Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Female Genital Mutilation in Islam (FGM Series).

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).

4 comments:

  1. Sallams,
    I've just been reading your series on fgm and agree with you on all your points. I too do not like the lack of support in the Muslim community. It has held me back several times. Last year I sent a letter to our government imploring them to dismiss a lawmaker who had openly denounced Muslims. I got fifteen signatures on the letter, and the government ignored me completely. Anyway, I was not aware of this fgm problem until I came across your posts--but I am not at all shocked that it's happening.

    I have a question. Where do you get sources of hadith from the Ehlul Bait? I have found Al-Bukhari but I daresay it's really contaminated. Unfortunately, since it's a prominent source of hadith, nonMuslims use it all the time to attack us. So I'd like to know where you have found reliable hadith. I am definitely learning a lot from your posts since you're really aware of narrations from the Imams. I mainly draw from the Quran only; I don't have access to hadith, though I wish I did. So definitely keep writing, I like reading your posts. If you'd like assistance with your campaigning, do let me know. I am currently focusing on recent negative attention in the media because of a supposed death threat against South Park but it's not really going anywhere.

    I don't like how the evil in the Muslim world receives attention so quickly, and we who blog and shout about correct Islam are completely ignored. Just keep up the great work and hopefully we will make headway one day. I have a lot to learn from you and I'm so glad you're blogging. I'm not alone after all :).

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  2. Salaams Munawar: thank you so very much for your very kind words! Not that I deserve them of course, but they mean a great deal coming from such a learned and prolific blogger such as yourself! You must also keep up the good work: and if you’ve read back the way you’ll see my recommended blogs and find yours way up there: and rightly so!
    The lives of campaigners like us are usually lonely, tough and enduring, but as you so rightly pointed out, there are so few of us doing it, that we have to keep fighting and banging our heads on walls: even if it takes a lifetime! A life spent trying is more precious in the eyes of Allah (SWT) than an average, conformist life: even if you live halal and toe the line, what is the point if you are not changing your society! With regards to FGM, the next post deals with practical things people can do if they wish to add their voices to this particular campaign, so watch out for it!
    To your question about hadaith: here, again, you’ll find that our shias have not been very affective at spreading the truth we have: so utterly stupid when you consider the infinite truth and wisdom we have been given! That said, if you visit www.al-islam.org you’ll find a comprehensive online digital library (which is accessible for the most part), it contains hadaith sections, and other areas dealing with the life journeys of individual imams (A.S), which also contain sub-sections on there risalas and hadaith. The library also holds research texts written by the hawza students, which are wonderful sources of hadaith from the ahlulbayt (A.S), as their research demands that they seek out traditional hadaith, translate them, analyse them etc. If you’ve already tried these and not found them helpful, let me know and I’ll see what else I can find for you! Other wise, I’d say listen to lectures, attend majliss and always take notes when an unknown hadaith is mentioned, so that you can use/refer to it later if needed.
    I’ll keep you posted on campaigning at my end, and you must do the same: while we often feel like we are alone, we are most certainly not: and blogging is actually a very powerful medium: this blog has generated friends, invites to speak and allot more for me, yours is far superior to mine, so you must do all you can to push and create awareness of it: Insha Allah one day we shall indeed overcome!

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  3. Sallams,
    I completely forgot about Al-Islam.org. Anyway I'll definitely be waiting for the
    next post. I find it disturbing that people who claim to be Muslim do this sort of
    thing to women. was reading the hadith you posted and am glad that someone is finally
    talking about authentic and unauthentic narrations and the difference between them.
    I was just reading your archive and wow, I've sure missed a lot! Hopefully I'll be
    able to catch up when Summer break comes around.
    On another note, I don't think our blogs can be compared by superiority. :). We write
    about two different things, and I'm sure I enjoy reading your stuff as much as you
    do mine, so thanks for all the knowledge you've given me and for starting the blog.
    I learn something new every time I read one of your posts and that knowledge is extremely
    valuable. Because now when someone comes to me and says "your Muslims circumsize
    their women," I know how to challenge them and it's all because of these posts. As
    I said, I had no idea this was happening until I started reading this series you've
    done on fgm, so you're definitely raising awareness!

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  4. Salaams: thanks again for your kind words and interest in this blog, when I first started it, I honestly didn’t expect any one to read it: but the fact that activists like yourself enjoy it gives me a great sense of satisfaction, and motivation to take it further. Al-Islam.org is a good site, used to be quite empty, but these days an average of 4 new texts per month are added, and even more essays and commentaries, so Insha Allah you will find it useful!
    I’m glad you feel the FGM series has been beneficial: sadly, for all the positive comments I’ve received, there have been equal criticisms and many abusive comments I’ve had to remove. While I have no issue at all with any one disagreeing with me, most of the comments defended FGM, while others were from Wahabis trying to refute my comments about the fabricated hadaith! As you will understand, we cannot support those who defend evil, and no matter what sect/version of Islam a person chooses, there is only one truth: selling your soul and paying off others to justify your dirty work won’t change the facts as they happened. One doesn’t even have to look at hadaith books: History says it all, and ironically, Non-Muslims have done a better job at defining real Islamic history than Many of the Muslims have done. While some tell me I should be careful about speaking out so blatantly against them, I have no fear! Silence fuels this evil, and allows practises such as FGM to carry on unchallenged! While I knew of FGM through my work with refugee communities, I only recently became aware of its link with Islam. I was fascinated, and deeply wounded by how so-called Muslims could build a case for continuing this practise. Through this blog, I try to highlight the unorthodox, create a platform for those issues that others either don’t know about, or else are too shy to put in to words, its not much, but ultimately, if it reaches and drives even one individual who reads it, then Insha Allah I’ve done something constructive to change it!
    Thank you once again for your comments: they mean a great deal.

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