Female Genital Mutilation in Islamic Law
Female Genital Mutilation in Islamic Law
Female Genital Mutilation (Arabic: ختان المرأة) is the practice of cutting away and altering the external female genitalia for ritual or religious purposes. It can involve both or either Clitoridectomy and Excision. Clitoridectomy is the amputation of part or all of the clitoris or the removal of the clitoral prepuce. Excision is the cutting away of either or both the inner and outer labia. A third practice, Infibulation (or Pharaonic circumcision), is the paring back of the outer labia, whose cut edges are then stitched together to form, once healed, a seal that covers both the openings of the vagina and the urethra. Infibulation usually also includes clitoridectomy.
FGM predates Islam. The Banu Quraysh, Muhammad's native tribe, appear to have engaged in the practice. Muhammad maintained the practice after migrating to Medina and is recorded as approving of the practice in four hadith. Two hadith record the sahabah (Companions of Mohammed) engaging in the practice (see FGM in the Hadith).
The FGM hadith give very few clues as to the nature of the practice they approve. Hence the nature, incidence and distribution of FGM varies between countries and communities. The most significant determining factor appears to be the presiding school of Islam (fiqh). Other factors include the culture's level of anxiety around female sexuality, its proximity to Islamic slave-trade routes (Infibulation is associated with the transportation of slaves), and the nature and degree of Christian influence.
Whilst the Qur'an contains no explicit mention of FGM, verse 30:30, by exhorting Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah' indirectly, but ineluctably, exhorts Muslims to engage in FGM (see FGM in the Qur'an).
Islamic law also implicitly favors FGM by creating social conditions that 1/ make the practice useful or necessary, and 2/ normalise it. Polygyny (which Islam encourages) creates sexually violent societies which put girls and women at a heightened risk of rape or abduction. In response to this the community develops practices which safeguard the 'purity', chastity and reputation of its girls and women. FGM is such a practice - as are child marriage, gender segregation and purdah, arranged marriages, chaperoning, veiling, 'honour' culture, bride-price (mahr) and footbinding. Islam's legitimisation of slavery, especially sex slavery, also has a significant role in the nature, incidence and distribution of FGM.
Traditional scholars all allow, recommend or mandate FGM (see FGM and the Schools of Islamic Law). Whilst most modern fatwas favour FGM, there has been, over the past half century, a growing unease in the Islamic world concerning the practice (due to a growing concern on the part of organisations such as the UN and UNICEF). This has resulted in some fatwas critical of FGM. It appears that the earliest fatwa clearly critical of FGM was issued in 1984. (see Modern Fatwas)
It should be noted that those who practice FGM refer to it as Female Circumcision rather than Female Genital Mutilation. The Hadith and most of the fatwas reproduced on this page are translations. Where this is the case it is likely that the term used is the translator's choice, not the hadith or fatwa's originator.
FGM in the Hadith
FGM is mentioned in (at least) seven Hadith. Four report Muhammad approving of FGM and two report Sahabah (Muhammad's companions) participating in FGM. The remaining hadith has little import doctrinally, but is of linguistic, historical and sociological interest.
The Fitrah Is Five Things
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 (either directly or by analogy, or qiyas, in the case of women). Hence, this hadith is applicable for both men and women.
A Preservation of Honor for Women
Do Not Cut Severely
When the Circumcised Parts Touch Each Other
To 'sit amidst four parts' of a woman is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
The above variant reports Muhammad and Aisha having intercourse, and having to perform 'ghusl' (the ritual bath) because both were 'circumcised'. This represents an unambiguous 'approval' of FGM on the part of Muhammad (an 'approval' is where Muhammad, by not opposing or criticising an act of one of his followers, indicated that the act was Sunnah - i.e. Islamic). Note that this Hadith is rated as sahih (authentic).
Hadith: The Sahabah (the Companions of Muhammad)
The following three hadith touch on FGM, but do not involve Muhammad.
One Who Circumcises Other Ladies
This hadith includes an exchange of insults between Meccan warriors and Muhammad's companions prior to the battle of Uhud.
أَنْمَارٍ مُقَطِّعَةِ الْبُظُورِ (muqaṭwiʿaẗi al-ْbuẓūri) translates as 'cutter of clitorises'.
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. The Adab have less doctrinal authority than hadith featuring Muhammad. However, scholars have ruled most of the hadith in the collection as being sahih (authentic) or hasan (sound).
