Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Female Genital Mutilation
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Female Genital Mutilation or 'Female Circumcision' (Arabic: ختان المرأة) is the practice of cutting off part(s) of the outer labia and/or part or all of the clitoris. Infibulation is an extreme form of Female Genital Mutilation in which the outer labia are pared back and the cut edges of the opposing labia are stitched together. After healing this forms a covering that seals the openings of the vagina and the urethra.
The average age at which girls undergo FGM is seven, though some communities practice it on infants and even neonate girls, and others on women as a part of their marriage preparations.The practical purpose of FGM is to safeguard the purity, chastity, virtue and reputation of girls and women. The popular discourse often paints FGM as simply an artifact of traditional cultures, with no connection to religion. However, the practice is supported in several Hadith, one of which explains an otherwise obscure Quranic verse.
The global distribution of FGM approximates to that of Islam, Numerous fatwas have been issued supporting or commanding the practice. However, over the past half century there has been a growing unease in the Islamic world concerning the practice. The earliest fatwa clearly critical of FGM appears to have been issued in 1984.
This section contains the hadith in which Muhammad pronounces on FGM. All use khitan (or inflections of it) for 'circumcision'. It is often claimed that khitan refers only to (male) circumcision. But several of the following hadith refer unambiguously to women or girls undergoing khitan.
The fitrah is five things, including circumcision
Hadith methodology dictates that if it is not mentioned specifically or if the pronouns do not point to a certain gender, then the hadith is valid for both sexes. Hence, the following hadith is applicable for both men and women.
A preservation of honor for women
Do not cut "severely"
Note that the judgement concerning what is severe is relative.
When the circumcised parts touch each other
To 'sit amidst four parts of a woman' is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
Other Evidence in the Hadith
The following three hadith touch on FGM. Because they do not involve Muhammad they have less doctrinal authority than the hadith in the previous section. However, they offer useful historical, anthropological and linguistic evidence.
One Who Circumcises Other Ladies
This hadith includes an exchange of insults prior to the battle of Uhud. Hamza, a companion of Muhammad, taunts Siba', a warrior from Muhammad's native tribe - the Meccan Banu Quraysh. Hamza compares Siba' to a notorious 'circumciser' of girls - Ibn Um Anmar. Hamza uses the phrase 'muqteh al-basr‘ – ‘one who cuts clitorises' - rather than the usual khitan.
From this it can be deduced that clitoridectomy was practiced by the Quraysh. The fact that a 'circumciser of [...] ladies' could be famous (or notorious) also suggests that it was an established practice with the Meccan Quraysh. Furthermore, the taunt could only be effective if it humiliated Siba' in the eyes of both his fellow Meccan warriors and his Muslim foe. This implies that members of both camps had knowledge of the practice and a shared culture of clitoridectomy.
In Bukhari's al-Adab al-Mufrad
The following two hadiths come from Al-Adab Al-Mufrad. This is a collection of hadith about the manners of Muhammad and his companions, compiled by the Islamic scholar al-Bukhari. It contains 1,322 hadiths, most of which focus on Muhammad's companions rather than Muhammad himself. Al-Bukhari's evaluation of the hadiths within al-Adab al-Mufrad was not as rigorous as for his best-known collection - Sahih Bukhari. However, scholars have ruled most of the hadith in the collection as being sahih (authentic) or hasan (sound).
Someone to Amuse Them
The word used for 'circumcised' uses the root khitan.
Go and Circumcise Them and Purify Them
In this hadith, Uthman, one of Muhammad's closest companions, appears to be treating 'circumcision' as part of the initiation ritual for females newly-converted to Islam. The word used for 'circumcise' in this hadith is khaffad, not khitan. Khaffad translates as 'trim them' or 'reduce them'.
The 'circumcision' in the above two hadiths is being performed openly and in an unembarrassed manner - and by Muhammad's favourite wife (Aisha) and by one of his closest companions (Uthman). It seems unlikely that Muhammad's closest companions would engage in 'circumcision' against Muhammad's wishes.
There is no explicit reference to Female Genital Mutilation in the Qur'an.
However, the following Quranic verse requires Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah'. This is the word's only appearance in the Qur'an, and it is left unexplained.
To know what fitrah means, traditional scholars turn to the hadith. Several hadith use the word fitrah. The hadith which gives the clearest explanation is the one mentioned above ('The fitrah is five things, including circumcision'), which uses the Arabic word khitan for 'circumcision'. That khitan originally referred to Female Genital Mutilation as well as (male) circumcision is shown by the usage of the word in the other hadith mentioned in the above sections.
