By Majidah Hashim
February 1, 2019
Baby girls: to circumcise or not to
circumcise, that is the question.
One of the most enduring arguments to
perpetuate female circumcision in Malaysia is that the way girls are
circumcised here is a far cry from the savage mutilation experienced by girls
in Africa. In Malaysia, it really is just a matter of a prick so small, the
tiny infant will probably have no memory of the ordeal at all.
So why are we making such a big deal about
You see, there seems to be quite a bit of
discrepancy over the notion of “harm” and what it really means at a physical,
psychological and societal level.
The truth is, the physical harm factor does
exist. At the 69th Cedaw session in February 2018, the representative from
Malaysia’s health ministry reported that 83-85% of Muslim baby girls have been
circumcised by medical professionals at private clinics with absolutely no
complication at all.
But how about the other 15-17%?
Let’s flip the table on this for a moment:
are there any physical benefits at all which warrant circumcising girls? It is
medically clear that circumcision for boys is done for hygiene purposes. But
this is not true for girls. In fact, for most girls, there is hardly any
scarring or physical evidence that circumcision was done at all. Claims that
girls are circumcised for cleanliness are disputable and, frankly, do not make
sense given that the entire procedure is simply a prick.
If something has an over-15% chance of
going wrong and has zero medical benefit, why are we still doing it?
Because our mothers had it done. And our
grandmothers had it done. And all our aunties and their cousins had it done.
And they think your daughter should do it, too, because it is part of the set
of customs that we make practice whenever babies are born.
As a firstborn daughter, I remember my
family telling me about all the traditions they proudly upheld in initiating me
to their culture.
They held a big kenduri around the first
time they brought me outside our house in the upacara pijak tanah, where the
soles of my feet touched the earth for the first time. At the same kenduri, I
also experienced tahnik whereby a tiny piece of sweet date was placed in my
mouth, and adat naik buai where I was placed on a suspended cloth swing and
lulled to sleep. Needless to say, it was quite the party for me. For my family,
on the other hand, it was a joyous day of celebration with all the merriment
one would expect whenever friends and loved ones gather.
Customs are important to us as a matter of
identity. It encapsulates a sense of inclusiveness into a culture and a
community. To have all these has a psychological effect – obviously not for the
baby, but for the parents.
To have participated in the perpetuation of
the customs of our ancestors brings a sense of pride to parents. They have not
only fulfilled their “obligation” to their traditions; they have officially,
with all these practices, passed on the torch to the next generation.
The truth is, the baby has zero
recollection of her circumcision experience. But the parents can now boast that
she has done it, and another item in the culture checkbox is ticked off.
Particularly for the mother, who is often on the receiving end of such inquiries,
it is quite a relief.
What is most disturbing, however, is how at
a societal level, Islam is still being used to justify circumcising girls.
In the first place, we are not even doing
it the way the prominent fiqh references of the syafie school of jurisprudence
(mazhab) in the Nusantara region tells us to.
In the Kitab Nihayah Al Zain Fi Irsyad Al
Mubtadiin, the Tuhfah Al Mauduud Bi Ahkami Al Mauluud and even the Fiqh Al
Sunnah, circumcision of girls clearly describes precision cuts (in most cases,
the removal of flesh) to the clitoral area above the vagina. The area where the
tear is to be made has been described as shaped like a rooster’s crown.
These cuts are a far cry from the mere
prick dismissed by many proponents of female circumcision. Why have cuts been
reduced to pricks? Did a realisation of harm occur along the way? Or better
yet, a realisation that it really did not make any difference at all? If this
is so, at least we can agree at this point that the act is merely symbolic.
This explains why there is such a variation
in the method applied in performing female circumcision today. Some people use
scissors, while others use blades, scalpels, razors, knives, needles or nails,
all of which make and leave different scars.
Secondly, there is a very open disagreement
among scholars of the syafie school on whether circumcision is even mandatory
(wajib) for girls. The reason for this disagreement stems from the fact that
the Quran neither condemns nor promotes circumcision for girls. In fact, the
Quran does not mention circumcision for girls at all.