Someone to Amuse Them
Go and Circumcise Them and Purify Them
فَاخْفِضُو (khaffad) translates as 'lower them' or 'trim them'.
FGM in the Qur'an
There is no explicit reference to Female Genital Mutilation in the Qur'an. However, the Quran 30:30 requires Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah'.
The word 'fitrah appears only this once in the Qur'an, and is left undefined and unexplained. To know what 'fitrah means, traditional scholars turned to hadith which make use of the word.
Note that this hadith uses the Arabic word khitan (ختان) for 'circumcision'.
Two other hadith (Someone to Amuse Them and Do Not Cut Severely) use the word khitan in contexts where the procedure is unquestionably being performed on females (and only on females). Three other hadith (The Fitrah Is Five Things, A Preservation of Honor for Women and When the Circumcised Parts Touch Each Other) use the word 'khitan to refer to both FGM and Male Circumcision.
Thus, the word 'khitan' appears to refer to both or either FGM and Male Circumcision. According to traditional interpretive methodology, Quran 30:30 by requiring Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah' advocates FGM.
FGM and the Schools of Islamic Law
Only one school of Islam - the Shafi'i - makes FGM universally obligatory. The other schools of Islam recommend it with differing levels of obligation. Since nothing that Muhammad allowed can be prohibited, no school of Islam can forbid FGM. Differences in hermeneutics (methodologies of interpretation of texts, especially religious and philosophical texts) result in certain Hadith having more weight and influence in some schools than in others. The hadith Sunan Abu Dawud 41:5251 is an example of this:
Shafi’i and Hanbali scholars have evaluated this hadith as being sahih. Consequently, these schools consider FGM as being either obligatory or highly recommended, and FGM is very common or nearly universal amongst their followers. Maliki and Hanafi scholars have evaluated this Hadith as being mursal (good but missing an early link in its isnad) or daif (weak)– possibly explaining the lower rates of FGM amongst followers of these schools. However, it may be that followers of the Maliki and Hanafi schools who are devout (or who wish to appear devout) will tend to treat as 'obligatory' practices that are merely 'recommended' – since for the devout anything that is recommended should be definitely done.
The Maliki school was founded by Malik ibn Anas in the 8th century, who ruled that FGM is recommended, but not obligatory.
This school is named after the scholar Abū Ḥanīfa an-Nu‘man ibn Thābit (d. 767) and is school with the largest number of followers among Sunni muslims. Abū Ḥanīfa maintained that FGM is not obligatory but optional or recommended.
The Shafi’i school was founded by the Arab scholar Al-Shafi‘i in the early 9th century. The Shafi’i school rejects two interpretative heuristics that are accepted by other major schools of Islam: Istihsan (juristic preference) and Istislah (public interest), heuristics by which compassion and welfare can be integrated into Islamic law-making. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is obligatory in the Shafi'i madhab. Infibulation, the most severe form of FGM practiced under Islam, is almost entirely attributable to followers of the Shafi'i school of fiqh.
'Reliance of the Traveller' by by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (1302–1367) is the Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law according to Shafi'i School.
Nuh Ha Mim Keller's 1991 translation of 'Reliance of the Traveller' translates the word 'bazr' ( بَظْرٌ ) as 'clitorial prepuce' instead of simply 'clitoris'. This is disputed because 1/ the usage is obscure and 2/ it leaves Arabic without a word for 'clitoris'.
The Hanbali school is named after the Iraqi scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855). Ahmad ibn Hanbal studied under Al-Shafi‘i (founder of the Shafi’i school) and inherited his deep concerns about the jurists of his time, who were ready to reinterpret the doctrines of the Koran and Hadiths to pander to public opinion and the demands of the rich and powerful. Ibn Hanbal advocated a return to the literal interpretation of Koran and Hadiths. This has made the Hanbali school intensely traditionalist. Today’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi–Salafist movement is an offshoot of this school. The Hanbali school, unlike the Hanafi and Maliki schools, reject Istihsan (jurist discretion) and Urf (the customs of Muslims) as a sound basis by which to derive Islamic law.
The attitudes of Shia Islam towards FGM are as not clear-cut as with the schools of Sunni Islam. It is known that FGM is practised by Zaydis in Yemen, Ibadis in Oman and at least by parts of the Ismailis (the Dawoodi Bohras in particular) in India. A survey by WADI conducted in the region of Kirkuk in Iraq found that 23% of Shia girls and women had undergone FGM.
