Audhu billah minash shaytanir rajeem Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem. Alhamdu lil laahi Rabbil aalameen. Was salatu was salamu ala rasuluhee al kareem.

Every 6th of February is the United Nations International Day For Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation and as a way of keeping our brothers and sisters abreast of current issues in the world, we are focusing on the debate on Female Genital Cut under the general topic of distinguishing between religious and cultural practices.

The Islamic shariah (law) is built on five universal maxims and one of them which relates to our topic of discussion is Cultural usage shall have the weight of law. (Al-‘ Adah muhakkamah) “Custom refers to the prevailing practices of society with respect to their choice of words and their mode of action. The principle that customary usage is the determining factor basically means that the customs of the people are recognized and acknowledged by Islamic Law as long as certain conditions are met. The most important of these conditions is that the custom in question does not violate the dictates of the sacred texts. Another is that the custom is indeed the prevailing practice in society and is applied in that society on a consistent basis. The third condition is that the custom must have been in effect at the time when a given activity was initially entered into without there having been any clear expression on the part of the concerned parties indicating something to the contrary. Finally, the custom must be of a nature that its application can be considered binding on the parties concerned. 

Today, there are a lot of misconceptions of what is Islamic. People take a lot of Arab cultural ways as Islamic and this also applies to some cultural practices that have been labelled Islamic. If we take the first and most important condition of those listed above, the question that will readily come to the fore is whether or not the circumcision of the female violates the sacred texts. In an article titled: The Obligatory and Recommended Nature of Circumcision, Sheikh Rashida Rida wrote: Ibn al Mundhir said, There are no reports upon which circumcision can be based, and no Prophetic example that can be followed. Those who say that it is Sunnah base this on the tradition reported by Usama found in the collections of Ahmad and Al-Bayhaqi: Circumcision is recommended (Sunnah) for men and it is an adornment (makramah) for women. But the transmitter of this tradition, al Hajjaj ibn Artah, is a fabricator (Mudallis).

Going further, in 1951, the Egyptian Minister of Health contacted Mahmud Shaltut who later became a Sheikh Al-Azhar asking him about the issue and he clearly stated that: “The shariah has established a general principle: if it has been proven by extensive research, and not by way of temporary opinions that are given in response to a particular conflict or in following the cultural practices of a specific group of people, that something is harmful to health or is a moral corruption, then it is mandatory, according to Islamic law, that the action in question be prevented in order to protect against the harm or the corruption.”

Sheikh Ali Gomaa in his Responding from The Tradition: One Hundred Contemporary Fatawas by the Grand Mufti of Egypt submitted thus: Medical knowledge has advanced such that specialists have now come to the consensus that female circumcision causes great harm. Doctors who go against this consensus are not specialists. We find them speaking in a non-scientific manner, and it may be that their opinion is the result of an unscientific attachment to prevalent cultural practices or the misconception that female circumcision is commanded by the shariah.He concluded the article thus: “Based on what I have said, I consider it necessary that scholars deem female circumcision forbidden according to Shariah. We asked the medical community to look into this matter fifty years ago. We asked them to come to agreement based on sound research rather than opinion and blind imitation, so they performed research and reached a consensus. We advised them to have conferences, so they gathered together and reconfirmed their position. The issue of female circumcision does not allow for much difference of opinion now that its facts have been brought to light.”

Perhaps it would not be out of place to add that Sheikh Gomaa said that: Some object that a number of great legal scholars of recent times, such as Sheikh Jad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jad al-Haqq and ‘Atiyyah Saqar, issued fatwas decreeing that female circumcision is sunnah or obligatory. I say, with all assurance, that their approach was an attempt to maintain continuity and refrain from the blind following of other’s opinions or desires. These scholars wanted to avoid abandoning something that we have inherited. If, however, they had seen the recent studies upon which I am basing my opinion, then they would have conceded to the agreement of the medical community just as they taught us to do.

This statement is loaded and it speaks volumes. We pray that Allah (SWT) will make us better Muslims and accept our striving in His way as ‘Ibadah.

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