You are here:
The Koran says: "Noone questions Him about anything He does, but men are questioned" (21:23). God does not have to justify his norms even if Muslim jurists are of the opinion that divine norms are intended to bring good to Man. The criteria of goodness elude Man most of the time.
However, there is a tendency among the Muslims as well as the Jews today, to try to justify religious norms a posteriori, conferring beneficial results upon them, real or fictitious. It is a recourse to reason to justify religion. Cases in point are circumcision and dietary taboos. It proves that the idea of God hurting human beings simply in order to brand them like cattle is not accepted anymore.
The supporters of male and female circumcision, after proving the existence of a related religious norm, will buckle down to demonstrate the advantages of circumcision as well as the disadvantages of non-circumcision, in order to comfort the believer, while answering back to those opposed to it. As for the opponents of female circumcision, they, unless they are unbelievers, rejecting any religious justification, also fight on two fronts: after denying the existence of a religious norm prescribing female circumcision (the only one they are interested in), they try to prove its harmful characteristics in order to ban it.
And if reason does not succeed in proving that religion is correct? Then, let it be challenged, as will be seen further on.
1. Advantages of male circumcision
Muslim authors skim over male circumcision. They only see advantages and, most of all, the subject does not trigger any debate in the West. According to Al-Hadidi (an opponent of female circumcision), male non-circumcision can cause penile infections arising from urine droplets. It can develop into cancer, requiring the penis to be amputated entirely 92. Circumcision is even believed to prevent cancer in the circumcised man's partner, as mentioned by Doctor Al-Fangari, who goes on to state that it helps to extend the length of copulation, thanks to the liberation of the glans 93. Their Jewish counterparts make the same type of arguments. It is enough to have the Christians, to whom Saint-Paul suggests circumcision in their heart rather than in their flesh, turn green with envy 94! If only Saint Paul could have heard our Jewish and Muslim medical experts before rejecting the obligation to circumcise!
Imam Shaltut does not find any basis for male and female circumcision, be it in the Koran or in the Sunnah from Mohammed. Therefore it must be judged according to the general Islamic consensus which forbids hurting anyone, unless advantages outnumber disadvantages. For the boys, he states that circumcision is beneficial because it cuts off the foreskin which harbours filth and promotes cancer and other diseases. As such, it is a protective and preventive measure. Thus its mandatory quality in Muslim law 95.
Logically, if male circumcision were beneficial, it should be generalized. Male circumcision cannot however be justified solely on the basis of its usefulness in certain pathological conditions. A foot may be amputated under medical imperative if it is gangrenous and amputation will then certainly be beneficial. Nevertheless, nobody would call for generalized foot amputation among the followers of any given religion 96. The argument is compelling, unless it can be shown that the relevant religious adepts have penises noticeably different from those of their fellow humans.
Let us point out here that circumcision has its enthusiasts among Christians who believe the Bible to be a scientific book. This is especially the case in the U.S.A. where obstetricians "sever at birth the foreskins of future Methodists, Adventists, Catholics, Sectarians of Love, if not good brave Atheists". To them, uncircumcised males "can only be country people and half-witted" 97. In that country, the number of new-born who are circumcised is estimated at 50%. But in 1975, the American health commission stated that circumcision was not a good hygienic measure. Since then, circumcision has been reduced considerably 98. The pro-circumcision people then launched a campaign to persuade the commission to reverse its decision, claiming that circumcision prevents infantile urinary tract infections and even AIDS transmission, a claim denied by Swedish experts 99.
2. Disadvantages of male circumcision
As noted above, male circumcision is of no interest to most people. Doctor G,rard Zwang, quoted above, stands out as one of the very few opponents of male circumcision in France. Not only does he not see any advantages, but he notices disadvantages. He writes:
One must be extremely suspicious when magicians and shamans try to irrefutably legitimate ritual sexual mutilations (unless one belongs to the clan of those incurably naive ethnographers). As heirs of the only extra-European culture touched by some sort of scientific thinking and often contributing to its development, it is the Judaizers who provide the so-called "logical" arguments in favour of circumcision 100.
