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FGM: Refuting the Allegations

“All that we can conclude from the above is that all forms of female circumcision or FGM are not Islamic; rather they are harmful and require a total ban in order to safeguard the health and well-being of all Muslim women throughout the world for all time.”

By Zahrah Awaleh

Writer – U.K.
Sunday, 05 September 2010 00:00

Male circumcision is the cutting of the foreskin on the penis to enhance cleanliness (taharah). Female circumcision involves the cutting of part of the clitoris. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total elimination of the external female genitalia for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. FGM is not equivalent to male circumcision, as many people have misconceived.FGM has no therapeutic benefits. Instead it has long-term and short-term health consequences that have damaged the lives of some 100–140 million girls and women in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and increasingly among the communities of the United States, Europe, and Australasia (WHO Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet). FGM is a violation of the bodily integrity and dignity of women and girls. In the short term, one can suffer violent pain, post-operative shock and clitoral hemorrhage. These two outcomes can lead to death. The long-term consequences include problems with menstruation, urinary and kidney infections, sexual frigidity, and psychological problems regarding body image.

FGM is prohibited in the United Kingdom by the 2003 FGM Act (Local Authority Social Services Letter). Any UK national or permanent resident caught practicing FGM in the United Kingdom or abroad, or being an accomplice to it, is liable fine or imprisonment for up to 12 years, or both, in the United Kingdom. This is irrespective of whether the other countries have laws against FGM or not. There are many African countries that have passed laws against FGM, including Kenya, Ghana, Togo, and the Ivory Coast. Thus anyone who practices or aids someone in doing so in these countries could face imprisonment, fines or both.

What Muslims and Islam Say About FGM

The typical reasons given by Sunni Muslims (the majority of Muslims are Sunni) for the practice of FGM are

  • To protect chastity/virginity
  • To reduce sexual desire
  • To enhance fertility and childbirth

However, FGM doesn’t guarantee any of these. Rather, FGM Type 3, which involves closing over the urethral and vaginal openings with the gutted labia minora/majora, leaves a hole that traps traces of urine and menstrual blood. This can cause infections in the woman or girl and complicate childbirth if the individual is not opened in time to prevent this from happening. No form of FGM has been proven to reduce sexual desire or promiscuity, but FGM may hinder sexual intercourse, having a devastating effect on women in later life when they marry.

Men and women are said to originate from one soul, nafsun wahida (An-Nisaa’ 4:1), making them equal before God in Islam. Men are said to be protectors, qawwamun(An-Nisaa’ 4:34), of women. And God has ordered both men and women to be modest in their gaze and guard their chastity. These verses prove that FGM in Muslim communities is unnecessary, and it is God-consciousness (taqwa ) that keeps Muslim men and women from illegal sexual intercourse or indecent thoughts, and not the absence of any part of their genitalia.

The well-known Canadian-Egyptian Islamic scholar Dr. Jamal Badawi used the term “Female Circumcision” in his work Gender Equity in Islam, Appendix: Is Female Circumcision Required (1995). He refers to the following types of FGM:

1- Type I: Removal of the hood (prepuce) of the clitoris only.

2- Type II: Removal of the entire clitoris (cliterodectomy) along with part of the labia minora, which is sutured together leaving an opening.

3- Type III: Removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and medial part of the labia majora, stitching both sides of the vulva together leaving a small opening. This is known as “Pharonic Procedure.”

Dr. Badawi clearly states that the second and the third procedures were never mandated, encouraged or even consented to by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Furthermore he condemns Types II and III as mutilation. He says nothing justifies genital mutilation. In fact, no mutilation is allowed by Islam, even on the battlefield. It is unjustifiable, brutal, inhumane, and it violates Islam. Dr. Badawi continues that female circumcision is not in the Qur’an and no hadith requires it, but some appear to accept it. “Circumcision is a commendable act for men (sunnah) and is an honorable thing (makrumah) for women” (Ash-Shawkani, Vol 1. p. 139). Badawi explains the hadith term makrumah has no religious obligation, and that the hadith is weak according to scholars of Hadith. Badawi cites the following hadith as being more authentic: Umm Atiyyah Al-Ansariyyah reported: ( A woman used to perform circumcision in Madinah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband”(Dawud 41:5251); or Cut off only the foreskin [outer fold of the skin over the clitoris, the prepuce], but do not cut off deeply [the clitoris itself], for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favorable with the husband”  (At-Tabarani, Vol. 2, Hadith 722).

If cutting the prepuce of the clitoris is allowed in Islam, according to this hadith, it is meant to enhance sexual pleasure, not curtail it! This is clear from the wording “for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favorable with the husband”—meaning both she and her husband will derive pleasure from the intimacy.

Therefore, female circumcision in this case stands in direct contradiction to the arguments for it by its proponents, as it does not control by reducing female sexual appetites; rather it increases them!

For those that argue that Type I is sunnah, Badawi argues that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) only used “sunnah” while referring to male circumcision; female circumcision is not obligatory. In addition, Badawi comments on the public welfare, al-masalih al-mursala, as a principle in Islamic jurisprudence that is used by all Sunni schools. It advocates the general principle of no hardship; a sub-clause to it is sadd adh-dharai, blocking the ways to evil. This involves preventing the spread of evil practices, even if they are halal in theory but become haram in practice.

The Islamic Right to Sexual Fulfillment in Marriage

The Qur’an says:

[And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.] (Ar-Rum 30:21)

The above verse describes the ideal marital relationship for Muslims, and it is the right of every Muslim to find a mate and achieve all the benefits that come with that. FGM, however, does not allow a woman to enjoy sexual intercourse fully because of

  • Lack of sensation, due to not having a full and healthy clitoris and other external genitalia
  • Flashbacks of FGM operation on her wedding night
  • Problems relating to the infibulations when in many cases the husband opens her with an object on the wedding night and thereafter he can penetrate more easily
  • Other problems trying to sexually relate to her husband because of the negative attitude towards her sexuality
  • Not understanding her Islamic right to sexual enjoyment


[Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you difficulty.]  (Al-Baqarah 2:185)

Islam came to bring glad tidings, not bad news, and enlighten the ignorant, not keep them in the darkness. Islam does not allow its followers to harm themselves intentionally, and it vehemently protects the rights of women and children, who are among the weakest of the groups in every society. “And the best among you are those who are best to their women” (At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Hibban).

All that we can conclude from the above is that all forms of female circumcision or FGM are not Islamic; rather they are harmful and require a total ban in order to safeguard the health and well-being of all Muslim women throughout the world for all time.

  • Badawi, Jamal. Gender Equity in Islam.
  • Ash-Shawkani. Nayl al-Awtar. Beirut: Dar al-Jeel, 1973.
  • Al-Tabarani. Quoted in Al-Albani, Muhammed N. Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahiihah. Beirut: Al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983. Vol 2 Hadith Nos: 722, pp. 353-358.

Zahrah Awaleh is a mother of two who is a career counselor in the UK. She has worked for a Somali women’s refugee group in West London and has produced an anti-FGM leaflet for use with Muslim-practicing communities, primarily in the West.


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