“A Tiny Cut”: Female Circumcision in South East Asia

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by: Sya Taha

My Story

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I am a Muslim of Malay ethnicity, who was born in Singapore, where Malays are an ethnic and religious minority today, and lived there until I was 24 years old. The Malays, of whom 99 percent are Muslim, are the indigenous people of Singapore and the Malay archipelago. Until the arrival of the British colonizers in the early nineteenth century, this area (which covers what is south Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and south  Philippines today) shared many cultural and linguistic similarities.

When I was about six years old and attending a kenduri, or ritual feast, for two male cousins who had just been circumcised, I whispered to my mother, “Are girls circumcised too?” Growing up in Singapore in the 1990s, boys were commonly circumcised before puberty (around eight or nine) – making it seem like a rite of passage into adulthood. The six year-old me observed the fuss and attention they got: they were not allowed to eat certain foods, they could only bear to wear a kain sarong for up to two weeks due to the pain, and had to be fanned at night to keep the wounds dry. These ritual feasts to celebrate a boy’s circumcision are less common today, partly due to the increasing use of doctors to carry out circumcision, and usually on infants a few weeks old.

My mother explained to me girls were indeed circumcised, and that sunat perempuan (Malay for ‘female’ sunnah, or ‘tradition’) involved “a tiny cut”, without giving any more details. At that age, it didn’t occur to me to ask if any women I knew had been cut, because there were never any ritual feasts. Later, I would discover that this female genital cutting, as it happened historically and today, has undergone various changes and yet, many aspects of this ritual remained the same.

When I asked my mother again recently, she revealed that she and her seven sisters had all undergone sunat. In Singapore in the 1940s, sunat involved cutting off a piece of a girl’s prepuce or clitoral hood, making it flat instead of naturally covering the top of the clitoris. By the time my sister was born in the 1980s, it was more common to practice a symbolic form of sunat in the form of scraping of the prepuce using a penknife or scissors.

Both of these procedures had been done by a mak bidan, or post-partum midwife, whose role was to help mothers with bathing and nursing their babies, and also get back into shape after a natural birth with the use of tummy wraps, herbal drinks, herbal applications, massage, and bathing of the newborn baby. The mak bidan had performed the sunat after bathing my sister, who was then just a week old.

My mother was too young to remember when she had her own sunat done, guessing it was probably when she was a few weeks old. During her childhood, undergoing sunat was a big deal for both girls and boys, but only boys enjoyed social celebrations in the form of ritual feasts and processions. In contrast, sunat perempuan was carried out by the midwife, often in the presence of only the mother, quickly and without much fuss. When my mother tried to ask her own mother any questions or to attend the procedure, she was dismissed as being mentel, or excessively curious in matters of sexuality.

The term female genital mutilation (FGM) is considered by its supporters to be a negative judgment of the act. The World Health Organisation has four classifications of FGM, with first and final category describing the kind of procedures going on in Southeast Asia.[i] Others use the term ‘female circumcision’ (FC) or ‘female genital cutting’ (FGC) to maintain a sense of neutrality. However, I feel that the term ‘female circumcision’ is also not technically accurate, because circumcision means ‘to cut around’, which is overwhelmingly the method of male foreskin removal.

To remain faithful to the point of reference, which is Southeast Asia, I will use the term FGC and sunat perempuan and interchangeably to refer to a variety of invasive procedures such as cutting off a small piece of the highest part of the clitoral hood (also known as the prepuce or foreskin), drawing blood by scraping or pricking, as well as non-invasive procedures such like spreading blood or spreading antiseptic on the area.

Symbolic sunat perempuan such as cutting a peeled turmeric root placed over the clitoris, spreading chicken blood onto the clitoris, or cleansing with antiseptic and then blowing over the area, are significant and the first two rituals were estimated by Basilica Putranti to make up half of all incidents in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 2002. These procedures were often done on girls as they reached puberty, though there was a trend by the 1980s to lower the age to a few weeks old.[ii]

How did FGCbegin in the region?