He names the five "reasonable" reasons produced by the Western partisans of circumcision, reasons which support those given by the Muslims:
He concludes that "there is no [medical] reason to systematically deprive all new-born, little boys or men of an integral part of the normal human anatomy". Even for foreskins with problems, he advises against circumcision and prefers those simple, surgical procedures which retain the foreskin. He recommends that plastic surgeons apply themselves to mastering the technique of possible preputial reconstruction for circumcised patients suffering from "balanic peeling", one of the consequences of circumcision 103.
As for surgeons requested to perform circumcision, he asks them to refuse to comply. If it is an adult who makes the request, the surgeon has the right to raise the matter of conscience, as some do, based on liberalism, to avoid carrying out abortions. If it is a normal child brought in by his parents, "the surgeon is entitled to call upon the impossibility of committing an assault and battery on a minor and advise them to wait until their offspring reaches his majority" 104.
It might be necessary to add to the doctors' advice, the psychologists' answer to these questions: what is the influence of circumcision on the victims of paranoia105? on the conscious or unconscious male rage and violence in the American culture? on the conflicts between Muslims themselves or between Jews and Muslims? It would be also useful to know what is the relation between circumcision and situational homosexuality (by opposition to constitutional homosexuality).
1. Advantages of female circumcision in compliance with the sunnah
Circumcision not carried out according to the sunnah is forbidden by all Muslim religious circles. For some, "the practice of female circumcision as it is carried out on their daughters by some women from backward countries, is an offence punishable by law"106. Nobody comes to its defense even if it is the most practiced form of circumcision in Muslim countries. This condemnation is based mostly on the exciser's narration, mentioned earlier. What is strange in this case is that those very religious circles do not try to use this narration in a positive way to fight the practice. As an example, it is estimated that 89.2% of the women in North Sudan are circumcised: 82.3% by infibulation; only 19.2% of Christian women are circumcised that way. More Christians (57.7%) than Muslims (20.8%) appear to favour abolition of this practice for their daughters 107.
If these religious scholars, all male chauvinists, are opposed to female circumcision not in compliance with the sunnah, they nevertheless do approve of it when it is sunnah-conform. This type of female circumcision, by the way, is not described fully: for some, it is only removal of a minimal amount of clitoris skin in application of the exciser's narration; for others, it involves the whole clitoris and labia minora.
The goal of defending female circumcision in compliance with the sunnah is expressed in no uncertain terms by Al-I'tissam, an Islamic magazine from Cairo. This magazine protests against the WHO, accusing the organization of "distorting the truth of Islam"; Al-I'tissam requests Al-Azhar and all religious scholars to "open their eyes and be on the alert for those ideas coming to us from outside, so we can fight them, prove their foolishness and save Islamic customs" 108. Here are the advantages of female circumcision according to its male supporters:
A) It maintains cleanliness
Doctor Hamid Al-Ghawabi states that bad smells in women, cleanliness notwithstanding, can only be eliminated by cutting off the clitoris and labia minora109.
B) It prevents diseases
The number of nymphomaniacs is less among circumcised women. The husband may catch this disease and even die of it 110. Female circumcision prevents vaginal cancer 111 and swelling of the clitoris which could drive the woman to masturbation or homosexual relations 112.
C) It brings calm and gives radiance to the face
Female circumcision shields the girl from nervousness at an early age and prevents her from getting a yellow face. This statement is based on a narration by Mohammed: "Circumcision is makrumah for women" and "give them a glowing face" 113. The exciser's narration is also quoted to say that circumcision makes a woman's face more beautiful and makes her more attractive for her husband 114. According to a supporter of female circumcision, the latter brings good health and feminine grace to the girl and protects her morality, chastity and honour, maintaining within reason, of course, the necessary sexual sensitivity 115.
D) It keeps the couple together and prevents drug use
Doctor Hamid Al-Ghawabi admits that female circumcision does reduce the sexual instinct in women, but he sees this as a positive effect. With age, the male sexual instinct lessens. His circumcised wife will then be at the same level as him. If she was not, her husband would be unable to satisfy her, which then would lead him to drug-use in order to succeed 116.
