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Muslims’ genitalia in the Hands of the clergy
Religious arguments about male and female circumcision
Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh*
* Doctor of law and graduate in political sciences. Staff legal adviser in charge of Arab and Islamic Law, Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, Lausanne.
Muslims constitute the major religious group in the world that practice male and female circumcision. If we wish to abolish these two practices, we first have to know why Muslims mutilate their children.
When speaking with Muslims about male circumcision, which nearly all Muslims practice, the first argument they invoke is religion. Then they try to make light of the situation by saying that it is more beautiful and more efficient to have a circumcised penis. Then come the hygienic and scientific arguments -- it is cleaner and safer (protection against cancer and AIDS).
The majority of the mutilated women in the world are Muslim. They belong to some 28 African, Arab, and Muslim countries. Among those countries practicing it under the religious pretext we should mention here Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. But we have other Arab and Muslim countries that do not practice it, such as the North African Countries, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia (with some exceptions), and Iran. When speaking with Muslims, say Egyptians, who practice female circumcision, again the first argument is religion. Then comes the argument of chastity of the girls, which is linked with religious feelings. Then comes hygienic and scientific arguments. Yet Muslims who do not practice female circumcision are surprised that such a practice could exist in Muslim countries. If you tell them that Egyptians believe it is religious practice and that Al-Azhar recommends it, they begin to express their disapproval. If you add that the Prophet Muhammad spoke about it, they will not believe you and may consider such affirmation as a defamation against "Islam".
You will also find that religion is the foremost argument used by Jews in favor of circumcision. In fact, Muslims and Jews have the same concept of religion: God regulates human behavior through religious laws revealed through the prophets. God is supposed to know better than human beings what is good and what is bad. Men and Women have to obey, and religious authorities will force them to do so. Quoting Deuteronomy 13:1 and 29:28 and Leviticus 23:14, Maimonides (died 1204) said that those who do not accept God's commands as valid for every time and every place have to be killed by strangulation. Eight centuries later, Al-Sha'rawi, an Egyptian famous Sheik and former minister, said that Muslims who refuse to abide to God's laws should be killed. For this reason, instead of saying Judeo-Christian culture, one should say Judeo-Islamic Culture.
Because the religious argument is the most important argument invoked, even among intellectuals, and because Muslims constitute the major mutilated group in the World, I will concentrate in this article on the religious debate about circumcision that exists in the Islamic community.
I would insist that I do not speak here about "Islam", but about Muslims. Islam, as well as Judaism or Christianity, is an abstract concept which does not exist in reality. The day you meet Islam, invite it to drink a cup of coffee in your home! What exists are Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Inside these groups you can find common ideas but also great divergences -- as we will see through this article.
This text is a summary of a section of the book I am now writing in Arabic about male and female circumcision, which includes the religious, scientific, and legal debates that exist within these three groups.
Chapter I: Circumcision in the Koran
1. Importance of the Koran
Muslims consider the Koran as the last message that God sent to humanity through the Prophet Muhammad to whom it was revealed between the years 610 and 632 of the Common Era, the date of Muhammad's death. It constitutes the primary source of Islamic law. A Muslim who wants to know how to behave to satisfy God and to go to Heaven, must first see what are the instructions given by God in the Koran.
The present text of the Koran, which all Muslims accept as the only non-falsified holy book, was collected 15-20 years after the death of Muhammad in the time of the Caliph Uthman who ordered all previous collections to be burned. For researchers, it constitutes the first Arab written text to understand the Arab society in the time of Muhammad. Although Muslims consider the Koran as the most marvelous book, objectively speaking it remains one of the most disordered and most ambiguous books that ever existed.
2. What does the Koran say about male and female circumcision?
Before answering this question, we have to know what the Jewish Bible and the New Testament say about this topic. This will help us to compare the position of the three holy books.
Neither the Jewish Bible, nor the New Testament mention female circumcision. But there are many texts in these two books on male circumcision.
The most important text in the Jewish Bible reports a monologue in which God orders Abraham to perform circumcision. In this text, God says to Abraham:
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. 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. 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 foreskin; 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, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
This text contains three linked concepts which are problematic to our modern conception of moral behavior:
- the concept of an elected people, which is a racist concept;
- the concept of giving the land of Canaan to the Jews, which is an act of theft; and
- the concept of circumcision, which is a mutilating practice.
According to this and other Biblical texts, male circumcision is an obligatory practice with terrible consequences, the most important being the "cutting off from the people": "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people".
Now, what does the New Testament say about male circumcision?
From the four Gospels, only the Gospel of St. Luke reports that Jesus was circumcised "when eight days were fulfilled". We find a similar reference in this Gospel about the circumcision of John the Baptist. Such an event means that both were victims of male circumcision, as are many hundreds of millions of children. Nobody can deduce from this event that Christians should be circumcised as Jesus, otherwise one could also deduce that every Christian has to be crucified as Jesus.
We find a condemnation of male circumcision in the Gospel of Thomas, an apocrypha. According to this Gospel, the disciples of Jesus asked him "whether circumcision is useful or not?". Jesus answered: "If circumcision was useful, then the Father would have created them circumcised from the womb of their mothers. The circumcision which is useful and is the truth, is the circumcision of the soul".
As long as the first Christians were converted Jews, male circumcision was not questioned because these converts were already circumcised. But when non-Jews became Christians, there was an acute debate over male circumcision, because uncircumcised persons were considered unclean. We have many pages in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of St. Paul concerning this question.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us that certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved". But the majority of the apostles, led mainly by St. Paul, were against imposing circumcision on the converted pagans. Peter is reported as having received a message from God in his dream saying: "What God has made clean, you must not call unclean". St. Paul wrote:
Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
Now let us come to the Koran and ask what it says about circumcision. Very strangely, there is no reference at all to either male or female circumcision. Muslims generally ignore this fact. The word "circumcision" does not exist in the Koran, and this book does not even mention Abraham's circumcision although it does honor Abraham as the first Muslim and the model of the believers.
The only explicit references in the Koran are in two verses -- 2:88 and 4:155 -- which use the term "uncircumcised" in a metaphorical, non-literal sense associated with "hearts" (qulubuna ghulufun), in reference to the Jews. Here are these two verses:
And they say: Our hearts are hardened (qulubuna ghulufun). Nay, but Allah hath cursed them for their unbelief. Little is that which they believe (2:88).
Then because of their breaking of their covenant, and their disbelieving in the revelation of Allah, and their slaying of the prophets wrongfully, and their saying: Our hearts are hardened (qulubuna ghulufun). - Nay, but Allah hath set a seal upon them for their disbelief, so that they believe not save a few (4:155).
The term ghulfah means a foreskin or a cover. Muslims translate this expression into English by "our hearts are sealed" or "our hearts are hardened". They never understood it as a reference to circumcision. They ignore that this expression comes from the Jewish Bible:
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.
One could expect the mention of circumcision in the following verse of the Koran: "O you who believe, assuredly the idolaters are unclean, so let them not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year of theirs" (9:28). We find such a prohibition in the Bible:
Thus says the Lord God: No foreigner, uncircumcised in his heart and uncircumcised in his flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, nor any strangers who are among the children of Israel.
Awake, Awake, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Uncircumcised people are considered in many verses of the Bible as "impure". For this reason, the uncircumcised should not be permitted to enter the sanctuary, or even Jerusalem. We might then expect that the Koran would also forbid uncircumcised people to enter the Sacred Mosque, but it does not.
We can then conclude that the Koran, contrary to the Jewish Bible and the New Testament, is basically silent on the matter of circumcision. In the wake of this silence, some people have tried to give their own interpretations of some verses to support male circumcision. Others have used other verses as arguments against male and female circumcision. But these interpretations remain human, with no obligatory value. This is what we shall see in the next chapter which details the positions of Muslim authors.
Chapter II: Positions of Muslim authors
In this chapter we will examine whether male and female circumcision was practiced at the time of Muhammad, and how Muslims have evolved in this matter. When quoting for the first time a non-contemporary author or person, I will indicate his date of death between parentheses.
1) In the beginning was free decision
A) Male circumcision in the time of Muhammad
According to Al-Jahiz (died 868): "Male and female circumcision was practiced by Arabs since the time of Abraham and Hagar until today".
Al-Marsafi, a contemporary Muslim author, says that circumcision was a practice deeply rooted among Arabs who inherited it from Abraham. Arabs considered the foreskin impure and lashed out against the uncircumcised in their poetry. We find an example in the poetry of Umru' Al-Qays (died ca. 540) who mocked the Byzantine Emperor as "aghlaf", uncircumcised.
Al-Marsafi adds that Arabs were called "the nation of circumcision". He gives the following legend reported by Al-Bukhari (died 870):
While Heraclius (died 610) was visiting Ilya (Jerusalem), he got up in the morning with a sad mood. Some of his priests asked him why he was in the mood? Heraclius was a foreteller and an astrologer. He replied: At night when I looked at the stars, I saw that the leader of those who practice circumcision had appeared. Who are they who practice circumcision? The people replied: Except the Jews, nobody practices circumcision, so you should not be afraid of them. Just issue orders to kill every Jew present in the country. While they were discussing it, a messenger sent by the king of Ghassan to convey the news of Allah's Apostle to Heraclius was brought in. Having heard the news, Heraclius ordered the people to go and see whether the messenger of Ghassan was circumcised. the people, after seeing him, told Heraclius that he was circumcised. Heraclius then asked him about the Arabs. The messenger replied, Arabs also practice circumcision. After hearing that, Heraclius remarked that sovereignty of the Arabs had appeared.
The affirmation that Arabs practiced circumcision is inaccurate for many reasons.
- Arabs in the time of Muhammad belonged to three religious communities: Jewish, Christian and Pagan. Certainly Jews practiced male circumcision, but Christians did not. We have in fact evidence from the poetry of the Muslim Jarir (died 733) who mocked the Christian poet Al-Akhtal (died 710) mentioning circumcision as a difference between himself and Al-Akhtal. What about the pagan Arabs? There is no strong proof that they practiced circumcision, and the Bible describes them as being uncircumcised.
- We do not have any Arab text predating the Koran that discusses male circumcision. The authenticity of the poetry reported from the pre-Koranic period has not been established.
- It is not possible to rely on the fantastic legend of Heraclius which is an obvious apology similar to that narrated by St. Matthew about King Herodote and the nativity of Jesus.
- We will see in the next chapter that Muslim authors have doubts about whether Muhammad was circumcised. If Arabs had practiced male circumcision in that time, there should have been no later doubt about this fact.
