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

...back to the beginning
Question 3: Being a da`if (week) Hadith is not fit to be considered as a proof of prohibiting the practice of female circumcision, as some people maintain that it is permissible to act upon the da`if Hadith especially when it urges to do virtuous and righteous deeds.
 
Answer 3:
 
In the beginning, we have to stress that such people make it permissible to act upon the da`if Hadith, which is defined, according to their Hadith terminology - as not very da`îf or munkar , only when it urges to do virtuous and righteous deeds not to hurt and harm people physically and psychologically without any legal or religious right (such as the case with female circucision).
 
As a matter of fact, the Islamic methodology when disapproving of the practice of female circumcision, it depends not only on judging Hadiths as being da`if but it also depends on other essential bases.
 
The first of these bases is the accurate scientific and social understanding of the habit of female circumcision and not the traditions and inherited practices of common people. Such a category includes the following:
1-     The scientific description of this habit
2-     The natural functions for which the organ to be cut is created
3-     The physical and psychological effects resulting from applying this habit whether to the young female or the adult one
4-     The social reasons for this habit that motivate the Egyptian families to practice such a practice
 
The second base on which the Islamic methodology is built is the Fiqhi (Islamic judgment) that is to be based on the understanding of and accurate explanation of this habit from the scientific and social perspectives. As such, it seems important to consider the application of the legal religious judgment deduced from the main sources of Shari`ah, namely the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah. This in addition to the Consensus of Muslim Scholars and Qiyas provided they fulfill their full conditions as we mentioned beforehand.
 
First: The Scientific Understanding of Female circumcision Habit
1- The scientific description of the process of FGM is to remove all or part of the external genital organs of the female.
However, this scientific description is different from the description of those practicing this habit as they describe such a process as a practice of removing an extra part of the female's genital organs. According to the latter description, the words "extra part" indicate that such a part has no function in the body but rather it may harm it. On the other hand, the scientific description uses the term "organ" which is a name for each group of tissues that is fed by blood vessels and nerves and performs vital and necessary functions for the human body.
 
2- According to physicians, the natural functions for which the organ to be cut are created, are as follows:
 
• To protect the rest genital organs.
• To produce natural secretions that facilitate the process of sexual intercourse increasing the sexual enjoyment between the two spouses that they feel much intimacy towards each other.
• They make it easy for the woman to be satisfied sexually, which is required on the religious and human levels.
• They help direct the urine out in a direction away from the body, a thing which helps preserve the purity of these organs.
 
3- The Physical and psychological effects resulting from removing these organs can be summed as follows:
From the Health Perspective:
• The female is deprived of the natural functions of these organs either totally or partially according to the way these organs are cut through the process of circumcision.
• The circumcised female (young girl or adult one) becomes prone to many complications and dangers for the rest of her life.
 
From the Psychological and Social Perspective:
• For any young female, circumcision is a painful experience that may leave behind many psychological bad effects such as phobia, depression, and lack of confidence in her parents and perhaps in herself. Moreover, such a process fixes in the mind of the circumcised girl a disgraceful picture of herself that she is a being that has neither reason nor morals to help it respect its body or control its desires and sexual behavior as if religion, reason and conscience are not enough determents. That is, it becomes desperately obligatory to remove the genital organs of such a being in a way that causes pain so that it may become morally upright.
As a result, it seems clear that we bring our daughters up to teachings and principles that are harmful to the individual and the society as well.
 
4- Why do the Egyptian families apply circumcision to their daughters, and what are the beliefs and traditions that back the continuity of this habit?
Most researchers agree that female circumcision is a habit supported by many traditions and beliefs that have no scientific base. Among these beliefs are the following:
• Female circumcision causes to reduce and control the sexual desire of the unmarried and married woman, which help both maintain their honor, decency and chastity.
• The uncircumcised woman has strong sexual desire so that she may cause exhaustion to her husband. On the other hand, the circumcised woman is self-restraint and her need for sex is not excessive. Such a woman is able to maintain her chastity in case her husband is absent or ill. All this is to make the husband guarantee satisfaction and pleasure and feel more confident in his wife's conduct.
• Circumcision helps the female become enough mature and thus fit for being married and giving birth, which is considered as a baseless thought.
• Circumcision is a means of beautifying and purifying the female as it frees her from ugly and unclean parts in her body.
 
Secondly: According to what is mentioned above, we can sum up the main Islamic rules that prohibit this old habit as follows:
 
1. There is not even one legal religious evidence in the main sources of Shari`ah to prove the legality of female circumcision. That is to say, female circumcision is not an obligatory act, an act of the Sunnah, or even an honorable act as clarified beforehand.
 
2. The value and inviolability of the human body are secured in Islam as well as in other heavenly religions. In fact, both man and woman have the right to enjoy a perfect physical and psychological health; this comes in accordance with the Prophetic Hadith that reads, "Harm is neither to be inflicted nor reciprocated." This Hadith urges each Muslim, whether male or female, to avoid any practice that may cause harm to oneself or to others. Since modern sciences and human experience have proved that circumcision causes sure harm to the young female and the adult woman; through cutting off vital organs in the body of the female and thus depriving her of the natural functions of these organs and exposing her health to negative physical and psychological effects. Hence, such harm cannot be legally accepted for Allah says, "Kill not one another," and his saying, "be not cast by your own hands to ruin."
 
