EGYPT: Clerics join anti-female circumcision moot
CAIRO: Prominent Muslim scholars from around the world, including conservative religious leaders from Egypt and Africa, met on Wednesday to speak out against female genital mutilation at a rare high-level conference on the age-old practice.
The meeting was organised by a German human rights group and held under the patronage of Dar Al-Iftaa, Egypt’s main religious-edicts organisation. It was held at the conference centre of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni Islamic institution in the world.
Al Azhar’s grand sheik, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, attended as well as Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Goma’a, whose fatwas are considered binding religious edicts.
It is rare for such religious figures in Egypt to attend such a conference on an issue that remains sensitive and controversial here. An estimated 50 percent of schoolgirls in Egypt are thought to undergo the procedure, according to government statistics.
At the conference, Tantawi said circumcision, another name for the practice, was not mentioned in the holy Quran or in Sunna, which are sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). “In Islam, circumcision is for men only,” he told the conference. “From a religious point of view, I don’t find anything that says circumcision is a must (for women).”
Female genital mutilation usually involves removal of the clitoris. Those who practice it believe it lowers a girl’s sexual desires and thus helps maintain her honour. With age-old cultural roots, it is practiced today in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt and other parts of the Arab world such as Yemen and Oman.
Laws against the practice exist in many of the regions where it is practiced, but poor enforcement and publicity can hinder the laws, some human rights groups and women activists say.
The German human rights group, TARGET, also invited senior clerics from Africa and Russia to the conference.
“Our mission today is not easy, because we’re fighting against rumours and habits and traditions and ideas that have been established for long centuries,” said Moushira Khattab, secretary general of Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which is headed by the wife of Egypt’s president, Suzanne Mubarak.