- In the collection of hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) of Ahmad Ibn-Hanbal (died 855), we read the following text: "Uthman Ibn-al-As was invited to a circumcision, but he refused to come. When asked for the reason, he said: in the time of Muhammad we did not practice circumcision and we were not invited to it".
- A military chief of Al-Basra met with old people and asked them what their religion was. They said: Muslim. After searching them, he found that they were not circumcised. Then he ordered them to be circumcised. As it was winter, some of them died. This story was reported to Hassan Al-Basri (died 728). He complained: "What a strange chief! In the time of Muhammad, Black and White people became Muslims; he did not search any of them and they where not circumcised".
- In the huge book History of Al-Tabari (died 923), we are informed that the Caliph Umar Ibn-Abd-al-Aziz (died 720) wrote to the military commander Al-Jarrah Ibn-Abdallah (died 730) after the conquest of Khurasan: "If any person who prays behind you, free him from paying the jizyah (tribute)". Many people then converted to Islam. Somebody advised the commander: People became Muslims only because they did not like to pay the jizyah. Submit them to circumcision as a proof. Al-Jarrah wrote to the Caliph asking his opinion. The later disapproved: "God sent the prophet Muhammad and entrusted him to summon people to embrace Islam (da'iyan). He did not send him as circumciser (khatinan)".
- Al-Nawawi (died 1277) quotes Ibn-al-Mundhir (died 931) as follows: "In the field of circumcision there is neither an interdiction which can be proved, nor a limit of time which can be referred to, nor a sunnah which can be followed. Things remain submitted to the discretionary decision of the person and it is not allowed to forbid something unless there is a proof. We do not know if those who forbid the circumcision of the child on his seventh day have any proof". Ibn-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah (died 1351) discussed whether the child should not be circumcised on the seventh day after his birth similarly to the Jews. He quotes also Ibn-al-Mundhir: "There is not interdiction in this field. There is neither information concerning circumcision to which one can refer nor sunnah [of the Prophet] which can be used".
As we can see from these examples, circumcision was not compulsory in the Muslim community at the time of Muhammad and in the first centuries thereafter. People were free to circumcise or not, at the time they wished.
B) Female circumcision in the time of Muhammad
There is little information about female circumcision in the time of Muhammad. The collections of hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) tell the story of a woman who performed female circumcision of slaves (jawari) that Muhammad met. We will come back to this story.
According to Al-Jahiz, quoted above: "Male and female circumcision was practiced by Arabs since the time of Abraham and Hagar until today". We will also come back to the story of the circumcision of Hagar.
According to Jawwad Ali, female circumcision was widespread among Arabs, in particular among the people of Makkah. The son of a woman who performed female circumcision was pejoratively referred to as "son of the cutter of clitoris".
2) Scare interest and contradictions among classical jurists
All we can say from the available information concerning male and female circumcision is that these two practices were, in the first centuries after Muhammad, left to the discretionary decision of the family.
With the expansion of the Muslims' empire, the conversion of different peoples and the growing interest in different fields of knowledge, beginning with the Koran, the Hadiths, and the Arab language, some authors published books on jurisprudence that covered every aspect of human behavior with respect to man's relationship with God and fellow humans. Many of these books are contained in a set of comprehensive, systematized encyclopaedia.
If we go through these jurisprudence encyclopaedia, we see that male and female circumcision was not dealt with very extensively. Sometimes, one has difficulty even finding the word circumcision in them. And if one does, he discovers it incidentally inside other questions such as those pertaining to the tooth cleaner (siwak) or the sacrifice of atonement held on the seventh day after an infant's birth (aqiqah). In fact, the tooth cleaner and the sacrifice of atonement are more developed than circumcision. The only book that had a large chapter on this question was written by the hanbalite jurist Ibn-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah. His book concerns norms relating to children: tuhfat al-wadud bi-ahkam al-mawlud. This author gives us the contradictory positions of previous jurists concerning all aspects of male and female circumcision. Similar contradictory positions can also be found in the commentaries on the Koran and on the Sunnah.
Such contradictory positions arose because neither the Koran nor the Sunnah of Muhammad provide a clear position on male and female circumcision. Therefore, there has been no possibility for reaching the sort of unanimity that developed with respect to other questions.
Contemporary Muslim authors try to classify the classical positions on circumcision according to the schools of law. But such a classification is inaccurate because Muslims did not reach any clear position before schools were created. Inside a single school, you found no unified position. And even today, you will find contradictory positions among the adherents of the same school. Thus, among classical and contemporary authors, we find those who consider male circumcision as sunnah (conformance to the tradition of Muhammad), and female circumcision as makrumah (noble deed); those who consider male circumcision as wajib (obligatory) and female circumcision as sunnah; and those who consider both male and female circumcision as wajib.
This division concerning circumcision differs from the five-category general division used by Muslims: wajib (obligatory), mandub (recommended), mubah permitted), makruh (undesirable), and muharram (forbidden). This difference evolved because the jurists who treated male and female circumcision relied on contradictory sayings of Muhammad, which qualified male and female circumcision as wajib, sunnah, fitrah or makrumah, the three latter terms being not easy to understand.
3) Some examples of the positions of classical authors
Al-Musuli (died 1284, hanafite): "Circumcision is sunnah and fitrah (we will see later the meaning of this term). For women, circumcision is makrumah. If the inhabitants of a country reach a unanimous decision to abandon circumcision, the Imam has to wage war against them as it is one of the rituals and a specificity of Islam".
Ibn-Qudamah (died 1223, hanbalite): "Circumcision is obligatory for men, and noble deed (makrumah) for women and not obligatory according to many scholars. Ahmad said: circumcision for men is more important for men than for women, as the foreskin is pending over the glans, therefore what is behind cannot be cleaned. Abu-Abdallah said that Ibn-Abbas (companion of the Prophet, died 687) was insisting on male circumcision. It is reported that according to him that the uncircumcised cannot perform pilgrimage and prayer. On the opposite, Hassan Al-Basri (died 728) allows them to perform pilgrimage and prayer. He said that "he does not worry if somebody becomes Muslim that he does not submit to circumcision. In the time of Muhammad, Black and White people became Muslims; he did not search any of them and they where not circumcised".... Hanbal said that he asked Abu-Abdallah whether a dhimmi (non-Muslim) who becomes Muslim should be purified by circumcision? He answered: it is inevitable for him. I asked him: even if he or she is old? He answered: "I would prefer that he or she be purified by circumcision because according to the hadith: "Abraham was circumcised when he was eighty years old. God said: "You have to follow the religion of Abraham your father" (22:78). Female circumcision is also prescribed for women. Abu-Abdallah said that the hadith "If the two circumcised membranes meet, ablution (ghusl) is necessary" means that female circumcision was practiced. According to the hadith of Umar, a circumciser woman performed circumcision; he told her: leave some of it if you circumcise. It is also reported that the Prophet Muhammad said to the circumciser woman: Cut very slightly and do not exaggerate as it is preferable for the husband and better for the face.
Al-Bahuti (died 1641, hanbalite): "Male and female circumcision are obligatory".
Al-Nawawi (died 1277, shafiite): "Circumcision is obligatory for men and women in our school".
Ibn-al-Jallab (died 988, malikite): "Circumcision is sunnah for men and women".
Al-Dardir (died 1786, malikite): "Circumcision is a certified sunnah (sunnah mu’akkadah) for men. Al-Shafi'i (died 820) considered it as obligatory. Female circumcision is recommended (mandub)".
Al-Nazawi (died 1162, ibadite): "Circumcision is obligatory for every Muslim.... If somebody refuses to submit to circumcision after being ordered to do, he should be killed if he exaggerates in delaying. Circumcision is not obligatory for women but they are ordered to submit to circumcision in honor of their husbands. Women are not obliged as circumcision for women is makrumah and for men it is sunnah, and some said it is faridah (obligation)".
Al-Tusi (died 1067, shiite): "It is preferable to circumcise the boy when he is seven days old without delay. If circumcision is delayed to adulthood, nothing bad in it. But if the child becomes adult, he must be circumcised; he cannot be left uncircumcised in any case. The circumcision of female slaves (jawari), if performed, is great honor and precious merit (fadl kabir wa thawab jazil). If not, nothing bad in it".
Al-Amili (died 1559, shiite): "Boys must be circumcised when they become adult.... and it is preferable that women be circumcised even if they are adult. Al-Sadiq said: Circumcision for women is makrumah and what is better than a makrumah"?
4) Opinions of classical authors and the reality
One can observe that the performance of male circumcision was considered by classical authors as more important than female circumcision. In fact, the great majority of the classical authors took a firm position in favor of male circumcision considering it obligatory. Muslims practiced male circumcision even when circumcision served as a mark to discover them and persecute them, as was the case in Spain. This firm position of the classical jurists does not mean in itself that all Muslims submitted to circumcision, as we saw in the previous section.
Contrary to male circumcision, the great majority of the classical authors took a moderate position in favor of female circumcision although one can find some who are strongly in favor of it, considering it obligatory. It is difficult to know to what extent female circumcision was practiced. According to the previous quotation from Al-Jahiz, female circumcision seems to have been largely performed in his time. Ibn-al-Haj (died 1336, malikite) says: "There have been divergence concerning female circumcision: should they be all circumcised or should be there a distinction between the women from East and those from West. Eastern women are ordered to submit to circumcision as they have a congenital excess (fadalah) which does not exist in the women of the West". This means that female circumcision was more practiced in the Eastern part of the Islamic countries than in the Western part (know as North Africa). We can see today that female circumcision is unknown in these countries as in other Muslim countries.
It seems also that female circumcision was not practiced in all social classes. Although we find texts that speak about the circumcision of nisa' (the generic term for women), there are other texts that refer specifically to the circumcision of jawari -- term that in general means female slaves. The famous hadith of Muhammad concerning the circumciser woman (we will see it later) says that this woman was known as "circumciser of female slaves". Al-Kalini (died 941) quotes a saying of Al-Imam Al-Sadiq (died 148): "Circumcision of boys is from the sunnah, but the circumcision of female slaves is not from the sunnah". In another saying of Al-Sadiq: "Circumcision of female slaves is a makrumah and not from the sunnah
5) Opening of the discussion today
Currently, male circumcision is practiced on all sons of Muslims in Muslim countries. Very few escape. Female circumcision is less common, but the great majority of the circumcised women in the world belong to the Muslim community -- although there are many Muslim countries that do not practice female circumcision.
