RECAP: Panel discussion with asatizah discussing female genital cutting

By Danesha Shah

On 13 March 2021, I attended an online panel discussion with Ustazah Lina Salim and Ustaz Sheikh Md Farouq where they discussed the issue of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) within the Muslim community. They discussed from the perspective of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Islamic Bioethics respectively. It was organised by End FGC Singapore and supported by Beyond the Hijab. 

The session began with a brief introduction by moderator Sya Taha on the four types of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The practice, regardless of its different iterations, does not result in any health benefits for young girls and women. Approximately 75% of Muslim women have undergone FGC according to a survey done by End FGC Singapore in late 2020.

Following that, Ustazah Lina explained the four instances in which circumcision is mentioned in hadiths and how it relates to the four official rulings of FGC under the four Mazhabs (schools of Islamic thought) of Islam. The four hadiths that were discussed during the session were Sahih al-Bukhari 6298, Riyad as-Salihin 1203, Sahih Muslim 526 and hadith no. 20994. According to some scholarly interpretations of these hadiths, under Mazhab Syafi’i, the practice is considered wajib or obligatory. However, as scholarly interpretations are not completely unanimous, some Mazhab Syafi’i scholars do regard it as sunnah instead.

To conclude, she gave some advice on how to deal with differing opinions about FGC within the Muslim community. As more members of the community form their opinions about the practice, the advice she shared that I thought was the most pertinent was to stray away from “othering” those that have differing opinions as this results in further division within our community.

Ustaz Farouq began his presentation on the Islamic Bioethical Deliberations on FGC. Islamic Bioethics is a concept which refers to the Islamic perspective on ethical or moral issues that result from advances in biology and medicine. As a result of recent medical advancements, FGC has been proven to have no health benefits hence the analysis from an Islamic Bioethical standpoint is key. 

He went on to explain the positions of both proponents and oppositions of FGC. In his perspective, proponents of FGC center their opinions on that of scholars and jurists of the past. Meanwhile, while opponents of FGC mainly believe that it is a pre-Islamic custom without substantial religious grounding. They also believe in contemporary interpretations of the hadith that do not deem FGC as mandatory. All in all, they believe that modern scientific advancements calls for the rethinking of the practice in the Muslim community. He then proceeds to analyse the weaknesses in both arguments as proponents fail to address the concerns of dignity and gendered notions of morality for women that undergo FGC while oppositions avoid difficult narratives in the tradition of FGC in the Muslim community. He then stressed the importance of not treating the opinions of proponents and oppositions as mutually exclusive and that there is an opportunity to reform if these conversations begin at home. 

To end off, when deliberating the practice of FGC, Ustaz Farouq urged that it should be firstly, a voluntary and informed decision by the individual who it will be performed on. Secondly, it should be guided by noble intentions and thirdly, for the holistic well-being of the child. 

The webinar ended with a Q&A session during which one participant asked the two speakers on the issue of consent when FGC is done on girls under the age of 2. Ustaz Farouq noted that although parents do have responsibility over their children in Islam, they do not own them. Hence, parents should not have their children undergo FGC if they are unsure of the possible effects it may have on the child.

In response to a question about following and trusting one’s ustaz/ah about FGC, Ustaz Farouq mentioned that although seeking guidance from religious authorities is critical, we should not blindly rely on them and instead, create spaces to talk about FGC. 

As someone who has never heard a discussion of FGC from a religious perspective, the webinar was extremely enlightening as I continue learning more about FGC through this series of online conversations. As the Muslim community grows increasingly passionate about FGC, we should remain respectful and open to hearing opinions of others in our community so that we can work together to achieve reform.

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