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01 February 2020

Circumcision opposes Female Genital Mutilation

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By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Eleven years ago, one community in Muslim Sudan decided to follow WHO recommendations and abandon the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Since then, Tuti Island, a community of 21,000 residents located where the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers merge, has set the example for more than 1000 communities in Sudan that have abandoned FGM, which has no health benefits and violates the human rights of 200 million women and girls in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“FGM contravenes the essence and the objectives of Islamic law, which are to protect the welfare of the family, dignity, wealth, health and mental capability of individuals and the community,” said Sheikh Rashid Ali Omar, Kenya’s deputy chief kadhi [a judge in the Muslim court system] at a news conference called to broadcast Muslim leaders’ anti-FGM stance.

FGM has been legally banned in Kenya since 2011. But FGM is still practiced widely in Africa. Just this week police in Egypt arrested the parents and aunt of a 14-year-old girl who died while undergoing female genital mutilation. The doctor who performed the FGM was also held.

FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008, but the country still has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world. According to the UN children's agency, Unicef, 87% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years in Egypt have undergone FGM, with 50% of Egyptians believing it "is a religious requirement” although it is not.

FGM, although widespread in limited geographic areas, is opposed by the majority of Muslim scholars (ulema). Of the four schools of Sha'aria only the Shafii school of law, declares FGM wajib, or obligatory. In contrast, the other three Sunni schools, plus the Shia schools, consider FGM sunnah-recommended but not required.

FGM is not circumcision, but it is rather female genital mutilation, and comparing it to circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day.

However, Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance. But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule.

Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children. Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have forbidden ritual circumcision of males. These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.
This is part of a larger dilemma facing left-wing parties in Europe, which often struggle to balance their stated commitment to minority rights, with a pushy, self-righteous, secularist agenda that is perceived as intolerant by most members of minority religious groups.

It is totally false to compare the custom of female genital mutilation to the religious practice of male circumcision. First, while there are great medical benefits from removal of the foreskin of a male, especially in reducing the spread of HIV and other sexually spread diseases, there is no medical benefit at all to a female from the removal of her clitoris and labia.

In Africa, Jewish and Muslim men have much lower rates of AIDS than uncircumcised Christian men. A recent discovery is that uncircumcised men harbor more bacteria around the head of the penis than do circumcised men, and the mix of microbial species is decidedly different in the two groups. These changes in microbial numbers and diversity may explain why circumcised men are less likely to get infected with HIV.

Second, there is no evidence that female genital mutilation promotes chastity and preserves a woman's virtue. Having a considerate, loving and faithful husband does much more to promote a woman's virtue than female genital mutilation.

Third, male circumcision is a religious requirement. Female genital mutilation is only a tribal custom, originating in sub Sahara Africa, which is now being spread by Muslim religious extremists to Asia and the West as part of a reaction against the rising rate of girls going to high school and woman going to work outside the home.

Finally, and most important of all, male circumcision is derived from the God inspired practice of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Muhammad. “Abu al- Malih ibn Usama’s father relates that the Prophet said: ‘Circumcision is a law for men and a preservation of honor for women.’” (Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5:75)

And God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7): “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you... (8-12)

“And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding, and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17: 7-12a)

And Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah said (Qur'an 16:123) "Then We inspired you: 'Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith'."

And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision. Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God's will.

According to a Hadith, Prophet Muhammad said: "Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe." (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad)

Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons. Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: "The Prophet performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day." (Al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)

Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for all future generations.

For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham which is also celebrated each year during the annual Hajj ceremonies. For both Muslims and Jews circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God's commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons pain and suffering always lead eventually to great spiritual benefits.

Female genital mutilation is the exact opposite of circumcision both medically and religiously.

[Rabbi Allen S. Maller is a Reform Rabbi and Muslim Jew based in USA. His works can be seen on his website at www.rabbimaller.com. Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks. He can be reached at malleraj@aol.com]

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