If we overview the books written on circumcision, we can see that female circumcision occupies the major part of the debate. Male circumcision is still considered obligatory by all Muslims, although we find some authors who dare to speak against it, as we will see later.
Female circumcision provokes a great controversy among Muslims. There are authors who still consider it obligatory, others who consider it makrumah, and others who condemn it. The number of those that condemn female circumcision is much larger than the number of those that condemn male circumcision. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that the rejection of male and female circumcision represents a completely new trend in Islamic society. In fact, we do not find in the classical books any condemnation of male or female circumcision, although we do find some who have adopted a more liberal position with respect to these two practices.
We must observe that many authors continue to consider female circumcision as makrumah, although their countries do not practice female circumcision. They are reluctant to condemn it, because it is mentioned in the classical sources. Thiseis the case of Al-Zuhayli, a Syrian jurist, and Al-Ha'iri, an Iranian author.
The authors and groups opposed to male and female circumcision rarely take position against male circumcision, for different reasons, including:
1) Many still consider male circumcision a religious obligation and useful for the health reasons, in opposition with female circumcision.
2) Those who object to male circumcision are afraid to declare it openly because they are afraid of religious authorities.
3) Those who may be opposed to male circumcision believe that priority should be given to female circumcision, if any progress is to be obtained. They are afraid that if they engage two battles, they will loose both.
4) Those who struggle against female circumcision obtain material support from Western countries and organizations who are very reluctant to battle against male circumcision for political reasons. They may be afraid to be labeled anti-Semitic by the Jews.
In the next chapter we will examine the religious arguments of the different trends.
Chapter III: Religious Arguments of the different trends
1) The Koran
As we said before, the Koran is the primary source of Islamic law. All Muslims refer to this book to find justification for their behavior. This is also the case when discussing male and female circumcision, although the Koran does not mention either of them.
In fact, Muslims cannot easily accept the idea that the Koran does not have an explicit or implicit reference to male and female circumcision. The Koran declares: "We have neglected nothing in the Book" (6:38); "We reveal the Scripture unto thee as an exposition of all things and a guidance and a mercy and good tidings for those who have surrendered to Allah" (16:89); "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed my favor unto you" (5:3).
The verses which have been invoked by those in favor of male circumcision are the following:
We inspired thee: Follow the religion of Abraham, as one by nature upright. He was not of the idolaters (16:124).
Say: Allah speaketh truth. So follow the religion of Abraham, the upright. He was not of the idolaters (3:95).
Those are they whom Allah guideth, so follow their guidance (6:90).
He hath ordained for you that religion which He commanded unto Noah, and that which We inspire in thee, and that which We commended unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: "Establish the religion, and be not divided therein (42:13).
And who forsaketh the religion of Abraham save him who befooleth himself? Verily We chose him in the world and lo! in the Hereafter he is among the righteous.... Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered... We take our color (sibghah) from Allah, who is better than Allah at coloring. We are His worshippers (2:130-138).
And remember when his Lord tried Abraham with His commands (kalimat), and he fulfilled them. He said: Lo! I have appointed thee a leader for mankind. Abraham said: And of my offspring will there be leaders? He said: My covenant includes not wrong doers (2:124).
These verses speak about four things:
- It is necessary to follow the religion of Abraham;
- God tried Abraham with His commands (kalimat), and he fulfilled them;
- God appointed Abraham a leader for mankind because he fulfilled God's commands; and
- The color (sibghah) of God is the best color.
There is no mention of circumcision in these verses. Nevertheless, classical and modern authors deduce from these verses that circumcision is obligatory. How did they reach such a conclusion? This is what we will examine in the next paragraphs.
A) "Commands" refers to the Circumcision of Abraham
Classical authors do not agree on the meaning of the term "commands" (kalimat, literally "words") of the verse 2:124. Al-Tabari (died 923), the great commentator of the Koran, provides us with a different way to interpret this term. One of these interpretations is that the term refers to the circumcision of Abraham.
The circumcision of Abraham is a clear reference to Genesis chapter 17 mentioned above. But Muslim authors do not quote the Bible, because they consider it falsified (see later). Instead of the Bible, they refer to a saying of Muhammad: "Abraham was circumcised when he was 80 years old". According to another saying, "Abraham was circumcised when he was 120 years old". Both versions add: "bil-qaddum", the meaning of which is controversial: it means either that Abraham was circumcised "in Al-Qaddum" (name of a place) or "by a pick-axe". Those who adopt this meaning add that Abraham suffered too much from performing circumcision with such an instrument. He called God who said: "Why have you hurried in performing circumcision before we indicate you the instrument you have to use? Abraham answered: "I did not want to delay your command".
Many Muslim authors say that Abraham was the first man circumcised. But there is a saying of Muhammad according to which Adam was the first, and Abraham the second. Other authors mention that Adam, Abraham, and Muhammad were born circumcised as were other prophets whose number differs from author to another. Shiite Muslims believe even that all their imams were born circumcised. All these authors in fact repeat here a Jewish legend. There is also a Shiite story told by Al-Sadiq. When asked about the circumcision of Abraham, he said that it was just a lie about Abraham. According to Al-Sadiq, the prophets lost their foreskin and their umbilical cord on the seventh day. But after Hagar got a child, Sarah was angry with her. For this, God decided as punishment that from that time on the sons of the prophets would no longer loose their foreskin and their umbilical cord. Isaac was then circumcised, and circumcision became a custom for his offspring.
Muslims then differ about the age at which Abraham was circumcised, on whether he was the first or the second circumcised, and on whether he was born circumcised or lost his foreskin when he was seven days old. In spite of all these contradictions, the majority of classical and modern Muslim authors agree that Muslims must be circumcised as Abraham was, as understood by the "commands" he fulfilled, and as mentioned in the sayings of Muhammad.
The interpretation of the word "commands" as referring to the circumcision of Abraham is rejected by Al-Shawkani (died 1834) who said that if we do not have clear information from the Prophet concerning the meaning of this term and there is no other proof, we have to leave this field to God and keep silent on it. Whatever the companions of the Prophet said about this term remains a personal opinion that lacks any compulsory value, because it cannot be considered an authoritative interpretation if it is contradictory or based on feeble arguments.
This interpretation is also rejected by Muhammad Abduh (died 1905), who considered it a Jewish invention to ridicule the Islamic religion. The same position is taken by Imam Mahmud Shaltut (died 1964) who considers such an interpretation as excessive (israf fil-istidlal).
B) "Color" refers to circumcision as a substitute for baptism
The Koran says: "We take our color (sibghah) from Allah, who is better than Allah at coloring. We are His worshippers" (2:130-138).
The term "color" (sibghah) refers, according to Muslim authors, to the mark of the circumcision instituted by God as a substitute for baptism, the mark of Christians.
Al-Qurtubi (died 1273) comments in this verse as following:
Christians used to color their children in the water, which they call baptism. They say it is a purification for them. Ibn-Abbas said: When one of their children reached seven days, Christians submerge him in water which is called the baptism water. By so doing they color him to purify him instead of circumcision. Then, they say: He became now actually a Christian. God then replied "color (sibghah) from Allah, who is better than Allah at coloring", which means Islam. By analogy, religion was named a color as it appears in his deeds and qualities as the color appears on a clothing. Some said: the color is circumcision. Abraham was circumcised, then the color was used as synonym of circumcision because the Christians color their children in the water.
C) Interpretation of the Koran's silence in light of the perfection of the creation
We said before that the Koran did not mention male or female circumcision. This silence is interpreted by some contemporary Muslim authors in the light of the philosophy of the Koran, which considers God's creation as perfect. We find this thinking in a text of St. Cyrillus of Alexandria (died 444) who believed that God created every thing perfect, even animals which do not have a brain. To consider human beings less perfect than those animals and in need of being perfected by circumcision is an insult to God.
Many verses in the Koran present the creation of God as perfect, and emphasize that God did not create things purposeless:
He it is Who fashioneth you in the wombs as pleaseth Him. There is no God save Him, the Almighty, the Wise (3.6).
Our Lord! You have not created these in futility. Glory be to You: guard us then against the torment of the fire (3:191).
Everything with Him is by measure (13:8).
Deemed ye then that We had created you for naught? (23:115).
He has created everything and meted it out in perfection (25:2).
No change is there in God's creation (30:30).
Who has perfected everything He created (32:7)
We created not the heavens and the earth, and what is between them for futility (38:27).
He shaped you, and perfected your forms (40:64).
Indeed everything we have created in measure (54:49).
He fashioned you, and perfected your shapes (64:3).
O man! What hath made thee careless concerning thy Lord, the Bountiful, Who created thee, then fashioned, then proportioned thee? (82:6).
Truly We created man in the best shape (95:4).
[The Satan said]: "I will surely take of Your servants an appointed portion. and I will surely lead them to perversity, and I will stir whims in them, and I will enjoin them and they will cut off the cattle's ears; and I will enjoin them and they shall alter God's creation. But whoever takes Satan for patron, apart from god, shall surely suffer a plain perdition" (4:118-119).
One can easily deduce from the first thirteen verses that the foreskin is an integral part of the human body created by God, and that one should not imagine that one is perfecting the work of God by cutting it. The last verse considers the alteration of God's creation as obedience to the Devil. If cutting off cattle's ears is condemned by God, cutting off the children's penis must be even worse.
Although these verses are sufficiently clear, classical authors did not try to see the contradiction among them and circumcision, but we can see from a Shiite book that such an opinion was raised. This book mentions a discussion between Al-Sadiq and a miscreant (zandiq) who asked:
"Tell me: can you consider any thing in the creation of God as faulty? Sadiq answered: "No". "Why then you changed the creation of God considering what you do by cutting the foreskin as more correct than the creation of God, blamed the uncircumcised although God created him, and honored the circumcision although it is your creation? Would you say that the foreskin was a wrong thing contrary to the wisdom?" Al-Sadiq answered: "That is wise and correct from God, but he ordained it and made it obligatory on his creation the same as he ordained his believers to cut the umbilical cord of a child attached to that of his mother. Not to cut the umbilical cord will waste the child and the mother. The same with the nails which must be clipped when they become too long although God could create human beings with not growing nails. The same with the hair of the moustache and of the head which must be cut. The same with oxen which are created with testicles and are castrated because it is better to do so. Nothing of these can be considered as non perfection from the part of God".
Two remarks on this text:
- Al-Sadiq called his opponent a miscreant (zandiq), which is a way to silence him as a miscreant that should be killed under Islamic law.
