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Gender Equity in Islam
By Jamal Badawi
Appendix

The issue of Female Circumcision

One of the common misconceptions is to connect female circumcision with the teachings of Islam. This appendix addresses the following three questions:

1. WAS FEMALE CIRCUMCISION INTRODUCED BY ISLAM?

While the exact origin of female circumcision is not known, "it preceded Christianity and Islam."1 The most radical form of female circumcision (infibulation) is known as the Pharaonic Procedure. This may signify that it may have been practiced long before the rise of Islam, Christianity and possibly Judaism. It is not clear, however, whether this practice originated in Egypt or in some other African countries then spread to Egypt.2

It is common knowledge that in some countries like Egypt, female circumcision has been practiced by both Muslims and Christians.3 In the meantime, this practice is not known in most Muslim countries including Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.4 This leads to the conclusion that female circumcision is connected with cultural practices rather than Islam itself as a world religion. It was made clear in the introduction of this book that some cultural practices, whether by Muslims alone or Muslims and others (such as the case with female circumcision), are not part of Islam, and in some cases, may violate its teachings as embodied in its primary sources, Quran and Hadeeth. These sources are examined next.

2. IS THERE ANY AUTHENTIC TEXT IN THE PRIMARY SOURCES OF ISLAM WHICH REQUIRES FEMALE CIRCUMCISION FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS?

No mention of female circumcision is to be found in the Quran either directly or indirectly. There is no known Hadeeth which requires female circumcision. Some argued, however, that one Hadeeth, while not requiring female circumcision, appears to accept it:" Circumcision is a commendable act for men (Sunnah) and an honorable thing for women (Makromah)."5

There are two observations on this Hadeeth:

    a) A distinction is made between male circumcision which is described in a stronger religious term (Sunnah)6 or commendable while another weaker description is given to female circumcision (Makromah) which implies no religious obligation.

    b) This Hadeeth is of weak authenticity (dha'eef) according to Hadeeth scholars.7

There is, however, a more authentic Hadeeth in which Prophet Muhammad (P) is reported to have passed by a woman performing circumcision on a young girl. He instructed the woman by saying:

    "Cut off only the foreskin (outer fold of skin over the clitoris; the prepuce) but do not cut off deeply (i.e. the clitoris itself), for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favorable with the husband."8

While the Prophet (P) did not explicitly ban this practice, his words project a great deal of sensitivity to the instinctive needs of females and their matrimonial happiness and legitimate enjoyment. Reference to the brightness of the face and to better relationship with the husband is clear indications of his sensitivity and compassion. They also stand in contrast to the arguments that female circumcision "controls" the woman's sexual appetite and hence contributes to sexual morality and virtue in society. It is true that Islam requires adherents of both genders to be chaste. Yet, there is no text in the Quran or Sunnah which requires selective curtailment or control of the sexual desire of one specific gender. Furthermore, chastity and virtue are not contingent on "cutting off" part of any sensitive and crucial human organ. Rather, they are contingent on spiritual and moral values of the person and the supporting virtuous environments.

3. SHOULD FEMALE CIRCUMCISION BE BANNED OR RESTRICTED?

Shariah (Islamic law) divides actions into five categories; mandatory, commendable, permissible, detestable and strictly forbidden. Female circumcision falls within the category of the permissible. It was probably on this basis that some scholars opposed a sweeping ban of this practice. Before discussing this view, it is important to distinguish between different types of procedures that were and still are called circumcision.

TYPES OF CIRCUMCISION

    a) Removal of the hood (or prepuce) of the clitoris. This procedure is, to some degree, analogous to male circumcision since in both cases, no part of the sexual organ is cut off. In both cases also, it is only the foreskin, or outer fold of the skin, which is cut off. Properly done, it is not likely to cause any "matrimonial" problem. While some may call it "sunnah circumcision," this is their own appellation and not that of the Prophet (P) who used the term Sunnah only in the context of male circumcision.

    b) Removal of the entire clitoris (clitorectomy) along with part of the labia minora, which is sutured together leaving an opening. This is a form of mutilation.

    c) Removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and medial part of the labia majora, with both sides of the female organ stitched together leaving a small opening. This procedure requires tying together the child's legs for nearly three weeks.9 It is called the Pharaonic procedure but may as well be called "mutilation."

