IMPORTANT:This page has used Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia in either a refactored, modified, abridged, expanded, built on or 'straight from' text content! (view authors)

Religious views on female genital cutting (FGC) (also called female genital mutilation or FGM) have often been highly critical, although the medical phenomenon appears to be concentrated in Islamic areas, and not in Jewish or Christian regions. Evidence suggests that female genital cutting might be a cultural relic from pre-monotheistic African tribal religions, given that the practice is mentioned as far back as 163 BC. Muslim scholars have often been divided on whether it should be considered as a non-religious traditional custom, or whether it should be specifically condemned by religious authorities.

FGC in traditional African cultures and religions

Girls in Ancient Egypt

The traditional cultural practice of FGC predates both Islam and Christianity. A Greek papyrus from 163 B.C. mentions girls in Egypt undergoing circumcision and it is widely accepted to have originated in Egypt and the Nile valley at the time of the Pharaohs. Evidence from mummies have shown both Type I and Type III FGC present.[1] (Note that the earliest evidence of male circumcision is also from Ancient Egypt.) Amnesty International says that the prevalence of the practice of FGC is unknown, and that the procedure is now only practiced by some Muslims and Animists.[2]

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that the custom of FGC "cuts across religions and is practiced by Muslims, Christians, Jews and followers of indigenous religions."[3]

Traditional African cleanliness

Medical justifications offered by cultural tradition are regarded by scientists and doctors as unsubstantiated. Some African societies consider FGC part of maintaining cleanliness as it removes secreting parts of the genitalia. Vaginal secretions, in reality, play a critical part in maintaining female health. Some Bambara and Dogon believe that babies die if they touch the clitoris during birth.[4] In some areas of Africa, there exists the belief that a newborn child has elements of both sexes. In the male body the foreskin of the penis is considered to be the female element. In the female body the clitoris is considered to be the male element. Hence when the adolescent is reaching puberty, these elements are removed to make the indication of sex clearer.[4]

In years past, western doctors advocating or performing these procedures sometimes claimed that girls of all ages would otherwise engage in excessive masturbation and be "polluted" by the activity, which was referred to as "self-abuse".[5]

C.F. McDonald wrote in a 1958 paper titled "Circumcision of the Female"[6] "If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not the female? I have operated on perhaps 40 patients who needed this attention." The author describes symptoms as "irritation, scratching, irritability, masturbation, frequency and urgency," and in adults, smegmaliths causing "dyspareunia and frigidity." The author then reported that a two-year-old was no longer masturbating so frequently after the procedure. Of adult women, the author stated that "for the first time in their lives, sex ambition became normally satisfied." Justification of the procedure on hygienic grounds, or to reduce masturbation, has since declined. The view that masturbation is a cause of mental and physical illness has dissipated since the mid-20th century.[7]

Clitorecdomy in its less invasive form, removal of the prepuce alone, is also called a hoodectomy. It is often an elective surgery undertaken by mature consenting adults. Some doctors[8] and other advocators[9] believe that the hoodectomy form of FGC can help to increase and improve sexual sensitivity and sexual pleasure in cases where the hood of the clitoris is too tight. A study done in 1959 by Rathmann et al. states that 87.5% of women saw an improvement in sexual pleasure following a hoodectomy FGC,[10] with 75% in a study by Knowles et al.

FGC as a cure for psychological diseases

FGC advocates have stated that the practices cure females of a myriad of psychological diseases including depression, hysteria, insanity and kleptomania. Advocates also claim that FGC can be used as a means to female sexuality[11]. FGC is often used as a means of preservation and proof of virginity, and is regarded in many societies as a prerequisite for honorable marriage. Type III FGC is often used in these societies, and the husband will sometimes cut his bride's scar tissue open after marriage to allow for sexual intercourse. Heavy stigma lies on men who marry an uncircumcised woman. Women who have had genital surgeries are often considered to have higher status than those who have not and are entitled to positions of religious, political and cultural power.[12] Removal of the clitoris is often cited as a means of discouraging promiscuity, as it is viewed as eliminating the motivating factor of sexual pleasure. Feminists and human rights activists generally disapprove of the practice because they view it as presupposing that women lack the self control or the right to decide when and with whom they engage in sexual activity.

