Of Faith and Fannies – Female Genital Mutilation and Islam
Female Circumcision (Genital Mutilation) is one of the major problems facing women in large parts of the world. The practice is seen from parts of Indonesia through some areas of the Middle East to (it is thankfully rarer but it still occurs) to Africa where the practice is widespread due to a long history and the lack of a concerted effort to stamp it out. I will write a warning and say that this article is NSFW and not suitable for those of a nervous disposition as the subject matter is deeply uncomfortable. In addition due to the use of anatomical drawings I will suggest that this article be treated as not safe for children unless you as a parent wish for them to learn about a darker side of the world. This is ludicrously uncomfortable for pretty much everyone. Hence this ludicrously long disclaimer.
What triggered me to write this? Well my girlfriend is a Malaysian Tamil. Malaysian readers saw that and sent me this. I figured a lot of the issues (like pretty much every form of quackery) are tarnished by misinformation. It’s an issue that we rarely properly deal with in western society because we go “It’s bad! KAY! LALALALLALALALA! PUPPIES AND KITTENS!”. But we don’t have that luxury. Most people don’t know the first thing about the practice so it’s very easy for the supporters to just dismiss them. So first a short primer on FGM and even a little look into “the most common FGM” in the west and medical procedures that can be classified under FGM. Yes, sometimes there is a reason to do this and we shall touch on a few examples, but I repeat this throughout because I know people often forget that a medical reason for doing something is not a sensible reason for doing something if you are healthy. Just because Steve Jobs was benefited from having large chunks of his intestines removed doesn’t mean it’s a sensible plan for you.
To begin with, let’s discuss what constitutes FGM.
There are four classifications of FGM according to the WHO.
Type I – Clitirodectomy. It is the removal of the clitoris and the clitoral hood. Normally? There is only one indication for this procedure medically. Metastasis of cancer to the region may require removal of the clitoris.
Type II – Includes the type I procedure and removal of the inner labia.
Type III – Is called infibulations. It involves removal of the clitoris, labia and fusion of wound leaving a small hole for passage of urine and blood which is reopened for childbirth and intercourse.
Type IV – Miscellaneous acts such as symbolic pricking, piercing of clitoris and labia, cauterisation and cutting into the vagina to widen it or usage of corrosives to tighten the vagina. These are mainly considered medical practices and are done for a variety of conditions ranging from body piercing and fashion to disorders like sexual dysfunction due to a narrow vagina, vaginismus due to damage during childbirth, cancer and some plastic surgery. It is generally voluntary though some exceptions exist.
Type I and II are the most common. Type III is predominant in Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti. Type IV is seen across the world including voluntary FGM as seen in body modification and piercing circles in the west.Now I know I am going to get a lot of flak for pointing out that body modification and piercing circles undergo Type IV FGM, but this is the WHO classification of the act rather than mine. It’s also important to point out the difference between body modification and piercings where an individual volunteers to have the piercing when compared to someone who is forced or coerced into having it done. I have no issue with volunteers, it’s your body and if your happiness lies in putting metal through your genitals then godspeed you fancy bastards! The reason for it’s utilisation in this context is that NORMALLY in the context of the west Type IV is voluntary but there are some cultures where the practice is compulsory and is not as radical as Type I, II or III. In Malaysia for example Type IV is more involuntary than in the west.
But for these women it isn’t a choice.
And the defence of the practice is frankly reprehensible.