FGM appears to be common amongst the Dawoodi Bohras – an Ismaili sect found in India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and East Africa. Their current spiritual leader has recommended FGM as being necessary for purity and to avoid sin.
In 2017 two doctors and a third woman connected to the Dawoodi Bohra in Detroit, Michigan, were arrested on charges of conducting FGM on two seven-year-old girls in the United States. Their Attorney confirmed that FGM was, for her clients, a religious practice:
Muʿtazila is a rationalist school of Islamic theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad during the 8th to the 10th centuries. The Mu'tazila developed an Islamic type of rationalism, partly influenced by Ancient Greek philosophy.
The following is a selection of Fatwas, mainly extracts, from the 20th and 21st Century. They have been, as far as possible, arranged in chronological order. Note that many are secondary or even tertiary sources. (for a more comprehensive compilation see Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Female Genital Mutilation#Modern Fatwas)
'Pharaonic circumcision' is a synonym for Infibulation.
[...]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."
Some contemporary scholars have criticised and condemned FGM. However, because nothing that Muhammad allowed can be prohibited, it is not licit to forbid FGM. Therefore fatwas critical of FGM generally stop well short of forbidding it.
[...] "Today, female genital mutilation is not common among Shiites but the usage narrative show that it does not hurt if it can be done with its conditions, including compliance with health issues. But because the social norms have changed today, this action would not be acceptable like many other topics which their sentences were changed due to circumstances and facts"
[...] The question is asked to Ayatollah Khamenei: What is the wife`s duty to her husband`s request to circumcise herself?The answer is: “Although implementation of husband’s order is obligatory for the wife if it does not have disadvantages or it is not harmful for the wife, she has to listen to her husband’s request.”
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.
As the above quote suggests, the idea that FGM might be un-Islamic appears to be relatively new. The earliest fatwa clearly critical of FGM appears to be from 1984 and since then there have been other fatwas critical of FGM. However, most are favourable towards the practice. (see Modern Fatwas)
An Ngram for the terms ‘fgm’, ‘female genital mutilation’ and ‘female circumcision’ shows an increased use of ‘mutilation’ and 'FGM' as against the more anodyne 'circumcision' starting around 1990. This coincides with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which first identified female genital mutilation as a harmful traditional practice, and mandated that governments abolish it as one of several 'traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children'. Soon afterwards organisations such as the World Health Organisation (1995), the Council of Europe (1995), and UNICEF & UNFPA (1997) also issued reports critical of FGM.
For the first time narratives critical of FGM started penetrating the Islamic world, parts of which began to feel uneasy about Islam's association with FGM, and have consequently sought to de-link the two by showing that FGM is un-Islamic.
The 'FGM as un-Islamic' narrative is reinforced by the fact that it is a minority of Muslims that practice FGM. Immigration to the West has till recently come from the Maghreb and Hanafi countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, or the Maghreb. The Hanafi is the school of fiqh which least favours FGM, merely ruling it as 'optional', and the Maghreb practices a Maliki Islam that appears to eschew FGM. These immigrant populations have effectively imported the 'FGM is un-Islamic' narrative to the West. This narrative is challenged by the rise in immigration from countries such as Indonesia and Somalia, and the Kurdish Middle East, where FGM-rates are high and the practice is accepted as compatible with Islam.
The 'FGM is un-Islamic' narrative is reinforced because the practice gives rise to a dilemma whereby telling the truth (or even just making known facts and evidence) is likely to aggravate the problem.
In recent decades many agencies and charities have engaged themselves in the fight against FGM. These agencies face a particular challenge when interacting with individuals and populations who practice FGM: how, for example, does an anti-FGM charity respond to a Somali mother who asks whether FGM is Islamic? If the charity worker tells her about the FGM in the hadith, and how FGM is part of the fitrah (which Qur'an 30:30 exhorts Muslims to adhere to - see FGM in the Qur'an), and how the school of fiqh which the Somali woman follows, the Shafi'i, makes FGM mandatory - then that mother will come away from that interaction more likely to have her daughter mutilated, not less.
This dilemma is faced not just by on-the-ground charity workers, but the whole hierarchy of institutions devoted to combating FGM, including politicians, the media and academia. To resolve the dilemma a number of propositions have evolved to defend the proposition that FGM is un-Islamic.
FGM Is Not Required by Islam
It is correct that most Islamic schools and scholars do not make FGM mandatory. Only the Shafi'i madhab (the second or third largest school of Sunni Islam) and some Hanbali scholars decree FGM to be obligatory in Islam.