E) It prevents her falling into what is forbidden
This is the most frequently cited reason. Professor Al-'Adawi from Al-Azhar says that female circumcision is makrumah, that is helps (the woman) "to remain shy and virtuous. In the Orient, where the climate is hot, a girl gets easily aroused if she is not circumcised. It makes her shameless and prey to her sexual instincts, except those to whom God shows compassion" 117.
Judge 'Arnus says that female circumcision diminishes sexual instinct which, if not kept in control, reduces the person to the condition of an animal, but if this sexual instinct does not exist, then circumcision reduces her to a lifeless state. He favours moderation and notes that intact men and women have, more often than not, a "one track mind" 118. Salim, Chairman of the Muslim Supreme Court (abolished in 1955), reiterates that female circumcision is a makrumah, a meritorious action, that the woman is under no obligation to submit to, but preferably she should. He adds that circumcision protects girls from infection, swelling of her external genitalia and from strong psychic reactions and sexual excitement which, if repressed, lead to neurosis or, if unleashed, lead to the path of vice. This happens especially during youth, when hormones of reproduction are at their peak. Salim goes on to describe this circumcision. The procedure consists of cutting off the bulging part of the clitoris which is out of the hood "so as not to become a cause of arousal while the girl is moving, rubbing against her clothing, riding animals, etc... Thus its name khafd: to lower the level" 119. Gad-al-Haq, Great Sheikh of Al-Azhar, adds that our times call for female circumcision "because of mixing of the sexes at public gatherings. If the girl is not circumcised, she subjects herself to multiple causes of excitation leading her to vice and perdition in a depraved society" 120.
2. Disastrous consequences of any kind of female circumcision
Opponents of female circumcision reject it because of the seriousness of the complications which depend on the method adopted.
A) Physical and mental damage
Many complications may occur after female circumcision. Doctor Mahran classifies them as follows:
The Muslim enthusiasts of female circumcision do not deny those complications, but state that they arise out of the manner in which the surgery is performed, mostly because nobody pays attention to the conditions laid down by Muslim law. Al-Sukkari writes: if one goes to a barber for an appendectomy, must we conclude that this form of surgery has never been provided for in an Islamic book and thus should be banned because the way it is performed is wrong? He adds that female circumcision has been a practice for centuries and is a custom accepted by Muslim law. The so-called consequences never occurred in the past. And if we hear of them today, the responsibility lies with those who perform it 123.
B) Drug use
We saw earlier that the enthusiasts of female circumcision called sunnah plead in favour of it because it prevents the use of drugs. The opponents use the reverse argument 124. The link between female circumcision and the hashish plague in Egypt has been widely exposed by El-Masry. Female circumcision distorts sexual relations: "Very few healthy males can fully succeed in bringing a circumcised woman to orgasm. She has lost her capacity for pleasure. The man will soon have to admit that he alone cannot do it. There is only one solution: hashish". He quotes many references, including Police Chief Safwat for whom: "narcotics are widely used in Egypt, because they are linked in people's minds to sexual activities, themselves linked to excision, unknown in Europe". Doctor Hanna adds: "The man will resort to narcotics to satisfy his wife sexually. Excision is responsible for her lack of arousal and the husband has to take drugs to be able to hold his erection as long as necessary". He states that women are the ones to request that their husbands use drugs before sex: "They know from experience that it is their only chance of reaching orgasm, for hashish is the only cure for their mutilated clitoris" 125. The Cairo magazine Al-Tahrir draws the following conclusion in its issue of August 20, 1957: "If you want to fight against narcotics, ban excision" 126.
The same link is observed between female circumcision and narcotics in Yemen where the plague of qat is widespread. An attempt to ban it in the British Colony of Aden, in April 1957, almost triggered a revolt. Yemenis saw in this measure "an infringement upon their basic rights". Women themselves showed their reprobation, claiming it was an attack on their conjugal lives. Since June 24, 1958, the use of qat has been legal in Aden 127.
