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Friday, December 8, 2023

Muddy waters: FGM and Islam – issues, contradictions, motivations and conclusions 

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By Momodou Buharry Gassama
Stockholm, Sweden

Among the motivations put forward by practitioners of FGM is that tradition dictates the practice and that it is necessary for women to become married, as in societies where it is prevalent, men refuse to marry women who are intact or have not gone through the procedure. It is also a means to control women’s sexuality as intact women are viewed as promiscuous because the sensitivity of the clitoris makes women uninhibited. At the extreme level in some communities, women who have not gone through FGM are viewed as dishonourable prostitutes. In such communities, many believe that the clitoris connotes maleness and should therefore be removed. It is also believed that female genitalia are dirty and ugly and should be removed to ensure cleanliness and beauty. (Women’s Health Newsletter, March 1998) An important source of motivation for FGM is that it is performed for religious reasons, especially Islamic. Islamic religious leaders take various positions regarding the issue some supporting it, some considering it irrelevant whilst some work to end its practice. (“What are the origins and reasons for FGM?” fgmari.org)

 Proponents of FGM and a rising number of scholars have in recent years challenged the Western dominance in the discourse on the issue. The terminology used and the empirical claims and conclusions that define the standard narrative of FGM have been challenged. The WHO, a leading global standard-setting player on the issue, maintains that it is torture and a violation of a person’s human right to bodily integrity. The organisation believes that all medically unnecessary cutting of the external female genitalia, no matter how slight, is a violation of bodily integrity and that the practice should be banned. The organization has however, been criticised as targeting only nonWestern forms of FGM thus raising concerns about gender bias and cultural imperialism. Western practices classified as “unnecessary cutting practices or mutilation such as “cosmetic” genital procedures in Western countries, alterations of the clitoris or clitoral hood, including clitoral reshaping, clitoral unhooding, and clitoroplasty, alterations of the labia, including trimming of the labia minora and/or majora, also known as “labiaplasty”, alterations of the vaginal opening (with or without cutting of the clitoris), typified by narrowing of the vaginal opening, variously known as “vaginal tightening,” “vaginal rejuvenation,” or “husband stitch”, piercing, tattooing, pubic liposuction, and vulval fat injections” are not treated the way FGM  is treated, and are not as vehemently criticised. (“Current critiques of the WHO policy on female genital mutilation”, International Journal of Impotence Research) 

As mentioned above, one of the most important motivations forwarded for FGM is the religious, especially the Islamic. It is therefore important to look at what Islam says about FGM and the positions forwarded as justification for practicing it. “Fiqh” is the Arabic term for Islamic law and the literal translation is “to understand and to comprehend.” The technical definition however, is “the knowledge of practical legal rulings derived from their detailed evidences.” (Muhammad b. Salih al’Uthaymin, Sharh al-Usul min ‘Ilm al-Usul, www.salafiknowledge.com ) The primary sources of Islamic law are the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.  The Quran is Allah’s divine speech as revealed to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). The Sunnah refers to Prophet Muhammed’s (pbuh) actions, words and approvals. (Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence)  

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The Quran provides the methodological and hierarchical order of authority when it comes to Islamic law. Verse 59 of Surah An-Nisa states: “O believers! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. Should you disagree on anything, then refer it to God and His Messenger, if you ‘truly’ believe in God and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest resolution.” (The Holy Quran) As such, the four primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence that form the framework for the derivation of practical rulings, the usul al-fiqh, derive their legitimacy from verse 59 of Surah An-Nisa. This gives rise to four primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence; the Quran, Sunnah, Consensus and Analogical Reasoning. (Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic

Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence)  

A compilation of the verbal revelations given to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) over a period of over two decades, The Quran is the Holy Book of the Muslims. It is the foundation upon which the law and commandments, codes for social and moral behaviour and the comprehensive religious philosophy of Islam are based. Divided into 114 verses of varying lengths, the Quran’s text has remained unchanged for the past 1, 400 years. According to Syed Mumtaz Ali, the contents of the Holy Quran fall within seven broad categories: beliefs, laws, prophethood: how Allah guides, death and Resurrection, moral teachings, creation and nature and human history. (https://www.majesticquran.co.uk/) 