Every hadith that has ever claimed to
promote circumcision for girls has been disputed as dhaif (weak). According to
Sheikh Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic theologian, in Fatawa Mu’ashirah, there
is not a single piece of evidence which is sahih (authentic) and sareh (clear)
from either the Quran, Sunnah, Ijma’ or Qiyas which makes circumcision
religiously mandatory for girls.
Darul Ifta Al Masriyah says the clear
evidence that circumcision is not necessary for girls is the very fact that our
beloved Prophet himself never had any of his own daughters circumcised.
In the absence of textual evidence, we must
look at the maslahah (greater good) which the practice has for baby girls and
society at large.
Recently, claims have been going around
that uncircumcised girls are the cause of teenage pregnancies, dumped babies
and zina (adultery). These allegations stem from the ancient belief that girls
are born with such an insatiable amount of lust that they must be tamed through
circumcision, which is thought to reduce these sexual prowls to more
Firstly, unless one seriously mutilates the
girl in such a way that her genitalia becomes practically unusable (as in the
case of how circumcision is done in some African nations), there is no medical
evidence at all which proves that circumcising girls does anything to reduce
their sexual expressions.
But secondly and more importantly, isn’t it
absolutely unfair that these so-called social issues are all the fault of
girls? With the rising number of rape cases, why aren’t we doing anything about
the sexual appetite of boys?
Because the answer lies in control.
Specifically, the control that society wants to have over girls.
It may come as a surprise to some, but sex
– of all things – seems to be at the core of society’s grip over women.
When they are little girls, they are told
to be quiet and submissive. When they grow into young women, they are told that
their bodies are a source of shame and sin.
When they become wives, they are told to be
dutiful and obedient to their husbands. And when they have daughters, they are
told that they must be tamed through circumcision.
Oh, one last thing to dispel before I end
this article: that the call to end female circumcision is liberal Western
propaganda encroaching into our conservative Eastern values. Malaysia’s
insistence on continuing the practice drew flak from both the UN Cedaw
committee in February 2018 and the Universal Periodic Review in November of the
same year, with many Muslim-majority countries echoing the call to end the
While Malaysia retreats to the playground
retort that their circumcision is not the same as our circumcision, what we
also need to wake up to is the fact that when those countries ended their
brutal versions of female genital mutilation, they did not replace it with our
docile pricking version of circumcision. Not even for symbolic purposes.
Ultimately, the absence of the requirement
for female circumcision in most of the Muslim world proves that Muslim women
can live dignified and respectful lives without having been circumcised.
It is high time that Malaysia ticks this
off its box of things to do. There really are so many other more important
things over which we should be exerting our energy. Ending female circumcision
is just a no-brainer.
Majidah Hashim is communications manager for Sisters in Islam.
Dear sisters. Do you know that
female circumcision is an obligatory Islamic duty? Do you know there are more
ahadeeth specific to female circumcision than male circumcision?
1) “When the (male) circumcised part meets the
(female) circumcised part, bath becomes obligatory” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
2) The hadith related by Abdullah Ibn Umar who
states that the Prophet instructed some Ansar (Medinan) women visiting him to
‘be circumcised’ (Mukhtassar zawaid musnad al bazzar, Ibn Hajar).
3) The hadith where the Prophet told Umm Atiyyah Al
Ansariyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut
plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable
for the husband” (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al
4) Umm Al Muhajir said: “I was captured with some
girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one
other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify
them” (Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari)
5) Umm Alqamah says that when the nieces of Ayisha's
brother were circumcised, 'A'isha was asked: "Shall we call someone to
amuse them?" "Yes" she replied (Adab Al Mufrad)
The evidence is clear that female circumcision is
Islamic and obligatory. Why would Hazrat Ayisha have her nieces circumcised and
Caliph Uthman order women who had embraced Islam to be circumcised if it were
not obligatory? Our best scholars including Imam Shafi, Imam Hanbal, Ibn
Taymiyyah and Sheikh Jaddul Haqq declared it to be obligatory for women. A good
Muslimah follows the fitra of circumcising and does not fall for Zionist
misinformation regarding our religious duties.
Besides, it's a very simple procedure
involving removal of the prepuce of the clitoris which is like the foreskin
taken off from little boys at circumcision and benefits
us in terms of genital hygiene and increasing sex pleasure. Even Western women are increasingly choosing
to undergo it as a minor surgical procedure known as hoodectomy. For more info