While there is a much debate about FGC as experienced in the African continent, the literature on the subject generally disregards the ritual as practiced in Southeast Asia. Some scholars contend that when Islam spread to Southeast Asia in the 13th century, female cutting was also introduced to the region. However, there exists scarce literature on the beginnings of FGC in this area. The most informative source on the incidence of FGC in Southeast Asia can be found in a chapter of a recent anthology about Muslim women’s rights. The chapter details the history of the practice based on local reports dating from the colonial Dutch East Indies and contemporary sociological and anthropological research.[iii]

There exists no convincing evidence that any form of FGC predated the spread of Islam to the region. In fact,, Hindu and Buddhist beliefs prevailed in Southeast Asia before Islam and the followers of both  faiths reject both male and female circumcision. Further, some 19th century syncretist Muslims in Java rejected FGC as well, considering it an ‘Arab custom’. However, most of the population declared it to be optional. The royal families of Java also employed a non-Arabic word for FGC such as kres or tetesan (‘pricking’). Among the orthodox Muslims, the term sunat perempuan or khitan perempuan (‘female circumcision’) is more commonly used, until today. [iv]

What is happening today?

Photographs taken by Stephanie Sinclair in 2006 of a mass sunat perempuan ceremony in Bandung, Indonesia, were published in 2008 and surfaced again late last year, making public a ritual that usually takes place behind closed doors.[v] Her pictures show girls ranging from nine months to nine years of age undergoing the ritual as done by a team of middle-aged women. The sunat, as described, involved cutting of a piece of the clitoral hood (the size of a “nail clipping”) using a sterilised pair of scissors. Sinclair had attended a ceremony organized and sponsored by Yayasan Assalaam Bandung, a foundation that provides Islamic education and social welfare services and sees itself as an open, inclusive, moderate, and dynamic organisation.[vi]

In Malaysia, a university survey of 1000 respondents found that over 90 percent of Muslim women reported being circumcised.[vii] A study in Kelantan found that all of the women in the labour ward had undergone FGC.[viii] In Indonesia, the figure is upwards of 86 percent, with 90 percent of adults supporting it.[ix] In her study of southern Thailand, Claudia Merli applies the same description to the province of Satun, because of cultural and regional proximity to Malaysia and Indonesia.[x] However, there have been no surveys done in Singapore. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the incidence today is much lower than in Malaysia or Indonesia.

During my mother’s childhood, much mystery surrounded the practice, which was passed down the generations, quietly and without protest. It was “just tradition”. In south Thailand, the bidan has the “exclusive authority to perform female circumcision and reject the idea of this operation ever passing into the hands of medical personnel” for physical and ritual/religious reasons.[xi] In Indonesia, traditional circumcisers say they “learn the practice from other women during several years of apprenticing.”[xii] Nevertheless, more and more doctors are performing FGC today.

Various reasons are offered for female circumcision, for example, to keep “clean”; to “purify the genitals and bestow gender identity”; to “control women’s sexual urges”; because women can only be beautiful if chaste; to help them not be “as wild”;  to make them “more beautiful in the eyes of their husband”; or to make the latter “more excited in bed”.[xiii] In Singapore, some of the older generations point out that the reason that some young women are “wild” today is because they are not circumcised. Others also argue that there is neither much harm nor pain because of the very small amount of flesh that is removed (described as the size of a nail clipping, a quarter-grain of rice, a guava seed, a bean, the tip of a leaf, or the head of a needle)[xiv]. They also stress the importance of supposedly avoiding the clitoris. A midwife known for cutting away “too much” flesh might be boycotted:

She had discussed the topic of sunat with a man well versed in Islamic law who had not let his own daughter be circumcised, claiming that the practice is neither necessary nor compulsory because it is not mentioned in the Koran. Despite this conversation, Wati and her husband decided to follow the local tradition, with a sense of pressure coming from other villagers, whose disapproval they wanted to avoid. The local bidan was not taken on as she was ill-famed for cutting away “too much,” some even said the whole clitoris. Another bidan was summoned from another location.[xv]

Religious opinions

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Southeast Asia follow the Shafii school of law, which declares FGC as wajib, or obligatory. In contrast, the other three Sunni schools, together with the Shia schools, consider FGC a sunnah or a recommended act. Just like male circumcision, there is no mention of it in the Quran. The form of FGC taking place in Southeast Asia seems to follow this general and gender-neutral rule from al-Nawawi to remove the prepuce at a young age, but also at an older age if it causes no ‘harm’.[xvi] This ruling is found in his chapter on taharah or purity, indicating that the concern was for the cleanliness of the genitals, especially the area under the prepuce, and consequent validity of acts of worship. Indeed, about half of the reasons mentioned above by midwives and parents for the practice reflects a concern for hygiene.

