Cut the Clitoral Relativism: Islam, Sharia, and Female Genital Mutilation/“Circumcision”
Despite their ongoing antagonisms—played out, prominently, on Fox News—a bizarre, shared apologetic has emerged which denies the irrefragable sanctioning of female genital mutilation/“circumcision” (FGM/C) by canonical Islamic tradition (“hadith”), and over 1100 years of authoritative, mainstream Islamic jurisprudence. The strange bedfellow antagonists engaged in these overlapping apologetics about FGM/C are the Clarion Foundation and its film “Honor Diaries,” allied with the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation (Ms. Ali is also listed as the film’s executive producer), “versus” the Hamas-linked cultural jihadist organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Fox News has served as overseer of this “conflict” cum consensus, while also reinforcing the fallacy that FGM/C is simply a tragic manifestation of misogynistic patriarchal trends that are generic, and have “no basis” in Islam and the Sharia, Islamic law.
Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR issued the following statement (which Fox News host Megyn Kelly aired on her broadcast), that melds Islamic negationism (in bold, below), with vitriol against the Clarion Foundation-produced film:
American Muslims join people of conscience of all faiths in condemning female genital mutilation, forced marriages, “honor killings” and any other form of domestic violence or gender inequality as violations of Islamic beliefs. If anyone mistreats women, they should not seek refuge in Islam. The real concern in this case is that the producers of the film, who have a track record of promoting anti-Muslim bigotry, are hijacking a legitimate issue to push their hate-filled agenda.
Notwithstanding the obsessive focus on Hooper/CAIR’s predictably gratuitous attack against the producers of “Honor Diaries,” what has been deliberately obfuscated by conservative supporters of the film are mirror image statements denying the centrality of Islamic doctrine such as this blatantly false Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation website pronouncement:
FGM has no foundation in Islamic scripture or law.
Quanta Ahmed, a protagonist in “Honor Diaries,” appearing in one of Megyn Kelly’s Fox News segments on the “CAIR vs. bold filmmakers controversy,” made a Goebbel’s-like inversion of morality. Ahmed not only denied Islam’s sanctioning of FGM in “Honor Diaries,” claiming, falsely, “Female genital mutilation is not advocated in Islam in any way shape or form,” during her March 31, 2014 interview with Megyn Kelly she compounded her mendacity with the morally perverse observation that,
the most Islamic act is to expose this injustice
This shared mendacity by current antagonists CAIR, Clarion, the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, and Dr. Quanta Ahmed, deliberately obfuscates, as but one salient example, the following canonical hadith (“tradition” of Muhammad) which sanctions FGM/C:
Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah said: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: “Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” [Sunan Abu Dawud, Chapter 1888, “Circumcision of Girls”, Number 5251, from Sunan Abu Dawud, one of the six canonical hadith collections, English translation with Explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan, 2007, Volume III, p. 1451; this hadith is also available online here, as Book 41, Number 5251]
Professor Hasan’s note adds the following observations:
Some Shafii scholars hold that circumcision of girls is obligatory, but others think that it is recommended. Ahmad b. Hanbal and some Maliki jurists hold that it is obligatory. Abu Hanifah maintains that it is recommended and not obligatory. Mali holds that it is recommended and not obligatory.
The great Muslim theologian and polymath al-Jahiz (d. 869), citing the canonical tradition of Muhammad, noted that female circumcision was specifically employed as a means to reduce female “concupiscence,” unbridled lust—or mere sexual pleasure, derived from a fully intact clitoris:
A woman with a clitoris has more pleasure than a woman without a clitoris. The pleasure depends on the quantity which was cut from the clitoris. Muhammad said, “If you cut, cut the slightest part and do not exaggerate because it makes the face more beautiful and it is more pleasing for the husband.” It seems Muhammad wanted to reduce the concupiscence of the women to moderate it. If concupiscence is reduced, the pleasure is also reduced…The love of the husband is an impediment against debauchery. Judge Janab Al-Khaskhash contends that he counted in one village the number of women who were circumcised and those who were not, and he found that the circumcised were chaste and the majority of the debauched were uncircumcised. Indian, Byzantine, and Persian women often commit adultery and run after men because their concupiscence towards men is greater. For this reason, India created brothels. This happened because of the massive presence of their clitorises and their hoods. [Al-Jahiz, Kitab al-hayawan, Vol. 7, pp. 27-29]
This argument is repeatedly invoked by classical Muslim jurists, and remains at present the most commonly cited rationale for circumcision of Muslim women. For example, here are two opinions from respected Al-Azhar clerics/“Professors,” Al Azhar University and its mosque representing the pinnacle of Sunni Islamic religious education, the de facto Vatican of Sunni Islam. The first observation was by the late Jad al-Haq (d. 1996) who served as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and as such was a Sunni Muslim Papal equivalent.
