KENYA: 'Female Circumcision Not Linked To Islam'

As she grew up in a Islamic society, Khadija knew what she had to go through to become a respectable woman. Listening to her mother, a strong Muslim adherent, Khadija came to believe that female circumcision, just like male circumcision, was an Islamic practice.

Eager to have their daughter live by 'Islamic tradition and become respectable', Khadija's parents took her for circumcision or, as it is commonly known, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Ms Isnino Shuriye , an ex-circumciser breaks down as she narrates how she used to perform female circumcision in Garissa.

But Khadija is not the only girl who has been forced to undergo FGM merely because it is a tradition they must abide by. FGM is a practice that has refused to die despite concerted efforts to end it. While it is considered a cultural practice among non-Muslim communities that practice it, FGM has been perpetuated within the Islamic community as a religious ritual.

But Muslim scholars and clerics are now coming out strongly to dismiss the widely held belief that Islam supports FGM. The general consensus among Muslim religious leaders is that FGM is not an Islamic practice but a tradition or culture of the various communities that practice it.

Speaking recently at an FGM workshop organised in Nairobi by Children's Legal Action Network (Clan) under the theme 'FG M: a religious or cultural practice?' the scholars and clerics argued that, for any practice to be considered Islamic, it must be backed by the Quran, the traditions of Prophet Mohammed, scholarly consensus and analogy, none of which backs FGM.

"Without the support of Quran, the traditions of Prophet Mohammed, scholarly consensus and analogy, that are the basis for engagement under Islam, someone cannot stand up and claim that FGM is based on Islamic faith," states Ibrahim Lethome, an Islam scholar and lawyer.

He adds, "We have read the whole Quran and not seen a clause supporting FGM. The Quran outlaws the harming of someone and the practice should be delinked from religion as Islam says anything harmful should be discarded."


Lethome states that most arguments that portray FGM as an Islamic practice are based on misinterpretation of the Quran, or an outright distortion of the facts to suit their arguments for FGM.

Much of the distortion, according to Lethome, stems from the fact that in the original scripts or Arabic, some words refer to male and female and, taken literally, may mean that the action in point applies to both men and women. Indeed, circumcision appears to be referring to men and women. A point many have misinterpreted to mean that even women should be circumcised.

Justifying why it is wrong to argue along those lines, Lithome notes another similar reference to both male and female. Without singling out men only or giving provisions for excluding women, people are supposed to shave their pubic hairs, hairs under the armpit and trim their moustache. "Taken literally, women are supposed to shave moustaches. But do women grow moustache?" argues Lithome.

The other argument for FGM is that Prophet Mohammed never outrightly condemned FGM, even when he encountered a woman who claimed he was going to conduct it. Sheikh Ali Sheikh notes that Muslims for a long time did not take a stand against FGM, a fact that compromised the teaching of Islam.

Lethome says there is no consensus among Muslim scholars on FGM because Prophet Mohammed never condemned it outright.

However, if one was to go by the traditions of Mohammed then he did not approve of it. "His four daughters were never circumcised. But his two grandsons were circumcised when they were seven days," argues Lethome. "If the prophet did not have his daughters circumcised, are we holier than him to demand that our daughters are circumcised?" asks Lethome.

Purely cultural practice

Sheikh Abdi Nasir Haj Hassan, an Islamic scholar, further observed that Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Muslim communities in Kenya do not practice female circumcision.

Dr Guyo Jaldessa, a gynaecologist, states that FGM is more of a cultural than a religious practice and must be completely delinked from Islam. According to Sheikh Ali Shee, a prominent Islamic scholar, Islam outlaws circumcision of women. "It is a traditional practice that has nothing to do with any religion. Circumcision involves changing the way humanity was created while the Quran does not advocate for that."

He states that Muslim leaders need to fight traditions that are against natural law and human rights since Islam teaches social revolution, which is about changing what is bad in society while fighting to retain what is good.

Sheikh Hassan warns that circumcised girls face serious physical and psychological risks. He argues that according to Islam, parents had a moral duty to uphold morals among children but not cutting and exposing girls to bodily harm. He reiterates that FGM is not an act of 'sunnah' and nor is it an honourable act. "It is forbidden in Islam to cause harm to another person's body" he says, terming the practice as a means of disfiguring God's creation by cutting a major part.

He said Islam pays attention to the right of couples and rights of women to sexual satisfaction. "A woman has a right equal to that of a man to satisfy her sexual desires. If the desire is used in a wrong way it is forbidden for both man and woman," he says, adding that controlling sexual desire is a challenge for both men and women.

It is not only the man who needs sexual satisfaction. The man has to prepare the woman for sex. Prophet Mohammed's teaching is that a woman should be given sexual satisfaction and should also satisfy her man, says the Sheikh.

Sheikh Hassan advises parents to talk of behaviour formation with the aim of inculcating good morals to their children. But while delinking FGM from Islam is indeed an important move in the war against FGM - a practice that has brought about unnecessary deaths and suffering, necessitating debate on whether it is really a cultural or religious practice - there is a lot that still needs to be done before the practice can be completely wiped out. For even in non-Islamic communities like Embu and Kisii, the practice is still rampant. It will take more than religious cleansing to stop FGM among Muslim communities that practice it.

Amir Hussein, Director of Children's Services, laments that despite laws against FGM - such as the Children's Act and the Sexual Offences Act, which make it a criminal offence to circumcise a girl under 18 -very little progress has been made in the elimination of the practice. Kenya is a signatory to all international laws that protect children and has even domesticated them in the Bill of Rights. But the practice remains rampant.

Lethome believes FGM is still rampant because the various legal provisions were never disseminated to the communities that perpetuate FGM. Both enforcers and victims are not aware of the relevant legal provisions banning FGM. "People do not know that it is illegal. Those who do not want FGM do not know that they are protected by the law," states Lethome.

"More sadly is that the law has never been implemented because even the people who are supposed to implement it are not aware of its existence." Apart from law enforcers being ignorant, the victims and their families are not willing to report the atrocities for fear of societal rebuttal.


AUTHOR: Wandera Ojanji And Redemtor Atieno

URL: Click here

DATE: 08/09/2007

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