With regards to hadith, or Prophetic sayings, there is much debate on which are considered authentic, and therefore authoritative enough to be taken as a source of law. The most commonly-cited hadith (here) mentioning circumcision has been used to both promote and discourage FGC. Other hadith that mention circumcised parts (here and here) are also making a larger point about purifying one’s body after sexual intercourse, but not necessarily ordaining circumcision. Other hadith whose authenticity cannot be confirmed variously urge to not “cut deeply”, “abuse”, “cut into”, or “exceed the limit”, but instead to “trim”, “reduce the size of the clitoris”, or to “cut off only the foreskin”.

In short, there is no fully authentic text in which the Prophet Mohammad required or recommended the circumcision of women any more than the circumcision of men. There may have been FGC in the Prophet’s society, but there was no equivocal ban on it. This type of minimal FGC as practised in Southeast Asia has also been identified as the ‘mild’ type of cutting found in early Islamic societies, which was aimed to protect women’s “dignity and well-being” or make her “honourable”. Thus, it is dangerously framed as the ‘real’ or ‘most Islamic’ FGC. [xvii]

However, most Muslims do not make a direct link between their everyday actions and textual evidence, learning instead from our immediate forefathers the rituals, symbols, and acts that make us Muslim (or not). For example, we pray by first imitating movements from our parents or other authority figures in our lives and often only learn the significance of the words and movements when we are older. Likewise, while FGC may have started in Southeast Asia as an “Arab custom”, today it is a religious norm that parents seek for their children, because everyone else in the family or in the village has done it, for generations.

Social responses

Today, in Southeast Asian society, we are witnessing a growing trend towards institutionalising and medicalising FGC. In 2008, the Ministry of Health in Malaysia reported that 88 percent of their female staff had their daughters circumcised by doctors in the private practice.[xviii] Another study in Indonesia revealed that 65 percent of FGC was performed in hospitals.[xix] In Singapore, a woman Muslim doctor admits to “circumcising five to six patients a day”, mostly babies and prepubescent children.[xx]

In late 2006, the Ministry of Health in Indonesia banned doctors from performing the procedure based on the grounds that it was “potentially harmful”, but this ban was not enforced. Hospitals continue to offer sunat perempuan for baby girls, sometimes as part of “birth packages” which also included vaccinations and ear piercing. Yayasan Assalaam, an Islamic foundation that runs a mosque and several schools,  also links the practice to celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, and even provides incentives like money and food to parents who bring their daughters to their annual sunat ceremony.[xxi]

In Malaysia, the Fatwa Committee of Malaysia’s National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs ruled in 2009 that female circumcision, was “obligatory for Muslims but if harmful must be avoided”.[xxii] More recently, in Indonesia, the Indonesian Council of Ulema ruled in favour of female circumcision and added that although it cannot be considered mandatory, it is still “morally recommended”.[xxiii] The leader of this council however warned to avoid “excesses” in the removal or cutting of the clitoris — a position supported by the hadith mentioned earlier. A similar advice is given by the Islamic Religious Authority of Singapore on their website.[xxiv]

The trend towards medicalisation is also worrying because while it may reduce pain and struggling, it would also allow for a deeper or more severe excision – as was being promoted in a village in south Thailand by some missionaries from India.[xxv] The institutionalisation of FGC in countries with parallel laws for Muslims and non-Muslims may aggravate existing socio-religious problems, especially if fatwa have been passed to make this practice obligatory.

