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Islamic Ruling on Female Circumcision

The following has been translated from the fatwa issued in Arabic by Egyptian Islamic Theologian Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

"Praise to Allah, and may the peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family and companions, and followers of his guidance."

 Ever since I was a student at Al-Azhar University, I have seen people debate over the topic of female circumcision (also known as FGM – female genital mutilation)- both Sharia scholars and medical scientists have participated in these debates. I still remember the words of Dr. Hamid Ghawaabi, one of the most prominent doctors in the field of female circumcision. He argued with the “offenders” strongly, collected all sorts of religious and medical evidence that supported his view and confirmed his argument.

While many other doctors responded to him, they disagreed and refuted his evidence.

Debates among scholars never cease because of the different rulings or perspectives among the four schools of thought (madhabs). Some scholars have actually claimed female circumcision to be mustahabb (literally “recommended”), while others claim that it is an honorable act for women.

The reason for their differences, and the prevelance of their versions of such doctrines supporting this view came from the books of the ancients, which they were so frightened to go against, that they made it their own and claimed that it was condoned in the hadith (saying of the Prophet), deemed as sahih (sound, authentic). Yet, their false claims of FGM lacked knowledge of hadith sciences.

Though women in Islamic nations lived for centuries without circumcision being a concern, as it did not exist, it is happening today in countries like Egypt and a few other countries in the Arab world.

The ‘Dar al-Ifta’ (Islamic Legislative Council) in Egypt joined the World Federation in Germany for the “International Conference of Scholars on the Prohibition of FGM” [1]in Cairo, under the management of Prof. Dr. Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, in order to demonstrate the Islamic position, which protects human rights, and especially that of women, despite the common misconception among many Westerners. Islam, in fact, honors women, first, as a person, then as a female, a wife, a mother and a member of society.

Though women in Islamic nations lived for centuries without circumcision being a concern, as it did not exist, it is happening today in countries like Egypt and a few other countries in the Arab world.

Insha’Allah, this conference will conclude with a final decision on this subject, which concerns at least half of the Muslim society; as is said: “women are half of the society,” and perhaps in some countries more than half.

We kindly ask Allah to help and guide us through this conference.

Praise to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

Doha: Hijri (Lunar Calendar)- - October 1427 We, as human beings and followers, seek forgiveness from the Lord.

November 2006, Yusuf al-Qaradawi

[1]- I said at the beginning of my lecture in the Conference on FGM in Cairo: "I object to two things in this conference: First, is the title of the conference, the “International Conference of Scholars on the Prohibition of FGM,” which seems to have already adopted an opinion; and if this is the case, then what is the point of this research and presentations? The title should have been a bit more unbiased.

Second, I don’t like the fact that this conference is being financed by a foreign place in Germany, because this might lead to suspicion that the conference works for third parties, which may create doubt and suspicion as to our intentions.

Discussion to reach a correct ruling with the evidence present:

What is required from us today is to examine the evidence in front of us regarding the ruling on FGM, be it explicit or not.

The most important source of course for the scholars and scientists is the Holy Qur’an and then the Sunnah, (which contain no disputes), after which comes consensus and analogy. Now, I’d like to examine these two sources, in addition to consensus and analogy, in light of female circumcision to learn whether or not there is proper evidence. What are the positions of the scholars?

First: Evidence found in the Holy Qur'an:

In the Qur’an, there is no direct opposition to circumcision in either the Meccan surahs or the Medinan surahs.

