March 06, 2007

Al-Azhar University Scholars Argue over the Legitimacy of Female Circumcision Practiced in Egypt on Al-Arabiya TV

That both are described as "scholars", while one of them clearly could not be, is absolutely absurd. From MEMRI:

The following are excerpts from a TV debate between Egyptian Al-Azhar University scholars Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mussayar [1] and Sheikh Mahmoud Ashur, who is a member of Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy (or Islamic Research Council) on the issue of female circumcision. The debate aired on Al-Arabiya TV on February 12, 2007.


Mahmoud Ashur: "Female circumcision is a traditional custom, and not a religious act. All the hadiths dealing with female circumcision are unreliable. Moreover, the hadith cited by those who support circumcision calls to refrain from it more than it calls to perform it.


"Female circumcision is not part of Islam. Rather, it is a traditional custom. Under no circumstances should we follow this custom, because it leaves a deep wound in the souls of these girls, which has a psychological, emotional, and social impact on their lives. Female circumcision does a lot of damage. This damage is harmful, and it shatters the girl's soul. Therefore, it is absolutely forbidden to perform this custom. No person should do this, because it is harmful and causes damage.


"This is a despicable, ugly, and evil custom. It is performed by a woman who uses inappropriate and non-sterile instruments. She may be passing on to the girl a terrible disease, or causing her a wound that never heals, because the person who performs this custom lacks expertise and experience, and does not know how to sterilize the instruments, and therefore she inflicts terrible diseases upon the girls."


Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "All the jurisprudents, since the advent of Islam and for 14 centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted by Islam. But they were divided with regard to its status in shari'a. Some said that female circumcision is required by shari'a, just like male circumcision. Some said this is the mainstream practice, while others said it is a noble act. But throughout the history of Islam, nobody has ever said that performing female circumcision is a crime. There has been a religious ruling on this for 14 centuries."


Mahmoud Ashur: "In the days of Jahiliya [i.e. the pre-Islamic period] and in the early days of Islam, a man whose mother carried out this custom was scorned by people who called him 'you son of a clitoris cutter.' This proves that it was never part of the religion of Islam. As for male circumcision, it is the approved mainstream practice, as determined by Islam and as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad."


"There is no doubt that we must reach agreement on this issue. There must be a decisive view and a resolute decision on this custom especially, because it is evil. When people perform it, they do so out of extreme ignorance, and it has a severe impact on marital life."


Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "First of all, there are reliable hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim which support female circumcision. The Prophet Muhammad said: 'If a circumcised woman and man have intercourse, they must undergo ablution.' Unreliable hadiths do not cancel out the reliable ones. We have unreliable hadiths regarding prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage. Should we abolish prayer and charity just because some hadiths are unreliable? According to some hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim, 'If a circumcised woman and man have intercourse, they must undergo ablution.' People would curse one another by saying: 'You son of a clit woman' - the son of a non-circumcised woman. The objections to circumcision are illogical and unnatural.

Interviewer: What is the justification for doing this?

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "First of all, allow me... Regarding the claim that the instruments are not sterile - this is the reality and is not part of religious law. If there are dentists who do not sterilize their instruments, should we abolish medical faculties and dental clinics, or should we demand that they rectify the situation? Flawed reality cannot serve as a religious argument. The claim that female circumcision leads to barrenness is not true. The Muslim woman bears more children than any other woman. It is the Western woman who is barren, even though she is not circumcised. Moreover, when talking about nervous breakdowns... This is considered a day of celebration for the family."

Interviewer: "A day of celebration for the family?! Let me begin with the psychological effects. According to some studies, when there is a celebration, and sweets are given to the girl, and then an act is performed in which the girl's flesh is cut off... this makes her lose trust in her family, first of all. This generates an inner problem. As for the medical, physical problem, there is a problem in childbirth. There are lacerations, microbes, deformities - this is what the doctors say."

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "Sterilization is necessary in such cases. Cutting off a part of the human body does not mean a violation of its sanctity. How many human body parts are cut off in plastic surgery, and so on, yet we do not consider this offensive to the woman?"

Interviewer: "What is the reason for circumcising girls?"

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "First of all, the claim that this is a Pharaonic or Jahili practice..."

Interviewer: "Let's assume that this is a religious requirement..."

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "It isn't..."

Interviewer: "Nevertheless, hypothetically speaking, what is the main reason for this?"

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "Some sources said: 'Reduce, but do not remove.' In other words, it is neither about removing the organ, nor about leaving it. It is a trustworthy Muslim doctor who makes the decision. She decides whether the girl needs it or not. We do not obligate every girl to undergo circumcision. We say it should be left up to the doctor, and she can evaluate the case and determine whether the girl needs circumcision or not."

Interviewer: "Why would she need it? Sheikh Mahmoud Ashur, would you like to comment? What are the reasons that one could say... Go ahead..."

Mahmoud Ashur: "If it is left up to the doctor, then it is a custom and not part of the religion."


Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "Female circumcision is no less valid just because it was practiced in Pharaonic times and in the Jahiliya. Islam accepted some customs, which were harmonious with human nature, and rejected others, which contradicted human nature."


Interviewer: "Some studies show that the upbringing at home is the main thing, and that 95% of all prostitutes [in Egypt] are circumcised."

Muhammad Al-Mussayar: "And 100% of the prostitutes in the West are not circumcised, so what is the problem?"

[1] For more on Muhammad Al-Mussayar, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 183, "Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Mussayar: Instead of Merely Defending Islam, Muslims Must Confront Non-Muslims," July 12, 2004, , and MEMRI TV Clip No. 102, "Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mussayyer on Wife Beating in Islam," June 7, 2004, .