Aesthetic reasons

Aesthetic reasons for FGC are also cited. Some societies view FGC as enhancing the beauty of female genitals, in the same way they view male circumcision as enhancing the beauty of male genitals. Kurdish advocates of FGC say it makes a girl spiritually clean so that others can eat the meals she prepares. [13]

While there are differing rates of FGC prevalence in different religions like Islam and Christianity, prevalence rates also vary by culture. These variances preclude an unequivocal link between religion and FGC.[14] However there is debate as to whether or not FGC are religious practices in particular religious subcultures.

Views in monotheistic religions


FGC has never been part of Christianity as a faith system. There are no scriptural or doctrinal documents existing within the larger Christian tradition that even address the issue. The only contemporary examples of Christians practicing FGC are in Africa. As FGC rituals predated the missionaries work in North Africa, many African tribes continue the practice as a matter of cultural tradition, unrelated to religious belief.[citation needed]


While Brit Milah is mandated by the Bible, and considered one of Judaism's most basic commandments, mention of female circumcision appears nowhere in Judaism. The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion states that female circumcision was never allowed in Judaism.[15]

The minority Ethiopian Jewish community (Beta Israel) practice FGC in a non-religious ceremony. It may be performed only by a Jewish woman.[16] Toubia (1995) states that "female circumcision is not even mentioned in any religious text," and that scholars in Africa "would testify that [in Africa] traditional and tribal rituals commonly supersede religion".[17] Many Ethiopian Jews who emigrate to Israel abandon the practice of FGC.[16]


In Islamic texts, FGC is referred to as khafḍ (Template:Lang-ar)[18] or khifaḍ[19] (Template:Lang-ar). According to McAuliffe, female genital cutting is not commanded by the Qur'an,[20] and according to Obermeyer, is not practiced by the majority of Muslims.[14]

In Egypt, mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa stated: "The traditional form of excision is a practice totally banned by Islam because of the compelling evidence of the extensive damage it causes to women's bodies and minds." [21] Sheikh Musa Mohammed Omer, a member of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Ethiopia has said: “there is no evidence from Islamic sources prohibiting female circumcision," unless it is infibulation.[22] Pharaonic circumcision refers to infibulation, or WHO Type III FGC.

Sunni view

There are dichotomous differences of opinion among Sunni scholars in regards to female genital cutting. These differences of opinion range from forbidden to obligatory. The debate focuses around a hadith from the Sunni collections. One narration states that "a woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. Muhammad said to her, 'Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.'"[23]Abu Dawood, who relates the narration in his collection, states the hadith is poor in authenticity. [24] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani describes this hadith as poor in authenticity, and quotes Imam Ahmad Bayhaqi’s point of view that it is "poor, with a broken chain of transmission" [25] Zein al-Din al-Iraqi points out in his commentary on Al-Ghazali’s Ihya ulum al-din (I:148) that the mentioned hadith has a weak chain of transmission."[26] Yusuf ibn Abd-al-Barr comments: "Those who consider (female) circumcision a sunna, use as evidence this hadith of Abu al-Malih, which is based solely on the evidence of Hajjaj ibn Artaa, who cannot be admitted as an authority when he is the sole transmitter. The consensus of Muslim scholars shows that circumcision is for men".[27]

