Female Genital Mutilation in Islamic Law

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Female Genital Mutilation in Islamic Law

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Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (Arabic: ختان المرأة) is the practice of cutting away and altering the external female genitalia for ritual or religious purposes. It can involve both or either Clitoridectomy and Excision. Clitoridectomy is the amputation of part or all of the clitoris or the removal of the clitoral prepuce. Excision is the cutting away of either or both the inner and outer labia. A third practice, Infibulation (or Pharaonic circumcision), is the paring back of the outer labia, whose cut edges are then stitched together to form, once healed, a seal that covers both the openings of the vagina and the urethra. Infibulation usually also includes clitoridectomy.

FGM predates Islam. The Banu Quraysh, Muhammad's native tribe, appear to have engaged in the practice. Muhammad maintained the practice after migrating to Medina and is recorded as approving of the practice in four hadith. Two hadith record the sahabah (Companions of Mohammed) engaging in the practice (see FGM in the Hadith).

The FGM hadith give very few clues as to the nature of the practice they approve. Hence the nature, incidence and distribution of FGM varies between countries and communities. The most significant determining factor appears to be the presiding school of Islam (fiqh). Other factors include the culture's level of anxiety around female sexuality, its proximity to Islamic slave-trade routes (Infibulation is associated with the transportation of slaves), and the nature and degree of Christian influence.

Whilst the Qur'an contains no explicit mention of FGM, verse 30:30, by exhorting Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah' indirectly, but ineluctably, exhorts Muslims to engage in FGM (see FGM in the Qur'an).

Islamic law also implicitly favors FGM by creating social conditions that 1/ make the practice useful or necessary, and 2/ normalise it. Polygyny (which Islam encourages) creates sexually violent societies which put girls and women at a heightened risk of rape or abduction. In response to this the community develops practices which safeguard the 'purity', chastity and reputation of its girls and women. FGM is such a practice - as are child marriage, gender segregation and purdah, arranged marriages, chaperoning, veiling, 'honour' culture, bride-price (mahr) and footbinding.[1] Islam's legitimisation of slavery, especially sex slavery, also has a significant role in the nature, incidence and distribution of FGM.

Traditional scholars all allow, recommend or mandate FGM (see FGM and the Schools of Islamic Law). Whilst most modern fatwas favour FGM, there has been, over the past half century, a growing unease in the Islamic world concerning the practice (due to a growing concern on the part of organisations such as the UN and UNICEF). This has resulted in some fatwas critical of FGM. It appears that the earliest fatwa clearly critical of FGM was issued in 1984.[2] (see Modern Fatwas)

It should be noted that those who practice FGM refer to it as Female Circumcision rather than Female Genital Mutilation. The Hadith and most of the fatwas reproduced on this page are translations. Where this is the case it is likely that the term used is the translator's choice, not the hadith or fatwa's originator.

FGM in the Hadith

FGM is mentioned in (at least) seven Hadith. Four report Muhammad approving of FGM and two report Sahabah (Muhammad's companions) participating in FGM. The remaining hadith has little import doctrinally, but is of linguistic, historical and sociological interest.

Hadith: Muhammad

The Fitrah Is Five Things

Abu Hurayrah said: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision [الْخِتَانُ - khitan], shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”

Hadith methodology dictates that if it is not mentioned specifically or if the pronouns do not point to a certain gender, then the hadith is valid for both sexes (either directly or by analogy, or qiyas, in the case of women). Hence, this hadith is applicable for both men and women.

A Preservation of Honor for Women

Abu al- Malih ibn `Usama's father relates that the Prophet said: "Circumcision [الْخِتَانُ - khitan] is a law for men and a preservation of honour for women'."
Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 20:719; Al-Baihaqqy 8:324

Do Not Cut Severely

Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision [الْخِتَانُ - khitan] in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: "Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband".

Apply Henna and Circumcise

[Muhammad said] “Oh women of the Ansâr! Apply henna and circumcise [فَاخْفِضُو - khaffad]! But do not exaggerate for it is more pleasing for your women folks when they are with their husbands."
Mukhtassar Zawa’id Musnad Al -Bazzar of Ibn Hajar, Item 1227, I, 669

When the Circumcised Parts Touch Each Other

Abu Musa reported: There cropped up a difference of opinion between a group of Muhajirs (Emigrants and a group of Ansar (Helpers) (and the point of dispute was) that the Ansar said: The bath (because of sexual intercourse) becomes obligatory only-when the semen spurts out or ejaculates. But the Muhajirs said: When a man has sexual intercourse (with the woman), a bath becomes obligatory (no matter whether or not there is seminal emission or ejaculation). Abu Musa said: Well, I satisfy you on this (issue). He (Abu Musa, the narrator) said: I got up (and went) to 'A'isha and sought her permission and it was granted, and I said to her: 0 Mother, or Mother of the Faithful, I want to ask you about a matter on which I feel shy. She said: Don't feel shy of asking me about a thing which you can ask your mother, who gave you birth, for I am too your mother. Upon this I said: What makes a bath obligatory for a person? She replied: You have come across one well informed! The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: When anyone sits amidst four parts (of the woman) and the circumcised [الْخِتَانُ - khitan] parts touch each other a bath becomes obligatory.