C) Familial problems
The woman, having no sexual release, becomes rebellious and neurotic. Instead of protecting her morality, female circumcision leads her elsewhere looking for sexual satisfaction at any cost. Thus the obsessive belief in djinn (zar), which does not exist anywhere else but in Egypt "as if genies (djinns) could only live in Egypt" 128.
D) Ineffectiveness in preventing diseases
For Doctor Al-Hadidi, there is no medical value in female circumcision,
contrary to male circumcision, since the woman does not have a foreskin
retaining germs 129. Doctor Nawal El-Saadawi denies
also that female circumcision will reduce the incidence of genital cancer
The arguments on costs and benefits of male and female circumcision might be of some value if one accepts an absolute parameter to begin with: respect for physical integrity. Any infringement upon the latter must be forbidden or permitted only on the basis of the costs and benefits of circumcision. At present, this seems to be the case neither among Muslims, nor among others, especially where male circumcision is concerned.
As for female circumcision, as we said earlier, Muslim religious circles are opposed to it, if it is not conform to sunnah, mostly because of the exciser's narration. As far as sunnah itself is concerned, those circles refuse to condemn it on principle and the criteria mentioned above, even if differences of opinion can be noticed among them.
1. To apply the norm for the norm's sake
Hamrush, Chairman of the fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, rejects the idea that female circumcision prevents diseases or keeps girls healthy since, contrary to boys, they do not have a foreskin to harbour filth. He also rejects the idea that it is a protection of the woman's honour and morality, keeping her from throwing caution to the winds. If it were the case, then one would assume that circumcision is an obligation, and not just a makrumah. However, the Sheikh holds the opinion that female circumcision should be performed to fulfil the teaching of Mohammed 131.
2. The norm has benefits unknown to reason
Professor Al-Laban says that simple scientific observation must not be used to destroy the norms established by God (including male and female circumcision) and announced by Mohammed, but rather confirm them 132. If we do not understand the wisdom of those norms, the deficiency is to be found in our reasoning, not with God. The Islamic law is the final law and is to rule at all times. Our human brains cannot possibly find fault with it. Mohammed does not speak from the heat of passion 133. He explains how science confirms the religious norm. Sunnah circumcision lets the blood vessels heal (what other types of circumcision do not) and makes purification easy once the excrescence is cut off because it is this part which retains urine and menstrual fluid. This wisdom of the Islamic norm was subsequently acknowledged by science 134.
In an Egyptian fatwa of June 23, 1951, it is said:
3. Neither misdeed nor interdiction
Al-Sukkari states that Mohammed never indicated any reservations regarding the harmfulness of female circumcision. How, in these conditions, could any ordinary man forbid it under this pretense? Can we imagine the Prophet keeping silent about something hurtful to the girl136? Man has no power to allow or to forbid, only God does, and his wishes are set out in the Koran or by His Prophet137. If in spite of that, some countries forbid female circumcision, it is a State decision and does not make any difference: the religious law allows it 138.
4. To maintain the custom in the absence of misdeeds
Imam Shaltut, as mentioned above, does not see any reason for male or female circumcision, either in the Koran or in the Sunnah of Mohammed. To him, female circumcision has no medical value, the girl having no foreskin to hold filth. He packs into one sack those for and those against female circumcision: both groups go too far. He comes to the conclusion that female circumcision could be a makrumah for men who are not used to feeling the clitoris protruding; for the girl, it comes to the same as taking care of her beauty, dabbing perfume or removing axillary hair 139. Elsewhere, Imam Shaltut is in favour of keeping the tradition of female circumcision until proven harmful 140.
Sheikh Al-Nawawi comes to another result through the same reasoning. For him, the narrations of Mohammed regarding female circumcision are weak and do not have a raison d'^tre. Islam aimed to moderate this practice among Arabs and it is still performed in this moderate form, without ever becoming the rule, apart from exceptional cases. One cannot make a rule out of one exception 141.