Not only does it defend a practice steeped in superstition and culture as a good thing, it also does so by invoking a divine mandate followed by a billion people across the world that isn’t prone to criticism and honest debate.Let’s face it, Islam does not like debate. When Christians complain that Muslims get a free ride from atheists, it’s mainly because muslims do have a small but significant minority who don’t listen to reason and who are quite happy to kill someone for their perceived involvement in an attack on their faith. It’s extremely hard to criticise someone who threatens you with death and acts on it. We see here a marriage of the worst attitudes of faith and woo. The perceived medical benefit married to the blind faith in a book written by someone who could not fathom our knowledge and understanding. This is deadly beyond comparison and it shows. The 1997 figure for FGM states that roughly 135 million women had undergone the procedure. The number certainly hasn’t gone down since there isn’t a big drive to halt the procedure.We can say a lot of things about the British Colonial period. A lot of horrible things were done by Great Britain across the world. But as most Indians will realise (even if they don’t like admitting it) Great Britain created India as a solid unified body. Without them? India would be a balkanised series of tiny countries and not the rising giant it is today. The erstwhile masters unknowingly created nationalism, they gave India the tools to set itself free from all masters be they gods or men even if Indians do forget that sometime. And one of the things the British did in India that I am sure most Indians are thankful for was to give a legal impetus to the Hindu anti-sati reforms. A coalition of Indian reformers and British lawmakers helped stamp out the practice. However, we see a similar move in Africa where in Kenya the British attempted to stamp out the practice through the church and law resulting in revolutions as many kenyans perceived a british plot to destroy local culture to the point where the practice was actively defended as a Kenyan cultural issue. So what we see here is a genuinely destructive practice that people do consider unnecessary and bad but still do because it’s a symbol of culture.
The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.
The above quote came from the first prime minister of Kenya who resigned himself to the idea that fighting the practice somehow removed from the culture of Kenya and that somehow cutting the bits off another woman (the practice is strangely enforced by other women rather than men) was what you needed to be part of a society. That it was unfathomable to turn the practice into a symbolic one in much the same way as the modern Kali worshipper offers up a red liquid and cuts up pumpkins rather than the traditional offering of blood and human sacrifice. Granted this may turn into something like the practice now currently seen in Indonesia where the clitoris is pricked to draw blood but not removed, but it’s a step forwards and it’s a step that can be further progressed to a purely symbolic ceremony where the perceived benefits until it is completely stopped as an actual practice. I know a lot of people who read this will say “STAHP NAO” but there is something you should learn. And it is a harsh fact of life and working in such places. Sometimes principles don’t save lives. If 1000 people who would have done FGM and 50% agree to do the pricking malarky and only 1% agree to not do it then you have stopped 500 people from getting FGM in exchange for something not as bad. Eventually you will go from “not as bad” to sensible. Now even this is not indicated for every place FGM is being fought, some places are conducive to open bans.
Superstition when directly challenged will only fall if you can completely undermine it. In order to completely undermine FGM in large parts of Asia you will have to run the risk of death by angry fanatic. You have to fight the status quo of Islam and that is just terrifying to most doctors and the like who have families who just want to make a living without some idiot getting the idea that the doctor is being unislamic and encouraging people who listen to his idiocy to kill him. It’s not a fight you can demand others to participate in while being comfortable and removed from the risk. It’s not a game of football. In addition you either have to brutally destroy that part of culture (the hanging of people who encouraged sati) or you have to undermine it and slowly change it. And that is slow and steady and has to be done through things like this. It’s not ideal but it’s what works in this situation. You need to create a situation where people realise why they should change. And the way to do it is sadly slower than what most people want.
Islam may enjoin or forbid something and the people – or most of them – may not be able to see the wisdom behind this command or prohibition. In that case we are obliged to obey the command or heed the prohibition and to have certain faith that the laws of Allaah are all good, even if we cannot see the wisdom behind them.
Circumcision is one of the Sunnahs of the fitrah, as is indicated by the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, plucking the armpit hairs, cutting the nails, and trimming the moustache.” narrated by al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257)…Circumcision is prescribed for both males and females. The correct view is that circumcision is obligatory for males and that it is one of the symbols of Islam, and that circumcision of women is mustahabb but not obligatory.
Great! The defence of female circumcision is that we cannot understand why it’s being proscribed by Islam. We should blindly obey because we cannot wrap our tiny minds over what some (more) middle eastern guys in 500 AD thought about the world but we can build the Large Hadron Collider.
So circumcision is mentioned in Islam and proscribed, mainly for men; but it doesn’t explicitly state that women shouldn’t be circumcised and so people use the vague language in the Koran to imply that it’s a good thing.
