Hadiths on Female Circumcision (FGM)

Bismillah. Further to Quilliam’s press release last week against the call to reintroduce female circumcision (FGM) in the Maldives, here are further thoughts on the issue, including a discussion of hadiths about the subject:

1. FGM is a cultural practice that was known in pre-Islamic Arabia. It is also found in parts of Africa.

2. FGM has no religious Islamic sanction – there are just two traditions on the subject, both of which are strongly disputed, with many jurists throughout history discounting them as having nothing to do with the Prophet of Islam.

There are two hadiths in the Sunan collections (medium-level authenticity) relevant here. To paraphrase, these two hadiths say, “Cut, but don’t cut too much” and “Female circumcision is a way of honouring (!) women.”

The isnads (chains of narration) of these two hadiths are acknowledged to be weak, including by the Sheikh Albani. However, regrettably, Albani judged that the two hadiths support each other and that they are therefore sound (hasan). This judgment is quoted by many writers, including the influential Saudi scholar al-‘Arifi/’Urayfi in his “Etiquettes of Welcoming the Newborn in Islam” (Adab Istiqbal al-Mawlud fil Islam), to support FGM. [Note that thousands of copies of the latter book in Arabic were distributed for free in the UK by salafist organisations.]

However, the UK-based British-Iraqi Sheikh Abdullah al-Judai vehemently disagrees with Albani about this, declaring these hadiths to be seriously weak and FGM to be a custom not approved by Islam. [See Postscript below for more details.]

Here, it is worth analysing three claims made in the recent Lapido Media article on Maldives FGM (http://www.lapidomedia.com/node/3987):

(a) “the four Sunni schools approved of female circumcision”

This may well be the case, because of the above hadiths being accepted by jurists without scrutiny, although many Hadith scholars pointed out their weakness. Like the blasphemy and apostasy laws of medieval Islam, FGM became a theoretical juristic position even though it was rarely practiced. These issues need to be addressed by the proponents of so-called “traditional Islam” (that is actually mediaeval Islam), of both the madhhabist and salafist varieties.

(b) “one reason for this was to reduce women’s sexual appetite”

Ibn Taymiyyah certainly says so, and endorses it. He goes on to claim that “non-Muslim women, being uncircumcised, have excessive sexual desire.” (Ibn Taymiyyah, Fatawa al-Nisa’ or Jurisprudential Pronouncements relating to Women.) Other mediaeval jurists, also known for their xenophobia and misogyny notwithstanding positive qualities in other aspects, probably agreed with him.

(c) [A Maldivian cleric] quotes a hadith of the collection by Prophet Mohammed’s wife, Aisha, as saying, ‘A bath becomes obligatory if one sleeps with your wife and the circumcised parts touch each other.’ The cleric concludes: ‘The word circumcision has been applied to both men and women here. The hadith demonstrates that women must be circumcised as well.’

This hadith may be more sound but, as Sheikh Judai states, it contains no approval of (male or female) circumcision, merely providing a factual description. To claim that this hadith obliges FGM (“women must be circumcised”) is an example of very poor and flawed logic and juristic reasoning.

3. The fact that FGM is cultural, not religious, is obvious from two matters: (i) it is/was known in non-Muslim communities in Arabia and parts of Africa; (ii) female circumcision is a very rare practice in the Muslim world, unlike male circumcision that is universal in Muslim societies.

4. The hadith (of 40 Nawawi) and fundamental Sharia principle of outlawing harm (la darar wa la dirar), that is based on numerous Qur’anic verses, dictates a total Islamic ban on FGM today, now that the medical, physiological, sexual, emotional and psychological harms are indisputable. This is the position of Al-Azhar and other institutions.

5. We should welcome the recent tougher legislation and enforcement against FGM in the UK and commend the campaign of the young British-Somali woman from Bristol in this regard. We should note also that there a number of British clerics who are stuck in a mediaeval mindset and poor understanding of the hadiths and fiqh (jurisprudence) who openly promote FGM and regard it as “preferable” because of what is written in centuries-old human texts. I hope that these clerics will reconsider their positions, both intellectually and societally.

6. The literalist, fundamentalist thinking behind this call in the Maldives has also given rise to the same cleric’s insistence on the reintroduction of ancient hudud punishments such as amputation and flogging, that have no place in modern society. These punishments were abolished by the scholars and sultans of the Ottoman Empire in the 1850’s, but have been reintroduced in Muslim-majority countries by literalists in the 20th and 21st centuries.