A less clear stand-point is taken by Al-Banna, Egyptian Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs. To him, female circumcision cannot be separated from the benefit criterion: God does not burden us, if there is no benefit. So, if there is any value to circumcision, one must abide by it. If not, one must give it up. Competent physicians must take a stand, having considered all girls from different climates, because the problem might not be the same in every country, or even with every girl. If a girl is in peculiar circumstances, she must be circumcised; if not, let Nature take its course, as God intended it. As long as no study has been done, Muslims are free to go either way 142.
According to Professor Khallaf, physicians may not condemn female circumcision based on isolated cases alone, but compare excised and uncircumcised girls and then give their opinion. If they conclude that female circumcision is harmful and as such, they decide to forbid it, the prohibition will neither be contrary to a religious text, nor to the unanimous position of religious scholars 143.
5. Permitted but soon to be forbidden because of adverse consequences
Doctor 'Abd-al-Wahid presents a strange reasoning, to say the least. After stating that female circumcision is forbidden the same way as it is forbidden to chop off one's finger, he admits that the Lawmaker (God) gave permission for the sunnah, any excess being forbidden. However, he adds that this form of circumcision is allowed, but not mandatory and suggests that it be forbidden due to its medical and psychological consequences, which he recounts in detail 144.
6. It must be forbidden
The most daring and most coherent opinion coming from a religious leader against female circumcision is that of Sheikh Abu-Sabib, a Sudanese, whom we mentioned earlier. He spoke at the Seminar on Traditional Practices (Dakar, 1984). The narrations of Mohammed about female circumcision are not reliable. They and the Koran do not require anyone to suffer, when science proves the harm done by this mutilation 145.
Only the two last-mentioned opinions urge the banning of female circumcision
and opt in favour of physical integrity. Others take great care to saying
nothing about prohibition, even if some leave the choice up to the believer.
Let us study this prohibition at the State level.
92 Hadidi, Muhammad Sa'id Al-: Khitan al-awlad bayn al-tib wal-islam, in 'Abd-al-Raziq:Al-khitan, op. cit., pp. 65-66. On the advantages of male circumcision also, consult Salih, Muhammad Ibn-Ahmad Al-: Al-tifil fil-shari'ah al-islamiyyah, Matba'at nahdat Masr, Cairo, 1980,pp. 84-85.
93 Fangari, Ahmad Shawqi Al-: Al-tib al-wiqa'i fil-islam, Al-hay'ah al-masriyyah al-'ammah lil-kitab, Cairo, 1980, p. 143.
94 Epistle to the Romans 2:29.
95 Shaltut: Al-fatawi, op. cit., pp. 333-334.
96 Jewish male circumcision was banned on several occasions through the centuries. Closer to us, it was banned in Strasbourg, France, in 1793 after the establishment of the Cult of Reason. In Russia, Jewish and Moslem circumcision was fought against by the Bolshevist Revolution, but for the same reason as any other religious practice. Tendencies can be found favouring exemption from this practice for converts to Judaism in order to help proselytism (already during the 2nd Century). In the middle of the 19th Century, the Judaic German Reform urged the abolition of mandatory circumcision for new-born Jews. In spite of the failure of this attempt in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1843, the American Reformed Judaism, some 40 years later, adopted the official policy that non-circumcised converts be accepted (Erlich, Michel: Les mutilations sexuelles,
Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1991, pp. 110-113).
97 Zwang, Gerard: La fonction ,rotique, op. cit., p. 271.
98 Zwang, Gerard: Pr,puce et ,rotisme, in Union, revue internationale des rapports humains,No 44, Nouvelle s,rie, May 1992, p. 41.
99 Zwang, Gerard: Le pr,puce: une erreur de la nature?, (bibliographical note), in Contraception-fertilite-sexualite, 1989, Vol. 17, No. 12, p. 1162.
100 Zwang, Gerard: La fonction Erotique, op. cit., p. 271.
101 Ibid., pp. 271-275.
102 Ibid., pp. 275-277.
103 Ibid., pp. 277-279.
104 Ibid., pp. 279.
105 We refer the reader to Elisabeth Badinter's thoughts: XY de l'identit, masculine ,Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 1992, pp. 86-89.
106 Birri: Ma hukm, op. cit., pp. 95-96. See also Salim, Muhammad Ibrahim: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., pp. 81-82.