Thus, according to traditional interpretive methodology, in requiring one to 'adhere to the fitrah' the Qur'an indirectly advocates FGM.
Cutting out the clitoris is obligatory
Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri
Fuqaha’ of Islam are agreed that it is prescribed, not an inherited custom
Circumcision is not an inherited custom as some people claim, rather it is prescribed in Islam and the scholars are unanimously agreed that it is prescribed. Not a single Muslim scholar – as far as we know – has said that circumcision is not prescribed.
Their evidence is to be found in the saheeh ahaadeeth of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), which prove that it is prescribed, for example:
- The hadeeth narrated by al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him), that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, cutting the nails, plucking the armpit hairs, and trimming the moustache."
- This hadeeth includes circumcision of both males and females.
- Muslim (349) narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When a man sits between the four parts (arms and legs of his wife) and the two circumcised parts meet, then ghusl is obligatory.”
- The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) mentioned the two circumcised parts, i.e., the circumcised part of the husband and the circumcised part of the wife, which indicates that a woman may be circumcised just like a man.
- Abu Dawood (5271) narrated from Umm ‘Atiyyah al-Ansaariyyah that a woman used to do circumcisions in Madeenah and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to her: “Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman and more liked by the husband.” But the scholars differed concerning this hadeeth. Some of them classed it as da’eef (weak) and others classed it as saheeh. It was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood. The fact that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam is confirmed by the ahaadeeth quoted above, not by this disputed hadeeth. But the scholars differed concerning the ruling, and there are three opinions:
- That it is obligatory for both males and females. This is the view of the Shaafa’is and Hanbalis, and is the view favoured by al-Qaadi Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi among the Maalikis (may Allaah have mercy on them all).
- Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Majmoo’ (1/367): "Circumcision is obligatory for both men and women in our view. This is the view of many of the salaf, as was narrated by al-Khattaabi. Among those who regarded it as obligatory is Ahmad… it is the correct view that is well known and was stated by al-Shaafa’i (may Allaah have mercy on him), and the majority stated definitively that it is obligatory for both men and women."
- See Fath al-Baari, 10/340; Kishshaaf al-Qinaa’, 1/80
- That circumcision is Sunnah for both males and females. This is the view of the Hanafis and Maalikis, and was narrated in one report from Ahmad. Ibn ‘Aabideen al-Hanafi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in his Haashiyah (6/751): "In Kitaab al-Tahaarah of al-Siraaj al-Wahhaaj it says: Know that circumcision is Sunnah in our view – i.e., according to the Hanafis – for men and for women."
- See: Mawaahib al-Jaleel, 3/259
- That circumcision is obligatory for men and is good and mustahabb for women. This is the third view of Imam Ahmad, and it is the view of some Maalikis such as Sahnoon. This view was also favoured by al-Muwaffaq ibn Qudaamah in al-Mughni.
- See: al-Tamheed, 21/60; al-Mughni, 1/63
It says in Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah (5/223):
- "Circumcision is one of the Sunnahs of the fitrah, and it is for both males and females, except that is it obligatory for males and Sunnah and good in the case of women."
Thus it is clear that the fuqaha’ of Islam are agreed that circumcision is prescribed for both males and females, and in fact the majority of them are of the view that it is obligatory for both. No one said that it is not prescribed or that it is makrooh or haraam.
With regard to the criticism of circumcision by some doctors, and their claim that it is harmful both physically and psychologically,
This criticism of theirs is not valid. It is sufficient for us Muslims that something be proven to be from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), then we will follow it, and we are certain that it is beneficial and not harmful. If it were harmful, Allaah and His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would not have prescribed it for us.
In the answer to question no. 45528 we have mentioned some of the medical benefits of circumcision for women, quoting from some doctors.
We would add here the fatwas of some modern scholars who have responded to this war that has been launched against female circumcision on the grounds that it is harmful to health.
Shaykh Jaad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jaad al-Haqq, the former Shaykh of al-Azhar, said:
- "Hence the fuqaha’ of all madhhabs are agreed that circumcision for both men and woman is part of the fitrah of Islam and one of the symbols of the faith, and it is something praiseworthy. There is no report from any of the Muslim fuqaha’, according to what we have studied in their books that are available to us, to say that circumcision is forbidden for men or women, or that it is not permissible, or that it is harmful for females, if it is done in the manner that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught to Umm Habeebah in the report quoted above."