- The argument of Al-Sadiq is far from being accurate. Nobody can make a comparison between the foreskin which does not grow and nails or hairs which grow. To leave nails and the hair growing is inconvenient, contrary to the foreskin which is even useful for men for sexual relations.
It is important to mention that Muhammad condemned tattooing. Some classical authors condemn the cutting of an extra-finger or the piercing of ears. These acts are considered as a changing of the creation of God. Why then does circumcision not fall within this prohibition? Muhammad Abduh explains: "The changing in the creation of God which is condemned and considered as a temptation of the Devil is that which provoke deformation. Otherwise, we should consider circumcision, coloring of the hands and cutting of the nails as a changing of God's creation".
Such an opinion is now changing, specially among those who struggle against female circumcision. Doctor Nawal El-Saadawi, an Egyptian woman, herself circumcised, writes:
If religion comes from God, how can it order man to cut off an organ created by Him as long as that organ is not deceased or deformed? God does not create the organs of the body haphazardly without a plan. It is not possible that He should have created the clitoris in a woman's body only in order that it be cut off at an early stage in life. This is a contradiction into which neither true religion nor the Creator could possibly fall....
Aziza Kamel, adversary of female circumcision, refers to the verse 32:7 and adds: "Circumcision is a distortion of what God created because God is satisfied with His creation". We can see the same argument at Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa who quotes the verses4:118-119 against female circumcision.
Only one Muslim author has attempted to cast doubts on male circumcision by using a new interpretation of the Koran, but he has had legal action brought against him and might be sentenced to death for apostasy. I am speaking of (retired) Judge Mustafa Kamal Al-Mahdawi, a personal friend of mine, who is today under a ferocious attack lead by Libyan religious circles in the mosques as well in the press.
This Libyan judge insists that male circumcision is a Jewish custom; the Jews believe that God would only see them if they had distinctive marks such as circumcision or blood stained doors. He refers here to God's command given to the Jews that the blood from sacrificed cattle be put on jambs and lintel of houses at the time of Passover because He intended to kill all firstborn in Egypt. The Libyan judge adds that the Koran does not mention this "peculiar logic". For him, God does not devote Himself to such banter, any more than He created the foreskin as a superfluous object destined only to be cut off. He quotes verse 3:191 which states: "Our Lord! You have not created these in futility".
Religious authorities try then, nowadays as in the past, to silent any person who contradicts them.
2) The Sunnah
A) Importance of the sunnah
In addition to the Koran, considered as the first source of Islamic law, Muslims place great importance on the Sunnah (tradition) of Muhammad, which is considered the second source of Islamic law. For Muslims, Muhammad is an infallible prophet; whatever he said or did must be applied. But Muslims make a clear distinction between the Koran, whose author, according to them, is God himself, and the Sunnah, whose author is Muhammad.
The Sunnah of Muhammad is reported through his sayings and deeds that were collected, many years after his death and in different books. But their authenticity is questioned even by Muslim scholars who, nevertheless, refer to these books to interpret or to complete the Koran. Furthermore, Sunnite and Shiite Muslims have their own collections, each group rejecting the collection of the other group. Thus, in Sunnite writings pertaining to male or female circumcision, you will never find a quotation from a Shiite collection, and vice-versa. To Muhammad's sayings, Shiite Muslims add those of their Imams who the Shiites consider as infallible as Muhammad himself. We have also to mention that some Muslims refuse any reference to the Sunnah of Muhammad. This is, for example, the case of Colonel Mu'ammar Kadhafi of Libya. Judge Mustafa Kamal Al-Mahdawi, the Libyan judge mentioned above, rejects male circumcision because the Koran does not mention it, refusing to refer to the sayings of Muhammad in this field. There is also a Muslim group in the United States called "International Community of Submitters", founded by Rashad Khalifa (assassinated in 1990) who has adopted the same position (see later).
Before presenting the position of those that reject the Sunnah, we must first present the sayings of Muhammad that are invoked in favor of male and female circumcision.
B) Hadiths quoted in favor of male and female circumcision
a) Circumcision of Abraham
In the previous section, we have already analyzed the hadith concerning the circumcision of Abraham and the contradictory stories attached to it.
b) Circumcision of Muhammad
There are at least four contradictory versions concerning the circumcision of Muhammad.
1. Malik reported a saying of Muhammad: "For the sake of my honorable position at God, I was born circumcised and nobody saw may pudendum". This is confirmed by a saying of Ibn-Abbas: The messenger of God is born circumcised with his umbilical cord cut. As we said when speaking about Abraham, Muhammad is considered as one of the prophets who was born circumcised, a clear Jewish legend.
2. Muhammad had been circumcised by the angel who opened his chest and purified his interior.
3. Muhammad's grandfather Abd-al-Muttalib circumcised Muhammad when he was seven days old, made a feast for him, and named him. The reference to the seventh day (excluding the birthday) is clearly Jewish, as Jews circumcise on the eighth day (including the birthday).
4. Muhammad was born incompletely circumcised, and his grandfather cut what remained from his foreskin.
After reviewing these different legends, a contemporary author prefers to conclude that Muhammad was circumcised according to the Arab tradition.
This last affirmation is not very helping. We said before that only Arab Jews definitely practiced circumcision. The legend concerning the circumcision of Muhammad by his grandfather on his seventh day suggests that Muhammad was circumcised as a Jew. But in fact, according to the biography of Muhammad, he came from a pagan family with some members who were Christians. This is the case of Waraqah Ibn-Nawfal (died 611), a priest consulted for Muhammad's marriage with his first wife Khadijah. He may have even celebrated their marriage. As we said before, neither pagans nor Christians circumcised. We must mention here that there is no reference of Muhammad's circumcision in the biographies written by Ibn-Ishaq (died 767) and Ibn-Hisham (died 828). Such an important event, if indeed it did occur, would not have been neglected. We have also seen that Muhammad did not impose circumcision on those who followed him, according to the saying of Hassan Al-Basri. For these reasons, we can say that most likely Muhammad was not circumcised.
c) Circumcision of Hassan and Hussayn
Muslims consider male circumcision obligatory because according to one hadith Muhammad circumcised his two grandsons Hassan and Hussayn when they were seven days old. Besides the fact that the authenticity of this hadith is doubtful, we can also see the Jewish influence on it, because the circumcision allegedly occurs on the seventh day (excluding birthday).
d) Circumcision is a norm of fitrah
Classical and contemporary authors say that circumcision should be performed because it is one of the norms of fitrah that are believed to have been taught by God to His creation. The man in pursuit of perfection must conform to those norms.
There are many contradictory hadiths of Muhammad about the norms of fitrah In some, circumcision is omitted and in others it is mentioned -- the most famous one is the following: "Five norms define fitrah: shaving of the pubis, circumcision, moustache trimming, armpit depilation and nail clipping". Some hadiths quote ten norms of fitrah. If we add all the norms mentioned in the different hadiths, we reach the number of 16, or even 30 according to Ibn-al-Arabi (died 1148).
There are then the contradictions among the different hadiths that speak of fitrah. Classical authors are divided on the qualification of a norm of fitrah: is it compulsory or just recommended? Should we consider all the norms of fitrah as compulsory or just some? Ibn-al-Arabi was of the opinion that the five norms of fitrah mentioned above are all compulsory, and if somebody abandons them he will not have the appearance of a human being and, a fortiori, would not be a member of the Muslim Community.
The previous hadiths are Sunnite, but we find similar hadiths in the Shiite books. Ali (died 661) reported also that Muhammad said: "God sent his friend with the righteous religion (al-hanifiyyah) and ordained him to trim his moustache, clip his nail, depilate his armpit, shave his pubis and submit to circumcision".
e) Muhammad ordaining male circumcision
There are some hadiths of Muhammad in which he gave orders to persons who became Muslims that they must be circumcised.
- Muhammad said: "Let him who becomes a Muslim be circumcised, even if he is old".
- One asked Muhammad if an uncircumcised man could go to pilgrimage. He answered: "Not as long as he is not circumcised".
Shiite sources quote Ali as saying: "We found in the hilt of Muhammad's sword a writing: the uncircumcised person will not be left in Islam until he submits to circumcision even if he is eighty years old". Ali said also: "If a man becomes Muslim, he must submit to circumcision even if he is eighty years old".
f) The urine of the uncircumcised is impure
Shiite sources quote hadiths that consider the urine of the uncircumcised person as impure:
- Hadith of Muhammad: "The earth becomes defiled forty days from the urine of an uncircumcised person.
- Hadith of Muhammad: "The earth complains vehemently (taduj) to God because of the urine of the uncircumcised.
- Hadith of Muhammad: "Circumcise (tahhiru) your sons when they are seven days old as it is better for them, more clean (athar) and the flesh grows faster; the earth becomes defiled (tanjas) from the urine of the uncircumcised during forty days".
-Al-Sadiq said: "Circumcise (ikhtinu) your sons when they are seven days old as it is cleaner (athar) and the flesh grows faster and because the earth hates (takrah) the urine of the uncircumcised"
These disgusting sayings come from classical Shiite authors. They do not exist in classical or modern Sunnite authors.
g) Male circumcision is sunnah and female circumcision is makrumah
There is a hadith of Muhammad that says: "Circumcision is sunnah for men, and makrumah for women".
The term sunnah means in general that it is conform to the tradition of Muhammad himself, but it can also mean a custom at the time of Muhammad. If the latter meaning is used, circumcision is not obligatory. The term makrumah is far from clear, but it can be translated into a meritorious action or noble deed, meaning that circumcision is better to do although it is not obligatory from a religious point of view.
Shiite sources quote the same hadith reported by Imam Al-Sadiq with other hadiths: "The circumcision of the boy is from the sunnah, but the circumcision of the female slaves (jawari) is not from the sunnah"; "Circumcision of female slave is a makrumah, neither sunnah nor obligatory, and is there anything better than a makrumah?".
We have to mention here that ear piercing of the boy is also considered as sunnah by Al-Sadiq who said: "The piercing of the ear of the boy is sunnah and his circumcision is sunnah".
h) Hadith "if the two circumcised parts meet ... ".
Muhammad is reported to have said: "If the two circumcised parts (khitanan) meet or if they touch each other, it is necessary to proceed to ablution".
This hadith is largely quoted by classical and modern authors as implying that men and women were circumcised in Muhammad's time.