However, Shafi’i scholars, who claim the necessity of circumcision for both males and females often quote the Almighty, in Surah Al-Nahl: So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), "Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith, and he joined not gods with God.” [Qur’an, 16:123]

They said: The circumcision of Abraham has been proven correct - that Abraham circumcised himself when he was eighty years old [1]. Indeed, the verse of the Qur’an cannot identify manner, whereas it is followed in the religion of Abraham; it is bigger and deeper than just the process of circumcision that following the approach in the establishment of uniformity for avoiding the idol, calling to the oneness of Allah with wisdom and testimony as we have seen in the call of Abraham to his father and his people. All of his debates with his own people had to do with God’s oneness. The debates were never about rulings. Secondary issues, such as these, were never mentioned in the Qur’an. Say: "Verily, my Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight,- a religion of right,- the path (trod) by Abraham the true in Faith, and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah." (Qur’an, 6: 161)

There is for you an excellent example (to follow) in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people: "We are clear of you and of whatever ye worship besides Allah. We have rejected you, and there has arisen, between us and you, enmity and hatred for ever, - unless ye believe in Allah and Him alone."" (Qur’an, 6:4)

Those who follow the religion of Abraham (pbuh), circumcision is obligatory for them, but only for males as there is nothing concerning women in regards to circumcision.

[1]-Agreed: It was narrated by Bukhari in “The Prophets” (3356), and Muslim in “The Virtues”(2370), and Ahmad in his “Musnad”(9408), from Abu Hurayra.

Second: Evidence found in the Hadith

As we have seen, the ruling on FGM is not found in the Qur’an. In the hadith, reference might have been made; however, there is room for dispute since we are dealing with various interpretations. The reality of it is that there are some scholars of jurisprudence who show evidence in the hadiths, and this seems to be common.

As we have seen, the ruling on FGM is not found in the Qur’an. In the hadith, reference might have been made; however, there is room for dispute since we are dealing with various interpretations.

 The most important hadiths that take this the topic of FGM into account are the following three:

1. "If the two circumcised parts meet, then ghusl (ritual bathing) is obligatory." This hadith refers to a position in intercourse between a man and a woman. This is only mentioned because it was assumed that women were circumcised [as they were in ancient cultures, pre-Islam]. (Narrated by Aisha).

2. The following hadith narrated by Umm ‘Atiyyah says that the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), said to a “circumciser”: "Do not make the operation too invasive; do not harm the woman or do anything that would not allow her to feel pleasure. Because some elements are lost in translation, it is important to stress the fact that the original Arabic literally says “minimum amount” in regards to the actual operation.’

3. "Circumcision is Sunnah for men, and an honor for women."

Later on, the hadiths will be discussed further, including the limitations on the verdict of this judgement. Firstly, I would like to say that nowhere in the contents of the hadiths or Sunnah of the blessed Prophet is female circumcision valid – not even in one.

The consensus among scholars of fiqh and hadith is that hadiths which include the topic of FGM are considered weak and are not to be taken into consideration. Some hadiths are manipulated, abused, and taken advantage of. There is actually one reliable hadith available; however, it does not give the desired outcome for such individuals whose intentions are to misuse it.

The consensus among scholars of fiqh and hadith is that hadiths which include the topic of FGM are considered weak and are not to be taken into consideration. Some hadiths are manipulated, abused, and taken advantage of. There is actually one reliable hadith available, however it does not give the desired outcome for such individuals whose intentions are to misuse it.

Discussions of hadiths that are considered proper evidence:

It is worthwhile to discuss the hadiths that are used as sources by scholars of Jurisprudence (Fiqh), one at a time.

1. Regarding the hadith that states, "If the two circumcised parts meet, then ghusl (ritual bathing) is obligatory," [2] it indicates that women were circumcised, which indicates the presence of circumcision among Arabs, which we do not deny the existence of, for it was a custom of ancient cultures. The argument here is its position in Islam, and how it is deemed virtuous or obligatory. Since it is not found in the Holy Qur’an or the hadiths, we believe that FGM has no place in Islam.

2. The hadith of Umm ‘Attiyah, which came from Abu Dawood, “The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) said about a woman who was circumcised in the city,: ‘Do not exaggerate; this is better for women," It was also reported that four thousand hadiths were created to mislead the Muslims.

The methods used to determine this hadith’s authenticity were all deemed weak. Thus, there is no evidence that supports any claims that it is obligatory or even virtuous.

