Islam And Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Female genital mutilation is a process that involves partial or total removal of female genitalia.
A Muslim male is usually circumcised at an early age as this is a religious obligation among Muslims. As opposed to male circumcision, the female circumcision is a cruel, inhuman and painful process and is harmful to the female victim. The custom of FGM has been followed even before the advent of Islam and we can call it a pre-Islamic social or cultural custom and ritual which can still be seen to be in practice in many countries including Islamic states worldwide. Now the question is, what is the legal status of the practice of FGM among Muslim jurists? Although many fatawa have been tabled for debate, they differ from one another, many of them arguing in favor of FGM while many opposing. Let’s analyze them in detail.
Status of FGM among Sunni Muslim jurists is as follow:
- According to classical Hanafi jurists FGM is Sunnah (deed of Prophet SAW) although there is some disagreement among the Hanafi jurists on the issue – some consider it as mustah’ab as well (favorable not compulsory/wajib), while most agree with the Hadith (saying of Prophet SAW ) that “circumcision is Sunnah for men and Makrooh (undesirable) for women”.
- The Shafi’ee school of thought consider it as Wajib (obligatory) but here isn’t complete consensus among the jurists.
- Maliki school of thought goes with mustah’ab (favourable but not wajib). This is the preferred opinion of the Maliki thought yet there is still some disagreement.
- The Hambali school of thought has two opinions: one is mustah’ab (favourable but not wajib) and the other is wajib (obligatory) with many other opinions of jurists differing from each other.
Status of FGM among the Jafari’ee (Shi’yaa) jurists of Islam:
- According to the Jafari’ee jurisprudence, circumcision is necessary for men as it is the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S), but not for women.
- Ayatollah Khamenei the leading scholar among contemporary jurists of Iran says that FGM is permissible but not obligatory for women. He also states that if the husband wants his wife to be circumcised than it might be carried out if it isn’t harmful for her.
- Ayatullah ali al hussaini ali Sistani form Iraq said in his fatwa in 2010 that FGM is not haram (prohibited). Later in 2014 he revised his fatwa and said that FGM is harmful for the female victims and it isn’t permissible or part of any Islamic injunction.
Here we have two group of jurists, on one side we have the proponents arguing in favor of FGM as an Islamic injunction and on the other hand we have the opponents arguing against the practice of FGM as not Islamic but only part of a custom or ritual.
Fatwa of Proponent Jurists:
This group of jurists justify FGM as an Islamic act that shall be done to every Muslim male and female as mentioned in Hadith “KHITAAN’AAN”. The leading jurists in favor of this issue are some of the Shafi’ee jurists who justify it as an obligatory practice in Islam. The proponent jurists of other schools of thought justify it from Holy Quran, Sunnah, Qiyas and arguments of jurists.
Justification from Holy Quran (first source of Islamic law):
There isn’t any direct argument from the Holy Quran but some infer it indirectly by a stretch that if almighty Allah says in the Holy Quran (Al Nahl verse 123) to follow the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S), then it must mean that following the practices of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S) is obligatory upon every Muslim. Prophet Ibrahim was circumcised when he was 9 years old and its proved by strong sources that in the time of Prophet Ibrahim females were also circumcised. This practice has been followed since that time, so then it also becomes obligatory for every Muslim, according to the proponents especially the Shafi’ees.
From Sunnah (second source of Islamic law):
“When the private parts (male and female) meet, bathing (ghusal) becomes obligatory”. The word “KHITAAN’AAN” is inferred to mean the private parts of males and females both so khattna (circumcision) becomes obligatory for both male and female. Arabs used to speak these kind of words like “ABU’WAIN” for both mother and father (parents) and “UMER’AIN” for both Hazrat Umer ibn Khtab and Umer ibn Abdul Aziz. But that cannot be accepted as argument on such a severe issue.
The second hadith from the proponents’ side in support of their argument is the hadith narrated by a female companion of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Umeh Atiyah Ansariyah narrated that there was a woman who used to circumcise girls in Madina and the Holy Prophet said to her to not cut too much because it is a source of pleasure for the women and the husband likes it.