In fact there are different versions of this hadith -- some of them do not mention the term "circumcised parts" but just say that in case of sexual relations, there should be ablution (ghusl). The above mentioned hadith also contradicts the religious norm in which washing is not necessary in case of simple touching, unless there is penetration.
i) Hadith of the circumciser woman
The most frequently cited hadith concerning female circumcision reports a debate between Muhammad and a woman (called Um Atiyyah, Um Habibah, Um Habib, or Um Tibah) who used to circumcise female slaves (jawari).
According to this narration, the circumciser woman was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammad. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively adding: "unless it is forbidden and you order me to stop doing it". Muhammad replied: "Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it (la tanhiki), because it brings more radiance to the face (ashraq) and it is more pleasant (ahza) for the husband".
C) Position of those rejecting the sunnah
Already in the first centuries, Muslim authors scrutinized the hadiths to see how authentic they were. Many of these hadiths are contradictory and contain choking affirmations which gave bad impressions of the Islamic religion. One of the explanations given for the presence of these affirmations inside the hadiths' collections is that they were introduced by Jews.
In fact, in Muhammad's time Jews were considered the Elite of the Arab society, compared to the illiterate Bedouins (ummiyyun). The Jews are qualified by the Koran as "those who have a Book" (ahl al-kitab). The Koran contains many laconic references to the Bible that cannot be understood without going back to the Jews, particularly those who became Muslims. The Koran itself says: "Ask the followers of the Remembrance if ye know not" (16:43). Some converted, like Ka'b Al-Ahbar (died 652), were very influential in the new community. They introduced many Jewish legends and institutions into the teachings of the Islamic religion. This Jewish influence is now becoming more and more criticized. Some modern Muslim authors are even asking for a reprint of all the classical Islamic books after expurgating them of narrations of Jewish origin (isra'iliyyat).
By considering the extensive interpretation of the Koranic verse 2:124 as a Jewish invention, Muhammad Abduh resolved the contradiction that exists between circumcision and the philosophy of the Koran. Should we not apply the same method to the hadiths that promote circumcision which are contradictory to the philosophy of the Koran? To what extend can we consider these hadiths authentic? Were they invented by Jews to introduce Jewish circumcision in the Islamic community? Have the Jewish legends infiltrated the collections of hadiths as they infiltrated the Koranic commentaries? We have to remember here that the Jews who became Christians had in the past tried to introduce circumcision in the new community, but they failed because they were not very influential in the Roman empire whose laws condemned circumcision. If the theory of infiltration is correct, we have to conclude that, contrary to what happened in the Christian community, Jews succeeded in introduce circumcision in the illiterate Bedouin Islamic community. This hypothesis must be studied by Muslim scholars if they want to find a solution for the contradiction that exists between the Koran and the hadiths attributed to Muhammad.
Regardless of the results of such research, it is clear that even the supporters of circumcision (male or female) acknowledge that the hadiths on this subject that are attributed to Muhammad offer little credibility. Mahmud Shaltut, quoting Al-Shawkani, states that they are neither clear nor authentic. Unfortunately, Shiite authors do not adopt the same critical attitude towards the hadiths concerning male or female circumcision. They still mention these contradictory hadiths without telling us how to reconcile them. What is unusual about their attitude is that they do not comment on the hadiths concerning female circumcision that is not practiced in Iran. This attitude can be explained by the fact that they believe the Imams who reported these hadiths were infallible.
Sunnite authors who invoke the non-authenticity of the hadiths use this argument in general to argue against female circumcision in spite of the fact that all the hadiths concerning both male and female circumcision are inauthentic. We can, nevertheless, find some Sunnite authors who oppose male circumcision on this ground, including the Egyptian thinker Isam-al-Din Nasif who did a summary translation into Arabic of Joseph Lewis's book: "In the name of humanity". The title that Nasif gave to his book is: "Circumcision is an Israelite aberration". He wrote an introduction larger than the translation under the title: "A study of circumcision in the Islamic nations which is one of the remainders of Israelite influence in Islam". As is clear from the title, the author thinks that the Jews introduced male circumcision in the Muslim community by forging hadiths attributed to Muhammad.
Muhammad Afifi, an Egyptian sarcastic author, commented on this book, clearly expressing his opposition against male circumcision.
There are also some Sunnite authors who accept only the text of the Koran and reject totally any reference to the sunnah. This is the official position of Mu'ammar Kadhafi, and this is why the Libyan Judge Mustafa Kamal Al-Mahdawi contests male circumcision, which is not mentioned in the Koran and is contradicted by its philosophy. This position is adopted by the Muslim group in the United States called "International Community of Submitters", which was mentioned above. The group's founder, Rashad Khalifa (assassinated in 1990), wrote a booklet: "Quran, Hadith, and Islam". In the preface of the book, the author says:
... the extremely popular "Hadith & Sunna" have nothing to do with the prophet Muhammad, and that adherence thereto represents flagrant disobedience of God and His final prophet (Quran 6:112 & 25:31).
This finding contradicts the beliefs of Muslim masses everywhere. Consequently, my personal popularity, and even the popularity of the Quran's miracle, plunged to the point of endangering my life and reputation. As it turned out, telling the Muslims that "Hadith & Sunna" are Satanic inventions is the same as telling the Christians that Jesus is not the son of God.
Khalifa did not mention circumcision, but there is a statement on internet, written by Edip Yuksel, one of the group's representatives, who clearly takes the position against male and female circumcision. This is the most courageous position ever taken by a Muslim against these two practices. His statement provides:
In the name of God, the gracious, the merciful
For more than thirteen centuries here in Muslim world exist a ritual known as Male and Female Circumcision. Solely a Jewish tradition, Circumcision ritual plus many other Jewish traditions has found a willing host in post Mohammadan Muslim world. This man-made invention and innovation not found in God's last scripture, Holy Qur'an, has been a curse of millions of children male and female across the Muslim world.
In Egypt and other Arab countries every year thousands of female children are mutilated in the name of GOD. Scared for life, these children experience the most painful oddesy (sic) of their life, all in the name of GOD. One might ask how could a Merciful GOD advocate such evil and injustice to these children? Could it be that the sin falls in our own hands? Could it be that we are the unjust and we are the demons advocating such cruel and coward injustice towards our children!
To all true scholars of Qur'an the answer is clear. GOD with his infinite grace did not and will not condone such cruel ritual. This act is not found anywhere in the Qur'an. Only in such man-made innovations such as "Hadith and Sunnah" that one can find such cruel laws and rituals. It is the authors of these blasphemies that are responsible for these centuries old crimes done in the name of GOD. All throughout history, laws and rituals have been conjured up and put in place by male dominated societies only to subjugate the weak, women, and children.
Only by Worshiping God alone and Following Qur'an alone that we can find salvation and purity, both physical and spiritual, for ourselves and all those oppressed in the name of GOD.
Please follow this link to an exceptional article by Dr. Sami Aldeeb, a Doctor of Law. Also, check out this great related site.
LETS STOP THIS CENTURIES OLD CRIME AGAINST OUR CHILDREN.
I asked Yuksel by e-mail how he, as a Muslim, came to oppose both male and female circumcision and why he quoted my article although I am not a Muslim. He answered me by e-mail on the 10th of February 1997: "I agree with your article entirely. In fact, I enjoyed it and wished to communicate with its author. I believe that both male and female circumcision has nothing to do with God's religion. I do think that the practice of circumcision implicitly claims flaw in God's creation". He added: "Your article was an eye-opening for me and for my friends. May God bless you. Unfortunately, I had already circumcised my two sons".
In a recent message, dated July 2, 1998, Edip Yuksel mentioned the Koranic verse 2:124 against male circumcision.
This position proves that Muslims can change their position if you convince them that the hadiths are not reliable, and that they contradict the philosophy of the Koran.
3) Religious norms of the previous nations
Besides the Koran and the Sunnah, classical and Muslim authors also consider the norms revealed by God to the previous religious communities through the different prophets as valid for Muslims, unless those norms contradict an Islamic norm. This is how the Muslims integrated into the Islamic community the order given to Abraham to circumcise himself.
Nevertheless, the reference to these norms is not very easy, because Muslims do not accept the authenticity of the Holy books of the Jews and Christians, which the Koran considers falsified because they do not mention the prophecy of Muhammad (see for example 4:46). For this reason, Muslims refer only to what has been reported in the Koran or in the hadiths about the previous religious norms. The only exception they accept is the Gospel of Barnabas. Concerning female circumcision, classical Muslim sources refer to a strange story of the circumcision of Hagar by Sarah. This is what we will see in the next paragraphs.
B) Text of the Gospel of Barnabas
According to this Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "Verily, I say unto you that a dog is better than an uncircumcised man". He also explains why God ordered circumcision:
Adam the first man having eaten by fraud of Satan, the food forbidden of God in paradise, his flesh rebelled against the spirit; whereupon he swore, saying: By God, I will cut thee!". And having broken a piece of rock, he seized his flesh to cut it with the sharp edge of the stone: whereupon he was rebuked by the angel Gabriel. And he answered: "I have sworn by God to cut it; I will never be a liar!". Then the angel showed him the superfluity of his flesh, and that he cut off. And hence, just as every man taketh flesh from the flesh of Adam, so is he bound to observe all that Adam promised with an oath. This did Adam observe in his sons, and from generation to generation came down the obligation of circumcision. But in the time of Abraham there were but few circumcised upon the earth because that idolatry was multiplied upon the earth. Whereupon God told to Abraham the fact concerning circumcision, and made this covenant, saying: "The soul that shall not have his flesh circumcised, I will scatter him from among my people for ever". The disciples trembled with fear at these words of Jesus, for with vehemence of spirit he spoke. then said Jesus: "Leave fear to him that hath not circumcised his foreskin, for he is deprived of paradise".
Muslim authors conclude from this text that "each of Adam's descendant is bound to observe all that Adam promised with an oath".
Christians consider the Gospel of Barnabas a forged book written by an unknown author in the thirteenth century, which was translated from Italian into English in 1907, and from English into Arabic in 1908. Khalil Saadeh, the Christian translator of this Gospel into Arabic, says that the harsh words comparing an uncircumcised man to a dog could not have originally been written by a Christian. He noted that Muslims in Andalusia imposed circumcision on Christians, and that was one of the reasons Christians revolted against Islamic authority. He deduces from this point and from others that this Gospel was forged by a Spanish Jew who became a Christian and then a Muslim. But modern Muslim scholars maintain that this book, which was never mentioned by classical Muslim authors, is the only authentic Gospel because it contains a recognition of the prophecy of Muhammad. They also maintain that the four Canonical Gospels are a forgery.