Even if we are to assume that any of these hadiths are accurate, how could they benefit us now? Will we learn that it is obligatory or a virtuous act? I think that what matters here is that we understand its significance among ancient cultures as a means to bring pleasure to the woman during intercourse, mainly concerned with the mundane world and thus having no presence in religiosity. Perhaps because of this, it is not explicitly forbidden.

3. As for the hadith: "Circumcision is sunnah for men, and an honor for women," this was narrated by Ahmad (20 719) from Abu Maleh bin Osama and from his father. It is said that the source of this hadith is weak, however. “Huccac, the son Artab, the imposter, has narrated this, so it has been confused. Also narrated by al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (8 / 325) by the method of Hafs ibn Ghiyath, for this attribution, and Tabaraani in the Great (7 / 273). Which he had another method apart from narration of Huccac, he narrated in al-Kabeer (11/233), and al-Bayhaqi in al-Kubra (8 / 324), from Akrama, from Ibn Abbas, and said: "This source is weak and unsecure so Al-albani would consider it weak (1935) .

Even if this hadith is accurate, what does it refer to? It indicates that circumcision is honorable for women, and something advisable, not obligatory or virtuous. What does this “honor” refer to? At one point in time, it may have been considered a norm. What is considered an honor depends on perhaps cultural practices and time. With this in mind, it is important to note that there are not many Muslim countries that practice execute FGM. This applies to the countries in the Persian Gulf and many countries in North Africa.

We have seen many doctors launching a raid on female circumcision, and consider it an aggression against the female body. Cultural practices change in time and obviously pertaining to our era, as a result of scientific progress, global convergence, the information revolution, etc.

Even if this hadith is accurate, what does it refer to? It indicates that circumcision is honorable for women, and something advisable, not obligatory or virtuous. What does this “honor” refer to? At one point in time, it may have been considered a norm. What is considered an honor depends on perhaps cultural practices and time.

 

[1]- The conclusion of A Strange Hadith (2 / 1223) edition in the scientific bookstore in Beirut.

[2]- Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad (26 025)

[3]-Narrated by Muslim inMenstruation(349); also narrated by AbuMusa.

[4]-Narrated by Abu DawoodinLiterature(5271), andal-Bayhaqiin The Peopleinthe section explaining the rights of children and parents(6 / 396), and inThe Great Book of Drinks and Limitations(8 / 324), from Umm Attia, and Al-albani confirmed  in The Whole(498 ).

 

Third: Evidence of Analogy

Can the basis of analogy be enough evidence to prove whether female circumcision is obligatory or a virtuous action?

Some scholars claim that by comparing the act of male circumcision, which is sunnah, is enough evidence to prove the validity of female circumcision, drawing on verses of the Qur’an that address both sexes, if God said: {O people or {O ye who believe!}, then, the Qur’an as a whole addresses both men and women. Both sexes share in the Islamic rulings in regards to acts of worship and relations in social life, except for what is exempted, which is very little, and does not violate the original ruling.

Some concerns arise in the comparison of men and women, especially in regards to female circumcision. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Women are the sisters of men" [1], and Allah said: {Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another } [Qur’an, 3: 195].

The meaning of this verse is that the woman completes the man and the man completes the woman. Both are indispensable, so why to compare one over the other?

The conditions and the basis for what is being compared must be taken into account.

There is a common cause that connects between comparison and the cause of comparison, so where is the common cause here?

There is no significant difference between the original comparison to the secondary comparison, whereas there should not be any dispute over such a comparison. There is no doubt that there is a big difference in this particular case, between males and females; circumcision is beneficial for the male, but it is harmful for the female.

Further, the fundamental principle is to prohibit the alteration of God’s creation, with the exception of male circumcision. Apart from this, everything else to be left in its original state. Fundamentalist view must be taken into account.

[1]Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad (26 195), and Abu Dawood (236), and al-Tirmidhi (113), both in Purity, and Abu Ali in al-Musnad (8 / 149), and al-Bayhaqi in The Great Book / Purity (1 / 168), from Aisha, and confirmed by Al-Albani,  Abi Dawood in Saheeh (234).

 

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