Oct 27, 2012

Being Circumspect about Circumcision

THE WEEK carries an article on the age-old issue of circumcision. Still this issue has been actively discussed by many advocates of human rights who feel that circumcision is tantamount to tampering with the rights of the individual and it must be left to the individual to make the right decision when he wants to part with part of him. This is being said despite clear exhortation by both religion and science on the merit of undergoing such procedure. This issue is so ferociously contested in respect of female circumcision. The proponents of women rights feel offended by such demands imposed by some society on the basis religious obligation. I raised this issue in one of my article and that the learned referees felt that I must avoid issues that are controversial such as female circumcision. Avoiding controversy does not solve the issue. In fact that will lead to controversy about the controversy. It is very important to take the bull by its horn and discuss it thoroughly so that it leaves no more doubt in the minds of people who feel so passionate about it, either for or against it. On the religious obligation of circumcision on both male and female, see Keller, Noah Ha Mim, The Reliance of the Traveller, (Evanston: Sunna Books, 1991), e4.3, p. 59. However, quite a few hadiths are cited on this subject. For example in the hadith, “if the two circumcised parts meet one another, ghusl becomes obligatory,” circumcision is made obligatory for both male and female, since that which requires an obligation becomes itself an obligation.  However, in another hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said to a lady by the name of Umm ‘Atiyyah, who was operating on a girl,  “Just touch the surface lightly and do not cut deep; her face will grow beautiful and her husband will rejoice”.  This hadith has both permission and prohibition.  It prohibits the ‘deep cut’ but permits the ‘light touch’ on the surface.  The latter, certainly, cannot be considered as mutilation.  For, the term ‘mutilation’ has the meaning of ‘depriving a person or animal of a limb or essential part with an intention to maim or to damage or to cause imperfection to it’. From the above hadith it can be seen that the Prophet’s permission of female circumcision is to enhance her beauty and not to maim or cause damage to any of her bodily parts and never to cause imperfection to it.  Now the only point of contention would be that circumcision causes imperfection to the organ.  This may not necessarily be the case, since in the above hadith it is not mentioned as such, rather it is considered as part of feminine beauty.  Thus only the deep-cut is prohibited and not a proper circumcision.  For, there are four types of female circumcisions in vogue across the world: (1) circumcision - the circumferential excision of the clitoral prepuce, (2) excision - removal of the glands clitoridis or even the clitoris proper, (3) infibulation - partial closure of vaginal orifice, and (4) introcision - ripping the perineum.  See Verzin, J. A., “Sequelae of Female Circumcision,” Tropical Doctor, 5(1975), p. 163.  Certainly the latter three are clear cases of mutilation, since they are done to maim and damage the function of the organ.  These certainly are Islamically prohibited aspects of female circumcision.  However, in some Muslim societies in parts of Egypt and Sudan females are subjected to such deliberate acts of subjugation.  It is, often, against these treatments that voices of rejection are being raised by the defenders of women’s rights.  For further discussion on this issue, read Anees, Munawar A., “Circumcision: The Clitoral Inferno”, Islamic Culture, 53iii(1989), pp. 77-92, and Abu Salieh, Sami A. Aldeeb, “Muslims’ Genitalia in the Hands of the Clergy: Religious Arguments about Male and Female Circumcision” in Denniston, George C., et.al, ed., Male and Female Circumcision: Medical, Legal and Ethical Considerations in Pediatric Practice, New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 1999) pp. 131-170. 

Read THE WEEK on circumcision

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