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Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

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Prabhakar Nanawaty

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Islam and Female Circumcision

These days a controversy is raging about female circumcision in India among a section of Muslims (Bohras). A woman belonging to the community has sent a petition to issue a farman banning the practice and is also preparing a petition to be filed in the Supreme Court to issue a ban order. Many newspapers and magazines are carrying articles on the issue condemning the practice and many have approached me for interview whether it has Islamic sanction.

Needless to say it is highly controversial subject and there is no unanimity among Muslims on this question. It is not found among all Muslims but among Bohras in India and among Shafi’is in Egypt, Sudan and Ethopia besides other African countries.  Among Indonesian Muslims too, it is reported to be prevalent as they too are Shafi’is. But Shafi’is in India who are found in Western Maharashtra (Kokan area), in Kerala and Tamilnadu it is not prevalent. Thus all Shafi’is also do not practice it.

Whatever it is it has African connection. It appears this originated in Africa and spread in other parts of the world. It is important to note that Imam Shafi’i lived and compiled his life mostly in Egypt and as for Bohras are concerned Cairo (Egypt) was the seat of power of Fatimid Imams and Isma.ili book of jurisprudence Da’aim al-Islam was written by Sayyidna Qadi al-Nu’man In Cairo during the time of 14th Imam Mu’iz. Thus among Bohras also the African connection is obvious.

As to the Question whether it has any Islamic sanction the answer falls in rather grey area. One cannot say categorically either way. Qur’an does not talk of either male or female circumcision and that is why even male circumcision is referred to sunnah or Sunnat=e=Ibrahimi or Sunnat-e Mohammadi. But in case of men it has almost considered obligatory and all Muslim sects are unanimous about it. Before Islam it was practiced by Jews and that is why it is also referred to as Sunnat-e-Ibrahimi too and according to some traditions Prophet (PBUH) adopted it from there.

While male circumcision is celebrated publicly and people are invited to public dinner female circumcision is done secretly (by those who practice it) and except family members no one cones to know about it. The hadith (tradition) cited is also considered weak by many Muslims. Thus we find in Abu Dawood (Book 41, no. 5251) that Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah narrated that a woman used to perform (female) circumcision in Madina. The Prophet (PBUH) told her do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for husband.

Similarly we find in Muslim too in Book 3 no.684 Abu Musa reported. There cropped up a difference of opinion between a group of Muhajirs…He (Abu Musa the narrator) said I got up (and went) to A’isha and sought her permission and it was granted…. I said: what makes a bath obligatory for a person? You have come across one well informed! The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: when anyone sits  amidst four parts and the circumcised parts  touch  each other  a bath becomes obligatory.

We find similar hadith narrated b by Abu Musa al-Ash’ari in Malik’s Muwatta too. This hadith also refers to A’isha as the source. Similarly in Malik’s Muwatta Book 2 Number 2.19,77 it is said Yahya related to me from Malik from Naf’I that Abdullah ibn Umar  “Ehern circumcised part passes the circumcised part ghusl (bath) is obligatory.

Similarly we find in the Shafi’I source book  Reliance of the Trqaveller (Umdat al-Salik) written by  Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri that female circumcision is obligatory. This book has been certified by al=Azhar University This book says “Circumcision is obligatory (both for men and women. For men it consists of removing the prepuce and for women removing the of the clitoris (bazr in Arabic). Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna.

Thus it will be seen that there is no unanimity among Muslims about female circumcision and it is found prevalent as pointed out mostly among African Muslims as among many African tribes. Whereas in case of men circumcision does not reduce sexual pleasure but is considered necessary from hygienic point of view, in case of female circumcision it reduces sexual pleasure and no hygeini8c function as in case of men. While men circumcision is universal among all Muslims, female circumcision, at least in practice, is confined to a few Muslim sects primarily those of African origin.

Since female circumcision interferes with woman’s sexual pleasure, almost replacing old Roman chastity belt, it has become a human rights issue today. Female circumcision came into vogue to restrict her sexuality today women are demanding its abolition. It should also be noted that Islam does not, in nay way seeks to restrict either male or female sexuality but only restricts illegitimate sex outside marital bond and gives right to woman to seek divorce from impotent husband if he had hidden this from her at the time of marriage.

This Islam fully respects woman’s right to sexual pleasure as it is essential for perpetuating human progeny. It is society which, in the name of morality does so but being patriarchal in structure, does not put any restriction on male sexuality.  Actually both sexes should be permitted natural sexual pleasure as it is absolutely necessary for healthy human growth but also for perpetuation of human species. Justice demands that both sexes be treated equally.

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