This is the fourth post in a 6-part series which began earlier on this month, examining the subject of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM or Female Circumcision).
Since the series began, many of you have sent in comments, questions and observations regarding the series and the material covered. I was pleased (for want of a better word), that so many of you were as repelled and disgusted as I was by this practise: its only when a society recognises evil/wrong doing for what it really is, that things can start to change. But recognising alone, is not enough: the acknowledgement has to be combined with sustainable, meaningful action for something tangible to take place. You and I alone can’t stop this deep-routed engrained cultural practise, but if we work together and raise our voices with other campaigners across the world, then our words, deeds and disassociation is really truly worth something!
A number of you have sent in questions on the topic of FGM, and while I was once again encouraged by the interest out there, the volume of anonymous questions I received showed me just how much fear, embarrassment and stigma there is out there regarding this practise. To my Muslim brothers and sisters, I have to remind you, that there is no concept of embarrassment in Islam. Both men and women, came to our Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (A.S) with their questions and issues, they learnt from them all (A.S), debated and questioned on topics ranging from love, marriage, finance, child raising and sexual etiquette! If we need to ask a question in order to inform, educate and elevate ourselves, we should do so, openly, with confidence, dignity and conviction: if we do not, then what differentiates us as rightly guided Muslims from the wahabi sheep that have unfortunately become common place in the world today and who continue to propagate practises such as the subject in question!
This perhaps brings me on to the question that was asked by at least 12 of those who contacted me:
1. Is FGM an Islamic Practise?
Given that FGM is practised in a wide range of mainly Islamic countries, one would be easily fooled in to believing that Female Circumcision was somehow an Islamic teaching/obligation. Its influence in the Muslim world is far-reaching, and spans most of Eastern and Northern Africa, Egypt, Yemen, Turkey, Kurdistan and parts of Pakistan.
The practise however, pre-dates Islam, and owing to the unwritten/oral nature of history in many of these regions, no one really knows where/why or how FGM came in to being. Indications show that it was viewed as a right of passage ritual, or a means of controlling sexual desire among women.
When the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) came to educate and reform his people, he had a mammoth task on his hands! Mainly relating to how to remove and eradicate such vile illiterate practises from the Arabian tribes. We all know how dangerous innovation has been within the religion, but innovation did not simply become a feature of Islam post the death of Mohammed (PBUH), even in the early days of Islam, it was used to justify tribal injustices, or those pagan practises that the people wished to continue with. In 2 of the suni hadaith collections (that is, those 2 that are not given credence by the shia), the books of Aabu Daood and Tirmidhi, you will find 2 alleged hadaith in support of FGM. The first is the narration of a discussion between Umm Atiya (a tribes woman who’s employment involved circumcising women), and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The Prophet is alleged to have said “Oh Umm Atiya, do not be severe when cutting, and leave something behind: this will be more pleasing for her, and for her husband”. This hadaith, if true, would indicate Islamic endorsement of type 1 circumcision, pricking or removal of the clitoral hood, but would denounce types 2 and 3 respectively (infibulations), though given that biologically and physiologically all types carry risks, it is completely irrational to assume that Islam would demand that a woman mutilate herself for the pleasure of her Lord!
The second narration concerns the Prophet (PBUH) advising his people on how/what should be excised:
“do not be severe in cutting: and remove only the top part of the organ, that which resembles a rooster’s comb, and leave something sticking out: this will be easy for her and pleasing to her husband.” While this alleged hadaith would also support type 1 circumcision, it contradicts the earlier hadaith by advising women to remove the entire clitoral hood, which again, biologically can cause multiple infections, scarring and tightening of the vagina thus causing pain during intercourse and in particular during child birth.
Out of the 4 suni schools in Islam, only the school of Imam Ahmed ibn Hamble states that female circumcision is sunnah (a practise endorsed/pleasing to the Prophet of Islam and in the sight of God). His ruling comes from another incredibly weak hadaith found in a number of his books where the Prophet apparently said “when the 2 circumcised parts come together: purification (ghusl), is required thereafter.”
while the other 3 suni schools do not support it, neither do they explicitly advise against it: doubtlessly adding to its spreading across the Muslim world. Many of those so-called Muslim Scholars who support FGM, try to link it to male circumcision in terms of the need for purification and preventing of infections, though it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the female anatomy is not designed in the same way as the male genitalia and therefore mutilating a female and stitching her up again would not prevent infections in this way, quite the contrary: it would add to them!
All of our imams (A.S), in the shia school of thought, along with our modern-day ayatollahs have explicitly forbid their faithful from any kind of flagellation, mutilation or deliberate harm caused to one’s own body, or intentionally caused to others, thus you will find many ayatollahs forbidding azadari performed with swords, chains or other sharp objects. While I could not find a hadaith from any of the ahlulbayt (A.S) specifically dealing with the impermissibility of FGM, the above would indicate this clearly enough!, coupled with the fact that our Prophet (PBUH), did not circumcise his daughter, neither did any of the Imams (A.S) advise their wives, sisters or daughters to carry this out, surely, if this was a recognised sunnah practise, it would have been implemented by the people of the house?
Furthermore, Pleasure during sexual relations between husband and wife is given a high rank and position in marriage, and within the hadaith of our Imams (A.S), and you’ll find many hadaith discussing how to give pleasure, the need for foreplay and mutual satisfaction/orgasm experienced by both the husband and his wife. Why then, would a horrific operation be prescribed to eliminate sexual climax for Muslim women?
Given that FGM clearly has no basis in Islam, Why then, are more Muslims not speaking out against this practise? Why are the shia in particular, not adding their voice to the multitude of campaigning organisations (mainly from the West), who speak out against this horrific practise? Why does not one care about the 150000 girls and women who suffer this barbaric mutilation every year (and those are just the numbers that are known about). I put this question to a range of people from across the Muslim community: most of them used lack of awareness as a primary get-out claws, others pointed at a fear of speaking out against wahabis/sunis, others felt their interfering would be seen as unwelcome supremacy (who are these white/foreign people telling us how to run our countries?). While all of these have weight in their own ways, none of them justify sitting back and doing nothing! One who is your brother in Islam is your brother in humanity. If we can cry over the martyrdom of our beloved Imam (A.S), and the mutilation of his companions, why do the death of thousands of innocent young girls and children through FGM not provoke the same reaction? If we can sign petitions, push governments and other equalities groups to give us equal rights, to allow our women to ware hijaab/niqab out of choice and respect, why aren’t we shouting at authorities to grant these tragic young girls freedom, safety and security from FGM? I’ve asked why, over and over again on this blog, but when, as an activist, I am seeing the lackadaisical nature of our people increasing on a minute-by-minute basis, I have no option but to keep asking, asking and asking, until one day, Insha Allah, we will see a much-needed change finally coming to our universe. The tragedy surely is, that instead of Muslims being a people who are instrumental in bringing about positive change and reform, we are becoming known as a people who propagate fear, terrorism, injustice and suffering, ignorant cultural/social norms that are accepted by us, not questioned and followed blindly rather than trying to adopt another way. If only, just a few of us, were moved/concerned by this very, very sorry state of affairs!
(Note: the other questions sent to me regarding FGM will be answered by experts in a later post).