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The Sunnah, as stated above, refers to Prophet Muhammed’s (pbuh) actions, words and approvals. It “refers to any statements, actions, or implied approvals made by Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime that were captured and described within narrations and reports from his Companions known as Hadith. Furthermore, the Sunnah provides practical ways of implementing the general teachings outlined in the Quran. Specifically, regarding legal rulings, the Sunnah confirms, reiterates, explains, and clarifies the legal verses of the Quran, and also establishes rulings that are not expressly written in the Quran… Imam Abu Hanifah144 is reported to have said, “Had it not been for the Sunnah, none of us would have understood the Quran,” and Imam al-Shafi’i is reported to have said, “Everything the imams say is an explanation of the Sunnah, and the entire Sunnah is an explanation of the

Quran.”” (Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence) 

As mentioned above, the Hadith is a fundamental part of the Sunnah. A Hadith is composed of three parts: the “isnad” (chain of narrators), the “matn” (text of the hadith) and the “taraf” (introductory text that refers to the sayings, actions and characteristics of the Prophet (pbuh) or his approval of others’ actions) (www.islamic-awareness.org)  It is divided into five basic categorisations and they are: 

One, according to the reference to a particular authority. These references are:

o          “Qudsi” – Divine, i.e., directly sent by Allah to the Prophet (pbuh) who passed it on to his companions; 

o          “Marfu” – directly from the Prophet (pbuh); 

o          “Mauquf” – directly given by the Prophet (pbuh) to his companions who forwarded it

o          “Maqtu” – instruction that cannot be traced back to the Prophet (pbuh) but to one of his companions and this companion explained it in his own words. 

Two, according to the links of “isnad” or sequence of reporters 

o          “Musnad” – reported by a well-known companion of the Prophet (pbuh); 

o          “Muttasil” – one with unbroken sequence of reporters; 

o          “Mursal” – a Hadith quoted by the following generations directly in the name of the Prophet (pbuh) without naming any of the Companions;

o          “Munqati” – a Hadith that has one or more missing successive narrators;

o          “Mu’adal” – a Hadith that has two one or more missing successive narrators; 

o          “Mu’allaq” – a Hadith in which one or more narrators are not known are not known at the beginning of the sequence of reporters or none of the narrators are known.  

Three, according to the number of reporters. This is divided into:

o          “Mutawatir” – reported by such a large number of rightful companions that it is agreed that it is authentic;

o          “Ahad” – narrated by a countable number of people. Ahad is divided into three subcategories:    

o “Mash’hur” – reported by more than two individuals from each generation,           

o “Aziz” – a Hadith that has only two reporters in its sequence of reporters, 

o Gharib” – a Hadith that has only one narrator in its sequence of reporters. 

Four, according to the nature of the “matn” and “isnad”: 

o          “Munkar” is a Hadith that contradicts an authentic Hadith and belongs to a weak narrator;

o          “Mudraj” is an authentic Hadith in which a narrator adds additional words. 

Five, according to the authenticity of the reporters

o          “Sahih” – reported by a trustworthy reporter well-known for his / her trustworthiness, truthfulness,

knowledge and correct way of narrations;

o          “Hasan” – reporters are known and have good character but a weak memory;     

o          Da’if”/“Da’eef” – weak because of a shortcoming in the sequence of reporters

o          “Maudu” – fabricated, i.e., having wording opposite to the confirmed Prophetic traditions. (www.islam.org.uk)  

It can be deduced from the foregoing that a Hadith has to pass through rigorous tests to be qualified as authentic. This is important to note because the Hadiths that have been used to justify FGM will be examined based on their authenticity. 

