Thursday, June 07, 2007

FGM From An African, Muslim And Female Point Of View

This is a guest post by Kizzie, a Sudanese female Muslim blogger, currently living in Cairo. Her blog is here.

In Islam, if a woman is not sexually satisfied, she has the right to divorce her husband.

Female Genital Circumcision or simply Female circumcision is the excision of any part of the "female genitalia". FGM is common in African countries such as Burkina Faso ( 70%), Djibouti(90%), Egypt (97%), Guinea (98%), Somalia (90-98%), Sudan (90%) and some Arab countries in the Middle East or even the immigrant population in Europe and North America.

There are four types of FGM

1. Clitoridectomy: total or partial removal fo the clitoris.

2. Excision: removal of the clitoris and the partial or complete removal of the labia minora.

3. Infibulation: removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora.

4. Other types: usually found among isolated ethnic groups and it involves "cutting". There is no removal of tissues.

Part 1

Why is FGM not Islamic?

Their are three main arguments against this widespread belief

1. FGM predates both Christianity and Islam since it is believed to date back to time of the Pharaohs.

Evidence 1- It is mentioned in an ancient Greek document that it was a common practice in Egypt (the document dates back to 163 B.C.)

Evidence 2- In Sudan, infibulation(type three) is referred to as the "pharonic circumcision".

2. FGM is found in non-Muslim societies example: Christians in Ghana and other non-Muslim societies in India and South America.

3. If FGM was obligatory in Islam then Muslim scholars from all over the world wouldn't be working together to ban its practice.

i) At a conference on female genital mutilation in Cairo, Muslim scholars from around the world called for female genital mutilation to be banned and for those who carry it out to face punishment carried out by the government.

ii) Last year, a meeting was held at azhar university( the top Islamic university in the Middle East and North Africa ) and they finally banned FGM from all Muslim societies and they classified it as a "Crime".

iii) In 2005, at an African Regional Conference on "Islam and the Family Well-Being" ,Dr Ahmend Talib, Dean of the Faculty of Sharia, Al Azhar University, Cairo, said: "All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital is not an obligation in Islam".

I would like to add this very important piece of information."Infibulation, or Pharaonic Circumcision is mutilation (Arabic: Muthla) and as such is chargeable as a crime in Islamic law. The practice, if perpetrated, would obligate that the defendant pay the full price of blood-money to the plaintiff for removal of the labia. If sexual stimulus is lost then another compensatory payment would be paid equal to the first, and if procreation is impossible then another of equal value. This view means that FGM in Islamic law is equal to wrongful death. The judge presiding over the case may opt for jail time as a deterrent, or public reprimand, or any other non-proscribed punishment that is seen as fitting to deter the rest of the public for the act "". (

Part 2

Social custom...Yes..No...Maybe?

The evidence presented above leads us to to believe that FGM could be a "social custom" or a "cultural practice" and not a religious one. It is true that FGM is very prevalent in Africa but it is also found in parts of Asia such as Indonesia.

Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy) and less invasive procedures (Type IV) are the forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Indonesia. The practice is generally referred to as female circumcision in Indonesia. It occurs in parts of East, Central and West Java, North Sumatra, Aceh, South Sulawesi and on Madura Island, as well as in many other parts of the archipelago.

Virginity in Africa

It is very important to understand that a girls virginity is very important in almost all African societies. It is assumed that FGM controls a woman's sexuality. In other words, it makes sure a woman stays a virgin until marriage ( For example:- After infibulation, the labia majora are held together using stitching so when a girl gets married she must undergo reverse infibulation which involves her husband using a "knife") .

In some African societies, social conformity is always emphasized upon ( e.g:- my aunt told me a story about a girl who wanted to be circumcised because her friends and cousins were circumcised and she felt singled out).

Why is FGM a symbol of Islam's oppression?

In the last few decades, FGM started to be considered as another symbol of the "woman-hatting", "gender apartheid enforcing "and "oppressive" religion called "Islam". This is mainly due to the constant association of Islam with FGM perpetuated by "literature". Beyond the veil: Male-female dynamics in a modern Muslim society by Fatima Mernissi, Desert Flower by Waris Dirie, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali are all books that portray FGM as a savage practice mandated for Muslim women.

Interestingly, old researches about FGM in Africa usually concentrated on FGM as a social costum or tradition but now it is usually discussed from a religious perspective. Living in a post-9/11 world we should expect things to be very religionized and not culturized . Let's say a Christian man is killed by a Christian man, it will be reported as " man killed man" but if a Muslim man killed a Christian or a Jewish man, it will be reported as "Muslim man killed Christian man". I don't see why we should blame religion for everything or even view religion as the only cause of things. We should look at other factors affecting a society such as "culture. I know that the cultures of both African and Arab societies are generally affected by "religion" but there are things that are banned by religion but accepted by culture (A common example is forced or arranged marriages. There is no evidence in Islam to justify "arranged marriages". In fact, a girl has the right to marry any man she believes is the right one for her even if her family disapproves.) In other words, arranged marriages are usually influenced by the society a personal lives in and the culture they have to conform to.

My favorite culture vs. religion example is "pre-martial sex". I believe that pre-martial sex is prohibited in Islam/Christianity and Judaism but one can't help but notice that most Muslim societies are very strict about this. This is not necessarily because of religious beliefs, it is also because of pre-martial sex being so culturally-unacceptable here.

This brings us back to the importance of virginity in the Muslim world.

Wholeheartedly Not Oppressed Sudaniya

Thanks to Rob, for pointing me in Kizzie's direction.

Update; Popovich has posted a response to this post over at his blog, Tao of Defiance. It is lengthy but well sourced.

And now Kizzie has responded to Popovich.