By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
16 September 2017
Certain Religious practices make us
dogmatic, even to the point of becoming an unthinking, unreflective community.
Some commentators have pointed out that as a religion, Islam asks us to
constantly reflect on the world and ourselves, and yet at times, we end up
doing exactly the opposite.
The issue of male circumcision amongst
Muslims is a case in point. How come this mindless ritual continues in Muslim
society without any debate regarding the necessity of this procedure? There is
some talk now about banning female circumcision in practiced is some Muslim
communities in Africa and amongst the Bohras worldwide. And it is a healthy
development that some women have started to raise their voices against such a
horrific practice which actually is correctly understood as female genital
mutilation. Yet there is surprising silence when it comes to mutilating the
genitals of Muslim boys. After all, cutting of the foreskin is nothing but
genital mutilation. The problem gets compounded due to the fact that in
majority of the cases, this mutilation happens with boys who are of a very
tender age and thus unable to give their informed consent. In the name of
religious tradition, the average Muslim family today may be guilty and
responsible for scarring their baby boys for life.
Today the ritual, which has its basis in
religion, is justified in the name of science and hygiene. Ask any educated
Muslim and he will tell you the medical benefits of circumcision including the
‘fact’ that it prevents HIV-AIDS. They will also tell you that circumcision is
done due to considerations of hygiene. None of this is either logical or even
true. If the reason for circumcision was personal hygiene, then the simple
thing to do is to remain clean rather than cut of part of a human body.
There are other parts of the human body
which require to be clean and that are what we do: we clean it. We do not cut
it off! So why is it that when it comes to the foreskin, we are obligate to cut
it off rather than keep it clean. The medical value of circumcision, especially
in terms of containing sexually transmitted diseases is still a contested one
rather than a matter of finality. The one study conducted by the UN in Africa
did link circumcised men with low risk of STDs but then it was later found that
the experimental group was already less prone to such diseases calling into
question the whole methodology behind this research. Moreover, this study of
the UN was specifically concerned with adult circumcision.
What we are talking about is infant and
child circumcision where the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is nearly
absent. There is nothing to suggest therefore that circumcised boys and men are
better off in terms of health and hygiene as compared to non-circumcised men
and boys. In fact this linkage of circumcision with medical benefits has to so
with its popularization in the Anglo-Saxon world during the 19th century.
Operating in a very different world and subscribing to a very morality, the
medical science of that time in that part of the world linked a lot of problems
in men’s youth to their ‘unhealthy’ practice of masturbation.
Circumcision initially came as a deterrent
for masturbation as the doctors opined that the pain would be so much that it
will train the mind not to think about baser instincts for the whole life. Such
Victorian morality was the reason for the popularization of male circumcision
both in Britain and in America. It was only much later that it was linked with
medical benefits and issues of hygiene, obviously as an attempt to justify the
practice which started for completely non-medical reasons. But since the Whites
were doing it, the Muslims across the world bought into this medical benefit of
circumcision thesis in an attempt to validate their own practice and partly to
proclaim the superiority of Islam.
Scientific rationalizations apart, the fact
remains that the practice is fundamentally religious in its calling. Obligated
in Judaism through the covenant which Abraham made with God, the practice is
fundamental to their religion. However, there is some evidence to claim that
the Jews borrowed this practice from the Egyptians among whom the practice was
present as a marker of higher social status. And yet we find that circumcision
has been practiced widely in different cultures. From the Australian aborigines
to many cultures in Africa, we find evidence of this practice. It is beyond
comprehension that different Gods at different places and different times would
make the same demand of sacrificing the male foreskin as a mark of the covenant
between men and God. The origins of this practice therefore must have a much
more deeper anthropological reason but that’s another debate for another time.
The Quran however does not obligate Muslims
to undertake the practice and yet today if you are not circumcised then you
will have difficulty in making the claim that you are a Muslim. It is
considered a Sunna but then there is no evidence to suggest that the Prophet
himself was circumcised. There is a fantastic Hadis which says that he was born
circumcised but then again it is not the same thing as saying that he underwent
circumcision. In short, there is no religious justification also for this
practice to continue amongst the Muslims. If God says that he has made man
perfect and that bodily integrity should not be harmed even after one’s death,
then why are Muslim hell bent to make modifications in God’s plan? Isn’t it
playing with the divinity to cut a part of human body which is part of the
original design of God?