For a Hadith to be considered Sahih or authentic, it has to be Mutawaatir (reported by so many people in each stage in the chain of narration that it is not conceivable that all of them could have agreed on a lie) or Sahih li dhaatihi (sound due to the corroborating evidence). Based on this, a Hadith is considered to be Sahih if it is narrated by men of good character known for their good memories and precision, has an unbroken chain of narration and is not faulty. (www.islamqa.com) This means that the authenticity of a Hadith is premised upon the following: its narrators are all of good character and of good memory and precision, the chain of narration is continuous and unbroken, it is not odd, i.e., it does not contain anything that contradicts the narration of a sound narrator and is free from faults i.e., anything that undermines the soundness of the Hadith. (www.islamqacom)

If for example, a Hadith is narrated three hundred years after the Prophet’s death, it has to be traced directly to the Prophet without any break in the chain of the narration. One person must have heard it from one person, who heard from another person and so on, all the way to the Prophet (pbuh). All these people must be trustworthy and truthful, of sound memory etc. If the character of any person in the chain of narration is questionable, the Hadith is not deemed to be authentic. If one of the narrators in the chain of narration had a child for example, who was crying and the narrator promised the child that he / she would buy sweets for him / her knowing that he / she (the narrator) would not do it but just wanted the child to be quiet, his / her narration would be questionable because he / she deliberately lied to the child thereby putting his character into disrepute.

The secondary sources of Islamic jurisprudence are:


It is defined as “the unanimous agreement of the mujtahids . . . in a specific era on a legal ruling.”

(Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence) To reach Consensus, Islamic scholars have agreed that six conditions must be met for juristic opinion to qualify as binding legal proof. These conditions are that the Consensus must be made between a group of jurists and not with just one or two people; it must be unanimous (a majority is not sufficient); the unanimous agreement must be made during the  period that the issue is transpiring; all the jurists must implicitly or explicitly express their opinions on the matter; each jurist who reaches Consensus must be upright (avoid major and minor sins, have sound beliefs, restrain himself when he is angry and adhere to common standards of observant Muslims in his locality ) and lastly, the rulings must be based upon proofs that have been transmitted through the Quran and the Sunnah. (Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence)

Qiyas or Analogical Reasoning

This is a legislative method only applicable when the legal ruling of a new case is unprecedented in the Quran, Sunnah or Consensus. Qiyas is defined by scholars as “the extension of a legal ruling from an existing case to a new case on the basis of a common effective cause.” (Zacky H. Sungkar, Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to

American Jurisprudence) Four elements must be met for a legal matter to be justiciable through

Analogical Reasoning: First, an original case whose ruling was derived from the Quran, Sunnah or Consensus must be present. Second, there must be a concrete cause that warrants the making of a new ruling. Third, there must be a new case with specific, unprecedented facts whose ruling has not been mentioned in the Quran, Sunnah or Consensus. Fourth, the ruling from the original case is applied to the new case. The four elements must be satisfied before an Islamic jurist can formulate his own legal opinion based on core Islamic values and legal principles. (Zacky H. Sungkar,

Foundations and Principles: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence & A Brief Comparison to American Jurisprudence)

After going through the sources and conditions of Islamic jurisprudence, let us look at FGM in the context of Islam and the religious arguments forwarded by its proponents. As the first primary source of Islamic jurisprudence, we would first look at the Quran. Is there any reference to FGM in it? There is no reference to FGM anywhere in the Quran. It can therefore not be a source for the justification of FGM.  (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) There are several verses on the contrary in the Quran that strongly condemn acts that negatively affect the human body or interfere with Allah’s creation without justification. Surah 30, verse 30 of the Quran states “… and there is no changing Allah’s creation. And that is the proper religion but many people do not know” while Surah 2, verse 195 states and, “… and make not your own hands contribute to your destruction”.  (Ibrahim

Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)

There is no Consensus on a specific legal ruling and there is no acceptable Analogical Reasoning.  (Dr.

Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) Among the four schools of thought, there is no Consensus regarding the status of the practice, but despite this, the Hanafi school believes that circumcision is Sunnah (an optional act) for both males and females, the Maliki school believes that it is wajib (obligatory) for males and Sunnah for females, the Shafi’i school believes that it is wajib (obligatory) for both males and females while the Hanbali school  has two views: (i) it is wajib (obligatory) for both (ii) it is wajib (obligatory) for males and makrumah (honourable) for females. Despite the fact that opinions of the classical scholars on the practice were based on Hadith references, they differed concerning the level of authenticity of the Hadith references. (One cut too many: Islamic Relief Policy Brief on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting) It is important to note that the scholars refer to female circumcision as this was before the definition of FGM was born and that the approved practice was the removal of the clitoral hood or covering. There is however some difference here too as some scholars interpret it to include the removal of the excess skin of the labia minora. A minority view, without support from the four schools of thought, has unfortunately over time decided that it includes partial or complete removal of the clitoris. There is no approval in any of the four schools of thought for the removal of the clitoris or for the mutilation of any other part of the female genitalia. (One cut too many: Islamic Relief Policy Brief on Female Genital

Mutilation/Cutting) Due to the lack of Consensus as demonstrated above, FGM cannot be justified using Consensus in Islam.

There is no support for the practice through Analogical Reasoning, which compares acts or situations with common features. For example, cocaine can be said to be forbidden in Islam because the Quran forbids the drinking of alcohol due to its intoxicating properties. As cocaine also has intoxicating properties, it can be deduced that it is also prohibited in Islam. Male circumcision is an Islamic act due to its undisputable basis in Islamic jurisprudence but female circumcision lacks such basis and is therefore not an act that has common features with male circumcision. Male circumcision is in conformity with Islamic teachings whilst female circumcision contradicts the teachings of Islam due to its harmful nature. In males, the part that is cut has no essential function whilst in females, functional parts are either removed, mutilated or interfered with. In male circumcision, the extent of the part that is removed is clearly stipulated and universally accepted by Muslims whilst in female circumcision/FGM, it is left to the discretion of the practitioner to decide what to remove and how

much. (Ibrahim Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital

Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) Analogical Reasoning can therefore not be used as a basis to justify FGM in Islam.

Since FGM has no legal basis based on the first, third and fourth foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, can it said to have basis in the Sunnah? FGM’s proponents have argued that there is support for it in the Sunnah through various Hadiths attributed to the Prophet (pbuh). Allah has ordered Muslims to follow the Prophet’s (pbuh) example as Surah 33, verse 21 states: “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example to follow…” If authentic evidence is present that the Prophet practiced FGM or that he approved of it, then it becomes a tradition that the Muslims become obligated to follow, or that it becomes a recommendation or an option for them. 

Sunnah has three categories. The first is what the Prophet (pbuh) approved. There is no evidence from the authentic Hadith that the Prophet (pbuh) approved of FGM. What there is evidence for is that the Prophet (pbuh) approved of male circumcision as one of his companions Ibnu Abass (RA) was circumcised. There is also evidence in the authentic Hadith that the Prophet (pbuh) said “whenever a man becomes a Muslim, he must be circumcised” thereby ordering all Muslim males to be circumcised. There is no such order or approval for females. (Ibrahim Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)

The second category of Sunnah is the Prophet’s (pbuh) deeds. Despite the fact that the Prophet’s (pbuh) biography is accurately and authentically recorded, there is no evidence that any female member of his household or those of his companions were circumcised. There is however evidence that he circumcised his grandsons as reported by his wife Aisha when she narrated that “the Prophet circumcised Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein on the seventh day after their birth.” (Ibrahim Lethome Asmani and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)

The third category of Sunnah is the Prophet’s (pbuh) words. Anytime Allah inspires the Prophet (pbuh) to speak words with religious implications, they form part of the Sunnah. This is how many religious practices became established as a result of the Prophet’s (pbuh) sayings that in turn become part of Islamic jurisprudence. Allah says of the Prophet (pbuh) in the Quran: “… Nor does he speak of (his own) desire” (Surah 53, verse 3) and “… it is only a revelation revealed.” (Surah 53, verse 4).” (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) There is no authentic proof that the Prophet (pbuh) made statements approving of FGM.

Therefore, FGM does not have legal grounding in Islam and cannot be justified based on Sunnah.