3. Islam stresses the prohibition of causing change in Allah's creation. Because Allah says, "Surely, We created man of the best stature," then how to say that female circumcision is legalized to beautify the body of the female as if Allah, Exalted be He, has created her with a defect that needs to be treated. On the contrary, female circumcision is a means of changing and disfiguring Allah's creation through cutting and hurting. Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) forbade deforming Allah's creation as he (PBUH) was reported to have cursed those doing so. Likewise, the Qur'an stated that the act of cutting living organs even that of an animal is a sinful act. In addition, the Qur'an categorizes, in one of its Suras (i.e., Chapters), such a practice as one of the sins which Satan tempts man to do to his livestock; such an act comes coupled with the act of deforming Allah's creation in the same Sura that reads, "And he (i.e., Satan) said, 'Surely, I will take of Thy bondmen an appointed portion. And surely I will lead them astray, and surely I will arouse desires in them, and surely I will command them and they will cut the cattle's ears, and surely I will command them and they will change Allah's creation. Whosoever chooses Satan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest."
 
4. Islamic teachings stress woman's right to a satisfactory and successful marital relation.
Actually, the teachings of our true Religion (i.e., Islam) invite us to respect the sexual relation between the two spouses and prove the duty of each part towards the other to establish a successful and happy relation. Therefore, such a relation may be spoiled in case of building it on satisfying only one part without the other; such is the embodiment of selfishness and egoism, a thing that Islam prohibits. Our inheritance of thoughts and beliefs pertaining to the sexual relation between the two spouses comes only in favor of the husband not the wife. This is easily noticed in the social thoughts and beliefs that make a link between female circumcision and the husband's sexual pleasure. Put differently, Islamic teachings take into consideration the human desire for sex deeming such a desire as a natural disposition. So, Islam's duty is not to resist this disposition, but rather to satisfy it in a legal and lawful way. Islam pays much attention to the sexual relation between the two spouses and urges us to care about the feelings of woman and to respect her right of sexual satisfaction. Further, the Qur'an is careful to establish the right of woman to reach sexual satisfaction the same as the man, so Allah says, "Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls." Good deeds mentioned in this verse refer to sexual foreplay such as kissing and touching that precede the sexual intercourse. Such foreplay help the woman get her full sexual pleasure. Similarly, the Prophet (PBUH) says, "In case a person of you intends to have intercourse with his wife, he should sexually stimulate her. Then, if he feels that her sexual desire has become equal to that of his, he may embark on copulating with her." The Prophet also says, "If a man comes to have sexual intercourse with his wife, he should do so with strong sexual passion and desire (that she may feel passionate intimacy to him). Later on, in case he is (sexually) satisfied, he should wait until she is satisfied to the same extent."
Accordingly, how can the woman become fully satisfied as the man while being deprived of main organs helping her reach such sexual satisfaction?!
To conclude, Islam respects the feelings of the woman, while the bad habits we have inherited over years never respect her feelings and rights but, instead, intend to violate them.
 
5. Islamic teachings decisively reject all social beliefs that lead the society to practicing female circumcision.
People claiming that women have neither reason nor will and those saying that women's desire for sex exceeds that of men 25-fold, do not offer even one evidence, be it built on legal text, reason, or a scientific fact, to support their claims which clearly contradict the Islamic teachings and principles. The Prophet (PBUH) says, "Women are equals to men." Such a Prophetic text refutes all these claims.
Because the woman is equal to the man in having feelings, desire, reason, and conscience, she, thus, can keep religious teachings, respect her body, and maintain her chastity, a thing which makes her grow upright and righteous in all her affairs. Some say that circumcision is to regulate and control woman's desire for sex. However, such a saying comes contradictory to the scientific fact that woman's desire for sex emanates from the brain and not sexual organs. It goes without saying that the sexual behavior of the man or the woman, be right or not, is determined according to the brain which gives instructions to the organs of the body. It means that the body serves and obeys the brain in all instinctive human desires such as those of food, sleep, and sex. In other words, the sexual organs have nothing to do in determining the sexual desire or conduct. Therefore, female circumcision does not, from the scientific point of view, help regulate or control the sexual desire or conduct of the woman. The sexual desire and conduct of the circumcised and uncircumcised woman are dependent on morals, education, and the family among whom she lives. In fact, disorder occurs when the woman comes to be deprived of some natural functions as a result of removing some of her natural organs responsible for performing such functions.
Chastity, decency, and purity are Islamic virtues required from both the man and woman equally. Bringing up on righteous morals and purifying the souls with religion and piety constitute the effective and real restraint for the man and woman alike.
 