There are currently no active campaigns against eradicating FGC in Southeast Asia. This is perhaps due to the high acceptance of the practice in Malaysia and Indonesia for socio-religious reasons. However, in Malaysia there are studies being done and public talks hosted by research centres such as the Women’s Development Research Centre of University of Science, Malaysia (USM) and women’s rights organisations such as Sisters in Islam. AWARE, a secular women’s rights organisation in Singapore, has a web page dedicated to explaining FGC in the Singaporean context.[xxvi]

Contextualising sunat

Local explanations for female circumcision center around the lack of harm that it causes to the girl, and that it has positive benefits, which broadly fall under concerns for hygiene (keeping clean), femininity (reducing or stabilising libido, increasing attractiveness to husband) and ritual (bestowing gender identity, honour, dignity[xxvii]).

However, anecdotal evidence for the harm of FGC includes pain while passing urine, or desensitivity of the clitoris and reduced ability for sexual pleasure. Some also experience botched procedures such as an excised or split clitoris, some may suffer loss of blood, infection, or shock. Some may also face recurrent urinary tract and pelvic inflammation and infection that can cause sterility. Scar tissue, medical complications, and psychological trauma of having a procedure done without one’s consent may cause so much anxiety and anguish that a pleasant sex life can become difficult.

In any case, these explanations are situated in a web of political, social, and economic phenomena: preserving one’s Muslim identity by ensuring that the practice will continue through law and medical justification (as male circumcision has become); controlling the sexual urges of girls in the light of increasing teenage pregnancies; and the influence of Wahhabi or Salafist elements on Islam in Southeast Asia.

The target audience in this debate are not the midwives or the medical practitioners, but the attitudes of parents and schools vis-a-vis girls’ sexual and physical health and hygiene, because these parties are the ones who can either enable or prevent sunat on their children.

At the individual level, the most important issue is consent. The problem is not whether Muslim girls are being circumcised or not, but whether they are allowing these irreversible modifications to be made on their bodies. Some people may argue that it is  more beneficial to perform the procedure when children are still babies to avoid “complications, prolong[ed] pain, or embarrassment” (the exact same argument for infant male circumcision). [xxviii] But this begs the question as to why Muslim parents are “marking” their children’s bodies with “Islam” or with a procedure that has doubtful utility?

The level of acceptance of other forms of body modification like tattoos and piercings are largely dependent on dominant social paradigms which differ across countries. Most people would regard infant male circumcision or ear piercings on girl babies as normal, but not a tattoo. And yet, the most significant issue in this debate is the completeness, intelligence, and sanctity of God’s creation. Like every part of the human body, foreskins serve a specific purpose, both male and female. The underlying assumption of cleanliness and purity is that God created us with body parts that get dirty but are also absolutely possible to clean. Think of our noses, ears, mouths, and anuses. Why is the prepuce suddenly an exception?

Ever curious, at the age of 27, I finally asked my mother if I had been circumcised, whether physically or ritually. She said no (phew!) and explained that when I was born, the mak bidan was nowhere to be found. She had come to Singapore from Malaysia through family contacts after my sister’s birth in order to perform my mother’s post-partum birth rituals. However, she decided to return to Malaysia because she was part of a dying trade in an economically-growing Singapore. Upon learning this, I had one last question for my mother:

“Why didn’t you ensure that I was circumcised?”

“It’s a sunnah anyway, it’s not that important.”

This short exchange with my mother revealed to me the importance of parental attitudes. When done, “a tiny cut” might be dismissed as being “harmless”. But I was so glad that my mother had felt that this “tiny cut” was also equally “harmless” if not done.

Sya Taha is historically Javanese, politically Malay, and accidentally a migrant to the Netherlands whose interests include Quranic hermeneutics, gender, disability, and race in the Nusantara (Malay archipelago).


[i] World Health Organisation, ‘Female genital mutilation, Fact sheet N°241’ Updated February 2013, available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

[ii] Basilica Dyah Putranti (2008), ‘To Islamize, Becoming a Real Woman or Commercialized Practices? Questioning Female Genital Cutting in Indonesia’, Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration, 3(2):23-31.