It is important to note that not everything attributed to the Prophet (pbuh) is authentic. Islam’s enemies and those with ulterior motives have fabricated Hadiths that they attribute to the Prophet (pbuh). That is why there is a scientific method to verify Hadith. Six collections of Hadith are in Islam deemed the most important. When it comes to authenticity, the following order is generally accepted though some parts of the order may differ according to the school of thought: Sahih Bukhari, collected by Imam Bukhari; Sahih Muslim, collected by Muslim b. al-Hajjaj; Sunan al-Sughra, collected by al-Nasa’I; Sunan Abu Dawood, collected by Abu Dawood; Sahih al-Tirmidhi, collected by Im?m Abu `Isa Muhammad at-Tirmidh?, Sunan ibn Majah, collected by Ibn Majah. (Wikipedia) The two most authentic books of Hadith in order are that of Bukhari and that of his student Muslim. Sahih Bukhari is deemed the most authentic book after the Quran. Apart from all the other stipulations required for an authentic Hadith, Imam Bukhari insisted that a narrator must have met the narrator he is narrating a Hadith from all the way to the Prophet. Imam Muslim on the other hand, did not have that requirement. It was sufficient to accept a Hadith narration if the narrator lived in the same period and it was possible for him / her to have met the narrator from whom he / she heard the narration. (www.aboutislam.net)

The first Hadith forwarded by proponents of female circumcision/FGM as justification for the practice is the Hadith of Ummu-Attiya. In this Hadith, it is reported that a woman called Ummu-Attiya who lived in Medina, performed circumcision and the Prophet told her “Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband”. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) Several versions of this Hadith exist and all of them have been deemed weak due to the fact that its chain of narration is weak and there is a conflict in its meaning. The word “ashimmi” that is used to denote circumcision has several meanings such as “to massage with something soft like oil,” “to leave something raised,” “to kiss,” “to smell” or “to place one thing upon another.” Proponents of FGM have taken the word to mean cutting a bit of the clitoris even though the word does not have such meaning. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam)

Abu Dawood commented on this Hadith and pointed out that it is weak because there is an interruption in its chain of narration and one of its narrators, Mohamed Ibn Hassan, is anonymous. This is significant because as mentioned above, Abu Dawood is the author of the third of the six authoritative collections of Hadith. His classification of a Hadith as weak means that it did not pass the standards established to classify a Hadith as authentic. Imam Shams Al Din Al Haq Al Azim Abady,

Ibn ‘Ahdy and Al Baqihy all concurred with Abu Dawwod that the Hadith is weak because of

Mohamed Ibn Hassan’s anonymity. According to Al Hafez Abdel Ghany ibn Said, Mohamed Ibn Hassan was crucified for being an atheist and unreliable. He was a liar and scholars have said that he fabricated 4,000 Hadith, falsely attributing them to the Prophet (pbuh). (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) In his study of female circumcision, renowned scholar Dr. Mohammad Lotfy Al Sabbagh, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Riyad, wrote: “Consider those two honourable Imams, Abu Dawoud and Al Iraqi, who have described the Hadith as weak, and disregard those who maintain it is authentic”. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam)

Assuming for the sake of argument that this Hadith is authentic even though it is not, the cutting or harming of the clitoris itself is prohibited. According to www.aljumuah.com, “this phrasing (ashimmi) must be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not removing the clitoris itself. The word ashimmi used here in fact derives from the root word sh – m, which literally means ‘to take a whiff,’ thus implying here a delicate stroke of surgical steel (over the clitoris to remove its skin). La tanhaki specifies ‘do not cut deeply’, ‘do not uproot’ —which is a prohibition against doing harm to the clitoris. Thus, it is very clear that the Prophet ? commanded that those who perform Islamic female circumcision were to remove only the clitoral prepuce and forbade them from harming the clitoris itself.” (www.aljumuah.com/circumcision-for-the-muslim-womanpart-1-of-2) Based on the above, FGM cannot be justified in Islam based on the first Hadith.