To 'sit amidst four parts' of a woman is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

"[Abu Musa has told us that Muhammad bin Almuthanna has told him that Alwaleed Bin Muslim, from Al-Awza'i, from Abdulrahman bin Alqasim from his father from Aisha]: when the circumcised meets the circumcised, then indeed Ghusl is required. Myself and Allah's Messenger did that, so we performed Ghusl."

The above variant reports Muhammad and Aisha having intercourse, and having to perform 'ghusl' (the ritual bath) because both were 'circumcised'. This represents an unambiguous 'approval' of FGM on the part of Muhammad (an 'approval' is where Muhammad, by not opposing or criticising an act of one of his followers, indicated that the act was Sunnah - i.e. Islamic). Note that this Hadith is rated as sahih (authentic).

Hadith: The Sahabah (the Companions of Muhammad)

The following three hadith touch on FGM, but do not involve Muhammad.

One Who Circumcises Other Ladies

This hadith includes an exchange of insults between Meccan warriors and Muhammad's companions prior to the battle of Uhud.

“[…] I went out with the people for the battle. When the army aligned for the fight, Siba’ came out and said, ‘Is there any (Muslim) to accept my challenge to a duel?’ Hamza bin `Abdul Muttalib came out and said, ‘O Siba’. O Ibn Um Anmar, the one who circumcises [أَنْمَارٍ مُقَطِّعَةِ الْبُظُورِ - muqaṭwiʿaẗi al-ْbuẓūri] other ladies! Do you challenge Allah and His Apostle?’ […]”

أَنْمَارٍ مُقَطِّعَةِ الْبُظُورِ (muqaṭwiʿaẗi al-ْbuẓūri) translates as 'cutter of clitorises'.

In Bukhari's al-Adab al-Mufrad

The following two hadiths come from Al-Adab Al-Mufrad. This is a collection of hadith about the manners of Muhammad and his companions, compiled by the Islamic scholar al-Bukhari. It contains 1,322 hadiths, most of which focus on Muhammad's companions rather than Muhammad himself. Al-Bukhari's evaluation of the hadiths within al-Adab al-Mufrad was not as rigorous as for his best-known collection Sahih Bukhari. The Adab have less doctrinal authority than hadith featuring Muhammad. However, scholars have ruled most of the hadith in the collection as being sahih (authentic) or hasan (sound).

Someone to Amuse Them
“Umm ‘Alqama related that when the daughters of ‘A’isha’s brother were circumcised [اخْتُتِنَّ - khitan], ‘A’isha was asked, “Shall we call someone to amuse them?” “Yes,” she replied. ‘Adi was sent for and he came to them. ‘A’isha passed by the room and saw him singing and shaking his head in rapture – and he had a large head of hair. ‘Uff!’ she exclaimed, ‘A shaytan! Get him out! Get him out!'””
Go and Circumcise Them and Purify Them
An old woman from Kufa, the grandmother of 'Ali ibn Ghurab, reported that Umm al-Muhajir said, "I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. 'Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. 'Uthman said, "Go and circumcise [فَاخْفِضُو - khaffad] them and purify them."'

فَاخْفِضُو (khaffad) translates as 'lower them' or 'trim them'.

FGM in the Qur'an

There is no explicit reference to Female Genital Mutilation in the Qur'an. However, the Quran 30:30 requires Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah'.

So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah (فطرة or فطرت) of Allah upon which He has created (فطر) [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah . That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.

The word 'fitrah appears only this once in the Qur'an, and is left undefined and unexplained. To know what 'fitrah means, traditional scholars turned to hadith which make use of the word.

Abu Hurayrah said: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision [اخْتُتِنَّ - khitan], shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”

Note that this hadith uses the Arabic word khitan (ختان) for 'circumcision'.

Two other hadith (Someone to Amuse Them and Do Not Cut Severely) use the word khitan in contexts where the procedure is unquestionably being performed on females (and only on females). Three other hadith (The Fitrah Is Five Things, A Preservation of Honor for Women and When the Circumcised Parts Touch Each Other) use the word 'khitan to refer to both FGM and Male Circumcision.

Thus, the word 'khitan' appears to refer to both or either FGM and Male Circumcision. According to traditional interpretive methodology, Quran 30:30 by requiring Muslims to 'adhere to the fitrah' advocates FGM.