Al-Haq insisted the present era makes female circumcision requisite,
because of mixing of the sexes at public gatherings. If the girl is not circumcised, she subjects herself to multiple causes of excitation leading her to vice and perdition. [Jad al-Haq, 1983, Khitan al-banat, in: Al-fatawi al-islamiyyah min dar al-ifta al-masriyyah, Vol. 9, p. 3124, translated here]
Abd al-Rahman Al-Adawi, al-Azhar Professor, writing in 1989, noted that female circumcision is makrumah—a meritorious action. He further claimed the procedure helped the woman,
remain shy and virtuous. In the Orient, where the climate is hot, a girl gets easily aroused if she is not circumcised. It makes her shameless and prey to her sexual instincts except those to whom Allah shows compassion. [from Al-khitan, ra’y al-din wal-‘ilm fi khitan al-awlad wal-banat, 1989, pp 81-2, translated here]
If a region stops, of common agreement, to practice male and female circumcision, the chief of the state declares war [jihad] against that region because circumcision is a part of the rituals of Islam and its specificities
Former Al-Azhar Grand Imam Jad al-Haq also insisted repeatedly (twice in a 1981 fatwa, and three times in a fatwa published during 1994; [see Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, Male and Female Circumcision—Religious, medical, social, and legal debate, 2012, p. 173]) that the attempt to prevent female (or male) circumcision was grounds for waging jihad against those renouncing and abrogating the procedures. The October 1994 issue of the magazine Al-Azhar included a booklet distributed as a free appendix. The booklet contained Grand Imam al-Haq’s fatwa whose main elements had already been published in 1981. In this “updated” 1994 fatwa, al-Haq affirmed the call for jihad thrice, reiterating verbatim the opinion of the 13th century jurist al-Musili, and adding his own gloss about the obligatory nature of female and male circumcision (translation, p. 347),
If a region stops, of common agreement, to practice male and female circumcision, the chief of the state declares war [jihad] against that region because circumcision is a part of the rituals of Islam and its specificities. This means that male and female circumcisions are obligatory.
Given such authoritative and adamant Islamic endorsement, it is unsurprising that Egypt’s FGM/C rate persisted at 91% as reported in a July, 2013 UNICEF analysis. Indeed UNICEF’s own attempt to obfuscate the association between Islam and FGM/C was thwarted by the data adduced within the report which underscored the overwhelming predominance of this practice in Islamic societies (such as Somalia, FGM/C rate of 98%; Sudan FGM/C rate of 88%), and even Muslim minority populations within multi-religious societies. Moreover, the UNICEF survey curiously omitted the largest Muslim nation (and population) altogether: Indonesia.
The origins, rationale (i.e., notably a predominance of the Shafi’ite school of Sunni Islamic law—as in Egypt, with its 91% rate of FGM/C), and apparent near universal present extent of FGM/C among young Indonesian Muslim woman by age 18 is a case study which puts the lie to the apologetic—and corrosive—mindset that seeks to willfully dissociate FGM/C from Islam.
Circumcision is obligatory for our men and women.
Mohamad Atho Mudzhar’s 1990 PhD dissertation, “Fatwas of the Council of Indonesian Ulama: A study of Islamic legal thought in Indonesia, 1975-1988,” includes this relevant observation about his native country:
Indonesian Muslims have always claimed themselves to be Shafi’is…. At the theologico-doctrinal level, Indonesian Muslims are the followers of the Shafi'i school of Islamic law…most of them are aware of their adherence to the Shafi’i school of Islamic law.