The second Hadith is that of Al-Hajjaj ibnu Arta in which the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said “Alkhitaanu (translated as ‘circumcision’) is sunnah for men and an honour (makrumah) for women.” Two interpretations of this Hadith arise. While the proponents of FGM interpret it as an honourable act for females, those who do not support the practice interpret it as Sunnah for men to be circumcised and an honour for women to be married to a circumcised man. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)

The Hadith is deemed weak because the Arabic word that is used, “khitaan”, is interpreted by proponents of FGM to mean general circumcision thereby applying it to FGM. It however strictly refers to male circumcision. The Arabic word for FGM is “khifaad”. Apart from that, the Hadith is deemed weak because one of the narrators in the chain of narration, Al-Hajjaaj bin Artaa, is deemed dishonest according to Hadith experts. There is also a conflict regarding who actually recorded the Hadith. Zainul-Abedeen Al-Iraqi in his commentary on Ihyaa Uloom al-Deen’ (Revival of the Religious Sciences) by Al-Ghazaliy, said: “Besides the defects mentioned by other scholars on the Hadith, some scholars are of the view that this Hadith is invalid (Baatil), a fabrication (Maudhuu) and a lie

(makdhuub) besides being weak (dhaeef)”. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)

In his commentary on “The Revival of Religious Sciences”, Al Hafez Al Iraqi described the Hadith as weak. Imam Al Bahiqi, Ibn Abu Hatem, and Ibn Al Barr also described the Hadith as weak. Al Hafez Ibn Hagar also deems the Hadith weak in his book “Talkhees Al Khabeer Fi Takhreej Ahadith Al Rafi’e Al Kabeer”. Imam Al Baqihy concurs in another commentary. Ibn Abdel Barr and Al Hafez Ibn Hagar both deem the narrator Al-Hajjaaj bin Artaa as unreliable. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) As such the Hadith cannot be the legal basis for Islamic rulings with all its flaws and the dishonesty of its narrator. If the Prophet (pbuh) wanted circumcision to be obligatory or a Sunnah for both men and women, the language would have been clear. He would have said that circumcision is either obligatory or Sunnah for both men and women or simply said that circumcision is obligatory or circumcision is Sunnah and it would have by extension had the effect meant. The second Hadith can therefore not be a legal Islamic justification for FGM.

The third Hadith is that of Abdalla ibnu Umar. In this Hadith, it is stated that the women of Al-Ansar (Medina) were enjoined to practice female circumcision. This Hadith is deemed weak by scholars such as Ash-Shaukany to due to the presence of Mindal ibnu Ali and ibnu Addy in its chain of transmitters who are deemed to be weak narrators. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) Al Shawkani holds the same view. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) The third Hadith cannot be used as a justification for FGM in Islam due to its weak nature and the weakness of the two people mentioned in its chain of narrators.

The fourth Hadith is that of Aisha (RA). In this Hadith, it is reported that Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said that “if the two circumcisions (al-khitaanani) meet (il-tiqaa), then it is obligatory to take ghusl (ritual bath)”. Another narration states that Aisha (RA) said that Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “if he settles between her four limbs then the two circumcisions touch (mass) then it is obligatory to take ghusl.” This is an authentic Hadith found in both Sahih Muslim and Tirmidhi and others. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) Because of the authenticity of the Hadith, proponents of female circumcision/FGM have used it to argue that it legitimises the practice because the “two circumcisions” refers to the circumcised male and female organs. Is the interpretation however, correct? 

