Is Female Circumcision Islamic?

By Zuby Eusofe

Female Circumcision or Sunat Perempuan has been debated for many years till today. Some religious scholars assert that female circumcision is not FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and it is Sunnah to follow according to the ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH). However, many scholars of Islam have found that most of these hadiths pertaining to female circumcision are not authentic.

Before I go on further, let me reiterate that this article is purely within the capacity of my personal observations and research on the issue. Where applicable, I have included research conducted by various scholars of Islam. I value your patience and understanding in reading this.

To begin, the four Sunni schools of thought all have differing opinions on the issue.

  • The Hanafi view is that it is a sunnah (optional act) for both females and males;
  • Maliki hold the view that it is wajib (obligatory) for males and sunnah (optional) for females;
  • Syafii view it as wajib (obligatory) for both females and males;
  • Hanbali have two opinions:
    • it is wajib (obligatory) for both males and females
    • it is wajib (obligatory) for males and makrumah (honourable) for females.

The Syafii school of thought, which is practised by the majority of Malay Muslims in Singapore, base their opinion of female circumcision on Surah An-Nahl (16:123): So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), “Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith, and he joined not gods with God.”

Instead of placing emphasis on the main message of the Abrahamic faith, which is the oneness of Allah, the Syafii school of thought places it on the culture of circumcision which was practiced at the time. Thus, it is important to note that the Quran makes no reference at all to female circumcision.

Many Muslims and academics also confirm that the practice is not rooted in religion but rather in culture. “When one considers that the practice does not prevail and is much condemned in countries like Saudi Arabia…it becomes clear that the notion that it is an Islamic practice is a false one,” Haseena Lockhat, a child clinical psychologist wrote in her book, Female Genital Mutilation: Treating the Tears (2004).

The practice has also been actively condemned by Muslim religious leaders and scholars worldwide, including former President of al-Azhar University in Egypt President Ahmad Omar Hashim and former Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani in Iraq, Muhammad Lutfi al-Sabbagh in Saudi Arabia, and many other notable religious scholars.

During a presentation at the International Conference of Scholars on the Prohibition of FGM in November 2006, prominent cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi explained that ahadith which include the topic of FGM are weak and unreliable. He later issued a fatwa that stated that “[Female circumcision] enters into the aspect of changing God’s creation which is a work of the devil and it is not permitted by God.”

The hadith that is most commonly used to support female circumcision is a hadith recorded by Imam Abu Dawud: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.

However, even Imam Abu Dawud, the very collector of this hadith, has declared that the chain of transmission is not strong and that it is not a direct quote from the Prophet, therefore making this hadith very weak and poor in authenticity.

Unfortunately, in Singapore, there are still doctors who offer this harmful practice in their private clinics. Will the Ministry of Health do something about it? Can we totally abolish female circumcision here in Singapore? Can we as Singaporeans condone such an act as inhumane? We need to do more than just writing articles and having an anti-FGM day. We need more women and men, mothers and fathers, to end this harmful practice within their own families and in Singapore.

Circumcision does not make a Muslim man and woman equal. Instead, what we should do is to uphold justice and equality in the family by ending these acts of violence against women.