Question 4: Since the Fiqh general principle states that the original ruling of things is permissibility, and since there is not a legal religious proof to prohibit female circumcision, then the whole matter is considered as a permissible act that is to be decided only by the family and the guardian of the female to be circumcised.
 
Answer 4:
 
Despite being true, this Fiqh rule – the original ruling of things is permissibility – is to be applied to beneficial objects created by Allah for our interest such as water, trees, and other resources. On the other hand, the original ruling pertaining to matters relating to one's body, property, honor, or dignity, is prohibition and not permissibility. Thus, attacking properties, destroying reputation, causing harm to bodies are all crimes for which Islamic Law gives deterring punishments.
Because female circumcision is an act of hurting a female by cutting parts from her body, it is not reasonable to say that such an act is among the permissible matters, for it is, on the contrary, legally prohibited according to religious rule that states "the original ruling pertaining to the harm caused against bodies, properties, and reputations, is prohibition not permissibility.
 
Question 5: Female circumcision is an old practice and convention (or custom), and custom is one of the sources of Islamic legalization, so it is obligatory to act according to it.
 
Answer 5:
 
Custom that is considered to be a legal proof must secure public interests for people and society and not be in contradiction with a legal religiuos text. Since female circumcision is a practice contradictory to the legal religious texts that prohibit causing harm to others, then being a custom does not make it permissible to practice such an act even if recurrently practiced for many ages. That is because customary practices cannot be taken as a legal proof when contradicting religious texts and, further, such a matter cannot be proved by a mere Faqih's view or school of Fiqh point of view in the absence of the authentic religious proof.
 
Question 6: Is the consent of the female's guardian or the female herself to apply circumcision not enough to make such an act permissible on the legal and Islamic levels?
 
Answer 6:
 
The consent of the female's guardian or even herself does not allow circumcision. As for the guardian, he has no right to behave freely regarding the body of the female under his guardianship; he has only the right to assume the responsibility for educating and bringing her up and caring for her affairs. As for the female, she has no right to do to her body what she likes, as only the One Who created her owns her body. As such, Islam forbids suicide and whatever acts that may cause any harm to the human body.
Accordingly, FGM becomes a legally criminal offence. Faqihs state that a full indemnity is required for cutting the labia (a part of woman's external genital organs). It is worth mentioning that indemnity is imposed as a means of punishing the criminal and recompensing the victim. Stating such a judgment, Faqihs have said that the sexual enjoyment is fulfilled through those labia of the vulva. Hence, any act that may negatively affect the sexual enjoyment entails the same compensational punishment. As a result, prohibiting such an act is legally permissible; embarking on prohibiting such an act would be prior to waiting until it occurs and then we begin trials to detect its causes or analyze it.
 
Question 7: What we mean to apply is the Sunnah circumcision not the African or Pharaonic Circumcision. Practicing female circumcision helps us adhere to the Sunnah and reject the claims of the West about such a matter. Are all serious problems of Egypt solved except for the issue of female circumcision, so it takes all this attention?
 
Answer 7:
 
The Prophetic Tradition is free of what is called the circumcision of the Sunnah for females. Further, the Prophet's Sirah (i.e., Biography), which records everything about the Prophet (PBUH) in detail, has no mention that he (PBUH) practiced circumcision on his daughters, wives, or any female member of his household.
In addition, most Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia, and Malaysia, do not practice female circumcision, a matter that makes us question whether it is reasonable to think that this habit is an Islamic rite or an act of the Sunnah despite being abandoned by all these countries.
To get rid of this habit does not mean that we go after the West and follow the recommendations of the International Conference for Population and Development held in Egypt (1994) and in which a film on a process of circumcising an Egyptian female, was presented. Such a film was also broadcasted on CNN, which, of course, made each Muslim, jealous for his country and religion, feel resentment against such an act. Such attention given to the issue of FGM is not new as it has attracted many times the people of opinion and those entrusted with giving fatwas. In support of this, the Egyptian physicians, through the Egyptian Medical Association, issued the first call to fight this habit from the medical viewpoint at the end of twenties in the last century.
Moreover, there are legal fatwas that go back to the forties of the past century and all of which stress that female circumcision is not an act of the Sunnah and whoever abandon it is not sinful.
 
Among these fatwas are:
1. The fatwa issued in 1949 by the great scholar Sheikh Muhammad Hasanin Makhluf, the Egyptian Mufti
2. The fatwa of Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq, the author of "Fiqh As-Sunnah." Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq’s work "Fiqh As-Sunnah" issued in the forties have become, later, an important referrence in Fiqh as the author deals with Fiqhi questions combined with their legal proofs from the Sahih (authentic) Sunnah. In this book, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq maintains that hadiths urging to practice female circumcision are da`if and none of them is proved to be Sahih.
3. The fatwa of Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Rida published in Al-Manar Magazine in 1904.
 
Consequently, fighting FGM is a humane affair in the first place, for how does a parent accept to apply FGM to his/her daughter despite being aware of the nature of such a process and its harmful effects on her/his female.
 
So, we should fear Allah concerning this matter and always remember the Prophet’s saying, "Be good to women."