- Circumcision, like the other fitra acts involving the removal of redundant outgrowths that contribute to uncleanliness, takes the human body to a more perfect state ordained by God
Much has been written about female circumcision of late, with many writers confusing this Islamic practice with FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). However this is far from the truth. Female circumcision as prescribed in Islam involves removing only the prepuce (foreskin) covering the clitoris. This is a relatively minor and harmless procedure very much like male circumcision and which like it confers many health benefits, including facilitating genital hygiene and improving sex life. Nowadays even American womenchoose to undergo it as a cosmetic surgery popularly known as hoodectomy.
The evidence for circumcision, both male and female, come from the ahadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) like the following:
1) Five are the acts of fitra:circumcision, removing pubic hair, clipping the moustache, cutting the nails, plucking the hair under the armpits(Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)
Circumcision, like the other fitra acts involving the removal of redundant outgrowths that contribute to uncleanliness, takes the human body to a more perfect state ordained by God, which is why it is called an act that is in accord with the fitra (God-given natural inclinations of humans). That it should apply equally to females as much as males goes without saying as both sexes have a prepuce, a fold of unclean skin covering the erectile tissue of their genitals. Besides, it is a well established principle of Islam that males and females are to be treated equally in all respects where they are similar and there can be no doubt that in this respect they are indeed similar.
2) When the (male) circumcised part meets the (female) circumcised part, bath becomes obligatory(Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
Here we have the Prophet declaring that the bath following sexual intercourse (without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath pre-supposes the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.
3) Abdullah Ibn Umar states that the Prophet instructed some Ansar (Medinan) women visiting him to ‘be circumcised’ (Mukhtassar zawaid musnad al bazzar, Ibn Hajar).
4) The Prophet told Umm Atiyyah Al Ansariyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (Abu Dawud and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).
But that’s not all. We have a few more traditions concerning the Prophet’s closest companions who believed it to be necessary for women:
1) Umm Al Muhajir said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them” (Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari)
2) Umm Alqamah says that when the nieces of Ayisha’s brother were circumcised, ‘A’isha was asked: “Shall we call someone to amuse them?” “Yes” she replied (Adab Al Mufrad)
So here we have Uthman, one of the closest companions of the Prophet and the third Caliph of Islam ordering that some women who had converted to Islam be circumcised. The other tradition tells us that the Prophet’s wife Ayisha had her nieces circumcised, suggesting that she believed it to be obligatory.
The Islamic Procedure
All the early scholars of Islam were agreed that all that is needed to be removed in the circumcision of the female is the prepuce of the clitoris, the fold of skin covering the clitoris. This is the female equivalent of the foreskin in males which is taken off during circumcision. Ibn HajarAsqalani states in Fathul Bari that it constitutes the removal of “the skin covering the cock’s comb-like structure, and not the flesh”. These early scholars of Islam did not arbitrarily decide how it should be done. They based it on a saying of the Prophet where he is reported to have told Umm Atiyya Al Ansariya, a lady who circumcised females in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly (in a shallow manner) and do not cut deeply, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (Sunan Abu Dawud).
This hadith clearly indicates the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words “Cut plainly and do not cut deeply” (ashimmi wa-la-tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The word ashimmi used here means ‘to sniff’, thereby implying a delicate sniff of steel (over the clitoris to remove its skin). Latanhaki means ‘do not cut deeply’, ‘do not uproot’ which is a clear prohibition to do harm to the clitoris. Thus it is very clear that the Prophet commanded the removal only of the clitoral prepuce and prohibited harming the clitoris in any way.
As shown by numerous studies, male circumcision confers significant health benefits. That its female equivalent which involves an analogous procedure, the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris, should offer similar benefits goes without saying. It has been found that the genital hygiene of women is, on the average, poorer than that of men because of numerous folds and the semi-hidden position of the clitoris. Whether we like it or not, it’s easier for males to retract and clean their foreskins of the regular buildup of smegma than women to clean theirs due to the obvious anatomical differences as shown above. It would be necessary for them to retract the hood each day or every other day, in order to prevent adhesion forming and smegma collecting beneath the prepuce.
It has been found that urinary tract infections (UTIs), an all too frequent complaint in women even more so than in uncircumcised little boys is very likely caused by smegma buildup beneath the clitoris. Female circumcision also contributes to preventing HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) transmission to male partners of women enjoying oral sex as the virus which finds a congenial home beneath the prepuce of the clitoris could be transmitted through cunnilingus or oral sex resulting in the occurrence of oral cancer among men. Interestingly Hollywood Actor Michael Douglas recently revealed that his throat cancer was caused not by smoking or drinking, but by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) contracted by giving oral sex to women.
The procedure also prevents unpleasant smells associated with the smegma buildup beneath the clitoris. Men as is widely known are turned off by unpleasant smells during sex and when it comes to oral sex could be easily put off (unless of course his partner has washed her clitoris by retracting it thoroughly with soap or body wash). So why go through all this as a routine matter when it could be permanently corrected by a minor surgery, preserving sexual joy in its purest form.
Fulfilling Sex Lives
Detractors claim that female circumcision reduces sexual pleasure in women. This is because they have deliberately lumped it together with un-islamic forms of Female Genital Mutilation like clitoridectomy and infibulation practiced in some African countries. These harmful forms have a detrimental effect on female sexuality but cannot be compared with Islamic female circumcision which has the opposite effect from these. In fact it contributes to enhancing sexual satisfaction in women during the sex act rather than decreasing it. This procedure is gaining popularity among Western women, and especially American women, not so much for health reasons as to lead satisfactory sex lives. It is popularly known as hoodectomy, after the hood of the clitoris (clitoral prepuce) that is removed in this minor procedure.
The author is Vice President- Outreach, Centre for Islamic Studies