Then he said:
- "From the above it is clear that the circumcision of girls – which is the topic under discussion here – is part of the fitrah of Islam, and the way it is to be done is the method that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) explained. It is not right to abandon his teachings for the view of anyone else, even if that is a doctor, because medicine is knowledge and knowledge is always developing and changing."
In the fatwa of Shaykh ‘Atiyah Saqar – the former heard of the Fatwa Committee in al-Azhar – it says:
- "The calls which urge the banning of female circumcision are call that go against Islam, because there is no clear text in the Qur’aan or Sunnah and there is no opinion of the fuqaha’ that says that female circumcision is haraam. Female circumcision is either obligatory or recommended. Even though there is a fiqhi principle which says that the decree of a ruler may put an end to a dispute regarding controversial matters, the decree of the ruler in this case cannot be but either of two things: that it is either obligatory or recommended, and it is not correct to issue a decree banning it, so as not to go against sharee’ah which is the principal source of legislation in our land, whose constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country. It is permissible to issue some legislation that provides guidelines for performing this procedure (female circumcision) in the proper manner in such a way that does not contradict the rulings of sharee’ah.
- The words of the doctors and others are not definitive. Scientific discoveries are still opening doors every day which change our old perceptions."
In the fatwa of Dar al-Ifta’ al-Misriyyah (6/1986) it says:
- "Thus it is clear that female circumcision is prescribed in Islam, and that it is one of the Sunnahs of the fitrah and it has a good effect of moderating the individual’s behaviour. As for the opinions of doctors who say that female circumcision is harmful, these are individual opinions which are not derived from any agreed scientific basis, and they do not form an established scientific opinion. They acknowledge that the rates of cancer among circumcised men are lower than among those who are not circumcised, and some of these doctors clearly recommend that circumcision should be done by doctors and not these ignorant women, so that the operation will be safe and there will be no negative consequences. However, medical theories about disease and the way to treat it are not fixed, rather they change with time and with ongoing research. So it is not correct to rely on them when criticizing circumcision which the Wise and All-Knowing Lawgiver has decreed in His wisdom for mankind. Experience has taught us that the wisdom behind some rulings and Sunnahs may be hidden from us. May Allaah help us all to follow the right path."
Circumcision of girls and some doctors’ criticism thereof
Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 60314
It is sunnah and an honor for women based on sahih narrations
According to another report: “Take only a little and do not go to extremes.”
It is also indicated by the general meaning of the evidence that has been narrated concerning circumcision, such as the hadeeth in al-Bukhaari (5891) and Muslim (527) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”
In Saheeh Muslim (349) it is narrated from ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When a man sits between the four parts (arms and legs of his wife) and the two circumcised parts meet, then ghusl is obligatory.”
According to a report narrated by al-Tirmidhi (109) and elsewhere: “When the two circumcised parts meet…”
Al-Bukhaari used this phrase as a chapter heading.
Al-Haafiz ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: What is meant by this metaphor is the circumcised parts of the man and the woman.
Female circumcision is done by cutting a small part of the skin that looks like a rooster’s comb, above the exit of the urethra. The Sunnah is not to cut all of it, but rather a part of it. Al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah (19/28).
The Shaafa’is, the Hanbalis according to the well-known view of their madhhab, and others are of the view that circumcising women is obligatory. Many scholars are of the view that it is not obligatory in the case of women; rather it is Sunnah and is an honour for them.But we would like to point out here that it has medical benefits to which attention should be paid, regardless of the difference of opinion among the scholars as to whether it is obligatory or mustahabb. This has been discussed in the answer to question no. 45528.
Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 82859
Any of the books of fiqh confirm it is either obligatory or commendable
My brother, we have talked about circumcision many times. I counsel every Muslim man on the face of the earth, and also every Muslim woman on the face of the earth: Brother, take the little bit of trouble it requires to get yourself a book of fiqh! Inconvenience yourself a little for Allah's sake. Just take five minutes. Any book--do you have the book "Fiqh al-Sunna" by Shaykh Sayyid Sabiq (may Allah have mercy on him)? Do you have "Al-Mughni" by Ibn al-Qudama, or "Kitab al-Umm" by Imam al-Shafi'i? Do you have Fath al-Bari's explanation of Sahih al-Bukhari? Any of the books of fiqh--I mentioned to you some books of fiqh and some books of hadith--open any of the books of fiqh. Open them. That's it, plain and simple.
