Monday, 16 April 2012

Culture or Islam? The Case of Female Genital Mutilation

Yes, as with the issue of forced underage marriages, we've all heard the claims that female genital mutilation "has nothing to do with Islam", that "most Islamic scholars have forbidden it, or the minority who approve only allow it in a mild form", that "all the hadith references are weak", and that "it's the fault of backward Arab and African culture". But is any of that true?


Unfortunately, every claim made by Muslims and their apologists are demonstratively false:

  • There are several reliable references to this vile practice in the hadith literature, including the Sahih Bukhari collection, the Sahih Muslim collection,  and a Sahih (not "weak") narration in the Abu Dawud collection.
  • Within mainstream Sunni Islam (up to 90% of all Muslims follow this form of Islam) there are four mainstream schools of thought which are accepted by one another. According to all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, scholars are unanimously agreed that female genital mutilation is not haram or disliked. It is either Sunnah (thereby it is recommended) or compulsory (the majority hold to the latter).
  • Religious ritual mutilation of female genitalia is not limited to the "mild" Type I FGM as defined by the WHO. One of those four aforementioned schools of Islamic law is the Shafi'i madhhab. According to a book of Shafi'i Fiqh endorsed by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, circumcision is obligatory for every male and female. Circumcision of the female is by "cutting out the clitoris".

"Circumcision is not an inherited custom as some people claim, rather it is prescribed in Islam and the scholars are unanimously agreed that it is prescribed. Not a single Muslim scholar – as far as we know – has said that circumcision is not prescribed. 
Their evidence is to be found in the saheeh ahaadeeth of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), which prove that it is prescribed [...]
Thus it is clear that the fuqaha’ of Islam are agreed that circumcision is prescribed for both males and females, and in fact the majority of them are of the view that it is obligatory for both. No one said that it is not prescribed or that it is makrooh or haraam." - Circumcision of girls and some doctors’ criticism thereof, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 60314
"e4.3 Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the clitoris (this is called Hufaad)"Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri
"We do not know of any hadeeth in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) ordered that his wives or daughters be circumcised, but it is narrated that he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) advised a woman who did circumcision in Madeenah as to the proper way of circumcision. It was narrated by Abu Dawood (5271), al-Tabaraani in al-Awsat, and al-Bayhaqi in al-Shu’ab from Umm ‘Atiyyah al-Ansaariyyah that a woman used to do circumcision in Madeenah, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to her: “Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman and more liked by the husband.” This hadeeth was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.
According to another report: “Take only a little and do not go to extremes.”
It is also indicated by the general meaning of the evidence that has been narrated concerning circumcision, such as the hadeeth in al-Bukhaari (5891) and Muslim (527) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) [...]
The Shaafa’is, the Hanbalis according to the well-known view of their madhhab, and others are of the view that circumcising women is obligatory. Many scholars are of the view that it is not obligatory in the case of women; rather it is Sunnah and is an honour for them."Is there any saheeh hadeeth about the circumcision of females?, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 82859
"My brother, we have talked about circumcision many times. I counsel every Muslim man on the face of the earth, and also every Muslim woman on the face of the earth: Brother, take the little bit of trouble it requires to get yourself a book of fiqh! Inconvenience yourself a little for Allah's sake. Just take five minutes. Any book--do you have the book "Fiqh al-Sunna" by Shaykh Sayyid Sabiq (may Allah have mercy on him)? Do you have "Al-Mughni" by Ibn al-Qudama, or "Kitab al-Umm" by Imam al-Shafi'i? Do you have Fath al-Bari's explanation of Sahih al-Bukhari? Any of the books of fiqh--I mentioned to you some books of fiqh and some books of hadith--open any of the books of fiqh. Open them. That's it, plain and simple. 
Review the words of scholars. Don't just take the words of Muhammad Hassan, or this shaykh, or that shaykh. Look at any of the books of fiqh from our imams, respected leaders, and scholars--ask them. You will find that our scholars have said that circumcision of women--there are some who say that it is obligatory while others say that it is commendable. Some say it is obligatory, and others say it is commendable. There are some scholars who say it is obligatory, and there are some who say it is commendable.
To whoever says that circumcision is an ancient Egyptian custom with no origin in the sunna, I say, Brother, review the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Let us consult the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him): "If you touch the male or female circumcision…" This hadith deals with the highest level of community health. In the highest level of health: "If you touch the male circumcision," meaning the circumcision of men, "or the female circumcision," meaning the circumcision of women, "washing is obligatory." These are the true words from the Prophet." - Egyptian Shaykh: FGM Not An Inherited Custom. Muslim Scholars Say It Is Either Obligatory or Commendable, Egyptian shaykh Muhammad Hassan
Additional links

Female genital mutilation “is part of the Sunna of the Prophet”, from Winds of Jihad (caution is advised, contains extremely graphic images)