Third hadith from the supporters of FGM is
“الختان سنة للرجال ومكرمة للنساء”
“Circumcision in Sunnah for men and makrooh for women”. Makrooh can infer that is it undesirable and not absolutely forbidden.
From “IJ’JMAA” (consensus) (third source of Islamic law):
There are differing opinions of different jurists so there is no Ij’jmaa on this issue among Muslim jurists.
From “QIYAS” (Analogy) (forth source of Islamic law):
For readers who are not aware of the technicality of the process of Qiyas, allow me to define it first as to how it works and how can a jurist produce a solution for an issue through Qiyas.
Qiyas is the fourth source of Islamic law and literally means to measure something. It is the extension of the rule of Islamic law to draw an analogy from an original case to a new case because the new case has the same reasoning as the original one, e.g. khamar (wine) intoxication is prohibited (haram) in Islam because it directly affects the brain and consequently the brain is unable to functions properly or think rationally. Now we have to find the ill’at (reasoning) of the issue.
In the case of khamar (wine) the ill’at (reasoning) is an adverse effect (ghu’sh) on the brain so we can conclude that all kinds of intoxication that bring a bad effect to the brain are prohibited (haram) like cocaine, heroin and other drugs. Although they are not specifically prohibited by Quran and Sunnah and there is no direct hokam-e-shar’ee for these drugs, the jurists made shar’ee hokam by the way of Qiyas. Coming back to the issue of FGM, the proponents argue by way of Qiyas that the case of male circumcision applies to females as well, but the fact is that both of them are totally distinct and unique from each other and there is no resemblance between the two.
Opinion of opponent jurists:
The group of jurists from different schools of thoughts reject the permissibility of FGM in Islam and do not consider it part of the injunctions of Islam. Their arguments are as follows:
Answer to the justifications from Holy Quran:
The proponent jurists alleged that Allah said in the holy Quran to follow the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S). That meant following the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S) as he believed in the oneness of God. Also if Ibrahim (A.S) was circumcised because he was a male, that cannot be taken as precedent for the females because there is no resemblance between the male and female body structure. Allah Almighty prohibits in the Holy Quran to cut a body part of human beings without any reason because a human being is the most beloved creature to the omnipotent Allah, and is the creature in whose beautiful creation the Almighty takes pride in.
Answer to the justification from Holy Sunnah:
Ahadith put forward by the proponents have ‘weak health’ (Dhuaee’f Sih’ha) mainly because of the chain of hadith and of the narrators, so we cannot rely on such ahadith on such delicate issues.
Answer to the Qiyas :
First of all if we are making Qiyas a deciding factor for another analogy, the ill’at (cause) must be the same between the cases but in the case of FGM, how can we use the analogy of a male body for a female when they are both totally different and distinct from each other. The ill’at of circumcision of men is to increase pleasure, is also good for sexual life and includes many other medical benefits to men. But in case of women it reduces pleasure, is harmful for her physical as well as mental health, so the idea of Qiyas here is totally strange.
In light of the aforementioned information we can conclude that there is disagreement among Muslim jurists. Some consider FGM wajib (obligatory), some makrooh (undesirable), some go with mustah’ab (favourable but not wajib/obligatory). So now we have to consider whether there are any benefits of the practice for the victim? Alama Qurdawi, an Egyptian scholar, said in his fatwa that we should consult with a doctor or surgeon specialist and after the consultation it has been found that FGM can reduce the source of pleasure for the victim and is also a threat to the victim’s life as it is a very painful treatment for the women victims and is harmful for her physical as well as mental health. It has bad effects on the victim’s psyche and also damages her confidence. The arguments of the proponents are not strong enough to make FGM as being a part of Islamic injunctions. The findings prove that it isn’t a religious practice. It is a custom and ritual of an ancient society and Islamic injunctions cannot be based on customs and rituals but only on the Holy Quran and the strong sources Sunnah. Even though FGM has been in practice before the advent of Islam or since the beginning of Islam, it still desperately needs strong arguments to prove it as an Islamic practice from Holy Quran, Sunnah and other sources of Islamic law. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had four daughters and we have no strong sources to prove if even one of them was circumcised, therefore it can be concluded that this practice has no strong reasons to be called as Islamic.
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