That’s where Dr. Hamid al-Ghawaabi comes in to provide his expert medical advice as to why it’s a great idea.
The secretions of the labia minora accumulate in uncircumcised women and turn rancid, so they develop an unpleasant odour which may lead to infections of the vagina or urethra. I have seen many cases of sickness caused by the lack of circumcision.
Rancid secretions? It is indicative of a bacterial or a yeast infection. Roughly 75% of women will have one in their lifetime. It’s a fact of life. The correct answer is proper hygiene and cleaning your genitals.And I haven’t noticed any woman whose vagina smelt so bad that I had to lop bits off. Maybe if she has gangrene but that’s it! (Yes, that’s the actual medical indication for female circumcision. Your choices are clitiroidectomy or death by sepsis. It’s an emergency procedure and rather rare) And that’s a very specific case! But a normal healthy vagina?
Circumcision reduces excessive sensitivity of the clitoris which may cause it to increase in size to 3 centimeters when aroused, which is very annoying to the husband, especially at the time of intercourse.
And there in lies the crux of this of the argument. The same reason why male circumcision occurs is applied to women. It’s because it reduces the sexual drive of individuals. And I fail to see how a normal clitoris during the act of sex somehow is irritating. If a clitoris is so massively irritating during coitus then Rx – Doggy Style if you are a selfish wanker. You clearly don’t care about the sexual pleasure of others if that’s the biggest problem you have during sex and if you use that excuse to deny others pleasure. Because face it, that’s why it’s done. It’s to stop women having fun.
Another benefit of circumcision is that it prevents stimulation of the clitoris which makes it grow large in such a manner that it causes pain.
Pain? I don’t think the clitoris grows so much that it causes pain! Then again it’s been a long time since I had sex and I may have forgotten that bit where women feel pain during sex. Although… it may explain why the women I sleep with scream in bed… Good Grief! I AM SUCH A MONSTER!!!
Circumcision prevents spasms of the clitoris which are a kind of inflammation.
No it isn’t! Inflammation consists of the classical signs of redness, heat, swelling and pain (rubor, calor, tumor et dolor… I can science in latin) as a generalised tissue response to an infection or a foreign object. Not what happens when a clitoris is stimulated. Ironically pricking and other forms of FGM would cause inflammation.
Circumcision reduces excessive sexual desire.
Why is this even a problem? Oh right? Because all abrahamic faith is fascinated and repulsed by human sexuality and thinks that the first sin is the acquisition of knowledge and the greatest is the idea that humans can enjoy sex. Well emasculation reduces excessive sexual desire too but I don’t see the good doctor suggest we lop off the meat and two veg…
Then Dr al-Ghawaabi refutes those who claim that female circumcision leads to frigidity by noting: Frigidity has many causes, and this claim is not based on any sound statistics comparing circumcised women with uncircumcised women, except in the case of Pharaonic circumcision which is where the clitoris is excised completely.
Does Al-Ghawaabi seriously think women have any say in whether or not sex occurs or if there is any onus on providing sexual pleasure to a woman when one of the reasons given for cutting off the clitoris is that it is irritating to her husband? It doesn’t lead to frigidity, it leads to a loss of enjoyment of sex since by definition the procedure is done to reduce the female enjoyment of sex.
The female gynaecologist Sitt al-Banaat Khaalid says in an article entitled Khitaan al-Banaat Ru’yah Sihhiyyah (Female circumcision from a health point of view): For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the Sunnah which encourages it. We all know the dimensions of Islam, and that everything in it must be good in all aspects, including health aspects. If the benefits are not apparent now, they will become known in the future, as has happened with regard to male circumcision – the world now knows its benefits and it has become widespread among all nations despite the opposition of some groups.