The rigorous analyses of Dutch ethnographer G.A. Wilken (1847-1891), and Dutch historian B.J.O. Schrieke (writing in 1921/1922), concluded a century (or more) ago that female circumcision was introduced by Islam to the vast Indonesian archipelago, because the practice was present only in Islamized regions. They further noted female circumcision was absent in the regions not yet (i.e., as of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) penetrated by Islam or, at that time, only superficially Islamized.
Wilken’s article entitled : “De besnijdenis bij de volken van den Indischen Archipel,” (“Circumcision in the nations of the Indonesian Archipelago”) was first published in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch- Indie, (Contributions to Lingusitics, Lands, and Ethnology of the Dutch East Indies), 34 (1885), pp. 165-206. B. Schrieke, published a two-part essay on the subject, nearly four decades later, whose findings concurred: “Allerlei over de besnijdenis in den Indischen Archipel,” (“Miscellaneous circumcision in the Indonesian Archipelago,” in Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, (Journal of East Indian Linguistics, Lands, and Ethnology), 60 (1921), 373-578 ; 61 (1922), 1-94.)
Schrieke (1921, pp. 549-551). reported that when queried about the meaning of this circumcision, the Indonesian Muslim parents replied that it’s purpose was for their daughters to become Muslims (eerst Mohammedanen worden).
Just over eighty years, by 2003, a comprehensive survey “updated” and confirmed the Schrieke’s findings, adding critical data on the astonishing modern prevalence of FGM/C within Indonesia.
This broad-based Indonesian survey canvassed 1,694 households in eight different sites, representing eight different major ethnic groups of Indonesia, and including both rural and urban locations. Key background findings were as follows (verbatim):
- Almost all mothers at all sites gave consent for the practice of FC [FGM/C] to be performed on their daughters. When asked whether FC [FGM/C] has beneficial effects on women, 69% responded “yes,” and mentioned benefits including successful completion of religious duty, health and hygiene. Only a very small proportion of mothers felt that there were no benefits of FC [FGM/C] and 26% said they “do not know”.
- When mothers were asked about their view regarding the future of the practice of FC [FGM/C], the majority supported its continuation and objected to any proposed ban on FC [FGM/C]. Only small proportion of mothers (7%) said that they would support the ban. Even among those who would support the ban, they would support only if reasons for banning are rational, understandable, and not against religion.
- A significant proportion of mothers (20%) even suggested social sanctions should be imposed on uncircumcised girls. Larger proportions of mothers with this view were found in Padang Pariaman and Gorontalo. Across the study sites, 30 to 96% of mothers held the opinion that FC [FGM/C] is “a must,” even for girls who have already reached the age of 10 or over.
that circumcision among girls is a universal practice in the study sites.
During March of 2010, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, issued an edict reinforcing its religious support for FGM/C, albeit with anappeal by a leading Islamic cleric to the NU’s estimated 40 million followers “not to cut too much.” By September of 2011 “medical guidelines” on how to perform female genital mutilation/cutting were issued by the Indonesian Ministry of Health, ostensibly to reduce of the extent of damage to the clitoris when the procedure was performed by traditional non-medical personnel. However an Indonesia-wide survey of FGM/C practices in 2009, revealed that when medical practitioners performed the procedure, there was a trend toward more extensive cutting of the clitoris!
Finally, here in the U.S. (and Canada), surely CAIR, The Clarion Project/The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, and Quanta Ahmed, who even in their rancor against each other, all oppose FGM/C, and claim it is has “no basis in Islam,” will confront the fatwas sanctioning FGM/C for North American Muslims by the mainstream Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA)?
