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Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006

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Robert J. Lewis
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Mark Goldfarb
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Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
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Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward



B. A. Robinson lives in Kingston, Ontario.




Female circumcision (FC), often referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM), is a social custom, not a religious practice. According to Aisha Samad Matias, from African Update:

Over 80-100 million women in the world have experienced the custom first recorded over 4000 years ago. Some practitioners of FC explain it in this manner: "It is our religious obligation;" or "All normal (our) people have done it," or "It makes you clean, beautiful, better, sweet-smelling," or "You will be able to marry, be presentable to your husband, able to satisfy and keep your husband, able to conceive and bear children." Female circumcision, is often thought to purify and protect the next generation from dangerous outside influences. Other obvious functions include the control of female sexuality and marital chastity. Another function is to insure marriage in a society in which men have been taught that only circumcised women make good wives. FC is also practiced to limit the possible enjoyment level of sex for women. It also serves to implant fear of pain and being shamed and cast out if not a virgin girl or chaste wife.

In Muslim countries where it is practiced, FC is often justified by a controversial saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed. The Sunnah (the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed) contains a reference to female circumcision. According to the Muslim Women's League: "Those who advocate for FGM from an Islamic perspective commonly quote the following hadith to argue that it is required as part of the Sunnah or Tradition of the Prophet:
The Prophet (pbuh) said to her: Do not cut too severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband."

This passage is regarded by many Muslims as having little credibility or authenticity. According to Sayyid Sabiq, renowned scholar and author of Fiqh-us-Sunnah, all hadiths concerning female circumcision are non-authentic.

Many Muslims see passages in the Qur'an which, by implication, oppose FGM. They reason: God apparently created the clitoris for the sole purpose of generating pleasure. It has no other purpose. There is no instruction in the Qur'an or in the writings of the Prophet Mohammed which require that the clitoris be surgically modified. Thus God must approve of its presence. And so, it should not be removed or reduced in size or function.

The Qur'an promotes the concept of a husband and wife giving each other pleasure during sexual intercourse. "It is lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the (day's) fast: they are as a garment for you and you are as a garment for them." (2:187) ". . . and He has put love and mercy between you." (30:21)

Mu, in The Qur'an (An-Nisa': 119) states that Satan will try to trick humans into body modification: "And I will surely lead them astray, and arouse desires in them, and command them and they will cut the cattle's ears, and I will surely command them and they will change Allah's creation." This might be interpreted as forbidding FGM as well as tattoos, piercing and any other modification that alters the design of the human body as Allah created it.

Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim victim of infibulation (partial closing/stitching of the vagina), says, "The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse."

Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of the al-Azhar Islamic Institute has stated that the practice is un-Islamic. The Health Minister of Egypt, Ismail Sallam, announced the ban on FGM in 1996. This was upheld by a junior administrative court in Cairo.

Sheik Youssef Badri, a Muslim fundamentalist, took the health minister to court. In 1997, an Egyptian court overturned the country's ban on FGM. Eight Muslim scholars and doctors had testified that the ban exceeded the government's authority and violated the legal rights of the medical profession. Sheik Youssef Badri commented: "[Female] circumcision is Islamic; the court has said that the ban violated religious law. There's nothing which says circumcision is a crime, but the Egyptians came along and said that Islam is a crime." The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel interviewed Sheik Badri. He claimed that many Muslim women are pleased with this victory of Islam over its enemies. When it was pointed out to him that parents in Morocco and Algeria do not practice FGM, he replied that the clitoris in Egyptian girls was larger than in those countries and had to be cut back to a normal size. He quoted a French study which showed that circumcised girls are less likely to contract AIDS. He believes that the United States is spreading misinformation on the health risks of FGM.

The government appealed the case to Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court. They ruled that the operation is not required by Islam, and that "female circumcision is not a personal right according to the rules of Islamic Sharia (law)." Thus, FGM is subject to Egyptian law. They prohibited the procedure, even if it is done with the agreement of the child and her parents.


The United Nations has supported the right of member states to grant refugee status to women who fear being mutilated if they are returned to their country of origin. Canada has granted such status to women in this situation.

In 1994, CNN broadcast footage of the circumcision of a 10 year old Egyptian girl by an unskilled practitioner. This program drew international attention to the operation. A 500 million dollar lawsuit was brought against CNN for allegedly damaging Egypt's reputation, It was rejected by the courts.

In the West, the procedure is outlawed in Britain, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. A US federal bill, Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation, was passed in 1996. Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who reside in Canada (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from their country and subjected to FGM.

Legislation against FGM can be counter-productive when it forces the practice underground. Women, who have been informally operated on and in need of medical attention, might not seek help because of legal ramifications.

In 1989, the Regional Committee of the WHO for Africa passed a resolution urging participating governments "to adopt appropriate policies and strategies in order to eradicate female circumcision" and "to forbid medicalization of female circumcision and to discourage health professionals from performing such surgery."

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is ambiguous about FGM. On one hand, Article 24, paragraph 3 states: "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children." But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for: "The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own."

In the August 1st issue, filmmaker Erica Pomerance (Dable! Excision) takes us into the heart and control of female genital mutilation.

Related articles:
Prostitution: Gender-based Income Redistribution with Honour and Dignity
All Abored the Porn Express
Sex Traders in the Material World
21st Century Sex
Pop Divas, Pantydom and 3-Chord Ditties
The Triumph of the Pornographic Imagination


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