But critics of Dr Talib's position might point out that 'not an obligation' is far from being the same thing as 'forbidden'. If FGM is a 'crime', then 'not an obligation' is no more appropriate a response to it than it would be to murder, child sexual abuse or rape. An act that is 'not obligatory' may be 'tolerated', 'allowed', 'recommended', or 'highly recommended' as well as 'forbidden'. And acts that are 'not an obligation' can be virtuous, vicious or ethically neutral, such as (respectively) charitable giving, murder, and owning a dog. Dr Talib's conclusion in no way forecloses the possibility that FGM is virtuous and highly recommended in Islam.
There Is No FGM in the Qur'an
(see FGM in the Qur'an)
It is correct that there is no mention of FGM in the Qur'an.
But according to traditional interpretive methodology Qur'an 30:30, by requiring one to 'adhere to the fitrah', indirectly, but ineluctably, advocates FGM. Nor is there any mention of the unquestionably Islamic practice of male circumcision in the Qur'an. Indeed, most of the practical details of how to be a Muslim come from the Sunnah (the hadith plus the sirat). The Qur'an has 91 verses commanding to follow Muhammad's example to the last detail. However the Qur'an contains virtually no detail of Muhammad's life. Muslims can only know of Muhammad's life by turning to the hadith and sirat. None of the Five Pillars of Islam, for example, are explained in the Qur'an.
FGM Existed Before Islam
The archaeological and historical record do indeed amply demonstrate that FGM existed before Islam.
The premise of this argument is that if a practice existed before Islam then it can not be Islamic. Critics point out that monotheism, praying, heaven and hell, male circumcision, pilgrimage to Mecca, the veneration of the Kaaba, abstention from pork, giving to charity, the paying of bride-price, polygyny, interdictions on lying and murder, and much more all existed before Islam. These pre-Islamic practices became Islamic when, and because, Muhammad integrated them into the religion he was inventing.
FGM Is an African Practice
FGM did exist in parts of Africa before parts of it were Islamised – notably Egypt and the West coast of the Red Sea.
However, the historical record shows that FGM was also practice in the Middle East before Islam. Most significantly the hadith themselves suggest that Mohammed's native tribe, the Banu Quraysh practiced FGM.
It should also be noted that:
- most of Africa does not practice FGM,
- the expansions of Islam into Africa and the Islamic slave trade appears to have spread FGM to its current extent (which closely coincides with that of Islam),
- where FGM is practiced in countries with no tradition of FGM (as in the West), it is almost entirely by Muslims
- about 40% of FGM takes place outside of Africa, in South Asia in particular.
It is documented that FGM was brought to Indonesia by Muslim traders and conquerors in the 13th Century. Indonesia follows the Shaafi school (which makes FGM obligatory) and has +90% rates of FGM amongst its Muslims. FGM is rare amongst Indonesian non-Muslim. This suggests that FGM is more of an Islamic practice than an African one.
Christians Practice FGM Too
It is correct that some Christians practice FGM. Indeed about 20% of global FGM is attributable to non-Muslims, for the most part Christians.
Critics can point out that the premise of this argument implies that a practice can not be Islamic if some Christians also engage in it. This would mean that Islam's scope is restricted to that which Christians don't do - for example, the fact that some Christians abstain from alcohol or meat means that Islam's interdictions on consuming alcohol or pork are un-Islamic.
The Christians who practice FGM nearly all live as isolated and persecuted minorities within dominant Islamic FGM-practicing cultures. Islamic FGM is a purity practice, and within FGM-practicing societies girls who are not cut are considered impure. Any contact or proximity with them, or sharing of objects is considered as 'contaminating'. Individuals, families and communities that do not follow the dominant culture's purity observances are perceived as threatening the spiritual and religious lives of that community. For example, a Muslim's prayers will be rendered invalid if he is inadvertently contaminated, and will continue to be invalid until he correctly purifies himself.
This means that in such Islamic communities, non-Muslims who do not follow the community's purity observances are shunned, stigmatised, discriminated against and persecuted. Non-Muslims living in such societies come under great pressure to adopt dominant Islamic purity practices.
The Copts are Christian and make up 10 to 15% of the population of Egypt. Copts practice FGM at about a 74% (compared to 92% Muslims). Copts recognise that they practice FGM in order to minimise persecution. And it is Christian minorities such as the Copts who appear to be the most ready to abandon FGM when it becomes safe for them to do so.