[iii] William G. Clarence-Smith (2012) ‘Female Circumcision in Southeast Asia since the Coming of Islam’, p.124-146, in Chitra Raghavan and James P. Levine (eds.), Self-Determination and Women’s Rights in Muslim Societies. USA: Brandeis University Press. Available at http://books.google.nl/books?id=QT3Tq6FfG0cC&pg=PA127&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false

[iv] Clarence-Smith (2012).

[v] See Sara Corbett, ‘A Cutting Tradition’, The New York Times, 20 Jan 2008, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/magazine/20circumcision-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&oref=slogin& and Abigail Haworth, ‘The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation’, The Guardian, 28 Nov 2012, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/18/female-genital-mutilation-circumcision-indonesia.

[vi] Yayasan Assalaam Bandung, ‘Vision and Mission’, available at http://assalaam-bdg.or.id/visi-misi/.

[vii] ABCNews, ‘Malaysia storm over female circumcision’, 7 Dec 2012, available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-12-07/an-malaysia-debate-over-female-circumcision/4416298

[viii] Isa A. Rahman, R. Shuib, and Othman M. Shukri (1999), ‘The practice of female circumcision among Muslims in Kelantan, Malaysia’, Reproductive Health Matters 7 (13): 137–144.

[ix] Haworth (2012).

[x] Claudia Merli (2008), ‘Sunat for girls in southern Thailand : its relation to traditional midwifery, male circumcision and other obstetrical practices’, Finnish Journal Of Ethnicity and Migration, 3(2):32-41. Available at http://dro.dur.ac.uk/5302/1/5302.pdf

[xi] Merli (2008).

[xii] Corbett (2008).

[xiii] See IRIN, ‘Indonesia: Female genital mutilation persists despite ban’, 2 Sep 2010, available at http://www.irinnews.org/Report/90366/INDONESIA-Female-genital-mutilation-persists-despite-ban, and Corbett (2008).

[xiv] Corbett (2008).

[xv] Merli (2008).

[xvi] Shafi’ifiqh.com, ‘What is the ruling on circumcision for women?’, available at http://www.shafiifiqh.com/category/fiqh-of-worship/taharah/circumcision/

[xvii] ‘Female Circumcision/Female Genital Cutting’, available at http://oumabdulaziz.arabblogs.com/femalecircumcision.html

[xviii] Ministry of Health (2008), ‘Ministry Of Health Report’, Family Health and Development Division.

[xix] Maznah Dahlui, ‘The Practice of Female Circumcision in Malaysia’. Talk given at Women’s Development Research Centre (KANITA), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

[xx] Toronto Star, ‘Muslim rite is modernised’, 16 Nov 2002, available at http://www.courtchallenge.com/news/torstar1.html

[xxi] Haworth (2012).

[xxii] ABCNews, ‘Malaysia storm over female circumcision’, 7 Dec 2012.

[xxiii] Mathias Hariyadi, ‘Indonesian Ulema in favour of female circumcision: a “human right”’, 24 Jan 2013, available at http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Indonesian-Ulema-in-favour-of-female-circumcision:-a-human-right-26948.html

[xxiv] Islamic Religious Authority Singapore (MUIS), ‘Frequent Asked Questions: Is circumcision compulsory for muslimah?’, available at http://www.muis.gov.sg/cms/oomweb/oom_faq.aspx?id=15104

[xxv] Merli (2008).

[xxvi] Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), ‘Female Circumcision’, available at www.aware.org.sg/information/female-circumcision/

[xxvii] Mardiana Abu Bakar, ‘Female Circumcision: A Viewpoint’. The Straits Times, 30 Oct 1994, available at: http://www.themodernreligion.com/women/w_circumcision.htm

[xxviii] Islamic Religious Authority Singapore (MUIS), ‘Frequent Asked Questions: Is circumcision compulsory for muslimah?’.


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    • Sonny Vizzle

      Circumcision is not good for male or female, adult or child.

      Please visit:


      International doctors’ organizations condemn the AAP’s August 27, 2012 stance on circumcision! Happy Anniversary!

      This is groundbreaking and historic. Why? When was the last time you have heard of so many doctors (38 is a big number!) and their organizations condemning another doctors’ organization?