7. An example of the danger of the above is the case of the 15-year old Maldivian girl who was sentenced to flogging for fornication, even though she was the victim of rape and sexual abuse by her stepfather. This sentence under the regressive hudud laws was only overturned after a year-long international uproar and campaign (eg https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/maldives-girl-rape-victim-be-spared-outrageous-flogging-sentence-2013-08-21), in which I served as Avaaz’s consultant on Islamic law in 2013. And, of course, there have been many similar contemporary cases under hudud laws in Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries.

Usama Hasan
London, UK
19th March 2014

Postscript: In 2004 I attended some sessions near Watford (UK) of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, as an observer. The scholars present included Sheikhs Ibn Bayyah, Qaradawi, Judai, Faysal Mawlawi, Qarahdaghi, Anas Abu Ghuddah, Suhaib Hasan and others.

The FGM issue came up. A French-Arab cleric had written in his submission that FGM was recommended, based on the hadiths discussed above (no. 2). Sheikh Judai disagreed vehemently, stating that FGM is not a sunnah and declaring that “These hadiths are utterly weak, even though Sheikh Albani, whom I venerate in Hadith studies, authenticated them!” No other scholar contradicted Judai in that session. I asked him afterwards about the “circumcised parts meeting” hadith: he immediately replied that it contains no promotion of FGM, being merely a description (cf. 2c above).

As Imam Ghazzali said, as quoted by Ibn Bayyah, nine-tenths (90%) of juristic understanding is to understand society and other contextual realities. Even total mastery of the scriptural texts (Qur’an and Hadith) comprises no more than one tenth (10%) of jurisprudence.

Muslim clerics and jurists need to develop deeper understanding of scripture as well as human nature and society before pronouncing on critical issues and promoting harmful rules and laws for entire populations in the name of God.

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone http://www.blackberry.com

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11 Responses to “Hadiths on Female Circumcision (FGM)”

  1. ortega Says:

    FGM became a theoretical juristic position even though it was rarely practiced.

    20% of Muslims live in Indonesia, and the majority practice it.

    This may well be the case, because of the above hadiths being accepted by jurists without scrutiny, although many Hadith scholars pointed out their weakness.

    Based on what I’ve seen, the evidence among hadeeth that supports male circumcision isn’t any stronger than that which supports female. They’re often exactly the same hadeeth. I don’t think it’s coherent to support one practice based on hadeeth and not the other.

  2. Ron Low Says:

    Why protect only females? Since genital cutting is not mentioned in the glorious Qur’an, let us dispense with ALL forced genital cutting.

  3. Sohail Says:

    Reblogged this on easygoingcarefree and commented:
    Amazing article.

  4. Ahmed Says:

    There are many sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam. Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).
    He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.
    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.
    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”
    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.
    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).
    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.
    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).
    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).
    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.
    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.
    Another good reason why women need a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision). It can prevent cancer arising from oral sex. Here’s an interesting news item:
    US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.
    Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why.”
    It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the part that harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.
    For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see http://www.umatia.org/2011/Safe%20Female%20circumcision.doc

  5. tlc tugger Says:

    NOT ONE WORD about genital cutting in the Qur’an, the final revealed word of Allah.

  6. Pepe P Says:

    I read all that and Ahmeds diatribes blelow.. This religion business is clearly a very serious illness and I honestly think you all need intensive psychiatric care.

  7. Ahmed Says:

    You westerners are so hypocritical. You are willing to uphold male circumcision because its Jewish, but condemn Islamic female circumcision despite its many benefits as shown above.

    • FayAara Says:

      Their is no benefit ever , I have a friend who suffered female circumcision and now has severe anxiety and depression, she is incapable of being close to her male counterparts who are direct family. So Ahmed think about this if Doing your eyebrows , getting a tattoo , suicide , smoking is prohibited shouldn’t something that takes away what makes you human ? I refuse to believe Allah SWT would allow such violation.

  8. don Says:

    @Ahmed your comment is absurd! are you crazy? are you really defending FGM? you are sick! chopping off a girl’s parts! go look up the effects of it! how many kids die at childbirth! you are sick
    youre a shame

  9. Ahmed Says:

    Hi Don/Pepe

    You people are so crazy. You’re jumping to conclusions without even properly reading what I sent.

    It is clear that the proper Islamic procedure is like male circumcision. It’s only the prepuce of the clitoris (the equivalent of the foreskin in males) that is removed. Like male circumcision it confers numerous health benefits as detailed in the article.

    If you cannot even understand this, I think you’re sick, you’re sick and you’re blind, because none are so blind as those who refuse to see!

  10. tlc tugger Says:

    Ahmed, cut yuor genitals if you are persuaded of benefits or compelled by your version of faith, but no medical association (not even Israel’s IMA) endorses genital cutting for children. Read the throrough and rational policy of the Dutch Medical Association: http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Publicaties/KNMGpublicatie/77942/Nontherapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-2010.htm

    Bottom line: “absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.”

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