In the Arabic language, when two things are at times named together, the most prominent or familiar of the two is used to refer to both. It is understood that walidan or abawan (literally, two fathers) refers to both the father and mother. Qamaran (two moons) refers to the moon and the sun.  (www.fiqhcouncil.org/fatwa-on-female-circumcision) Isha’ayn, meaning the two Isha, refers to Maghrib and Isha prayers. Zhuhrayn refers to Zhuhr and Asr prayers. (www.exploringislam.com/female-circumcision-analysis-of-the-hadiths.html) Al Omaran (the two Omars) refers to Abu Bakr and Omar. Al Bahran as mentioned in the Quran refers to both the river and the sea, one with sweet water and one with salty water. Al Marwatan refers to Al Safa and Marwa hills in Mecca. Al Asfaran (the two yellow things) refers to gold and silk even though silk can come in various colours. (Dr. Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, FGM in the context of Islam) Given that the Arabic language at times uses two words and the most prominent is mentioned as in the case of the Hadith, there is ambiguity as to whether the “two circumcisions” refers to both the male and female private organs or only the male organ. The “two circumcisions” cannot therefore be used as legitimising female circumcision/FGM. At any rate, the issue in the Hadith is not the issue of circumcision but the obligation to perform ghusl when the two sexual organs meet and sexual intercourse occurs. As such, it is found in the books of ritual cleanliness in books of Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. What many scholars have pointed out is that the Hadith should not be interpreted literally because the mere meeting of the male and female sexual organs does not warrant ghusl. Ghusl becomes obligatory when penetration occurs or there is ejaculation. Moreover, “khitaan”, which is the root word used, means male circumcision in Arabic. It takes the form “khitaanani” or “circumcisions” due to the style of Arabic language used in the Hadith and does not literally mean two circumcisions. The fact that there is no evidence of FGM/C or female circumcision from the household of the Prophets further indicates that it is not encouraged in Islam. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) The fourth Hadith can therefore not be used to justify female circumcision/FGM.

The fifth Hadith is the Hadith of Abu Hureira. In this Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said “Five are among the natural dispositions (fitra) to be observed by Muslims. These are: alkhitaan, shaving of the pubic hair, trimming the moustache, cutting nails and plucking of the hair under the armpits.” This Hadith is in the Hadith collections of Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, An-Nasai, Ahmad and Tirmidhi and is authentic. (Ibrahim Lethome and Maryam Sheikh Abdi, De-linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam) The interpretation to justify female circumcision/FGM is however, faulty. The five natural dispositions are not equally applied to both males and females. Shaving the public hair, cutting the nails and plucking the hair under the armpits apply to both sexes. Women do not naturally grow moustaches and this natural disposition therefore does not apply to them. It, together with circumcision (khitaan – male circumcision) only apply to males. Surah 16, verse 123 of the Quran “…and we revealed to you (Oh Muhammad) to follow the milat (religion) of Ibrahim” supports the fact that “khitaan” is only meant for males. It is the tradition of Prophet Ibrahim, who according to Islam, is the first human to have performed circumcision on himself, for males to be circumcised. (Mohammed Saqib Anwar, Farhan Munawar, and Qashif Anwar, Circumcision: a religious obligation or ‘the cruellest of cuts’?) It is however not the tradition for females to be circumcised. If this Hadith was meant to be applied to both males and females, the Prophet (pbuh) would have practiced it and it would have been practiced by all his Companions, all Muslims of his time and the early Muslim generations and would thus have been reported.

After looking at the Hadiths that have been used by proponents of FGM to justify the practice, one can deduce that Islam does not condone FGM (female circumcision) and the practice is not Islamic but rather a tradition that predates Islam. There is no evidence that Prophet Muhammed’s (pbuh) wives and daughters were subjected to the practice. It would therefore have been contradictory for him to order Muslim women to undergo the practice without applying it to his household and those of his Companions etc. What is widely known is the circumcision of his grandsons and he practiced it on them. There is also no evidence that any of the other prophets subjected the female members of their households to the practice. 

The teachings of Islam contradict FGM. There is no single verse in the Quran that supports FGM. It in fact contradicts the Islamic principle of not doing harmful things to oneself or others, putting girls’ and women’s lives at unnecessary risk and altering and mutilating a healthy and functioning part of the female anatomy for non-medical reasons. The Hadiths that have been forwarded as supporting the practice have been shown to be either unauthentic and weak for various reasons or wrongly interpreted. There is no Consensus among the scholars; there is no unanimity among the Islamic schools of jurisprudence as to whether the practice is compulsory, Sunnah, preferable etc. FGM cannot be justified through Analogical Reasoning since male and female circumcision are not acts with common features. It is therefore a case of “clutching at straws” to try to legally justify female circumcision/FGM in Islam.