C) Story of the circumcision of Hagar by Sarah
Many classical Sunnite and Shiite authors report that Sarah, plagued by her jealousy of her servant Hagar, swore that she would mutilate Hagar. Abraham protested. Sarah answered that she has sworn by God and that she would not be made a liar. Abraham then indicated to Sarah that she could circumcise Hagar, "so that female circumcision becomes a norm between women".
This strange story is a way of attaching female circumcision to the foremother Hagar, as male circumcision was attached to the forefather Abraham. Al-Jahiz, quoted above, said: "male and female circumcision was practiced by Arabs since the time of Abraham and Hagar until today". Al-Jamal (died 1790) said: "Abraham was the first circumcised man, and Hagar mother of Ismael was the first circumcised women".
It is very difficult to know where this story originates. Al-Tabari begins this story as follows: "I have been told by Musa Ibn-Harun ....". Are these two persons on whom Tabari relies Jews or of Jewish origin, as their names suggest? If this is the case -- and we add the fact that the Koran does not mention this story that concerns three Jewish mythical persons: Abraham, Sarah and Hagar – this story is probably part of Jewish legends that infiltrated Islamic books. It could then prove that Jews in the time of Muhammad practiced female circumcision, and that they transmitted female circumcision to the Muslim community as they did with male circumcision.
Classical Sunnite and Shiite authors largely quote this story in favor of female circumcision. For example, Ibn-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah says that "after the circumcision of Hagar, this practice became a sunnah among women". But modern authors never quote this story. They certainly do not ignore it, and it is possible to explain their silence by pointing out that one women's quarrel, which finished with the circumcision of poor Hagar, can no longer be invoked as a valid motive for generalizing Sarah's vendetta against all Muslim women. Mentalities have changed.
4) Circumcision is necessary for purity and prayer
Besides the three arguments mentioned above, classical and modern authors invoke other arguments in favor of male and female circumcision.
According to the Islamic norms, whatever is necessary to accomplish a duty becomes a duty. Before praying, Muslims must proceed to purification through ablution (ghusl). Maintaining the foreskin was considered an obstacle to obtaining complete purification, because the foreskin covers the glans. Therefore, classical authors thought that male circumcision was necessary to discover the glans to prepare for the prayer. Some have even considered that one should repeat the prayers he did when he was uncircumcised. Modern authors repeat the same argument.
Classical and modern authors used this argument to distinguish between male and female circumcision -- the first being obligatory, and the second just preferable. For them, if a woman is not circumcised, she will not be in a state of impurity for prayer. Nevertheless, an Egyptian woman promotes female circumcision as a pre-condition for prayer.
Independently of the prayer, Muslim authors consider uncircumcised people, male or female, as impure. We have already quoted some hadiths attributed by Shiite Muslims to Muhammad that say urine of the uncircumcised is impure. Ibn-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah gives more details in this field:
What is more beautiful than to cut what is too long and exceeds the limits in the foreskin, the pubis, the armpit and moustache and the nail? The Devil is hidden inside of all of these, is acquainted with it and live in it. He blows in the penis and the vagina of the uncircumcised more than in those of the circumcised. He hides himself inside the hair of the pubis and under the nails. Foreskin is even more ugly than a long nail, long moustache or excessively long pubis. Nobody who has good sense ignores the ugliness of the foreskin and the purity and beauty of cutting it. This is the reason why God tried Abraham with eliminating these things, and he fulfilled them. Then God appointed him a leader for mankind because the face becomes more beautiful and more illuminating by doing so, and ashamed if they are left.
Ibn-Juzay (died 1340) said: "The foreskin, what is cut off in circumcision, is impure, because it is cut from a living person. One should not take it with him when he prays or enters the Mosque; it is forbidden to bury it in the Mosque although some people do it by ignorance".
5) Circumcision implies necessity because it implies cutting of a member and showing pudenda
Cutting of a sane organ or inflicting suffering on a person is not permitted in Islamic law. It is also forbidden to show the pudenda to others. Because circumcision implies a violation of these three interdictions, Muslim authors say circumcision could not be ordained by Muhammad if it was not obligatory and more important than the above mentioned protected rights.
This argument begins with the premise that the circumcision was ordained, which has not been proven.
6) Circumcision a sign for Muslims
As for Jews, Muslim authors considered circumcision as a mark that distinguishes the believer from the non-believer. They relied on this mark to separate fighters who died on the field of battle. A circumcised fighter is considered a Muslim and was buried in a Muslim cemetery. But some objected that Jews also circumcise their children, which makes this Muslim mark imprecise. In spite of this objection, this argument is still repeated by modern Muslim authors.
7) Circumcision as reducing of the pleasure and maintaining chastity
The Jewish Philo (died 54) considered male circumcision as a means to moderate the sexual pleasure of men and his attraction to women. This argument is repeated by Maimonides who said: "It is hard for a woman, with whom an uncircumcised had sexual intercourse, to separate from him".
A similar argument was invoked by Al-Mannawi (died 1622) who quotes Imam Al-Razi (without giving his exact identity), saying: "Glans is very sensitive. Whenever it remains covered by the foreskin, the pleasure is greater during sexual intercourse. If the foreskin is cut, then the glans becomes thicker and therefore the pleasure is reduced. This is convenient in our religion: to reduce the pleasure and not to suppress it, adopting a median position between exaggeration and complete loss".
This argument linking the pleasure to circumcision is used more frequently in female circumcision. Al-Jahiz wrote:
A woman with clitoris has more pleasure than a woman without 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 pleasant for the husband". It seems that Muhammad wanted to reduce the concupiscence of the women to moderate it. If concupiscence is reduced, the pleasure is also reduced as well as the love for the husbands. The love of the husband is an impediment against debauchery. Judge Janab Al-Khaskhash contends that he counted in one village the number of the 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 hoots.
This argument is largely quoted in classical books and is currently the most frequently cited justification for female circumcision.
Professor Al-Adawi from Al-Azhar said that female circumcision is makrumah, that is helps the woman "to 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 God shows compassion".
Judge Arnus said that female circumcision diminishes sexual instinct which, if not kept in control, reduces the person to the condition of an animal, but if this sexual instinct does not exist, then circumcision reduces her to a lifeless state. He favors moderation and notes that intact men and women have, more often than not, a "one track mind".
Salim, Chairman of the Muslim Supreme Court (abolished in 1955), reiterates that female circumcision is a makrumah, a meritorious action, that the woman is under no obligation to submit to, but preferably she should. He adds that circumcision protects girls from infection, swelling of her external genitalia and from strong psychic reactions, and sexual excitement which, if repressed, lead to neurosis or, if unleashed, lead to the path of vice. This happens especially during youth, when hormones of reproduction are at their peak. Salim goes on to describe this circumcision. The procedure consists of cutting off the bulging part of the clitoris which is out of the hood "so as not to become a cause of arousal while the girl is moving, rubbing against her clothing, riding animals, etc... Thus its name khafd: to lower the level".
Jad-al-Haq (died 1996), Great Sheik of Al-Azhar, adds that our times call for female circumcision "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 in a depraved society".
Al-Qaradawi leaves the choice to parents according to their beliefs, in spite of the fact that he favors female circumcision, because it protects girls' morality - "especially nowadays".
One must here mention the link between female circumcision and the hashish plague in Egypt. Doctor Hamid Al-Ghawabi, who admits that female circumcision does reduce the sexual instinct in women, sees this as a positive effect. With age, the male sexual instinct lessens. His circumcised wife will then be at the same level as him. If she was not, her husband would be unable to satisfy her, which then would lead him to drug-use in order to succeed.
The opponents use the reverse argument. El-Masry states that female circumcision distorts sexual relations: "Very few healthy males can fully succeed in bringing a circumcised woman to orgasm. She has lost her capacity for pleasure. The man will soon have to admit that he alone cannot do it. There is only one solution: hashish". Doctor Hanna states: "The man will resort to narcotics to satisfy his wife sexually. Circumcision is responsible for her lack of arousal and the husband has to take drugs to be able to hold his erection as long as necessary". The women are the ones to request that their husbands use drugs before sex: "They know from experience that it is their only chance of reaching orgasm, for hashish is the only cure for their mutilated clitoris".
The same link is observed between female circumcision and narcotics in Yemen where the plague of qat is widespread. An attempt to ban it in the British Colony of Aden, in April 1957, almost triggered a revolt. Yemenis saw in this measure "an infringement upon their basic rights". Women themselves showed their reprobation, claiming it was an attack on their conjugal lives. Since June 24, 1958, the use of qat has been legal in Aden.
To invoke chastity as a reason for female circumcision is in fact a way to dominate women. We have already quoted the saying of Malik: "If somebody buys a slave to keep home, he has to circumcise her; if he buys her for selling her again, he does not have to circumcise her". This was one of the reasons why female circumcision still exists in Muslim society, as explains El-Saadawi, a victim of excision:
The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.
She adds that female circumcision is a means of dominating women in a patriarchal society in which a man can have more than one wife. Society uses various means to sexually bind women to one man and to control who is the father of their children.
8) Majority of Muslim countries abandoned female circumcision
The opponents to female circumcision say that it is no longer practiced in many Muslim countries, which means that they do not consider it a religious obligation. They add that female circumcision has nothing to do with Islam, and that it is just a tradition inherited from ancient times – it was practiced by Muslims as well by Christians in Egypt. We find such an argument in an undated flyer, written in Arabic published by the Sudanese Association of Struggle against Traditional Practices which states:
- Female circumcision (khafd) is an attack on the physical integrity and an alteration of the human being created by God in the very best way and in the very best form.
- Female circumcision is a savage butchery that divine religions do not allow.
- Female circumcision is neither a duty nor a sunnah, but a practice of the pre-Islamic era (al-jahiliyyah: the era of ignorance) against which the Prophet warned us in his narration: "Cut lightly and do not overdo it as it is more pleasant for the woman and better for the husband".
- Female circumcision does not protect chastity which is better guarded by education promoting good morality and healthy teaching of Islam.
- Female circumcision preceded religions and is practiced by many peoples of different religions and beliefs of which only the Sudan, Egypt and Somalia are Muslim.
- Therefore, stop circumcising girls.
Those in favor of female circumcision reply that this argument cannot be used to determine whether a practice is permitted or prohibited according to Islamic norms. What is important is not how many Muslims perform female circumcision but what the Islamic norms say about it. Taha says that these norms remain valid until the day of resurrection, a mark which distinguishes Islamic norms from other norms. They cannot be abolished by the practice of any country whatever be its position in Islam. This is proved by the different fatwas (religious decisions) of Saudi authorities who continue to say that female circumcision was instituted by Islamic law and that it is a sunnah. Taha gives the following example: the fact that many Muslim women are unveiled does not abolish the Islamic norm concerning veiling.