There are however three countries where FGM appears to be practiced by Christian majorities – Ethiopia, Eritrea and Liberia.
FGM in Liberia is practiced as part of the initiation into secret women's societies. It should be noted that whilst only 12% of Liberia's population is Muslim, its marriage and kinship practices are Islamic: men can have up to 4 wives; a third of all Liberian marriages are polygamous; a third of married women aged between 15-49 are in polygamous marriages, and married woman's rights to inherit property from her spouse are restricted.  These are text-book conditions for the emergence of chastity assurance practices.
Polygyny - though illega l- is also common amongst Muslims in Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, FGM in Ethiopia and Eritrea may be due to a combination of historical factors: during most of their history they were kept deliberately isolated from the mainstream of Christianity by surrounding Islamic states, thus not accessing doctrines (concerning monogamy and human rights) that are incompatible with FGM. They were also the hubs of the Islamic slave trade, where slave girls captured in West Africa were infibulated to guarantee their virginity, and thus raise their value, in preparation for the slave markets of the Islamic Middle East. The practice was adopted by the locals, and has persisted.
The following graphs (adapted from graphs found at https://www.28toomany.org/research-resources/) combine rates of decline of FGM practice in a variety of African countries with the proportion of the population that is Muslim (in green and mauve). Note that the lower the proportion of a nation that is Muslim, the steeper rate of decline of FGM-practice.
Not All Muslims Practice FGM
(NB - since Dr Ashenafi Moges published the above-cited essay, FGM has been reported in Jordan, Syria, Iran and Iraq and many other Middle East countries. Studies have found FGM-rates of 20% in Saudi Arabia)
About 20% of Muslim women have undergone FGM, which suggests that about 80% of Muslims don't practice FGM.
However critics have pointed out that if this fact proves FGM to be un-Islamic, it is on the assumption that Islam is defined solely by that which it universally forbids or makes universally obligatory - and that only those practices which all Muslims engage in are Islamic, and that minority practices are, by definition, un-Islamic.
But religions are also defined by (and responsible for) what they recommend, encourage, allow and discourage. For example, the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is recommended not obligatory, and not all Christians take the Eucharist. But it is nevertheless Christian. Polygyny is Islamic, despite not every Muslim having several wives.
Nor are all Islamic practices obligatory: polygyny and child marriage are not obligatory, and whilst a Muslim must complete 5 prayers a day, there are optional (nawafil) prayers which confer additional rewards. Fasting outside of the month of Ramadhan, or giving sadaqah (voluntary charity) are also optional. And where a practice is not obligatory it is generally the case that 'not all Muslims' - or onlyn a minority of Muslims - practice it.
Variations in the stances of the schools of fiqh to a large extent account for why not all Muslims practice FGM. The schools' different levels of obligation are reflected in the incidence of FGM. The Shafi'i school makes FGM obligatory and Shafi'i communities generally have +90% FGM-rates. The Maliki and Hanbali schools recommend it - and the FGM rates in those communities are generally lower than with Shafi'i communities. The Hanafi school merely allows FGM - and Hanafi communities largely eschew FGM. Where it is merely 'allowed' or 'tolerated' is it surprising that many parents abstain from an act that must go against their deepest instincts?
Islam's base-line position is that of not forbidding FGM. But FGM is not an ethically neutral act, such as the Eucharist - swallowing a wafer - or Baptism - sprinkling water on a baby's head. FGM is an act of mutilation carried out on a child. 'Not forbidding' is no more the appropriate base-line for such an act than it would be for child sexual abuse, rape or murder. Likewise a legal system does not need to make child sexual abuse compulsory for it to be defined as being favourable to child sexual abuse - it is sufficient that it fails to forbid child sexual abuse to earn itself that label.
The FGM Hadith Are Weak
Some of the FGM hadith are considered weak by some scholars and schools of Islam.
But several sahih (authentic) hadith favour FGM, and Islamic scholarship does not consider that that weak hadiths cancel, or weaken, more reliable ones.
Four of the seven 'FGM hadith' report Muhammad favouring FGM. Two of these ('The fitrah is five things' and 'When the circumcised parts touch') are included in the hadith compilations of both Bukhari and Muslim. Both are considered wholly authoritative. Moreover these two hadith are also some of the best-supported hadith in these compilations. 'When the circumcised parts touch' is a 'tacit approval' in that it reports Muhammad referring in passing to FGM without him expressing disapproval of it. The two other hadith report Muhammad's attitude towards FGM ('A preservation of honour for women' and 'Do not cut severely'). These are not generally considered as sahih, but hasan (good) or daif (weak).