Proponents cite cultural reasons for practicing FGM. Islam confirms as Islamic, cultural practices that are in conformity with its teachings but condemns cultural acts that contradict its teachings. Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, female infanticide was a widespread phenomenon. Female children were buried alive, some even the moment they were born. Since it was a practice that went against the principles of Islam, it became forbidden when Islam was established. Unislamic cultural practices cannot be rooted in or purported to be justified in Islam since they contradict the teachings of the religion. 

Female circumcision/FGM interferes with or curtails women’s rights to sexual enjoyment and this is unislamic. Islam does not forbid sex between husband and wife as long as it is done as prescribed but female circumcision/FGM adversely affects the women’s enjoyment of rights guaranteed by Islam. Surah 16, verse 97 of the Quran states: “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” Genitally mutilating women definitely goes against their right to good life. Men who oppress or maltreat women are admonished in Surah 4, verse 19 of the Quran. Subjecting women to the cruel act of female circumcision/FGM is an oppression of women in mostly patriarchal societies where practices subjugating them abound. 

It is against Islam and natural justice to punish people in anticipation that they are going to commit a crime. Punishing girls and women because it is feared that they will commit fornication punishes them for a crime that they have not yet committed and many, if not most women in Islamic societies, forced to go through female circumcision/FGM, would probably not have committed the anticipated crime. Female circumcision/FGM is no guarantee of chastity and assuming that going through the practice means that circumcised women would not be promiscuous, is a false premise. There are many variables to the sexual behaviour of women and singling out not going through FGM as the culprit is at best baseless. 

FGM also violates women’s human rights such as the right to life, the right to a healthy body, the right to lead a healthy life, the right to sex, the right to make a choice and the right to worship. Unnecessarily interfering with the natural functions of the human body cannot be justified by the unscientific and dubious claims of medical benefits of FGM. What is interesting is that the main proponents or the most vocal propagators of FGM, at least in the Gambian context, are men who do not possess the female organ that is being cut. Would the conversation have been the same, or as vociferously propagated, if the question was whether a bit of or all of the head of the male genitalia was to be cut for non-medical reasons? Men do not feel the pain of female circumcision/FGM or its devastating side effects, nor can they do so by proxy. As such, they should not be the ones leading the conversation on the practice.

A devastating aspect of female circumcision/FGM especially against young girls, is the betrayal of the people they trust the most. When they are being led to be circumcised/mutilated, most are not told the truth. They are not told that they are going to be circumcised/mutilated. They are rather told that they are going to do pleasant things only to discover to their horror, that they are forcefully held down by adults they don’t know and violated in the most devastating manner. This is a betrayal of the highest magnitude and many are left scarred for life. The acts of betrayal and lying are serious sins in Islam and trying to justify female circumcision/FGM whilst committing serious sins in the process exposes a hypocrisy that in itself undermines the attempt to legally justify the practice in Islam. Lying is condemned in the Quran. Verse 39 of Surah az-Zumar in the Quran states: “Surely Allah does not guide him aright who is a liar, ungrateful.” In verse 24:8, Surah An-Nur, it is stated:

“The liar is eligible for divine curse and Allah (S.w.T.) causes His retribution to descend upon him.” The Prophet is reported to have said: “Avoid speaking falsehood, because it is a kind of evil and transgression. And both of them belong to Hell.” (www.al-islam.org)

As has been established, female circumcision/FGM is an unislamic practice that has devastating consequences for those who undergo the operation. In other words, there is no legal justification in Islam. Medically, there is no justification. Proponents cite cultural reasons but cultural practices that go against the teachings of Islam are deemed unislamic. Cultural practices that have negative consequences on members of society should be eliminated. The state has a responsibility to ensure that all members of society are protected. The Gambia Government’s decision to ban female circumcision/FGM was a progressive move that earned the country international recognition. It is sad and worrying that members of the National Assembly and politicians are talking about tampering with the law. This should be resisted. All stakeholders and concerned citizens should engage the government to ensure that the law banning female circumcision/FGM is not repealed or tampered with at the expense of the women and especially the children of The Gambia.

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