Those in favor of male circumcision add that if some Muslims do not practice it anymore or try to forbid it, "it is because the West has succeeded in imposing secular materialistic views on our sciences, our tradition, our artistic culture". Imam Shaltut, who accepts the idea of forbidding female circumcision if proven harmful, underlines the fact that it should not be prohibited under pressure from others - a polite nod toward the West - but only if proven harmful.
9) Links between male/female circumcision and harm
Besides the above mentioned religious arguments, those for and against male circumcision try to address the link between male/female circumcision and harm. The advantages and disadvantages of male and female circumcision cited by both sides will not be presented here. We limit ourselves to examining to what extend such arguments are acceptable by religious authorities.
A) To apply the norm for the norm's sake
According to the Koran, "God will not be questioned as to that which he doeth, but they will be questioned" (21:23). Whatever God ordains, the true believers should fulfil his orders without questioning them.
According to Shiite sources, Al-Sadiq says that those who circumcise a child must repeat the following prayer:
Our God, this is your sunnah and the sunnah of your Prophet.... [By so doing] we fulfil your example, follow your books and your Prophet, submit to your will and your judgement, for a reason your wanted, a decision your made, and an order you gave. You make him suffer the iron through circumcision and shaving for a reason you know better than us. God, purify him from his sins, make his life long, protect his body from sickness and suffering, enrich him, and spare him poverty. You are who knows but we do not know.
Hamrush, Chairman of the fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, rejects the idea that female circumcision prevents diseases or keeps girls healthy since, contrary to boys, they do not have a foreskin to harbor impurities. He also rejects the idea that it is a protection of the woman's honor and morality, keeping her from throwing caution to the winds. If this were the case, then one would assume that circumcision is an obligation, and not just a makrumah. However, the Sheik holds the opinion that female circumcision should be performed to fulfil the teaching of Muhammad.
B) The norm has benefits unknown to reason
Professor Al-Labban says that scientific observation must not be used to destroy the norms established by God (including male and female circumcision) and announced by Muhammad, but rather they should be used to confirm them. If we do not understand the wisdom of these norms, he argues, the deficiency can be found in our reasoning, not with God. The Islamic law is the final law and is to rule at all times. Our human brains cannot possibly find fault with it. Muhammad does not speak from the heat of passion. Al-Labban explains how science confirms the religious norm. Sunnah circumcision lets the blood vessels heal (which other types of circumcision do not) and makes purification easy once the excrescence is cut off, because it is this part which retains urine and menstrual fluid. This wisdom of the Islamic norm was subsequently acknowledged by science.
In an Egyptian fatwa of June 23, 1951, it is said:
Medical theories relative to diseases and to their cure are not constant; they are subjected to changes with time and research. Therefore, it is impossible to use them as grounds to criticize female circumcision. The Lawmaker, wise, expert and knowledgeable, uses his wisdom to rectify the human creation. Experience has taught us that, given time, the true meaning of the Lawmaker's wisdom, which was hidden, is unveiled to us.
C) Neither misdeed nor interdiction
Al-Sukkari states that Muhammad never indicated any reservations regarding the harm of female circumcision. How, then, could any ordinary man forbid it under this pretence? Can we imagine the Prophet keeping silent about something harmful to the girl? Man has no power to allow or to forbid, only God does, and His wishes are set out in the Koran or by His Prophet. If in spite of that, some countries forbid female circumcision, it is a State decision and does not make any difference: the religious law allows it.
We can also find such a position among Jews. In September 1994, Professor Shimon Glick, Director of the Center for Medical Education in Ben-Gurion University, sent me an article showing that circumcised people are less exposed to AIDS. He added a small sheet on which he wrote: "If God commands an action it cannot be harmful". This proves that even among "intellectuals", scientific arguments are secondary. Religion is first.
This irrational mentality is also infiltrating the international arena. During the UN Seminar in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), the majority of participants agreed that the justifications for female circumcision based on cosmogony and those based on religion "must be assimilated to superstition and denounced as such", because "neither the Bible, nor the Koran recommend that women be excised". The participants recommended ensuring that, in the minds of people, male circumcision and female circumcision be dissociated, the former as a procedure for hygienic purposes, the latter - excision -, as a serious form of assault on the women's physical integrity.
This reasoning is groundless and extremely dangerous. If we must apply everything stated in the Bible and the Koran, we would have to legitimize the application of many barbaric norms, such as the law of retaliation, as other similar norms. And suppose that female circumcision was in the Bible or the Koran, would it be allowed no matter what?
D) To maintain the custom in the absence of misdeeds
Imam Shaltut does not see any support for male or female circumcision, either in the Koran or in the Sunnah of Muhammad. To him, female circumcision has no medical value, the girl having no foreskin to hold impurities. He packs into one sack those for and those against female circumcision: both groups go too far. He comes to the conclusion that female circumcision could be a makrumah for men who are not used to feeling the clitoris protruding; for the girl, it amounts to the same as taking care of her beauty, dabbing perfume or removing armpit hair. Elsewhere, Imam Shaltut is in favor of keeping the tradition of female circumcision until proven harmful.
Sheik Al-Nawawi reaches another conclusion through the same reasoning. For him, the hadiths of Muhammad on female circumcision are weak and do not have a raison d'être. Islam aimed at moderating this practice among Arabs, and it is still performed in this moderate form, without ever becoming the rule, apart from exceptional cases. One cannot make a rule out of one exception.
A less clear stand-point is taken by Al-Banna, Egyptian Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs. To him, female circumcision cannot be isolated from its benefit: God does not burden us, if there is no benefit. So, if there is any value to circumcision, one must abide by it. If not, one must give it up. Competent physicians must take a stand, having considered all girls from different climates, because the problem might not be the same in every country, or even with every girl. If a girl is in peculiar circumstances, she must be circumcised; if not, let Nature take its course, as God intended it. As long as no study has been done, Muslims are free to go either way.
According to Professor Khallaf, physicians may not condemn female circumcision based on isolated cases alone, but they must compare excised and uncircumcised girls and then give their opinion. If they conclude that female circumcision is harmful and they decide to forbid it, the prohibition will neither be contrary to a religious text nor with the unanimous position of religious scholars.
E) Permitted but soon to be forbidden because of adverse consequences
Doctor Abd-al-Wahid presents a strange reasoning, to say the least. After stating that female circumcision is forbidden the same way as it is forbidden to chop off one's finger, he admits that the Lawmaker (God) gave permission for the sunnah, any excess being forbidden. However, he adds that this form of circumcision is allowed, but not obligatory and suggests that it be forbidden due to its medical and psychological consequences, which he recounts in detail.
F) It must be forbidden
The most daring and most coherent opinion coming from a religious leader against female circumcision is that of Sheik Abu-Sabib, a Sudanese. He spoke at the Seminar on Traditional Practices (Dakar, 1984). According to him, the hadiths of Muhammad about female circumcision are not reliable. They and the Koran do not require anyone to suffer, when science proves the harm done by this mutilation. The Egyptian Muhammad Salim Al-Awwah maintains a similar opinion. But, both take a position against female circumcision only.
Chapter IV: Consequences of non-circumcision
1) Prayers, Pilgrimage, Testimony and Slaying of the uncircumcised
We said before that male and female circumcision is considered necessary to accomplish prayers.
Al-Qarrafi (died 1285) quotes Ibn-Abbas, a companion of Muhammad, who stated that an uncircumcised man cannot pray or fulfil pilgrimage, that one should not accept eating from an animal slaughtered by him, and that his testimony is rejected. He quotes Malik who said: "A person who does not submit to circumcision, without a valid reason, cannot conduct prayers or testify". This is repeated by modern authors. Shiite sources add that if an uncircumcised man dies, nobody should pray for him.
Ibadites consider invalid the marriage of a non-circumcised Muslim, even if the marriage was consummated. The woman, in this circumstance, may ask for a legal separation. If the husband is circumcised after consummation, the marriage still remains invalid, and he must go through another ceremony to reclaim his wife. For the Hanbalites, a husband's non-circumcision is a breach of contract, giving the woman the choice to seek divorce or continuing the marriage. For some, the non-circumcised man has no right of guardianship of a Muslim nor any right to give his consent to the marriage of a Muslim relative. In this case, the marriage is dissolved, except if it was consummated. Al-Bahuti adds that the husband can force his wife to submit to circumcision, and to pray as well.
Al-Sukkari, a modern author, grants women the right to dissolve marriages if their husbands are not circumcised, because the foreskin can be a vector of diseases. It can also be a source of repulsion, thus preventing the realization of the objectives of marriage -- love and understanding between partners. The woman has a right to be married to someone handsome and clean, Islam being the religion of cleanness and purity.
The non-circumcision of a female has also serious consequences. In some countries, the non-circumcised girls cannot get married and are regarded as guilty of misbehavior or possessed by the devil. In the Egyptian countryside, the matron practicing female circumcision delivers a certificate that is used for marriage. El-Masry reports the statement of an Egyptian midwife who had circumcised more than 1000 girls. It was her opinion that "one should lynch the fathers who were opposed to circumcision of their daughters, because these fathers were in fact willing to see their girls become whores".
The father can require his sons and daughters to submit to circumcision.
If a Muslim becomes an adult without being circumcised, or if anyone converts to Islam and refuses to submit to circumcision, they can be ordered by the governor to comply and may even be ordered killed if their circumcision is further delayed without justification. This does not apply to women, because female circumcision is not obligatory. But husbands can ordain them to be circumcised.
Al-Musuli says: "If the inhabitants of a country reach a unanimous decision to abandon circumcision, the head of state must declare war against them".
A fatwa (religious decision) of 1949 from the Egyptian Fatwa Committee has declared that abandoning female circumcision does not constitute a sin.
Another fatwa of 1951 from the same body is contradictory and more rigid. Not only does this fatwa not recognize the abandonment of female circumcision as an option, but states further that it is advisable because it curbs "nature".
A third, much more detailed, fatwa of 1981 from the same institution is adamantly opposed to giving up female circumcision. Jad-al-Haq, the author of this fatwa, insists that it is impossible to abandon the lessons of Muhammad in favor of the teaching of others, even if they be doctors, because medical science evolves and does not remain constant. The responsibility of female circumcision lies with the parents and with those in charge of the girl's welfare. Those who do not abide by female circumcision do not do their duty. He repeated twice that "if the inhabitants of a country reach a unanimous decision to abandon circumcision, the head of state must declare war against them". This last sentence is repeated three times in his fatwa of 1994 concerning both male and female circumcision.