The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America’s (AMJA’s) mission statement maintains the organization was,
…founded to provide guidance for Muslims living in North America…AMJA is a religious organization that does not exploit religion to achieve any political ends, but instead provides practical solutions within the guidelines of Islam and the nation’s laws to the various challenges experienced by Muslim communities…
A report in The Muslim Observer published October 21, 2010 highlighting AMJA’s “seventh annual American conference of imams,” confirmed that the organization is accepted as such by the mainstream American Muslim community. AMJA and its “training” conference for American imams were described in these banal terms:
The organization AMJA (Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America) has a list of scholars associated with it which stretches from Al-Azhar University to Virginia’s Open University, and back across the ocean to the professors at Saudi universities. Its website, amjaonline.com, provides fatawa on many issues and promises 24-hour access to scholars who can give legal opinions on the issues people face. AMJA focuses on providing fatwas to Americans, and believes it is able to provide culturally appropriate fatwas although many of their scholars are not American–because they have some American scholars and because of the technological ties that bind AMJA’s American scholars with those abroad. AMJA just had, in Houston, its seventh annual American conference of imams, and two local Michigan imams attended, namely Imam Musa of Bloomfield’s Muslim Unity Center, and Imam Ali of MCWS. Mr. Sadiqul Hassan of AMJA explained that “the event was the 7th annual imam workshop…” Mr. Hassan said that AMJA is “a fiqh council basically,” with “scholars who live abroad and inside the US; we have experts in different fields to educate about life in the US–fatawa are based on life in the US.”
AMJA rulings clearly support the practice of FGM/C (which, appropriately, the United Nations has called “a dangerous and potentially life-threatening procedure that causes unspeakable pain and suffering.”). Fatwa #1639 from Dr. Hatem al-Haj justified the horrific practice, by citing the canonical hadith in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad endorsed its practice, stating:
[…] Some extremists from the west and their devout followers in the Muslim world like to brand all circumcision as female genital mutilation (FGM). For those, we say, why is male circumcision not MGM? Male circumcision is widely practiced in the west. Yet it would be considered by the Chinese MGM (Male Genital Mutilation). The benefits of male circumcision are beginning to be more recognized in the medical societies, even though still contested by a few. Fifty years ago, no one knew that male circumcision has medical benefits. The same could be true with female circumcision. They may figure out the benefits of the practice in fifty or five hundred years. […]
Al-Haj then went on to implicitly sanction the practice of taking a Muslim female outside of her American milieu to have the procedure performed—in violation of the US “TRANSPORT FOR FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION” act.
The question is not to ban female circumcision because of the position of certain nations, but How do we regulate it as Muslims? What should we -western Muslims- do? For Muslims who live in the west, since it is not mandatory and it is at the same time illegal in the west, and would bring about harm to the people who practice it, I wouldn`t advise having it done, as long as you are a resident/citizen of the west. We however should never doubt anything in our religion because of the bad publicity the media creates about it
A concordant fatwa issued in Arabic (translation by Al-Mutarjim) on the website of the Secretary-General of AMJA and the chief member of its Resident Fatwa Committee, Dr. Salah Al-Sawy, declares that FGM is “an honor” for women, Al-Sawy also acknowledges that the procedure—in accord with a continuum of Islamic rationale from al-Jahiz in the mid-9th century, to former Muslim Papal equivalent, i.e., Al-Azhar University Grand Imam Jad al-Haq through 1996—is explicitly implemented to reduce a woman’s otherwise unbridled “concupiscence,” i.e., lust:
But for the woman, the purpose [of circumcision] is the benefit that it has in lessening her lust, which is a wholesome request. There is no harm in removing it. In short, female circumcision is an honor (which) does not rise to the level of a duty, in clear language. Stated another way, it is neither forbidden nor required.
Having thus far refused to honestly acknowledge, let alone confront the clear, authoritative Islamic imprimatur for FGM-C—from Muhammad’s alleged utterance, to classical and modern jurists, across a millennium, till today—in Islamic societies, perhaps all these strange bedfellows, The Clarion Project/The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, Quanta Ahmed, and CAIR, will, pardon the reference, gird their loins within the security of the U.S., remonstrate against AMJA’s apparent “distortion” of Islam, and explain to AMJA’s clerics why they are wrong. Better still, invite all the parties—AMJA’s clerics and any of The Clarion Project/The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, Quanta Ahmed, and CAIR to debate whether Islam sanctions FGM/C on Fox News’ The Kelly File.