It must be welcomed that now there are some
women groups who are raising the voice against female circumcision, but then we
should also raise our voices against male circumcision. The pain that is felt
after the body is cut is perhaps common to both genders. So why this silence
about circumcision and the pain that it inflicts on the male body. Is it
because we believe that males need to undergo pain as a sign of future
Arshad Alam is a columnist with www.NewAgeIslam.com
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Women and Feminism
It is given (not in Quran) that Hagar/Hajira was an Egyptian
handmaid to the barren Sarah, who offered her to her husband Abraham/Ibrahim so
that he may sire a child with Hagar. According to African custom uncircumcised
Abraham could not marry Hagar and therefore at the age of ninety Abraham was required
to circumcise and so he did so himself; with an adze!
(4:118) Allah did curse him (Satan),
but he said: "I will take of Thy servants a portion Marked off;
(4:119) "I will mislead them,
and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle,
and to deface the (fair) nature created by Allah." Whoever, forsaking
Allah, takes satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is
Circumcision is nothing but defacing
the fair nature created by Allah.
There are however scores of verses
on the subject in the Bible and the earlier scriptures. It is a covenant that
God had with Abraham (Genesis 17). Why such a covenant is not mentioned in the
Quran when according to verse 5:3, God has laid down the Islamic way of life in
According to the Bible, Abraham
(pbuh) was 99 years old when he entered into such a covenant and was
circumcised at this age. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) however, never underwent
The Muslims have adopted
circumcision as a sunnat of Abraham (pbuh) and not as a sunnat of Muhammad
Among the Africans, and the
Egyptians, this practice precedes Abraham and is common among the pagan tribes.
The Prophet preached only for 22
years and those who came under his direct influence may have been just a few
hundred. Islam spread very rapidly to areas with large Christian, Zoroastrian
and Jewish populations. The new converts brought their own beliefs, legends,
stories and concepts to Islam and greatly modified the new religion.
Shariat law on apostasy, blasphemy
and adultery are not based on the Quran but based on the Judeo/Christian laws.
Islam is anything but exclusive.
Christianity and Judaism are however exclusive. The non-Christian is an infidel
and redemption is possible only through Christ in Christianity. In Judaism, non
Jews are simply heathen or Gentile.
Kafir in the Quran is neither
infidel nor Gentile but has acquired this meaning!
Shuhuda is not martyr but has
acquired this meaning.
Neither Ruh nor nafs is soul in the
Quran and there is no concept of soul in the Quran but Ruh/Nafs have strangely
acquired this meaning when Ruh and Nafs are not even synonyms!
Today, many Anthropologists disagree on the origins of
circumcision. Some, such as English Egyptologist Sir Elliot Smith, believing
that circumcision originated in the 'Heliolithic' culture over 15,000 years ago
and was adopted by other cultures, while others believe that circumcision
developed independently within separate cultures. Although the origins of
circumcision are uncertain, it is documented that circumcision has been practiced
in areas throughout Africa, in the Near East, and by Australian
The practice therefore was prevalent among the tribal and pre dates prophet
Ibrahim (PBUH). For the tribal, it may not have been anything except
cosmetic surgery (especially if nudity was common) or a rite of passing into
manhood. This practice may therefore have been common in the times of prophet
Ibrahim (PBUH) and later generations being a carryover of ancient tribal
practices. The old and the new testaments are written by men centuries after
the Prophet Musa (PBUH) and Prophet Isa (PBUH). A religious significance may
have been given to this practice in their scriptures.
It is a point to be noted that there is no reference to circumcision in the
Quran. Nor does the Quran say that this practice was prescribed for earlier
generations. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended this practice on the basis
that it has been the practice of all the previous prophets. There is no record
of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself having undergone the procedure. It is
said that he was not in need of it without having been physically circumcised.
It is also not obligatory in Islam but only a sunnat or practice of the
previous Prophets (and not of Muhammad) although highly recommended. We also
know from the hadiths that when we are raised on the day of judgement, we will
be uncircumcised. Also, in general, Islam looks upon any bodily mutilation with
disfavour even for animals. The only point in its favour as far as Islam is
concerned, is that the Prophet did not disallow it.
I think the decision of whether to circumcise or not may be left to the
individual. It should cease to be a religious issue. My advice to people who
have converted to Islam has consistently been that it is neither necessary nor advisable
for them to get circumcised.View Article