Al-Qaradawi says that the war should be declared only in case of abandoning male circumcision.
According to the Saudi religious authorities, a man who converts to Islam must be circumcised, but if he refuses to join Islam for fear of the procedure, this demand may be postponed until the faith is stronger in his heart.
Ahmad Amin emphasizes the importance of circumcision in the Egyptian's mind by telling this anecdote: A Sudanese tribe wanted to join Islam. The chief wrote to a scholar of Al-Azhar to ask him what was to be done. The scholar sent him a list of demands, putting circumcision in first place. The tribe then refused to become Muslim.
Chapter V: The operation
For the Jews, the Bible states "every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old".
As for Muslims, Muslim jurists are not unanimous with respect to the age at which male and female circumcision should be performed. Some say it can be performed at any time, while others say at puberty, before 10 years of age, or around 7 years of age. Some distinguish between the preferable time and an obligatory time.
For some jurists, the preferable time is to circumcise boys at seven days old, inclusive or exclusive of the birth day. Others, however, prefer to avoid this date because it correlates with the Jewish custom. If a Muslim remains uncircumcised until adulthood, circumcision becomes obligatory at that point, except for those who are foolish or cannot undergo the procedure for health reasons. However, some jurists impose circumcision even if there is a danger of death. Al-Nazawi says that if it is known that circumcision can provoke death in a group, this group will be also excepted from circumcision.
2) Persons born or converted circumcised
Jews require boys who are born without a foreskin and men who are circumcised when they convert to Judaism to withdraw a drop of blood - called blood of the covenant - from their glans. The blood is drawn with a pin prick at their glans or the shaft of the penis just behind the glans.
This Jewish custom does not exist in Islamic thought. But some Muslim authors have stated that one should pass the knife on the place of the foreskin as a sign of obedience to God's order, similarly to the placement of a knife on the head of a bald man who goes pilgrimage. This is particularly the position of the Shiite Muslims who believe that all their imams were born circumcised. Other Muslims object to this procedure, reasoning that such an operation makes a mockery of the religion. These jurists believe that if the foreskin is non-existent, other formalities are not necessary, but if some foreskin remains, circumcision must be completed.
Additionally, if a boy's or man's foreskin grows back, some say that the foreskin must be cut again. Others say the first cut is sufficient.
3) Hermaphrodite and persons with two penises
Classical authors' opinions have differed regarding hermaphrodites, people born with both male and female genitalia. Some state that both genitalia must be circumcised, while others hold that only the organ passing urine should be cut. Still another group suggests that circumcision must be delayed until it is possible to tell which one of the two organs is predominant. Cautiously, Al-Sukkari, a modern author, states that both genitalia must be circumcised to minimize the risk of a mistake.
Classical authors also treated a strange case: a person born with two penises. If both urinates, both must be circumcised. If only one urinates, only this one must be circumcised.
4) Circumcision of a dead person
Jurists have questioned whether males who died without circumcision should be circumcised. Most reject such an idea, reasoning that circumcision has a purification purpose that the dead does not need. They believe that cutting a part from a dead person violates his right that others not look on his genitalia.
Some said that only people who die in old age must be circumcised. Other jurists are of the opinion that circumcision of the deceased is necessary for old and young people; in this case, the foreskin is placed in the shroud. These jurists justify their opinion based on a narration by Muhammad under which one is told to do to the dead what is done to those getting married. This same controversy exists within the Jewish community!
5) The circumciser
Circumcision implies looking at the genitalia which is strictly regulated in Islamic law, particularly with respect to the genitalia of adult persons. Islamic law permits the examination of genitalia between husband and wife and master and female slave, and in cases of necessity or for medical reasons. In medical cases, the examination is limited to the part of the genitalia that is being treated, and it is preferable for women to be seen by female physicians and men by male physicians.
Classical authors state that male circumcision must be performed by a male circumciser, and female circumcision by a female circumciser, unless no circumciser exists from the same gender. This rule applies particularly for adult.
For hermaphrodites, some state that they should circumcise themselves or have a female slave to perform the procedure; if there is no female slave, the individual can be circumcised by a man and a woman.
Others add that it is preferable for male and female adults to circumcise themselves, provided they know how to perform the procedure correctly. Still others say that if an adult does not know how to circumcise himself or herself, he or she does not need to perform circumcision at all. Others say that a man can be circumcised by a woman, but a woman cannot be circumcised by a man.
Modern Muslim authors mention generally that Muslim circumcisers must be pious and know Islamic norms. They add that only Muslim circumciser can decide if a circumcision is dangerous.
Finally, the question arises whether a non-Muslim - for example, a Jew – can circumcise a Muslim if there is no qualified Muslim circumciser. Al-Imam Hassan did not this question directly, but he did state that the norms must be respected.
6) The operation
A) Male circumcision
For Jews, the Bible does not specify how much should be cut from the penis foreskin. In ancient times, Jews apparently practiced a symbolic circumcision or they just cut off the protruding tip of the foreskin; this latter procedure is referred to as milah. In the second century after Christ, Jewish Rabbis decided to tear and strip back the remaining inner lining of the foreskin off the glans and, with a sharpened fingernail, remove the mucous tissue and excise the frenulum; this operation is called periah. Their purpose was to stop Jews from passing themselves off as uncircumcised males by elongating the remaining remnant of their foreskin.
Islamic classical authors differs on the quantity of foreskin which must be cut. Ibn-Hajar (died 1449) summarizes these various positions:
Al-Mawardi said: male circumcision is the cutting of the skin which covers the glans, preferably all of it from the beginning of the glans. The minimum accepted is to cut whatever covers the glans. Imam al-Haramyan said that male circumcision is the cutting of the foreskin which is the skin covering the glans so that nothing pending remains from this skin. Ibn-al-Sabbagh said: until the discovering of all the glans. Ibn-Kaj, quoting Al-Rafi'i, said: what is obligatory is to cut the part which is over the glans, even the minimum, under the condition that the cutting be rounded.
Al-Nawawi rejects this last opinion and considers it as deviant. He says that if the cutting eliminates only a part of the foreskin, the operation must be repeated.
Al-Bahuti says that if circumcision cuts the majority of the foreskin, it is accepted. Others accepted even half of the foreskin.
We have here another kind of circumcision that has been reported by many sources, called flying circumcision. Henninger analyzed all documents written on this subject in the last two centuries and concluded that all the reports were inaccurate. He concluded instead, that those reporting quoted what they heard but did not actually see any such circumcision.
B) Female circumcision
There are many different kinds of female circumcision, including the following three:
- The sunnah circumcision: circumcision according to the tradition of Muhammad, which is limited to cutting off the skin located above the genitalia in the shape of a kernel. Al-Nawawi specifies that it is preferable for the cutting to eliminate a small part and not to be exaggerated, to conform with the saying of Muhammad.
- Clitoridectomy or excision: circumcision consisting of the ablation of the clitoris and, in some cases, the labia minora. It is the operation of choice in Egypt.
- Infibulation or pharaonic circumcision: circumcision involving the complete ablation of the clitoris, labia minora and part of labia majora. The two sides of the vulva are then sewn together to close the vulva, and a very small opening is left for the passage of urine and menstrual flow. In some tribes, a woman is sewn back each time her husband travels and is reopened each time he comes back. In case of divorce, the woman is sewn up to preclude any possibility of intercourse.
We have seen in this article how important religious arguments are in Islamic society. We can find the same problems among Jews and fundamentalist Christians. They believe that humanity has to obey to God's orders.
Before using scientific arguments, we need to find a way to help people escape the authority of religious leaders and texts, a precondition to recourse to reason. This means that we need to question revelation. Here are two points that must be answered by those who believe in revelation:
1) Is God so stupid and limited in reasoning that he cannot distinguish between believers and non-believers unless they are marked on their genitals? Imagine a man cutting the penis of his horses and donkeys to distinguish them from those of his neighbors! Why do we agree to practice on our children what we find disgusting when practiced on animals?
2) If we agree that God cannot be so stupid to ask his believers to cut their penis as a distinguishing mark, then we have to question whether Abraham, if he ever existed, was really a normal man when, according to the Bible, God ordered him to cut his penis at the age of 99 years (Muslims contend that he was circumcised when he was 80 or 120 years old). Could he have been senile?
Such questions, which could be shocking for religious leaders, will open new perspectives. In this way, Abraham, this holy personage for Jews, Christians and Muslims, becomes a common man who became senile when old. If he was senile, why then should we follow him?
The Bible tells us that God created man in his image. Actually, it is man who creates God in his own image -- crude and inhuman. Men even think that God will not be pleased if their sons are not sacrificed for him. Men still believe this when circumcising their sons and daughters. But as long as God does not have a telephone, facsimile, or e-mail address, there is no possibility to verify if he ever asked anyone to behave in such a strange way.
As long as people believe in these orders of God, they will continue to try to fulfill them -- circumcising their children, cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers, killing those who renounce their faith, stealing the properties of other peoples, and discriminating against the goyims who do not follow their religions. Whenever you propose to outlaw their behavior, they will present themselves as martyrs, treat you as anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic, and try to manipulate the laws or change them.
Therefore, the only way to put an end to all inhuman behavior justified in the name of God is to put an end to the belief that God gave any order to any person in any holy book. This means that we must, once and forever, erase from our minds the concept of revelation. This is the conclusion reached by the great physician and thinker Muhammad Ibn-Zakariyya Al-Razi (in Latin: Rhazes; died 925 or 935) whose medical books were taught in European universities until the 16th century. He believes in God but rejects any revelation that he attributes to pretentious, bloody, self-promoting prophets. He considers revelation as contrary to the reason granted by God to all human beings.
We all try to avoid clashes with religious authorities and ideologies. But there is no other choice than a direct confrontation with some. We do not have to be merciful with those who are not merciful towards our children, who are helpless, voiceless and, thus, powerless victims. Before mutilating our sexuality, revelation began by mutilating our brains. In order to put an end to the mutilation of our children we have to begin by ending the impact of revelation on our brain. The day we consider that all the Holy books have no more value than One Thousand and One Nights will be the very day that we stop mutilating our children.
Emptying our minds of revelation is a precondition to allowing humanity to progress to point where there is respect for human dignity.
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