Islam against FGM – a Ritual Independent from Religion

by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In traditional societies, FGM or female genital cutting is still justified and explained by “Islam”. However, FGM is prohibited according to Islam because it causes enormous harm to the bodies and souls of women. FGM is a brutal and irreligious ritual that not only disregards the rights of women, but also denies them their self-determination as well as their physical, emotional, and psychological health. I would therefore like to thank the German-Syrian gynaecologist Dr. Houaida Taraji for answering to my questions in the following interview:
Milena Rampoldi: Many people associate FGM with Islam. How can we rectify this misconception in accordance with the Quran and Sunna?
Houaida Taraji: In Islamic law, the preservation of human beings – their life and physical integrity – is a legal claim. All aspects endangering this legal claim by damaging the person is forbidden in Islam. For these reasons and the high Islamic commandment, the female must be protected and FGM banned.
MR: There is a weak Hadith which is still used in traditional African societies to cut women. How can this be opposed and stopped?
HT: There is this weak Hadith saying “the circumcision without cutting into, this makes the face (of the girl) more illuminated and is an advantage for the husband.” (Mujam al-Tabarânî al-Awsat).
On the basis of this Hadith, the scholars permit female circumcision because the Prophet of Islam expressly prohibited to go to extremes because of its prohibition “not to cut into”.
     If you look at the scholars’ statements about the Hadith, you find that a considerable number of famous scholars like Ibn Hajar, al-Bukhari, Abu Dawud, al-Bayhaqi, ibn-ul-Mundthir, ash-Shawkani, stated that this Hadith is weak and not reliable. Ibn ul-Mundthir state that “there is no tradition about circumcision you can make reference to and there is no reliable chain of transmitters you can follow.” 
     It is well known under the scholars of Islam that if a Hadith is considered week and unreliable, it cannot be used as evidence for laying down a rule in Islam, because legal religious rules must be proven with authentic, unequivocal evidence. 
MR: In Islam, women have a right to sexual satisfaction. How can you remove the taboo about this matter in Islamic discussion?
 HT: The Islamic sharia also protects the female right to sexual satisfaction, proven by the fact that a woman has right to divorce if her husband does not sexually satisfy her. All Muslims who practice FGM around the world will abandon this repugnant practice if they improve their knowledge of Islam. A clear example of this is that various groups in Kenya, which do not practice female circumcision, are Muslims in a country whose inhabitants are known for practising FGM.
MR: Please explain to us from a medical point of view how terrible FGM (type I, II, and III) is.
HT:  There are the following types of FGC:
Type I: This is the lightest form of FGC consisting of the removal of the prepuce or parts of it, covering the female clitoris, by exposing the glans clitoridis
Type II: This type is known as clitoridectomy. Clitoris and labia minora are partially or completely removed.
Type III: One of the extreme types of FGC is the complete removal of the clitoris, the labia minora e majora and the connection of both parts of the vulva over the vagina by sewing the whole thing with a filament or other means so that they finally heal together. Only a small, pencil-sized hole is left to let run off menstruation blood and urine. This kind of FGC is known as infibulation or Pharaonic circumcision to refer to its origin.  
In comparison with male circumcision, FGM has not any medical advantages but only a series of disadvantages like:
– Wound infections are very frequent with FGM because of the female anatomy.
– Scarring which are obstructive and dangerous during births.
– Hazard of urinary infections because the bladder is cannot be emptied completely or only with extreme difficulties.
– Infections of the abdomen and congestions because the menstruation blood cannot run off or not sufficiently.
– This way a danger of infection arises for the baby at birth (germs enter eyes and nose, etc.)
– The strongly cicatrised female genital organs favourite infections in the genitals.
– By removing or damaging the clitoris the women is deprived of her sexual satisfaction.
– Strong cicatrisation can delay the birth and cause oxygen deficiency in the child. In extreme cases, it can cause stillbirths.
MR: Which are the best socio-political strategies to convince Muslims in Europe to openly oppose to FGM in the name of Islam?
HT: The origin of FGM is evidently not to be found in Islam, but in the Pharaonic circumcision in Egypt also practised by Christians. In Europe there is no religiously legitimated FGM. I have been gynaecologist for 25 years now and see this phenomenon once a year in African immigrants.
     It is not an Islamic ritual. FGC is a cross-cultural, religiously neutral ritual. In Africa and the Middle East it is practised by Muslims, Coptic Christians, members of different domestic groups, protestants and Catholics to name a few of them.
     FGM was also practised in Northern America and in particular in the USA; until 1950, the type I, II and III were applied to take control of female sexual life.
     In Islam those who simply consider FGM as permissible justify their opinion on the basis of an additional tradition by Um Atiyyah, according to which the Prophet heard about a girl’s circumcision and gave instructions to the woman practising it.
     It is often said that FGM, type I is a “sunna” circumcision. But we have to point out that the correct Islamic point of view says that there is no reliable text requesting any type of female circumcision. In the spirit of Islam, what damages is prohibited and what promotes health is useful. 
According to a fundamental principle of Islamic law all what is not prohibited can be done. This permits a lot of tolerance, but also puts into the position of handling new matters important in a certain age.