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Is Female Circumcision a Cultural or Islamic Practice? Part 1

26 April, 2017
Q Dear All, Thank you for this page and I really learned a lot from your replies. I deliberately send this question to your section not to the Fatwa section, as I need a more cultural reply to my questions. I have already read thoroughly about circumcision and am now convinced it is not an Islamic obligation but a traditional practice. I will not put my two daughters in such a traumatic experience. I found no convincing argument that it is obligatory for me to do so as a Muslim. But, I want you to confirm that to me too, as you know how we were brought up to believe it is essential! Simply “talk” to me about it a bit so that I would feel confident about my religiosity-based conviction and decision. Thank you.


Salam Hoda, 

Thank you very much for your question. Please find part one of the answer to your question below. Find the second and final part at the link here.

The topic of female circumcision is very important despite its sensitivity. This sensitivity sometimes makes people avoid discussing such an important matter and remain ignorant of the difference between their true religious obligations and their cultural based habits. 

Unfortunately, the subject of Islam and female genital mutilation (FGM), have once again been linked, and it deserve more attention and ijtihad.

To put it simply, female circumcision should not be tolerated by Muslims, who are not to bear with injustice and violations of women’s bodies in the name of their religion of tawhid (strict monotheism). 

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I feel it incumbent upon me, as an American Muslim, to put forth all my effort, trying to clear up this gross misrepresentation. Therefore, I thank you for allowing me to elaborate here, by replying to your question. 

Traditional Excuses 

The so called “traditional fundamentalists” – in the juristic, not the political sense -endorse the procedure for reasons of cleanliness, falsely equating the female’s unaltered genitalia with the male’s and imagining a parallel.

Others boldly assert that, without female circumcision, wantonness will almost certainly ensue, citing the stereotype of “Western woman’s sexual promiscuity”. 

Looking into the causes of promiscuity

At this juncture, we must make mention of the false interpretations, which have been attending the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise. Although the Qur’an is quite clear regarding the mutual disobedience of both parties to their Creator, incorrect and misogynistic views still abound, viewing the woman temptress as the root of all evil. 

Let us stop and take a look at some Qur’anic verses and prophetic sayings to again, clarify the exquisite fairness regarding the two sexes. This is as far as guilt or propensity for error is concerned: 

[…] Satan is the third person in an isolated area where there is only a man with a woman […] (Ibn Al-Atheer – Sahih)

This hadith refers to non-related males and females (non-mahram), other than your spouse — and it goes for BOTH SEXES

Then, there is the clear verse, no. 31 in Surah 24, which orders the believing men AND believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts from the opposite sex. 

In Surah 25, there is the clear verse which states that humans were created as a trial for each other. The verse says:

{[…] and We have made some of you a trial for others; will you bear patiently? And your Lord is ever Seeing.} (Quran 25:20)

When Allah orders women not to display their adornments to the opposite sex, except spouses and male relatives, He is giving a clear prescription for the malady, which affects us. We are all far too impressed by appearances, which are for the most part deceiving.

When women disobey Allah in this regard, both parties are the victims. The woman is not appreciated for her humanity, intelligence, and character and the man is attracted more by form than by content. Also, the jealousy, which results from mixed social gatherings often results in severe marital discord. 

We all know how easily most men are swayed by a woman’s beauty. Women are likewise swayed by a man’s money, power, and social status. Isn’t it clear how the root cause of so much pain is pride?

False illusions of power hold sway, as most forget that all power is to the Almighty Allah alone. Yet, Satan has kept his promise, that he would lead most astray from the straight path and his weapon of choice is pride. 

It takes a lot of strength of character for a woman to dress plainly in public, and yes, cover her head if she so chooses. It is equally difficult for men to use their power, money, and status to fight for Allah’s just causes. Peer pressure and the fear of failure play a major role in the downfall of both sexes. 

If our self-esteem were to be measured in terms of Allah’s pleasure, we would feel satisfaction in knowing that we build character and achieve self-satisfaction through obedience to Him. This pays off far greater dividends than following our own whims. 

I felt it necessary to elaborate at length on this aspect to show that the causes of promiscuity are not physical – in this context women’s genital anatomy – but mainly conceptual and psychological. 

If we can cure the souls and hearts, we would not be over-obsessed by the body. We would neither regard it as a cause of evil nor as a sole locus of existence and domain of self-realization. 

Only in Africa

Many African societies have fallen victim, over the centuries, to vicious plots by the enemies of freedom and social developments for all races. This has lead to a devastating lack of education and literacy. 

In Egypt, some voices call for the restriction of women, solely to their homes, citing the fitna (stress or strife), which ensues as women “on the loose” are targeted as the major culprit. 

While I clearly don’t advocate unrestricted social mixing between the sexes, I defend women’s right and – even obligation – to enter the public square and contribute to different aspects of life.

Here, I deplore female genital mutilation and see it as an obstacle to development and Islamic progress on all fronts! What better way to disable African societies than to traumatize half the population at the most delicate time, the onset of puberty, as the procedure of FGM usually is performed between the ages of 9-12, and most often at the hands of female relatives. 

Continue reading part 2 at the link here.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Why Should We Still Discuss FGM in the 21st Century?

Customs, Traditions & Islam’s Message

Science Learns the Value of Male Circumcision