One charge against Islam is that is denies rights to women, when actually Islam actually is tolorating long held local customs. This is a continuing struggle made worse by partially trained local clerics who wrongly interpret Mohammed’s tolerance of local customs such as the complete veil as a religious rule.

So I am happy to report that the most senior Egyptian cleric has issued a fatwa against female circumcision, a custom that long predates Islam but alas has been spread with that faith, and a custom that many who are uneducated in Islam think is a religious rule. His is not the first fatwa against this custom, but one hopes his authority will help stop this terrible custom.

The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, the oldest and most highly respected institution in Sunni Islam; and the Grand Mufti of Egypt have released an official fatwa declaring the practice of female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation or female genital cutting) un-Islamic. The decision was made at a conference hosted in Egypt and attended by Muslim clergy from around the world.

The custom of female circumcision is concentrated in the Nile Valley and practiced by Muslim, Christian and animist groups. However, incidences of female circumcision have been documented as far afield as Tanzania and India.

Mohammed did not himself impose circumcision on women, but as THIS ARTICLE points out, actually instructed a woman planning to circumcize a girl that she cut less.
Wikipedia has an article here about the custom, including the various forms of the procedure.

The Netter collection of illustrations has a picture of the four types, if you are a medical provider or have a strong stomach.

Alas, only the first type is equivalent to male circumcision. Clitorectomy is more severe, limiting sexual pleasure, yet medically it is merely mutilation. Indeed, like male circumcision, one could argue that types one, two and three would serve a social purpose. One, it is often performed (at least in African tribes) as a rite of passage into woman hood, second, like male circumcision it enables hygiene in tribes who have little access to water to keep clean, and three, it discourages female promiscuity in poor areas where unwanted children have to be supported by the extended family.

I am not defending the custom, I am only pointing out that there are reasons besides hatred of women that such customs evolve.

Alas, it is hard to find any defense for the most radical type.

I saw many cases of this type when I worked in Liberia, usually in Muslim women from northern tribes. This form removes everything and almost shuts the hole. This scars the perineum and not only makes intercourse difficult, but the hard scar tissue can prevent the child from delivering.

We had to make cuts up and down to deliver the baby (anterior and posterior circumcision), and one terrible complication of the scar tissue slowing the delivery of the baby’s head is that pressure from the head causes the tissue to rip inside, resulting in Uro-vaginal fistulas , where women constantly leak urine and often become social outcasts from the odor. A BMJ article about the custim is found HERE for the medically oriented.

Some feminist groups and those involved with reproductive rights are working to stop the practice, which is illegal in the US and UK but often done on the daughters of immigrants while “vacationing” in their native countries.

The UN is working with local groups to stop the custom. You see, although many Islamic scholars have worked against the custom, it is the mothers who actually continue the custom. Like footbinding in China, if a custom is viewed not as a mutilation but as a necessary means to get a husband and a happy marriage, then to change the custom one has to change the minds of the women.

A website with links and information may be found HERE

One hopes that, like footbinding, such ancient customs will soon become part of the savage past instead of a present day problem for women in such traditional cultures.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, seven dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she posts medical essays to Hey Doc’s Xanga Blog.

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