision
Applying the rule mentioned above to circumcision, we find that circumcision is to be applied to only males as it brings them benefits that exceed the pain resulting from it. This is because the inside of the foreskin of the penis is a place that forms secretions, which help bacteria resulting from decomposition of secretions to grow and thus cause cancer and other serious diseases. Thereby, male circumcision becomes a preventive procedure that keeps man’s life, so the Lawgiver makes it inevitable and obligatory in this case.
Female Circumcision
As for female circumcision, the case is different as people deal with the matter from a sexual point of view. That is to say the focus, when talking about such an issue, is on the degree to which the sexual desire of the female is affected by such a process; this is discussed by physicians. Some physicians think that abandoning circumcision of females causes their sexual desire to be so intense that they cannot control their sexual conduct, and this may lead them to unchastity. Therefore, female circumcision is a preventive action to keep one’s honor and chastity. Another group, on the other hand, think that circumcision weakens the sexual desire of females, a thing which forces the husband to seek help in taking some harmful drugs that may spoil his life. As such, it is obligatory to abondon such a practice to keep the husband’s health mentally and physically.
Excessiveness Everywhere
I may be true when I say that physicians are as excessive in their viewpoints as the Faqihs in their legal opinions. That is because female circumcision, whether practiced or not, has nothing to do with the sexual desire as the sexual instinct in females, whether strong or weak, depends on the formation of the body and the glands, whether strong or weak. This is supported by the fact that we can find many circumcised females falling into acts of indecency and unchastity; little of such incidents can be read or watched while many are hidden from people.
Those taking harmful drugs are urged into doing so by bad traditions they receive from the corrupt societies as their feelings about the sexual instinct are nothing but illusions resulting from the effects of drugs they take on the nervous system.
As a matter of fact, all the effects of female circumcision, whether positive or negative, are dependent on morals, society, good education, and strict observance. Hence, it becomes clear that there is no need, be it legal, ethical, or medical, for female circumcision.
Maybe it is an honorable act
However, female circumcision may be an honorable act done for men who may feel annoyed with the extra part of the clitoris when having sex with the uncircumcised female. In such a case, it takes the same legal ruling of beautifying, applying perfume, shaving pubic hair and other acts required by natural disposition.
To conclude, this is the legal ruling of male and female circumcision that I have deduced from the general rules of Shari`ah not from the legal textual proofs that pertain to this matter.
E -Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy
Here is the fatwa of the Grand Imam Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy on female circumcision:
Dr. `Ali `Abdul-Fattah, Minister of Health, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon you.
According to a letter sent from Dr. Mahmoud Ibrahim – General Manager of General Department of Culture and Health Information – in which he has asked for the legal ruling on female circumcision, we would like to inform you that:
1. Faqihs have agreed that male circumcision is an Islamic rite. They support their view with the Prophetic hadith related by Al-Hakim and Al-Bayhaqi on the authority of `A’ishah that the Prophet (PBUH) had Al-Hasan and Al-Hussein circumcised on the seventh day of their birth.
2. As for female circumcision, there is no a hadith fit to be a proof of it as all hadiths and reports pertaining to it are judged to be da`if. Among these reports are the hadith that reads, "Circumcision is Sunnah for men and an honorable act for women" and the hadith, "Do not exaggerate (in cutting by taking much of this part of clitoris when circumcising); such will preserve the fairness of the face and satisfy the husband (when having sexual intercourse with the female circumcised in such a way)." Another narration of the latter hadith begin with the words, "take a little part (of the clitoris) and do not exaggerate" that mean to remove a little part of the clitoris. It is reported also that the Prophet (PBUH) ordered the man who came to him and embraced Islam to have his hair cut and be circumcised. Another hadith reads, "Who embraces Islam, should be circumcised." All these hadiths have been mentioned by Ash-Shawkani in his book "Nail Al-Awtar" (Vol. 1, pp. 137, 140). He talked about the chain of transmitters of these reports in detail and judged them as da`if quoting Ibnul-Munzir as saying, "As for female circumcision, there is neither a report to refer to nor a tradition to follow.” Having mentioned reports related to circumcision, the author of "`Awn Al-Ma`bud fi Sharh Sunan Abu Dawud" has said that the hadith related to female circumcision has been received from many ways of transmission judged all to be flawed and defective and thus unfit to be a proof of a legal ruling. Then he has quoted Ibn `Abdul-Barr's saying in "At-Tamhid" that only male circumcision has gained the unanimous agreement of Muslim scholars.
