By Danesha Shah
On 29 January 2020, I attended an online panel discussion with three parents on the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) within the Muslim community in Singapore which was organised by End FGC SG and supported by Beyond the Hijab. The three speakers were Sya, a mother of two, Nas, a father of one and Zubee, a mother of four, with Saza as the moderator. They shared their rationale for choosing not to have their daughters undergo FGC or “sunat perempuan” as it is referred to in the Malay/Muslim community.
FGC is a practice where young girls, typically under the age of 2, have their clitoral hood, clitoris or other genital tissue cut. Oftentimes, a small piece of skin is removed. Sometimes, the cut is symbolic. This practice is not a medical procedure that is taught in medical school. Instead, doctors learn it from their more senior counterparts. It is offered as a service in Muslim-owned private medical clinics and in the past, was more commonly done by midwives.
As a young Muslim woman who is largely ignorant of this custom, it was interesting to hear their journey towards educating themselves on the matter and eventually arriving to their decisions. One of the speakers, Sya, shared that it became a topic of discussion between her and her partner who was a non-Muslim at the time. This journey eventually led her to decide against circumcising not only her daughter, but her son too. One of her reasons was the lack of medical validity as circumcision is unnecessary to keep one’s genitals clean. She also cited the fact that sunat perempuan is only required in some understandings of the Syafii mazhab (school of thought). Above all, she emphasised the importance of bodily autonomy of her children. This sentiment was shared by the two other speakers who similarly echoed the importance of not controlling their children’s bodies by having them undergo circumcision as a child or an infant when they have yet to understand the ramifications of doing so.
The next speaker, Nas, shared how he first began learning about FGC through learning about the custom in African tribes and communities. Similar to Sya, he had a discussion with his partner, who in spite of being circumcised herself as a child, decided against circumcising their daughter. In addition to the importance of protecting his daughter’s bodily autonomy, another key consideration for him was that circumcision as a practice went against the natural anatomy of a human body and thus, should not be done unless it is medically necessary.
Meanwhile, the final speaker, Zubee, did circumcise her two sons but did not choose to do so for her two daughters. Her change of heart towards circumcision was sparked by her exchange trip to Jordan where she met Muslim women who themselves were not circumcised. This was when she realised that circumcision in the Muslim community in Singapore was more of a sociocultural practice rather than being purely religously motivated.
During the Q&A segment, an attendee asked how they could come to terms with the hadiths that support female circumcision. Sya, Nas and Zubee shared how they viewed the practice as sunnah, not obligatory. These hadiths were also of weak credibility. Sya shared that hadiths can be seen as descriptions of the practice at specific times and places and that they do not have to be seen as a mandate of the practice. Another attendee asked how effective closed door dialogues will be in stopping or curbing FGC. Participants mentioned that the demand for FGC is primarily driven by parents. As such, dialogues will encourage discussion and continued interest in the topic, thereby supporting a change in public opinion.
All in all, I definitely felt that the sharing by both the participants and attendees were highly informative and helped me in my personal journey towards learning about FGC. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s time for the Muslim community to confront our own preconceived notions and ignorance towards FGC.
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