      I am including a reference to the American Academy of Pediatrics own journal which presents the international condemnation of the AAP:

      Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision

    • Vance Austin Neely

      Non-consensual genital cutting of male, female and intersex infants violates Medical ethics (Do No Harm), and Human Rights under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 5) and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13).

      It is medically unethical to cut a healthy body part off a non consenting individual, Doctors have known this since the 1950’s but some continue to ignore it.

      Genital cutting is risky, painful and unnecessary, and there are modern alternatives to circumcision in most cases but a lot of Doctors are oblivious to them.

      Religious freedom ends where someone else’s body begins, the law banning Female Genital Mutilation proves this.

      • Roze

        Here’s an interesting article on female circumcision sent by a friend:

        There are many sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam.

        Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have
        declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).

        He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual
        intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both thecircumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexualintercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanulkhitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coitalbath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.

        Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the
        acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words,
        Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubichair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) whichagain shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case ofboth males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.

        That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for
        those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition
        occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported tohave said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthmansaid: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”

        More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.

        At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only
        the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed.
        The Prophet told Umm Atiyyah, 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” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).

        This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin
        covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more
        properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further
        proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is
        only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction
        could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.

        A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).

        Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good
        hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (Al Hidaayah.August 1997).

        A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’
        (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers
        considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections
        and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.

        The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual
        Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.

        Another good reason why women need a hoodectomy (Islamic female
        circumcision). It can prevent cancer arising from oral sex. Here’s an
        interesting news item:

        US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to
        HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.

        Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University.
        “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why.”

        It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the
        oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter
        the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just
        as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the part that harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.

        For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy
        see http://www.umatia.org/2011/Safe%20Female%20circumcision.doc

    • Imam Z

      Thank you for the clarification that this small cut is NOT mutilation as done in some African countries. I mention this issue in my book, Islam: Silencing the Critics.

      • Liss White

        OMG, perverts!! What is with the obsession with children’s genitals? Sick, sick, sick!

        • AAAA2340

          you are a sick pervert too to make your sons circumcised in west.

          • colbey

            that was a big leap. how could you know what if liss has had her son circumcised? how could you know if she has a son? the answers–you can’t. her post was gender neutral, so there’s a very good chance that she doesn’t agree with ANY type of genital cutting/mutilation.

            you have a point about male circumcision in “the west.” (although that is very slowly changing.) but you decided to personally attack liss. which says much more about you than about her.

            • ChinChang

              most of western people condone male genital mutilation in west but whine at female circumcision which is very hypocritical.

              ” so there’s a very good chance that she doesn’t agree with ANY type of genital cutting/mutilation.” you don’t even know this so don’t assume what you don’t know.

              “you have a point about male circumcision in “the west.” ”
              western doctors are the one who promote it WITH FAKE RESEARCHES. STFU NOW.

            • colbey

              many “western people” are ill-informed about male circumcision/genital mutilation. that is a problem that is slowly changing as minds are expanded.

              you are right that i don’t know anything about liss. which is why i said there’s a “chance” that she doesn’t agree with any type of genital mutilation, which was an attempt to counter the assumption made by QuadA that Liss agrees with male genital mutilation.

              basically, i said we can’t know what Liss thinks, we shouldn’t make assumptions, and it is quite possible that contrary to QuadA’s assumption, it could be the opposite.
              you then pointed out that we can’t know what Liss thinks and we shouldn’t make assumptions. so we agree on something.

              yes, many “western” doctors promote male circumcision. it is probably promoted more by religious leaders/figures, but i don’t have the actual stats to back that up. so it is an assumption on my part that religious leaders may promote it MORE, although it is promoted by some “western” religions.

              “STFU NOW.”

              thank you for clarifying for everyone your level of intellectual achievement and your maturity.

            • ChinChang

              I don’t want to listen to errandboys of random people if she meant something else she will come and talk so gtfo u errandlad and go and get mutilated ur small willy.