It is obvious that the second and third procedures were never mandated, encouraged or even consented to by the Prophet (P). They even violate a known rule in Shari'ah prohibiting the cutting off of any part of the human body except for unavoidable reasons (e.g. medical treatment, trimming nails or hair, or for an explicitly specified reason such as male circumcision). Such necessity or need does not exist in female circumcision. Nothing justifies genital mutilation. In fact, no mutilation is allowed by Islam even in the battlefield. Not only are these two procedures unjustifiable, they are brutal, inhumane and in violation of Islam.

The remaining question then relates to the first procedure. Some (e.g. the late Rector of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gad Al-Haque) argued that since the Prophet (P) did not ban female circumcision, it falls within the category of the permissible. As such, there is no ground for a total ban on it. However, it is within the spirit of Shari'ah to restrict something that is permissible if discovered to be harmful. For example, all fish are permissible to eat. Should a particular type of fish be proven to be poisonous or harmful, it could be banned based on a known Shari'ah rule (Aldharar Yozaal), or harm must be removed. The real issue then boils down to whether the first procedure is harmful or not. Granted that such a procedure may not be seriously damaging like the other two, it may be argued that it is painful, traumatic and often performed in an unhygienic setting leading to infection and other problems.10

Even if the procedure is performed by a physician, it is so delicate that not all physicians master it.11

It should be noted that some people oppose female circumcision as part of their opposition to any "tradition" as old and invalid. This is as inappropriate as practicing female circumcision because it is a "tradition," regardless of its consistency with Islam or not. The practice should be evaluated objectively, on the basis of

    a) whether it is required religiously or not

    b) whether there are medical and other relevant issues to be considered in evaluating this practice.

While any form of female circumcision is already legally banned in some countriesl2 and may be banned in others in the future, it is not suggested here that this is the only option. In societies and cultures where the practice is well-entrenched and socio-cultural pressures for it are greatl3 abrupt legal banning may not end the practice. It may cause it to be practiced "underground" and under more problematic circumstances. However, the problem is serious enough that some action is needed. A starting point, perhaps, is to begin by educating the masses in countries where female circumcision is commonly practiced. All possible media should be used in the process. The contents of this appendix may serve as an outline of such an educational program, or it is so hoped. In any case, the conclusion which appears to be certain is that there is no single text of the Qur'an and Hadeeth which requires14 female circumcision.

  1. Stewart, Rosemary, "Female Circumcision: Implications for North American Nurses," in Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, vol. 35, no. 4, 1997, p. 35.
  2. Haqa'iq llmiyya Hawla Khitan Al-Inuath (in Arabic), Jam'iyyat Tanzeem Al-Usrah, Cairo, 1983, p. 7.
  3. Ibid, p.8.
  4. Ibid, p.8.
  5. Al-Shawkani, Nayl Al-Awtar, Dar Al-Jeel, Beirut, 1973, vol.1, p. 139
  6. A broader definition of Sunnah is "the words, actions and approval (or consent) of Prophet Muhammad (P)." In the context of religious obligations, however, Sunnah refers to act that are commendable but not obligatory. It is in that context that the Prophet Muhammad (P) used the term Sunnah to refer to male circumcision but not female circumcision.
  7. Al-Shawkani, op. cit, p. 139.
  8. Al-Tabarani, quoted in Al-Albani, Muhammad N., Silsilat Al-Ahadeeth Al-Sahihah, A1 Maktab Al-Islami, Beirut, Lebanon, 1983, vol. 2, Hadeeth no. 722, pp. 353-358 especially pp. 356-357. See also N. Keller (translator/editor), The Reliance of the Traveller by Ahmad Al-Masri, Modern
  9. Stewart, op. cit, p. 35.
  10. Including bleeding, scars, painful intercourse, difficulty to achieve sexual fulfillment which may lead to pain, reducing chances of pregnancy, causing infertility in some instances, chronic pelvic infection, urinary tract infection, psychological problems and unhappy husbands. See Stewart, op. cit, pp. 36-37.
  11. The author was informed by some physicians that since the clitoris itself is quite tiny, even tinier in younger girls it is very difficult to do the first procedure properly even by a non-specialist physician. The much easier procedure of male circumcision is usually referred to a physician with experience in that particular procedure.
  12. Presently female circumcision is illegal in Britain and other European countries through the passage of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act of 1985. Due to the publicity given to this topic recently, other countries are expected to follow suit, especially those with a large number of immigrants from countries which practice this procedure. Stewart, op. cit, p. 36.
  13. Some such pressure is the non-Islamically based cultural norms that only a circumcised woman is fit for marriage, other superstitious ideas that a child born to an uncircumcised woman is likely to die. See for example Stewart, op. cit, p. 36.
  14. Reference is sometimes made to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (P) narrated in Ahmad, also in Malik with similar wordings to the effect that if the two areas of circumcision (for a male and female) touch one another, then Ghusl (bathing) is required. This expression simply signifies that after the intimate matrimonial relationship, both husband and wife must take a complete bath before they perform their daily prayers. The relevant part of this Hadeeth, however, is its reference to the two circumcised parts. Imam Ahmad uses this Hadeeth as an evidence that women (in Madinah) used to be circumcised. This is no evidence, however, that it was religiously required. It could have been a cultural practice which was not prohibited.