Some groups? It’s because women are held down and have their genitals cut off. The nations where it is widespread are mainly really poor nations where the practice occurs mainly due to tribal nonsense and because women have few rights and are unable to stand against the practice. The idea that Islam is somehow more knowledgeable than actual healthcare experts and that healthcare practitioners are willing to trade their own knowledge for a belief in the writings of someone from the 5th century AD rather than modern science is frankly insane. Fitrah, Sunnah and Koran do not dictate medical science. As for male circumcision (a completely different topic due to the relatively benign status of the procedure), it’s actually dropping in levels across the world since there isn’t any actual benefit from removal of the foreskin that cannot be attained from condom. And the practice of circumcision in women is illegal in many parts of the world with the UK’s government going as far as making it illegal to perform on it’s citizens rather than just in it’s jurisdiction meaning that going abroad to get your female child circumcised is also illegal. This is a movement that’s growing across the world and it’s rising in importance.Instead we have a list of frankly stupid reasons to mutilate someone’s genitals.
To point out the crux of the problem with Islam and FGM is the word Fitrah. It means “Nature”, that any action prescribed or proscribed by the Quran regarding health and that if it is a practice that isn’t immediately understandable now will reveal itself in the future to be the right act. Sunan al Fitrah is the “customs of nature”. The notion is that FGM is a divinely inscribed practice on humanity. That we cannot help but do this because god made us.
Then she mentioned some of the health benefits of female circumcision and said: It takes away excessive libido from women It prevents unpleasant odours which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce. It reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections It reduces the incidence of infections of the reproductive system. In the book on Traditions that affect the health of women and children, which was published by the World Health Organization in 1979 it says: With regard to the type of female circumcision which involves removal of the prepuce of the clitoris, which is similar to male circumcision, no harmful health effects have been noted.
I already went over the stupidity of the other points. With regards to harmful health effects?
1. Recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections 2. Cysts 3. Infertility 4. Marked increase in both maternal and child deaths 5. Type III FGM is prone for infections and gangrenous infection of the labia majora 6. Marked pain 7. Loss of pleasure during sex
The WHO in 2011 says that there are no health benefits, only harm that comes out of FGM. FGM is illegal in many parts of the world. In most of the west the only removal or damage to the female genitalia that can be done is either voluntarily in the case of piercings or in the case of medical conditions that require removal. In every single instance of the FGM seen it is not done for the sake of the girl but for the perceived notion of culture, purity of women, religion and reduction of sexual libido. There is no medical reason to do so, and the practice is forced or coerced upon young girls.
This is an extremely prevalent practice in many parts of the world with little to no statistics. It’s often the “norm” so people don’t see what the problem is. While you understandably feel rage, rage doesn’t make people change. It’s very easy to call someone a bastard, it’s very hard however to make them stop doing the thing. Condemnation should be mixed in with a logical method of causing the problem to stop. Otherwise it is just words.
So how to make a stand? Well you yourselves can raise awareness in a way that isn’t just based on blind anger. Yes it is nice to get people to come from the UK to help out but frankly most of us don’t have the skills to fight this fight. Any job you can do, someone here already can do and in a better way. What we require is awareness and common sense. Support your secular charities. Medicin Sans Frontier, The WHO and Red Cross all stand against the practice and actively try and stop it from occurring in regions where they are active. You may not accept the softly softly approach but that actually gets results rather than outright fisticuffs with a practice that many people consider to be a vital part of their identity. Amnesty International as well has a very strong campaign against it on the activism side. It can be done, it’s just that we have to do it right now.
There is no excuse for this, not culture and definitely not belief in any god.
- UN committee calls for ban on female genital mutilation (guardian.co.uk)
- The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation (guardian.co.uk)
- UN panel calls for ban on female genital mutilation (todayonline.com)
- CPS to crack down on female genital mutilation (guardian.co.uk)
- Fight against Female Genital Mutilation wins UN backing. (zedie.wordpress.com)
- Guest Post by Jason Tucker – Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) At Home And Abroad (judithhaire.com)
- Ladies, Be Proud of your Labia! (aarhusblog.com)
- emma batha: senegal will be first country to end female genital cutting (blkcowrie.wordpress.com)
- United Nations speaks out against female genital mutilation (FGM) (secularnewsdaily.com)