Imam Shams-ul-haq Azeemabadi asserts that, "[t]he Hadith of female circumcision has been reported through so many ways all of which are weak, blemished and defective, and thus it is unacceptable to prove a legal ruling through such ways."[26] While some scholars reject ahadith that refer to FGC on grounds of inauthenticity, other scholars argue that authenticity alone does not confer legitimacy. One of the sayings used to support FGC practices is the hadith (349) in Sahih Muslim: Aishah narrated an authentic Hadith that the Prophet said: "When a man sits between the four parts (arms and legs of his wife) and the two circumcised parts meet, then ghusl is obligatory." Dr. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, Secretary General of the World Union of the Muslim Ulemas states that while the hadith is authentic, it is not evidence of legitimacy. He states that the Arabic for "the two circumcision organs" is a single word used to connote two forms; however the plural term for one of the forms is used to denote not two of the same form, but two different forms characterized as a singular of the more prominent form. For example, in Arabic, the word with the female gender can be chosen to make the dual form, such as in the expression "the two Marwas", referring to the two hills of As-Safa and Al-Marwa (not "two of the same hills, each called Al-Marwa") in Mecca.[28] He goes on to state that, while the female form is used to denote both male and female genitalia, it is identified with the prominent aspect of the two forms, which, in this case, is only the male circumcised organ. He further states that the connotation of circumcision is not transitive. Dr. al-Awwa concludes that the hadith is specious because "such an argument can be refuted by the fact that in Arabic language, two things or persons may be given one quality or name that belongs only to one of them for an effective cause." [26] [e.g. the usage in "Qur'an in Surah Al-Furqan(25):53", "bahrayn" is the dual form of "bahr" (sea) meaning "sea (salty and bitter) and river (sweet and thirst-allaying)", and not "two seas".]

In March 2005, Dr Ahmed Talib, Dean of the Faculty of Sharia at Al-Azhar University, stated: "All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital organs... it is not an obligation in Islam."[29] Both Christian and Muslim leaders have publicly denounced the practice of FGC since 1998.[30] A recent conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo (December, 2006) brought prominent Muslim clergy to denounce the practice as not being necessary under the umbrella of Islam.[31] Although there was some reluctance amongst some of the clergy, who preferred to hand the issue to doctors, making the FGC a medical decision, rather than a religious one, the Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa of Egypt, signed a resolution denouncing the practice.[32]

One of the four Sunni schools of religious law, the Shafi`i school, rules that trimming of the clitoral hood is mandatory.[33] Sheikh Faraz Rabbani states, "That which is wajib [obligatory] in the Shafi`i texts is merely slight 'trimming' of the tip of the clitoral hood - prepuce." He states that this practice is not "FGM, nor harmful to the woman or her ability to derive sexual pleasure." He states that "excision, FGM, or other harmful practices" are not permitted.[34] In 1994, Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Jad Al-Hâqq argued that the procedure may not be banned simply on grounds of improper use.[35] Al-Azhar University in Cairo had issued several fatwas endorsing FGC, in 1949, 1951 and 1981, but then over ruled these with a more recent fatwa totally banning the practice, as it goes against the principles and teachings of Islam.[36]