      Even the few Ahadeeth which Al-Albani considered to be authentic do not require female circumcision as discussed earlier. In fact, some of them speak against radical forms of circumcision.

      See Sabiq, Al-Sayyid, Figh Al-Sunnah, Dar Al-Kitab AlArabi, Beirut, 1969, vol. 1, pp. 37 and 66. Also Al-Albani, Muhammad N., Tamam Al-Minnah Fi Al-Ta'leeq Ala Fiq AlSunnah, Al-Maktabah Al-Islamiyyah, Amman, 3rd printing, 1409 A.H., p. 67, and Muwatta'AI-lmam Malik, Dar AlQalam, Beirut, n.d., pp. 50-51.

 Next: Notes


Your Comments

Ahmed, KL - wrote on 3/7/2011 11:09:04 PM
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Comment: Here’s another interesting news item that supports the need for a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision): Oral sex linked to cancer risk US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world. Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. "The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why." It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the area which harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.


Ahmed, KL - wrote on 3/7/2011 9:30:36 AM
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Comment: Here’s another interesting news item that supports the need for a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision): Oral sex linked to cancer risk US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world. Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. "The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why." It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the area which harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.


Ahmed, KL - wrote on 3/7/2011 9:29:17 AM
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Comment: Here’s another interesting news item that supports the need for a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision): Oral sex linked to cancer risk US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world. Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. "The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why." It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the area which harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.


HUSSAINI KOFA TAFA LG GOVT NIGER STATE NIGERIA, NIGERIA - wrote on 9/14/2010 9:26:24 AM
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Comment: infact, I find this page very E DUCATIVE, I wish the people that introduces this sound vision.com paradise fildaus


hussaini halidu suleja, nigeria - wrote on 9/14/2010 9:09:41 AM
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Comment: since the female circumcision as it may been practiced long before the riseof islam and other religion, and since it was known as the pharaonic procedure,also since it is connectedwith cultural practices rather than islam itself since the Quran and Hadeeth violate its teaching muslim umma should discourage it


Ahmed, KL - wrote on 6/22/2010 8:41:40 AM
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Comment: Here's another research paper supporting female circumcision. A recent study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to a better sexual life in women.


Ahmed, KL - wrote on 5/31/2010 7:59:22 AM
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Comment: Here’s an excellent article on Female Circumcision in Islam which shows that it is mandatory, while at the same time explaining what is really required and its benefits: There are many ahadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)to show the important place, circumcision,whether of males or females, occupies in Islam. Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi). He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females. Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory. That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’” More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves. At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet is reported to have told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi). This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation. A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983). Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997). A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs. For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com


Ahmed Wazir, KL - wrote on 3/9/2010 9:06:14 AM
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Comment: Thankfully, Dr.Badawi has identified what the proper form of female circumcision in Islam really involves - mere trimming of the prepuce or hood of the clitoris, a procedure very much similar to male circumcision. What is interesting is that this procedure is fast catching on in the west. It is known as hoodectomy and is sought by western women for greater genital cleanliness and a better sex life.For more information please see: www.hoodectomyinformation.com


M. Ahmed, Qatar - wrote on 2/23/2010 1:02:04 PM
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Comment: For those of who think that the first circumcision procedure that involving surgical "removal of the foreskin, or outer fold of the skin" is inhumane and mutilation here is a bit of statistics for you. American Society of Plastic Surgeons reveal that vaginal rejuvenation is one of the fastest-growing plastic surgery procedures in the U.S.—increasing 30% between 2005 and 2006 alone. One of the most popular of these procedures is labiaplasty, a procedure to reduce and/or balance the size of the labia minora, or inner vaginal lips. The primary reason for women to do this is Aesthetics.


M., K. - wrote on 1/14/2010 4:28:03 PM
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Comment: The article is misleading. Sorry to say that but circumcision is in fact practised in IRAQ, IRAN and SAUDI ARABIA. Google it.


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