            • Keith

              In the UK it is shameful that the NHS will do religion-demanded male genital cutting although it won’t for cosmetic cutting. This is immoral, genital cutting should be severely punished, regardless of excuse.

            • colbey

              i agree.

        • Empangan Emas

          Which part of what he said is “obsession with children’s genitals ” ?

      • Gerald Moore

        It’s unnecessary you paedophile.

        • Ali Hussain

          You spelled it wrong.

    • Vicki O

      I like this objective article, stating it as it is. My favorite quote is:

      ‘The target audience in this debate are not the midwives or the medical
      practitioners, but the attitudes of parents and schools vis-a-vis girls’
      sexual and physical health and hygiene, because these parties are the
      ones who can either enable or prevent sunat on their children.’

      When American parents start to educate themselves on the truth of circumcision of boys, maybe this cruel and unnecessary procedure will end.

      • wingnuts

        Muslim parents as well! Many don’t realize that there is no mention of circumcision in the Holy Qur’an and the only thing backing it up is one h’adith regarding Fique, which defends both male and female genital cutting where as there are many others on the same subject which only mention grooming and not genital mutilation.

    • Rehan Ullah
      • Jekyll

        Yup…elucidating as ever.

    • TJF588

      If I claim to be #i2, I should be well-read in all matters of integrity, especially the vast issues between extremes. This cited piece is well well-crafted, and surprisingly relative, even though it’s all occurring a world away from me. Ultimately, it falls on the “let’s not do this” side, which is encouraging, but also really highlights that this all is so faceted and varied that any blanket view past the “consent” threshold does a disservice to addressing these issues.

    • Mads

      Take my cl*t over my dead body.

      • Juks

        In some of those asian countries, it literally would be. Good pointless banter, though.

      • Empangan Emas

        That’s not an issue……since Western women have been giving it away for free.

        • Alan Lueth

          Why do you care?

        • Gerald Moore

          Hahahha giving it away what do you know? You women cover your faces because in your culture you are owned by you husbands which must include all body parts except the ones that were removed.

          • Ali Hussain

            Please do not make false statements.

        • Roisin

          What is with you and Western Women? You need therapy. At leat western women can give it away to whoever they want. Assuming you are a muslim, you don’t even belong to yourself, if you want to get technical. You don’t have the power to give. You have no power at all except to bow down and follow. At least western women have achieved an inkling of the freedom you men have in the patriarchy that you call Islam.

    • Christina Love

      ALL children have a right to genital autonomy regardless of nationality, ethnicity or parental beliefs. Thank you for writing this article and for seeing the likeness between FGC and MGC (male genital cutting). I am glad you avoided forced genital cutting in childhood. Please protect your children – girls, boys, or intersex.

      • Interred Ferguson

        It may be pointless to chime in this late, but I think the same goes even in regard to ear piercing. Let your daughter decide at an appropriate age if she wants holes in her lobes (or anywhere else, for that matter). If you insist on treating your kid like a baby doll to accessorize (other than clothing) do it in a non-invasive fashion.

    • Shasha Idlenomore Ali

      Salam. I really appreciate this article being written. I completely identify with everything that has been written, an experience that is rare for myself as am sure with other Malay activists/ advocates for women. I would like to connect with Sya Taha if she is reading this.

    • Gab Winter

      The same attitude should apply against non-consentual male genetalia mutilation.

    • DumbleyDorey

      FGC is NOT sunnah in Hanafi. Can someone please edit this article noting the mistake by the author? And author, please do your research before making such a heinous claim about a school of thought. I know it’s not your intention, you may have been told that information; but you are writing for the Islamic Monthly and we readers assume you’ve done proper research.

    • O. Locke

      the fact that moslems practice this horrific form of abuse is troubling enough. that anyone would want to force ‘medicalisation’ of this disgusting act of barbarity is worse!

      moslems MUST reform their death cult. we in the west must force this reform. if moslems refuse to reform they will find themselves at war with the other 7 billion people on the planet that refuse to follow or practice their barbarity.


      • Empangan Emas

        Really ? In the West, plastic surgery for both men and women is a thriving business. Breast enlargement, vaginal reconstruction, penis enlargement. Not to mention genital piercing.

