Welcome to my new Misconceptions series. Here I will aim to clarify the points that most non-Muslims (and some Muslims!) have issues with or have doubts about. Most of the items discussed here will be things which have been perpetrated as “Islamic” but in fact have no Islamic ruling and are actually cultural traditions.
I thought I would start off my Misconceptions series with a very sensitive topic worldwide – FGM. I chose this one because recently a relative (non-Muslim) told me that they had overheard a conversation in the family where the family members had agreed that FGM is an Islamic tradition and is mandatory throughout the Muslim world. Let me first explain what exactly FGM is and then I will go onto where its place in Islam lies.
Definition: Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision
Practiced in: Commonly in Sub-Saharan and North-Eastern Africa as a ritual tradition. In some minorities in Asia and the Middle East it is also carried out.
What is it: Partial or total removal of the external female genitalia to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are different levels/types of FGM which vary depending on tradition and tribe.
Why do it: There are many different beliefs surrounding FGM but the most common are:
1. Promotes longer virginity and lack of sexual appetite in the female. Therefore, leaving the woman less likely to be sexually active.
2. Makes the female genitals look more “feminine”.
3. Makes the female genitals cleaner and more hygienic.
4. Increase in pleasure for the male partner.
*You can read the World Health Organization fact file here
When did it start: The first references to FGM began in Africa approximately 2000 years ago, leading up to references of its practice in Western countries for scientific experiments (particularly among those women with promiscuous lifestyles) as late as the early 1900’s. From the 1920’s onwards most Doctors and medical boards spoke against the practice of FGM.
Religious backing: Let this be clear! There is NO mention or mandating of FGM in the Quran. As it was practiced in pre-Islamic times, there are a few ahadith that mention this tradition. Prophet Muhamed (SAW) advised his people that it was not required or necessary but if it were to be carried out then the milder forms (Type 1) were fine. See the previous WHO link for more info on types/levels of FGM.
Present day: The present day Islamic ruling is that due to the pain and damage FGM causes to a woman’s body, it is clearly not recommended or allowed in the name of Islam. This was confirmed by the Supreme Council for Islamic Research in 2007. Nevertheless, the practice is already associated with religion and many more traditional people do still believe that it is a requirement. Many women in traditional societies actually want this procedure as they believe they are “dirty” without it.
There has been more media interest in this issue over the last few years with the rise in migration of people who commonly practice this tradition, into countries where it is not practiced.
Sadly, there are many people who will abuse the words of the Quran and of Prophet Muhamed in order to justify this disgusting violation of a woman’s body. There are a few ahadith which mention circumcision but don’t specify gender; in this instance these have been used as a justification for this. You can view some of the views for and against here.
The result of FGM is to remove the ability to achieve sexual climax in the woman, so it is impossible for a FGM victim to enjoy any part of marital relations and this act then becomes a ritual torture with severe health implications. There are many references to sexual satisfaction between husband and wife in Islam; something which is impossible to achieve for a woman given the horrific nature of this act. Surely this alone makes it clear that this procedure should not be done in the name of Islam.
“And the women have rights similar to what you have, according to custom.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 228]
If you would like to know more about or support FGM charities then please see the link here.