Some Facts about Female Genital Mutilation amongst Muslim Women

Some Facts about Female Genital Mutilation amongst Muslim Women

According to the WHO, between 100 million and 140 million women and girls are thought to be living with the consequences of female genital mutilation.

As per the WHO, FGM has been defined as “All procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. It is recognised as a violation of the human rights. In December 2012, the United Nations general assembly unanimously voted to work for the elimination of FGM throughout the world.

The problems and issues concerning women can be compared to the   appearance of an octopus. Just like an octopus’s flexible arms which entrap and suffocate it’s victim. In the case of Indian Muslim women, these problems are multiplied. The social, psychological, economical, political and religious dimensions of this condition are worsened in case of  Muslim women.

People are discriminated against because of their race, age, religion or  their socioeconomic status. When a person is born a female,  she is immediately susceptible to unfair and unequal treatment from the society. Sexism dates back to the biblical times, for Eve is considered responsible for the Fall of Man: “So she took some of its fruit and ate it. Then she gave some of it to her husband and he also ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Eve is blamed for one of the greatest insults given to God. Over the centuries, women have been blamed for things such as the temperament, sex, and disabilities of their children, their infertility, their unmarried state (a “spinster”), and even the condition in their homes. Anything that has gone wrong in the household has typically been attributed to the wife or the mother. Society has always had high expectations of women. Though the definition of ‘ the perfect woman’  has evolved overtime,  the ideals of elegance, style, gentility, culinary skills, and maternal instincts have remained. Though no woman can possibly possess all these characteristics but every little girl wants to be the perfect wife and mother.

There are several commonly recognized forms of female genital mutilation. Sunna, which literally means “tradition” or “duty,” is the removal of a layer of skin covering the clitoris. Sometimes, the tip of the clitoris is also removed but often the glands and the body of the clitoris are left intact. In general, any of the milder forms of mutilation may be referred to as Sunna (Williams & Sobieszyk, 1997). Infibulation or Pharaonic mutilation involves not only the removal of the entire clitoris and the labia minora (the inner lips of the vagina), but also the scraping or cutting away of most of the labia majora (the outer lips of the vagina) with knives, razor blades, or broken glass bottles. Any remnants of the labia majora are then stitched shut with catgut, thread, or thorns. What remains of a woman’s external genitalia is a tiny opening the size of a pencil for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. The girl’s legs are then tied together. Her ankles, knees and thighs are tightly bound and she is immobilized for an extended period while the wound heals. A girl can be immobilised anywhere from fifteen to forty days (Williams & Sobieszyk, 1997)

There is no known medical reason for female genital mutilation. It is practiced for social reasons, many of which have no logical grounds. Four main reasons that have been proposed by medical practitioners to explain the practice of FGM are:

to preserve group identity

to help maintain cleanliness and health

to preserve virginity and family honour

and prevent immorality; and to further marriage goals, including enhancement of sexual pleasure for men (“Female genital mutilation,” 1998).

Within each culture, female genital mutilation serves a purpose. These societies see FGM as a necessity for the health, physical appearance, and temperament of women.

Many people who practice female genital mutilation justify the practice with their Muslim faith. While infibulation is strictly forbidden, clitorectomy (the removal of the clitorus) is sanctioned. Mohammed is said to have told listeners to “circumcise but not destroy ( or mutilate), for not destroying the clitoris would be better for the man and would make the woman’s face glow.” Muslims who are experiencing the current religious revival are beginning to abandon rituals  and are considered un-Islamic including Pharaonic mutilation (Williams and Sobieszyk, 1997). These Muslims believe that the Quran promotes the concept of a wife being able to give pleasure to her man during intercourse. Mutilated genitalia reduces or eliminates a woman’s ability to give pleasure (Robinson, 1999).

Permitting such a ritual constitutes an act of tolerance by Islamic law for pre-Islamic practices, and may be overruled by the Islamic prohibition against harmful acts. For instance, the Islamic law which protects a woman’s right to sexual enjoyment, as demonstrated by the fact that a woman has the right to divorce her man on the grounds that he does not provide her with sexual satisfaction. It follows that Islamic law prohibits clitorodectomy (partial or complete removal of the clitoris) or infibulation (excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening), or any genital mutilation which impairs the woman’s ability to enjoy sexual relations. Such prohibitions are consistent with the hadithic warning against severity in female circumcision.

If the Islamic law does not mandate female genital mutilation and tolerates only the most mild form of circumcision (and that only if it produces no adverse effects in the child), then why do so many people from certain countries with large Muslim populations insist that savage acts which exceed these limits are not only permitted, but required by Islamic law? The answer becomes obvious when one realizes that Christians from many of these countries also insist that this tradition is mandated by their religion as well. People often confuse traditions rooted in local culture with religious requirements.

For Muslims, cliterodectomy and infibulation should be considered as a harâm (prohibited) practice and it should be part of our ongoing mandate to fight against superstition and oppression. As to the mildest form of female circumcision, the risks attached to a girl’s future ability to enjoy sexual relations with her husband must be placed in the category of makrûh (disliked) practices. Since it has neither hygienic nor religious value, there is no justification for Muslims to engage in this painful and potentially harmful practice and it would be best to avoid it completely.

FGM can be abolished and women can have more reproductive options, despite such obstacles. If women can only endure these times of discrimination, they can build a better world for their daughters where sexism will be virtually nonexistent. There will always be hope.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (Angelou, 1994, p. 7).

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