        So Muslims practicing circumcision is barbaric ?

        • O. Locke

          look, pal.

          on unwitting, helpless infants?

          you really need to ask that?

          You made reference to elective and cosmetic surgeries ADULTS have done on themselves. NOT to others and certainly not to children.

          shame on you for defending this horrific and barbaric practice moslems inflict on their children, pal.

          • HansC

            Yes, on unwitting infants.

            They’re called “boys”.

            • O. Locke

              look, pal.

              I understood what this moslem apologist was defending. I rejected the apologies he has for the practice. the same as I do for fgm.

              I will say thank you for your comment and the exchange, pal.

            • Ali Hussain

              The Jews practice circumcisions, orthodox Christians do the same but nothing on females. Some Africans carry out circumcisions as a practice of coming to manhood. Even in many Muslims countries, it it said that circumcision is not necessary if one were to practices good hygiene. A thorough search would reveal that circumcision was practiced long before Islam was introduced into the Tribal Arabs who practiced Paganism. Many non-Muslims, without any influence from anywhere or anyone believe circumcisions for men is hygienic and less cumbersome in keeping clean

            • AnaMorales

              Jews don’t chop off the clitorises of girls. Muhammad sanctioned it.

            • O. Locke

              in other words god made a mistake when he made the male sex organs.

              got it.


        • Roisin

          1. Adults and infants obviously have different intellectual capacities, you obviously share the same capacity with the latter. Adults can think extensively and logically because they have a wider span of knowledge and not to mention mental maturity. Infants are defenseless creatures put under the knife for the same reason Mommy and Daddy keep them away from candy – that it’s for their own good.

          2. What the fuck is with you and the West? So what if body mutilation is a thriving business? You’re missing the whole fucking point of this whole conundrum. The fact is that people who undergo bodily mutation CHOOSE to because they WANT to. Children put under the knife have no choice. So what are you really defending here? Mindlessly following a religion so twisted it has become nothing as the religion was once was but now only a tool to control the masses, and to form a patriarchy so ruthless, women are uneducated to the extent that they only know to defend what they do know, which is ultimately their religion.

    • Paul Mason

      medieval freaks

      • Ali Hussain

        The Jews practice circumcisions, orthodox Christians do the same but nothing on females. Some Africans carry out circumcisions as a practice of coming to manhood. Even in many Muslims countries, it it said that circumcision is not necessary if one were to practices good hygiene. A thorough search would reveal that circumcision was practiced long before Islam was introduced into the Tribal Arabs who practiced Paganism. Many non-Muslims, without any influence from anywhere or anyone believe circumcisions for men is hygienic and less cumbersome in keeping clean.

    • Kakh Arshad

      Much of the religion is hearsay, some by interpreted by many hadiths. The Koran was written about 300 years preceding Prophets Mohammad’s (peace be upon Him) death. The Jews practice circumcisions, orthodox Christians do the same but nothing on females. Some Africans carry out circumcisions as a practice of coming to manhood. Even in many Muslims countries, it it said that circumcision is not necessary if one were to practices good hygiene. A thorough search would reveal that circumcision was practiced long before Islam was introduced into the Tribal Arabs who practiced Paganism. Many non-Muslims, without any influence from anywhere or anyone believe circumcisions for men is hygienic and less cumbersome in keeping clean.

    • Kakh Arshad

      No one should condemn anyone for any opinions be it learned, practiced or o pinioned! If we could not accommodate others’ comments, then just keep by yourself. The world is full of cultures, beliefs and unless we collectively respect and agree/disagree diplomatically, then there would be too much waste of time in criticizing, venting rage, etc. Then, where would we go? If politicians or extremists are involved, wars would be declared! End result: everyone suffers!

    • Fazel Subian


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    • C A R C O S A

      LOL muslims are fucked up people

      • Ali Hussain

        This tells a lot about your stereotypical general views. It seems that you have not been enlightened and you are quite ignorant. Refrain from making stupid comments please. Oh, and if someone is “fucked up” do you laugh out loud at them? Your dumb comments hurt my brain, don’t ask. 😀