  1. Skaine, R (2005). Female genital mutilation: Legal, cultural and medical issues. Jefferson, NC, USA: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2167-3.
  2. Amnesty International (1997-10-01). "What is female genital mutilation?". Amnesty International. Archived from the original on 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2006-10-27.
  3. "Female Genital Cutting". "Some argue that FGC has religious significance, but the custom cuts across religions and is practiced by Muslims, Christians, Jews and followers of indigenous religions."
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mali: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)
  5. Paige, Karen Ericksen (May 1978). "The Ritual of Circumcision". Human Nature: 40–48.
  6. McDonald, C.F., M.D (September 1958). "Circumcision of the Female". GP 18 (3): 98–99. PMID 13574328.
  7. "History of Masturbation". Retrieved 2006-10-28.
  8. Ezzell, Carol (October 31, 2000). Anatomy and Sexual Dysfunction.
  9. "Clitoral Circumcision". Tantra * Kama Sutra * Tantric Sex & Tantric philosophy. June 30, 2004.
  10. Rathmann, W.G. (September 1959). Female Circumcision: Indications and a New Technique. 20. pp. 115–120.
  12. Encyclopedia of bioethics; Stephen G. Post, editor in chief; 3rd ed; Thompson Gale; volume 1; ISBN 0-02-865775-6.
  13. Paley, Amit R. (2008-12-29). "For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Obermeyer, Carla Makhlouf (March 1999). Female Genital Surgeries: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable. 13. pp. 79–106. Retrieved 2007-12-01. "Regarding religious differences, it is now generally recognized that even though a number of the countries where female genital surgeries are found are predominantly Muslim, the practices are not prescribed by Islam and are, in fact, found among non-Muslim groups such as Coptic Christians of Egypt, several Christian groups in Kenya, and the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia. In CDI, the prevelance is 80 percent among Muslims, 40 percent among those with no religion and 15 percent among Protestants, and in Sudan the prevalence is highest among Muslim women (DHS 1989-90). In Kenya, by contrast, prevalence is highest among Catholics and Protestants compared with other religious groups (MYWO 1991). Thus, there is no unequivocal link between religion and prevalence. p.88".
  15. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky & Geoffrey Wigoder, ed. (1997). "Circumcision". The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2007-12-23. "Circumcision was widespread in many ancient cultures. Some of these also practiced female circumcision, which was never allowed in Judaism."
  16. 16.0 16.1 Female genital mutilation among Ethiopian Jews
  17. Nahid, Toubia; Jackson, JC; Teklemariam, M (January 1995). "Female Circumcision -- Dr. Toubia replies". New England Journal of Medicine 332 (3): 188–90. doi:10.1056/NEJM199501193320313. PMID 7695718. Retrieved 2007-12-23. "Male circumcision is an absolute requirement of Islam and Judaism, whereas female circumcision is not even mentioned in any religious text. However, scholars of African cultures would testify that on our continent traditional and tribal rituals commonly supersede religion.".
  20. Denny, Frederick Mathewson (2001). "Circumcision". In McAuliffe, Jane Dammen. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an. 1, A-D. Leiden: Brill. pp. 366–367
  21. "Egyptian Clerics Say Female Circumcision Un-Islamic".
  22. IRIN interview with Sheikh Omer, a muslim religious leader
  23. Umm 'Atiyyah; Abu Dawud, al-Bayhaq. "Partial Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41: General Behavior (Kitab Al-Adab)". University of Southern California. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  24. Abu Dawood’s sunan, XIII, 125–26 [1]
  25. Talkhis al-habir fi takhrij ahadith al-rafie al-kabiri, Ibn Hajar [2]
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Dr. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, Secretary General of the World Union of the Muslim Ulemas, "Female Circumcision Neither a Sunna, nor a Sign of Respect"(Al Alazhar, Cairo),[3] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Dr. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa - Dual Usage" defined multiple times with different content
  27. Al-tamhid lima fil-muwatta min al-ma’ani wal-assanid, XXI, 59
  28. Abbas Hassan, An-nahw al-wafi, I, 118–19
  29. Menka, Eunice (2005-03-16). "Islam does not support female circumcision - Expert". GhanaHomePage. Retrieved 2006-12-25.
  30. Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues (2006-06-01). Ethiopia: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC). U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2007-03-16. Retrieved 2007-03-27
  31. El Ahl, Amira (2006-12-06). "Theologians Battle Female Circumcision". SPIEGEL Magazine.,1518,452790,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
  32. "Muslim scholars rule female circumcision un-Islamic". The Age. 2006-11-24. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  33. Antes, Peter (July 1990). "Islam in the "Encyclopedia of Religion"". The Journal of Religion 70 (3): 403–411. doi:10.1086/488412. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  34. "Question ID: 1702; RE: Female circumcision". SunniPath LLC. 2005-07-03. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  35. Kandela, Peter (1995-01-07). "Egypt sees U turn on female circumcision". BMJ 310 (12): 6971. PMID 7827544. Retrieved 2006-12-25.
  36. Aldeeb, Sami (1994). "To mutilate in the name of Jehovah or Allah: legitimization of male and female circumcision". Med Law 13 (7-8): 575–622. PMID 7731348.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.