Islam and Female Genital Mutilation

Published on EuropNews, by Cleveland Indy Media, 18 June 2009.

Fatima’s scream is as blood-curdling as it is heart-wrenching. The little girl, who looks to be about eight years old, screams in a panic, initially in fear and then because she is unable to bear the pain she is experiencing.

She is lying on the floor of a dirty hut somewhere in the Ethiopian desert. Her body is contorted with pain as she screams, cries and finally lies there whimpering. Her new, green floral dress is soaked in blood. Two men and her mother press the delicate child against the floor and pull apart her thin little legs.

An old woman crouches in front of Fatima, holding a shiny razor blade and a thick, threaded darning needle. Today is the day Fatima will become a woman, a decent woman …  

… The old woman completes her barbaric task with a slap on her subject’s behind. Fatima is now a woman.

About 6,000 girls fall victim to genital mutilation every day, or about 2 million a year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 100 and 140 million women worldwide are circumcised. Most circumcised women live in 28 African countries, as well as in Asia and the Middle East. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least 90 percent of all women are circumcised in developing countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia and Sierra Leone, while almost no women are circumcised in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

WHO distinguishes among four types of genital mutilation: …

… One out of every three girls dies as a result of infibulation, also known as pharaonic mutilation.

Women have been circumcised for thousands of years, and the custom has become deeply ingrained in human thought. Tradition demands that women be circumcised, and it is often the women themselves who wish to continue this ritual, partly to prevent sexual desire in girls. Indeed, an uncircumcised girl is considered worthless on the marriage market in many places because she is perceived as being “impure” and “loose.”

Although circumcision is often justified for supposedly religious reasons, there is no religious justification for the practice in either Christianity or Islam.

Sharp condemnation by religious and moral leaders is needed to ban this horrific practice. But movement does appear to be afoot – at least if an event that took place in Cairo two weeks ago is any indication. It bordered on a minor revolution.

Muslim scholars and academics from Germany, Africa and the Middle East spent two days discussing female genital mutilation. The goal of the conference was to declare this form of circumcision to be incompatible with the ethics of Islam as a global religion.

It was a German who organized and funded the conference. In 2000 Rüdiger Nehberg, 71, a man known for adventurous exploits that have included crossing the Atlantic in a pedal boat, founded Target, a human rights organization dedicated to fighting female genital mutilation. Since then Nehberg, accompanied by his life partner Annette Weber, has been traveling throughout Africa with his video camera, documenting the inhuman practice and attempting to win over political and religious leaders for his cause. Wherever he goes, Nehberg says: “This custom can only be brought to an end with the power of Islam.” In organizing the conference, which was held at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University under the patronage of Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa, Nehberg has come one step closer to his goal.

Many important Muslim scholars attended the event. The Egyptian minister for religious charities, Mahmoud Hamdi Saksuk, condemned the practice, as did the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi. Even the renowned and notorious Egyptian religious scholar and journalist Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who enjoys great popularity in the Middle East as a result of his commentary on the Aljazeera television network, attended the Cairo conference … (full long text).

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