Review the words of scholars. Don't just take the words of Muhammad Hassan, or this shaykh, or that shaykh. Look at any of the books of fiqh from our imams, respected leaders, and scholars--ask them. You will find that our scholars have said that circumcision of women--there are some who say that it is obligatory while others say that it is commendable. Some say it is obligatory, and others say it is commendable. There are some scholars who say it is obligatory, and there are some who say it is commendable.
To whoever says that circumcision is an ancient Egyptian custom with no origin in the sunna, I say, Brother, review the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Let us consult the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him): "If you touch the male or female circumcision…" This hadith deals with the highest level of community health. In the highest level of health: "If you touch the male circumcision," meaning the circumcision of men, "or the female circumcision," meaning the circumcision of women, "washing is obligatory." These are the true words from the Prophet. It makes no sense at all in Arabic to say, "If you touch the male circumcision for men or the female circumcision for men.” Men, does this apply to you--"male or female circumcision"? Or rather, with circumcision for men or circumcision for women, "washing is obligatory."
Thus I say before Almighty Allah…that the female Muslim doctor, the female Muslim doctor, decides whether or not this girl needs circumcision. It might be that the girl does not need circumcision. That's an entirely natural situation. But if this news were to get out, it could upset her relationship with husband. It would upset her marital life. The female Muslim doctor might also decide that the girl needs circumcision.
Of course this does not mean that I am subjecting the religion to inspection from a doctor. No, my brothers, this does not mean that I subject evidence from the shari'a to review from a doctor! But rather, I refer to the doctor because he confirms evidence from the shari'a. Brothers, pay attention to this--I do not subject the shari'a to examination from the doctor, for the doctor to determine whether the shari'a is healthy or not. Rather I refer the evidence from the shari'a, or I refer the case to the doctor, to confirm the object of the evidence from the shari'a. …some of them say it is required, and some say it is recommended.I am not saying consult a barber, but consult a female doctor sister. The female doctor will decide, she might say this girl is normal or she might say that this part is excessive then you reduce it. This is justice. I don’t know why a German, British or American entity (thinks it can) come to us to decide for us the circumcision of our daughters! Why should they decide on matters of our girls and women? We base our religion on Allah’s book and the sayings of our beloved prophet and our scholars. Just study the issue in any book of fiqh. If we read the words of our scholars, and we review what the good scholars said, we will see that the issue is not new, and there is evidence for it in the book of our Lord or in the Sunnah of the Messenger (peace be upon him). I ask Almighty Allah to protect our women and girls, for He is capable over all things.
Egyptian shaykh Muhammad Hassan
A tenet of Islamic law, denying it is disregarding the Shari'ah of Allah
They say if a mullah, a religious man, a father, a mother, a doctor or anyone else even mentions circumcision could be a good thing for women or if a woman feels uncomfortable and says that her mood was disturbed by that statement, she can complain to one of these organizations and agencies and they will take the mullah (…) to jail. (…) They can jail you for saying that circumcision is a good thing. The Imam Shafi’i (most Iraqi-Kurds belong to the Shafi’i law school) said circumcision is good! Aren’t you following his denomination? Didn’t the KRG president say that he is a Shafi’i? Your denomination says FGM is good, and that is why I am saying it is good. If you are honest in your denomination then don’t accept this discussion to be held in the parliament. Imam Shafi’i is one of those who say that FGM is an obligation, that girls and women should be circumcised (…)
If I get asked about the religious ruling on FGM I must keep my silence and not dare to open my mouth. I must request to avoid this subject. As soon as I utter that FGM is good then they can arrest me. (…) If you don’t accept this Mr. President you are the one who receives the project. You might say that you don’t approve of the MPs. The people will love you for doing that. (…)No longer should they ridicule our religion and believes and honours. We have made you president, you have the parliament and the oil and the money and no one is bothering you, why don’t you leave our religion and honour intact?
- Female Circumcision - HanafiFiqh, June 13, 2007 (archived), http://hanafifiqh.blogspot.com/2007/06/female-circumcision.html
- Jakarta Globe - 'Commentary: Female Genital Cutting Common in Indonesia, Offered as Part of Child Delivery by Birth Clinics' February 16th, 2016 "
- global distributions of FGM and Muslims compared
- p54 "Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy" By International Symposium on Sexual Mutiliations 1996
- Thomas v. der Osten-Sacken - Female Genital Mutilation “is an obligation” says Mullah in Iraqi Kurdistan - EKurd.net, August 16, 2011