The Truth About Islam and Female Circumcision

The author is an undergraduate student at UW-Madison.

With Islamophobia growing in the Western world, many Muslims feel it is our duty to “sugar coat” or change the message of Islam in order to make the religion seem acceptable to Western culture. Many of us will take something controversial and try to convince those around us that Islam meant “something else” and that the real message is compatible with American culture. Unfortunately, as so many people begin to make these excuses, some Muslims begin to feel they are true and the original message put forth by the Qur’an is now changed to fit a culture that is not always compatible with the Islamic way of life. One of these topics is that of female circumcision.

Female circumcision is a hot topic within Muslim circles because of the controversy coming from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There are Muslims who believe that female circumcision is not allowed in the religion and there are those who believe it is required. In truth, it would be incorrect to say that female circumcision has no place in Islam regardless of whether it is allowed or not allowed simply on the grounds that there is not enough evidence supporting either position.

The most important thing to know is that Islam protects a woman’s right to sexual enjoyment and health and if female circumcision violates those rights, automatically the practice would be considered forbidden. However, the Western world is quick to assume that female circumcision is harmful to a woman without considering the different types of circumcision and also taking into account that any surgery, even common male circumcision, carries with it the possibilities of infection if not done in a sterile environment and performed by a medical professional. The same goes for circumcising a female.

The World Health Organization separated the female circumcision procedure into four categories. Type 1 circumcision is the removal of the clitoral prepuce, which is very similar to the prepuce of a penis, which is removed during male circumcision. This is the most basic procedure of female circumcision and the only procedure that would be allowed in Islam. The other procedures, types 2 and 3, where the labia minora, labia majora and clitoris may be extracted, are considered forbidden as they carry with them too many possibilities of bodily harm.

There is slight confusion regarding what is female genital mutilation (FGM) and what is female circumcision. In truth, the two terms have been used interchangeably but carry with them two very different connotations by the speaker. “Female genital mutilation” is often used when the speaker is condemning or speaking out against female circumcision whereas “female circumcision” is mostly used when discussing the practice as a medical procedure. The problem with only using the term “female genital mutilation” is that technically, if one is going to use a term that suggests the mutilation of one’s sexual organs, “male genital mutilation” would be just as appropriate considering Type 1 female circumcision and the common male circumcision procedure are very similar. Most professionals now only use the term “female genital mutilation” when referring to the more extreme types of female circumcision: removal of the labia minora and/or labia majora and clitoris.

The reason this topic is so controversial within Muslim circles is because there are hadiths (teachings of the Prophet) that support circumcising a female but these hadiths are considered “weak,” which means they cannot be used to create an Islamic ruling based on the fact that it is not known if they came from the Prophet or not. The Qur’an, however, does not condemn female circumcision as long as it does not compromise the health of the female.

For more information on the process of labeling a hadith “weak” or “strong,” please refer to this website. Finally, due to the amount of information about this topic, I would like to direct everyone to my blog where I have written a much more in-depth piece on female circumcision in Islam.

21 thoughts on “The Truth About Islam and Female Circumcision

  1. Mash’Allah, No doudt Islam is a true religion and we have to spread it around the world especially we have to tell the westren community about the importance , truthness and how peaceful our religion is.
    And many westren males and females are converting to Islam and its a good sign.

    May Allah lead us to to the straight path. Ameen!

  2. Your post about female circumcision, even as you define the term, fails to mention that the procedure is a federal crime when performed on minors in the United States. According to the text of the law, the parents’ religion cannot be used as a defense against this crime against female children.

  3. Any time the body is cut into, the health of the victim is compromised. When the normal body of a child is cut, both the physical and psychological health of the child are compromised, and the inherent right of the child to its own body has been violated. Cutting children’s normal bodies to satisfy the personal, cultural, or religious bias of its parents is wrong, and no amount of belief or rhetoric can change that.

  4. Norm, while I appreciate your post and you are most definitely correct, the topic was not about the legal status of female circumcision in the United States. It was whether it was or was not allowed to be practiced within the religion. :)

  5. Marilyn, I disagree with your post. Circumcision has been medically shown to decrease the chances of certain sexual infections and even transmission of common STD’s. There are a number of scholarly, peer-reviewed medical sources that discuss the transmittion of AIDS and other STDs in Africa and touch on the role that circumcision plays in regards to STD prevention.

  6. Thank you so much sister for your very enlightening article on this topic. May Allah bless You !

    Female Circumcision is one of the most misunderstood practices of Islam. Here’s an excellent article showing that it is not the kind of mutilation it is commonly believed to be and that it is the same as hoodectomy which western women are increasingly choosing to undergo for better genital hygiene and an enhanced sex life :

    There exist many ahadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam.

    Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).

    He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.

    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims
    to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.

    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have 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.’”

    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.

    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet is reported to have told Umm Atiyyah, 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” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).

    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.

    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).

    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).

    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.

    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.

    For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com

    Here’s another interesting news item that supports the need for a hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision):

    Oral sex linked to cancer risk

    US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men.

    In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.
    Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why.”

    It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harbored in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the part that harbors the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.

  7. Thank you for the hadiths and the comment, Ahmed. I do want to make one thing clear though: The hadiths from the Prophet (SAWS) that are mentioned in the article that you provided are all weak hadiths when pertaining to the circumcision of a female. This is NOT to say that female circumcision is not allowed. It’s just simply showing that female circumcision is certainly not required. There are three main attitudes and opinions towards female circumcision and it are that it is allowed but not required, that it is forbidden, and that it is required. All of them have very good reasons why they believe what they do. The opinion that I took from my research is that, since circumcizing a woman is not mentioned in the Qur’an, it is technically allowed as long as it does not go against any other teachings. For example, does not cause sexual displeasure nor pain and suffering for the woman circumcised. As long as the procedure is basic and similar to that of male circumcision, I do not believe it is condemned. I do not believe it is required at all and that people who cannot perform it safely in a sterile and clean medical environment should not do it at all as it leads to a larger chance of infection.