107 Rapport sur les pratiques traditionnelles, Addis Abeba, 1990, pp. 63-68.
108 Al-I'tissam, Dec. 1980, No. 1, cited by Soual, No. 4, 1983, Women in the Arab world, pp. 73-74.
109 Ghawabi: Khitan, op. cit., p. 55.
110 Ibid., p. 57.
111 Salih: Al-tifil, op. cit., p. 85.
112 Ghawabi: Khitan, op. cit., p. 62.
113 Ibid., p. 51.
114 Sukkari: Khitan, op. cit., p. 64. See also Shaltut: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., pp. 89-90.
115 Salim: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., pp. 81-82.
116 Ghawabi: Khitan, op. cit., p. 57.
117 'Adawi, 'Abd-al-Rahman: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., pp.97-98.
118 'Arnus, Mahmud: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., pp. 93-94.
119 Salim: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., pp. 81-82.
120 Gad-al-Haq: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., p. 3124.
121 For more about those complications, see Mahran: Les risques, op. cit., pp. 1-2; Rapport sur les pratiques traditionnelles, Addis Abeba, 1990, pp. 56-57; Terre des Hommes: Les mutilations sexuelles, op. cit., (presentation by Doctor Gerard Zwang), p. 25.
122 Terre des Hommes: Les mutilations sexuelles, op. cit. (presentation by Doctor Gerard Zwang), p. 25.
123 Sukkari: Khitan, op. cit., p. 106.
124 For the link between drugs and female circumcision, see Amin: Qamus, op. cit., p. 188; Morsy, Soheir A.: Sex differences and folk illness in an Egyptian village, in Women in the Muslim world, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachussetts) & London, 1978, p. 611; Hadidi:Khitan al-awlad, op. cit., pp. 67-70.
125 El-Masry: Le drame sexuel, op. cit., pp. 56-69.
126 Ibid., p. 31. Doctor Al-Fangari presents remarks in the same vein: "Without banning female circumcision, we shall never be able to stop the use of drugs in the Arab and Moslem world" (Fangari: Al-tib, op. cit., p. 144). Doctor Mahran writes: "Excision is one of the causes of the ever increasing use of hashish among men who believe, albeit wrongly, that smoking it delays ejaculation, giving men their orgasms at the same time as their excised wives: 16% of excised women admit that their husbands smoke hashish for sexual reasons". (Mahran: Les risques, op.cit., p. 2).
127 El-Masry: Le drame sexuel, op. cit., pp. 61-62.
128 Hadidi: Khitan al-awlad, op. cit., pp. 67-70.
129 Ibid., pp. 67-70.
130 El-Saadawi: The hidden, op. cit., p. 38.
131 Hamrush, Ibrahim: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., p. 75.
132 Reference is made here to Verse 23:115: "Did you think that we created you in vain?"
133 Reference is made here to Verse 53:3: "Neither does he speak out of whim"; alternatively, "And neither does he speak out of his own desire".
134 Labban, Muhammad Muhammad Al-: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., pp. 85-86.
135 Nassar: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., p. 1986.
136 Sukkari: Khitan, op. cit., pp. 33-37.
137 Ibid., pp. 39-40.
138 Ibid., p. 99.
139 Shaltut: Al-fatawi, op. cit., pp. 333-334.
140 Shaltut: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., pp. 89-90.
141 Nawawi, 'Abd-Allah Al-: Sa'aluni 'an al-mar'ah, Dhat al-salassil, Kuwait, 1986, p. 103.
142 Banna, Muhammad Al-: Khitan al-banat, in 'Abd-al-Raziq: Al-khitan, op. cit., pp. 79-80.
143 Khallaf: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., p. 76. Also see Hamrush: Khitan al-banat, op. cit., p.75.
144 'Abd-al-Wahid, Nigm 'Abd-Allah: Nazrat al-islam hawl tabi'at al-gins wal-tanassul, Matabi' al-manar, Kuwait, 1986, pp. 109-116.
145 For further details, refer back to Chapter II, Paragraph II, Point 3.