Al-Bukhari also compiled two adab which touch on FGM ('Someone to Amuse Them' and 'Go and Circumcise Them and Purify Them'). Al-Bukhari's evaluation of the hadiths included al-Adab al-Mufrad was not as rigorous as for his best-known collection - Sahih Bukhari. However, scholars have ruled the hadith in the collection as being mostly sahih or hasan.
Furthermore, whilst weak hadith alone cannot generate doctrine, they can be used if:
- the hadith not be very weak;
- the hadith be within the scope of an authentic legal principle that is applied and accepted in either the Qur’an or Sunnah;
- its weakness, not authenticity, be realized when applying it.
For example, even assuming it a daif hadith, the information that Muhammad considered a form of FGM excessively severe can be taken from 'Do not cut severely', since it contradicts neither stronger hadith nor the Qur'an.
That some form of FGM was practiced by the Sahabah (Muhammad's Companions) is amply demonstrated by the hadith. The Hanbali, Maliki and Shafi'i schools of Islam all have as their principle daleels (interpretative heuristics) the consideration of what the Sahabah did or thought (Ijma, Ijtihad and Amal). The deeds and words of the Muhammad's companions are therefore second only to the Quran and Sunnah in determining what is Islamic or not - and come into play when the Qur'an and Hadith don't resolve an issue. The Hanafi school is the exception since it ascribes a lesser importance to the deeds and words of the Sahabah - which may explain why the Hanafi madhab rules FGM as merely 'optional' and why Hanafi Muslims generally don't practice FGM. 
The Qur'an Forbids Mutilation
Islam forbids mutilations to the human body. However, Islam exempts from this interdiction those mutilation that it permits.
Male circumcision, for example, is a mutilation that Islamic law permits, and is therefore not forbidden by Islamic law. As are amputation of hand and feet. Beheading, stoning, and crucifixion - which all involve mutilation prior to the victim's death - are all also permitted in Islamic law.
This argument is an example the fallacy of Petitio Principi ('Circular Reasoning' or assuming in the premise of an argument that which one wishes to prove in the conclusion).
(NB Quran 2:195 - referenced in the quote at the start of this section - forbids suicide and self-mutilation, and therefore does not apply to FGM)
'Circumcision' is not Mutilation
The term 'Female Circumcision' is used by those who consider certain practices insufficiently harmful or intrusive to merit the epithet 'mutilation' (as in 'Female Genital Mutilation') and can be applied to any procedure short of infibulation. The relatively moderate procedure of the "removal of the clitoral hood or a ritual nick on the external female genitalia" is called 'Sunnah Circumcision'.
Sunnah Circumcision is mostly practiced by South Asian Muslims, who belong to the Shafi'i school, which makes FGM obligatory and is associated with the most severe form of FGM, infibulation. Infibulation would have been a practice alien to South Asian Muslims, arising as it did from the Islamic slave trade, which largely spared South Asia. Sunnah circumcision may have been a way of sparing girls the extremities of infibulation whilst still fulfilling the obligation to engage in FGM.
Granted that 'Sunnah Circumcision' is a lesser mutilation than full clitoridectomy, excision or infibulation, it nevertheless remains a mutilation because:
- it serves no medical or prophylactic purpose
- it damages the functioning of an important body part (e.g. permanent exposure reduces the sensitivity of the clitoris)
- it unnecessarily exposes the child to health risks, both short-term and long-term
- it is generally done in a needlessly traumatic manner: anaesthetics are generally eschewed
- it is practiced on children, who can not give informed consent to such a procedure
- though children can not consent to this procedure, they can refuse consent or withdraw it (signaled by the child struggling to escape the procedure or begging for it to stop). However the child's consent-decision is rarely respected by those carrying out the procedure
The removal of the clitoral prepuce is justified by Qiyas as being analogous to male circumcision. Proponents of this position accuse bodies such as the World Health Organisation of double standards in that they condemn 'Sunnah Circumcision' but not Male Circumcision.