    The link to my blog provided an article that I wrote after studying this topic for a long time. I wrote three articles: the medical aspect; the Christian, Jewish and Muslim aspect; and then finally the Muslim aspect by itself with a small comparison between Christianity and Judaism. I encourage you to read it because it describes these three opinions in detail.

    Thank you for the article

    Meghan

  8. Thanks for your observations sister. Regarding the hadiths, it is not possible that all these sayings of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) should support each other if it does not have an Islamic basis.

    There have been attempts to show that these hadiths are weak, but the facts are otherwise. Indeed if we are going by this basis most of the hadiths relating to Islamic practices could be declared weak.

    It has been established by scholars of hadith such as Albani that at least two of the hadith concerned are very strong, namely, the one that mentions ghusl (bathing) being required when the two circumcised parts touch and the one that relates what our beloved Prophet (PBUH) told to Umm Atiyya, instructing her to remove only the prepuce of the clitoris.

    The evidence from these hadith are certainly far more stronger than simply concluding that just because Islam does not prohibit it, it is permissible.

    What is really heartening is that this practice laid down in Islam well over a thousand years ago is coming to be accepted by western medicine not only for maintaining good hygiene, but also to enhance the sexual satisfaction of the woman concerned. This itself proves that it has to have a valid Islamic basis.

    The website http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com could perhaps help our curious viewers get more information on this interesting topic.

  9. I find this practice nauseous and just one more reason to resist the expansion of your religion. It would be informative if you would explain to readers how there are not only strong and weak hadith, but teachings of the Koran itself that are contradicted (and thus rendered inoperative) by other, later teachings. You might mention, for instance, how incitements to violence against ‘infidels’ appearing in that part of the Koran related to Mohammad’s stay in Medina contradict and render null the irenic counsels related to his time in Mecca. I have noticed that Muslims here in the States tend to cite dramatically the latter and to pass over in silence the former, thus acting deceitfully in my mind.

  10. There are good signs coming. As more and more Muslims come to learn about the benefits of hoodectomy (Islamic female circumcision) the practice is likely to gain in popularity.

    Some countries that earlier banned it have allowed it again. This includes Indonesia which has taken steps to medicalise it and legally stipulate what needs to be removed, namely the prepuce of the clitoris. See http://jambi.tribunnews.com/2011/04/17/tak-paham-bisa-kebablasan.

    Good signs indeed !

  11. Ahmed, i went through this and let me tell you, it ruined my whole life. I will never get married, and never have children because of this barbaric act. It did not make me “hygienic.” I don’t take showers or baths because i hate looking at myself. I don’t talk to females because I know I will never have what they all have because. I can’t even sit. I can’t wait to get married, but i don’t talk to guys either because I am scared that they will guess what happened to me. There is no one with a right mind that will have me.

  12. If what you say is true, it’s certainly not hoodectomy you went through, but some kind of barbaric mutilation known as infibulation practiced in certain parts of Africa where they cut the clitoris and stitch close the parts.

    All women who have undergone true Islamic female circumcision (hoodectomy) only sing its benefits, although your experience has been quite different. I’m very sorry to hear about your situation.

  13. Islam is the end of individual freedom. As a former Muslimah, I am so happy to have left Islam, a vile, dangerous and oppressive political ideology disguised as religion and run by Muslim men who believe they will get 72 virgins in paradise if they commit jihad. Enough of this barbaric ideology and leave us freedom lovers alone!

  14. I am a muslim lady who has been circumcised. It was NOT mutilation and it was done in the most safest way. Its only a very tiny cut at the tip of the clitoris – the prepuce. I can vouch for the ease of orgasm and the heightened senses during sex with my husband. People do confuse hoodectomy with genital mutilation, its not the same at all. As for the comment above about freedom lovers wanting to be left alone, who’s bothering you? Nobody cares if you want to be free or enslaved. However, in the event that one day one of your girls or daughters or any of the females in your family are found to be having problems achieving orgasm during sex with their husband, you should lower your pride and research into this hoodectomy practice that Islam has taught us thousands of years ago.

  15. “The Qur’an, however, does not condemn female circumcision as long as it does not compromise the health of the female.”

    Nor does it explicitly forbid that you sit down on fence pole without pants. You can hit yourself over the head with a hammer, it is not explicitly forbidden by the Quran. This kind of argumentation is so weak that it deserves nothing but ridicule.

  16. Hey listen- sometimes you have to think for yourself without any religious documents influencing you- what king of person would let his daughter’s genitalia be cut?! That’s stupid. I’ve never heard of circumsing a delicate female prepuce and I think that it’s psychological harm would outweigh any potential “spiritual benefits”. Labia minora and labia majora are beautiful and can be enjoyed in a halal marriage- don’t mess up women’s private parts!

  17. To Sabrin,

    If Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, decreed for Maryam that she would have a child, despite the fact that she was a virgin, she asked how she could have a son. And Allah answered her question by saying “IT IS EASY FOR ME.” (huwa ‘alayaa hayyin). Qur’an 19:20-21.

    And see Qur’an 2:216, and ESPECIALLY 2:186. “And when My slaves ask you concerning Me, then indeed I am near. I respond to the supplication of the supplicant when he calls upon me.”

    And see also 65:2-3. “And whoever has (implements) taqwa of Allah, He will make a way out for him…”

    Everything in its proper time. Allah knows, and you do not know.