3. In his book "Al-Fatawa" (the Fatwas) under the title "Female Circumcision" (pp. 2, 3), Sheikh Shaltut said, "From the aforementioned narrations related to female circumcision, we can conclude that none of them is fit to be a proof of the Fiqhi Sunnah or the Fiqhi occurrence. This opinion is adopted by some scholars.” He, further, expressed such a case saying that there is no report to be referred to nor a hadith to be followed in such a matter.
4. Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq says in his book "Fiqh As-Sunnah" (p. 33, Vol. 1), "Hadiths stating the legality of female circumcision are da`if; none of them is sahih."
5. In Al-Azhar Magazine, Sheikh Muhammad `Arafah presented a research on circumcision in which he said, "Female circumcision is to be studied by the Muslim Scholar who is to deduce its legal ruling, by the physiologist who is to show the function of this organ to be removed in circumcision, and by the sociologist who is to elaborate on the social effects of female circumcision, e they positive or negative. According to physiology, the organ to be removed in female circumcision is very sensitive and, however, helpful in completing the process of fertilization, so removing it weakens the sexual desire of the woman. As far as sociologists are concerned, they think that female circumcision is the reason for the spread of drug addiction in countries that practice it including Egypt. To clarify, when the husband finds that he reaches sexual satisfaction before his wife, he may take some drugs wrongly believing that they cause ejaculation to delay. Sociologists also add, 'If we want to get rid of drug addiction, we must eradicate its reason, namely female circumcision, which keeps the true nature of woman and that of man.' " Sheikh `Arafah continued to say, "When considering the above, we can conclude that there is no blame on those practicing female circumcision but they must not exaggerate in removing this organ; that is, to take only little part of it. Similarly, there is no blame if this habit comes to be prohibited in Egypt as is the case in many Muslim Countries such as Turkey and Morocco.
6. After offering the opinions of late and early scholars on such a matter, I see that male circumcision is either Sunnah or an obligatory act for the authentic texts urging to do so. On the other hand, female circumcision lacks the authentic legal text. So, I think that it is a habit that spread in Egypt over years; however, it is about to cease to exist especially among the educated and cultured milieus.
To prove that female circumcision is a habit that lacks the legal textual proof, it is not practiced in most Muslim countries that are full of Faqihs. Among these countries are Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, some areas in Jordan, Palestine, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, etc.
Accordingly, I view that the matter of female circumcision is to be decided by physicians. In other words, if female circumcision is said by physicians to have harm, then it is obligatory to abandon such an act, and if they say something different, then the Ministry of Health must take all legal measures so that such a process is accomplished in a way that keeps for the woman her chastity, dignity, and femininity.
F - Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Lutfi As-Sabbagh, Prof. of Islamic Studies, Riyadh University.
Prof. As-Sabbagh conducted a research on the legal ruling on circumcision substantiating his views with all the legal proofs from the Qur’an and the Sahih Sunnah (i.e., Authentic Prophetic Tradition). He concluded, "Female circumcision is no longer legally acceptable, as there is no a sahih hadith to support it in addition to the harms and dangers it may cause. The Prophet (PBUH) states, 'Harm is neither to be inflicted nor reciprocated.' Such a hadith is one of the universals of this true Religion. As such, female circumcision is not necessary, obligatory or even an act of the Sunnah. This is the view of many scholars as they have not found any hadith reported from the Prophet (PBUH) in support of such a practice."