If one accepts that ritual male circumcision is not mutilation then their position seems coherent. However, the six above-listed characteristics apply equally to male circumcision, and thus male circumcision is a mutilation. The failure of the WHO and other bodies to classify male circumcision as a mutilation is a political and pragmatic decision, not one based on ethics or an objective evaluation of the practice. Male circumcision is simply too widespread and too entrenched for such organisations to condemn (it is estimated that 38.7% of males are circumcised, with 68% of that figure being Muslim men).
The argument that 'Sunnah Circumcision' should be allowed because Male Circumcision is allowed is to argue that Evil X should be allowed because Evil Y is allowed. The WHO etc should achieve coherence by condemning both practices, not by condoning them.
NB - no-one who practices, or defends, FGM refers to what they do as 'mutilation', not even those who infibulate. This is especially so for Muslims, since the Qur'an appears to forbid mutilation (Quran 30:30, Quran 2:195 - but see previous section). The line which separates 'justified intervention' and 'mutilation' is therefore always set somewhere beyond the practice being defended. It can happen that a Muslim who condemns 'Female Genital Mutilation' will on further discussion, reveal themselves to support 'Female circumcision'.
There Is No Record of Muhammad Having His Wives or Daughters Circumcised
The Qur'an, hadith and sirat contain no reference to Muhammad having his wives or daughters mutilated.
However, there is also no record of Muhammad having undergone circumcision himself, or of him having his sons circumcised. Indeed, there are many aspects of Islamic law for which there is no record of Mohammed having practiced: there is no record of Muhammad limiting himself to just four wives, for example.
The hadith suggest that females in Muhammad's circle would have undergone FGM before puberty, and current practice confirms this (a 2013 UNICEF pamphlet reveals that in about half of countries with available data, the majority of girls undergo FGM before five years of age). In the hadith narrated by Umm ‘Alqama the persons being cut are clearly children, and the function of Islamic FGM requires that it be prepubescents who are submitted to FGM, not adolescents or adults. Therefore it is unlikely that Muhammad would have needed to command or require the circumcision of his wives, since they would have already been circumcised before he married them.
FGM in Islamic cultures is matriarchal, taboo-ridden and secretive affair, usually arranged by female relatives. The hadith 'do not cut severely' and 'One who circumcises other ladies' depict women performing the mutilation, not men. Male family members are excluded and may not even realise that their community engages in the practice.
Muhammad Wanted to Forbid FGM but Couldn't
Nothing in the Qur'an Sirat or Hadith supports the claim that Muhammad 'had prevented people several times from circumcising women'. The nearest thing to this is a hadith in which Muhammad instructs a women performing FGM to moderate her cutting:
Critics of this argument note that this hadith, when used as evidence that Muhammad approved of FGM, is treated as daif (weak). However, when (as here) used as evidence that he wanted to moderate the practice it is treated as sahih (authentic). Regardless of its level of authority this hadith is a textbook example of a tacit approval.
However Muhammad's words are more advice than criticism. An analogy might be a consultant surgeon advising a junior surgeon to "not make too deep an incision in case you cut an artery". Such a statement does not imply that the consultant surgeon is against or critical of the surgical procedure in question - quite the contrary, such a statement show that the surgeon approves of the procedure.
Furthermore, Muhammad affirmed the practices that cause FGM: polygyny and sex-slavery. He also affirmed practices that emerge from the same causes, and that create a normative, legal and institutional structure that support, justify and normalize FGM, such as male circumcision, child marriage, bride-price and gender segregation.
One of the major attractions of Mohammed’s new religion was that it overturned and rejected the established practices of pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism. Mohammed suddenly forbade many things that would have been dear to the people he ruled over - pork products, alcohol, gambling, instrumental music, singing, art depicting the human form, the easy fraternization of men and women, interest in debt, and the public display of women’s faces. He also imposed on his followers such new practices as male circumcision, ritual ablutions and praying 5 times a day.
His followers obeyed these new rules. How much more willingly would his followers have abandoned a practice that is harmful, and that must be distressing for loving parents to perform and witness?
One can speculate how things would be different if in the Qur'an Muhammad had forbidden FGM with the same force he did alcohol, instead of approving of it in his words and deeds in the Hadith.
Would Islam have allowed its followers to practice FGM for 1400 years? And would the Islamic world be as rife with FGM as it is today?
Female Genital Mutilation in Islam (includes sections on FGM before Islam, The Sociology and Causes of FGM, and FGM as unislamic)
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- The Story of Asia Bibi
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- Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East: Placing Oman on the Map, June 2018, Hoda Thabet & Azza Al-Kharousi