Female genital mutilation

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Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is the removal or alteration of female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are often severe averse health effects, including death, and no positive effects on health. 125 million girls and women are thought to be victims of FGM. The motivations of FGM include a range of social, cultural and religious factors. The UN general assembly has resolved to eliminate FGM worldwide. [1] FGM is illegal in many African and industrialised countries. [2]


Lack of religious mandate

While FGM is sometimes performed ritually and justified using religion or morality, there is no formal mandate for FGM in any of the major religions. The practices are usually confined to limited areas and pre-dates contemporary religions. The World Health Organization has stated:

"Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. [1]"

It would have been helpful if the authors of religious texts had thought to forbid the practice!

FGM is virtually non-existent in Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, but this is likely to be a cultural accident.


FGM is not mentioned in the Qur'an. There is no unambiguous support for FGM in the hadith. On the other hand, there are verses in the Qur'an that argue against bodily mutilation. Surah 4:119 Bible-icon.png

"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."

— Sunan Abu Dawood, 41:5251

A significant number of Islamic leaders have issued fatwas against FGM. [3] However, many Sunni scholars have views ranging for FGM is acceptable to FGM is obligatory. [4] These views are sometimes based on hadiths of questionable validity or relevance. One questionable hadith states Muhammad's supposed toleration (not approval) of FGM, which has the unfortunate effect of legitimising the practice. The Shafi'i School, a form of legal interpretation within Sunni Islam, considers FGM as officially obligatory and incorrectly say it is medically beneficial [5].

There are strong regional patterns in the prevalence of FGM and many Muslim communities do not practice it at all. This suggests that FGM is associated with certain movements and groups within Islam, rather than with the religion generally.

Although FGM has a complex relationship with Islam and cultural traditions, it is generally used as a tool of social control:

"The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse. [6]"

Spread of FGM outside traditional areas

Countries that did not traditionally practice FGM, such as Indonesia and Malaysia may have adopted the practice as part of the spread of Islam. In many regions, there is no evidence of FGM pre-dating the arrival of Islam. In contrast, FGM was practised in the Arabic would before the emergence of Islam.

Outside of central Africa, the practice of FGM is almost exclusively limited to Muslim communities. As previously mentioned, not all Muslim communities practice FGM.

Distinguishing traditional practices for FGM

Some religious authorities try to redefine FGM to exclude their own traditions.

"[Regarding "reduction" of the clitoral hood] What we have mentioned above is not FGM. [5]"

This is not the definition recognised by international medical authorities, which is "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons". [7]

Religion has no connection to FGM

Some commentators argue that FGM is not connected to religion at all:

"All of this is to say that while it is almost impossible to come up with some sort of connection that binds countries that have (a female genital mutilation) problem, it is clear that whatever that connection is, it’s not religious"

Reza Aslan[8]

This might be a stretch because many FGM proponents argue that it is a religious requirement.


FGM is not mentioned in the Bible. However, it is conducted in a minority of Christian communities. [4]


FGM is not mentioned in the Torah and is extremely rare in Judaism (in contrast to male circumcision). FGM is practiced by minority Jewish groups, mainly in Ethiopia. [9]

Morality beyond religion

The practice of FGM shows that cultures are quite willing to maintain moral codes that are quite independent of the official stance of their professed religion. Morality and religion can therefore vary separately and distinctly.


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wikipedia, Religious views on female genital mutilation
  5. 5.0 5.1 [4]
  6. Nawal El-Saadawi, "The hidden face of Eve, Women in the Arab World," translated and edited by Sherif Hetata, Zed Press, London, 1980, P. 33.
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7]

See also

External links

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