Female Circumcision and FGM: Differences and Machination

Let’s Respect Muslim Rites & Rights (Original Title)

Why Moves to Ban Female Circumcision infringe on our Religious Rights

By Asiff Hussein

Recent moves by activists to ban the Islamic duty of female circumcision in Sri Lanka is a frightening development that threatens the religious rights of the Muslims of our country.  We learn that the Ministry of Health is to issue a circular prohibiting cuts being made to the female genitalia carried out in State hospitals. The Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender (PSOCWG) and the Ministry of Health are also scheduled to meet with the Ministry of Justice to discuss the matter with a view to bringing in a law to prohibit female circumcision.

Such moves against a religious duty which Muslims regard to be strongly prescribed or obligatory must not be allowed at any cost as they threaten to undermine the free practice of our religion guaranteed by the law and constitution of Sri Lanka. Besides, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama issued a fatwa in 2007 stating that circumcision was obligatory for both males and females. There is strong evidence in the ahadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad) to show that female circumcision is Islamic, and in fact obligatory as held by our best scholars such as Imam Shafi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Sheikh Jaddul Haq.  The Islamic procedure of circumcising females is similar to male circumcision and involves the removal of only the clitoral hood (prepuce) which facilitates genital hygiene and improves sex life. In fact even Western women choose to undergo this procedure under the name of hoodectomy to improve sexual satisfaction, a fact which has been proven by numerous studies.

Activists like Shreen Saroor and Ermiza Tegal have in their campaign against the practice resorted to the devious tactic of disassociating female circumcision from Islam and associating it with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) of the kind that takes place in certain African countries where the external female genitalia including the clitoris is removed. In contrast what takes place here in Sri Lanka is either a nick on the prepuce of the clitoris or vulval region (in the case of the majority) which is harmless and done as a symbolic gesture to meet a religious requirement or the Islamically prescribed procedure of removing the hood or prepuce of the clitoris (in the case of religious Sunni families well versed in Islam and among the Bohras).

As such, there is a need to medicalise the procedure to ensure that female circumcision is carried out in hygienic clinical settings and to define what needs to be done as done by health authorities  in Malaysia and Indonesia for example. In fact there has been a trend towards this, which is a welcome development. State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle has in fact been quoted as saying that while female children in affluent households are submitted to this procedure under strict medical conditions, in poor households, traditional harmful methods and implements are used, resulting in physical and mental suffering.

This is exactly why the procedure needs to be medicalised. The move to ban it in hospitals not only infringes on our religious rights, but also threatens to drive the procedure underground, leading to the possibility of dangerous forms of FGM arising within the community. Worse still is the proposed ban on the practice itself by bringing in legislation to outlaw it. This will only tend to victimize Muslims and harm the good relations and mutual understanding we enjoy with the state and our fellow citizens of other communities.

But this is exactly what these anti-Islamic activists are pushing for. They well know the religious obligation to perform it and that it will continue to be performed whether it is within or without the law. Their only desire is to discredit and marginalize the Muslim community and bring in further laws to infringe on our religious freedoms. In fact I dare say this is the first front of the battle.  

The Writer is Vice President-Outreach, Centre for Islamic Studies Sri Lanka