FGM and the Schools of Islamic Law

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Maps showing distribution of madhaps and prevalence of FGM

Only one school of Islam - the Shafi'i - makes FGM universally obligatory. The other schools of Islam recommend it with differing levels of obligation. Since nothing that Muhammad allowed can be prohibited, no school of Islam can forbid FGM. Differences in hermeneutics (methodologies of interpretation of texts, especially religious and philosophical texts) result in certain Hadith having more weight and influence in some schools than in others. The hadith Sunan Abu Dawud 41:5251 is an example of this:

Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.

Shafi’i and Hanbali scholars have evaluated this hadith as being sahih. Consequently, these schools consider FGM as being either obligatory or highly recommended, and FGM is very common or nearly universal amongst their followers. Maliki and Hanafi scholars have evaluated this Hadith as being mursal (good but missing an early link in its isnad) or daif (weak)– possibly explaining the lower rates of FGM amongst followers of these schools. However, it may be that followers of the Maliki and Hanafi schools who are devout (or who wish to appear devout) will tend to treat as 'obligatory' practices that are merely 'recommended' – since for the devout anything that is recommended should be definitely done.

Maliki Madhab

The Maliki school was founded by Malik ibn Anas in the 8th century, who ruled that FGM is recommended, but not obligatory.

Maliki hold the view that it is wajib (obligatory) for males and sunnah (optional) for females
'Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam' by Ibrahim Lethome Asmani & Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008)
Female circumcision is recommended.
Al-Dardir (died 1786, malikite)
Circumcision is Sunnah for men and women.
Ibn-al-jallab (died 988, Malikite)

Hanafi Madhab

This school is named after the scholar Abū Ḥanīfa an-Nu‘man ibn Thābit (d. 767) and is school with the largest number of followers among Sunni muslims. Abū Ḥanīfa maintained that FGM is not obligatory but optional or recommended.

The Hanafi view is that it is a sunnah (optional act) for both females and males
'Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam' by Ibrahim Lethome Asmani & Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008)
Circumcision is sunnah and fitrah. For women, circumcision is makrumah. If the inhabitants of a country reach a unanimous decision to abandon circumcision, the Imam has to wage war against them as it is one of the rituals and a specificity of Islam.
Al-Musuli (died 1284, hanafite)

Shafi'i Madhab

The Shafi’i school was founded by the Arab scholar Al-Shafi‘i in the early 9th century. The Shafi’i school rejects two interpretative heuristics that are accepted by other major schools of Islam: Istihsan (juristic preference) and Istislah (public interest), heuristics by which compassion and welfare can be integrated into Islamic law-making. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is obligatory in the Shafi'i madhab. Infibulation, the most severe form of FGM practiced under Islam, is almost entirely attributable to followers of the Shafi'i school of fiqh.

Shafi’i view it as wajib (obligatory) for both females and males
'Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam' by Ibrahim Lethome Asmani & Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008)

'Reliance of the Traveller' by by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (1302–1367) is the Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law according to Shafi'i School.

Obligatory (on every male and female) is circumcision. (And it is the cutting-off of the skin [qat' al-jaldah] on the glans of the male member and, as for the circumcision of the female, that is the cutting-off of the clitoris')
Reliance of the Traveler [Umdat al-Salik], Section e4.3 on Circumcision

Nuh Ha Mim Keller's 1991 translation of 'Reliance of the Traveller' translates the word 'bazr' ( بَظْرٌ ) as 'clitorial prepuce' instead of simply 'clitoris'.[3] This is disputed because 1/ the usage is obscure and 2/ it leaves Arabic without a word for 'clitoris'.[4]

Hanbali Madhab

The Hanbali school is named after the Iraqi scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855). Ahmad ibn Hanbal studied under Al-Shafi‘i (founder of the Shafi’i school) and inherited his deep concerns about the jurists of his time, who were ready to reinterpret the doctrines of the Koran and Hadiths to pander to public opinion and the demands of the rich and powerful. Ibn Hanbal advocated a return to the literal interpretation of Koran and Hadiths. This has made the Hanbali school intensely traditionalist. Today’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi–Salafist movement is an offshoot of this school. The Hanbali school, unlike the Hanafi and Maliki schools, reject Istihsan (jurist discretion) and Urf (the customs of Muslims) as a sound basis by which to derive Islamic law.

Hanbali have two opinions: -it is wajib (obligatory) for both males and females – it is wajib (obligatory) for males and makrumah (honourable) for females.
'Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam' by Ibrahim Lethome Asmani & Maryam Sheikh Abdi (2008)
Circumcision is obligatory for men, and noble deed for women and not obligatory according to many scholars. Ahmad said: circumcision for men is more important for men than for women, as the foreskin is pending over the glans, therefore what is behind cannot be cleaned. Female circumcision is also prescribed for women. Abu-Abdallah said that the hadith “If the two circumcised membranes meet, ghusl is necessary” means that female circumcision was practiced. According to the hadith of Umar, a circumciser woman performed circumcision; he told her: leave some of it if you circumcise. It is also reported that the Prophet Muhammad said to the circumciser woman: Cut very slightly and do not exaggerate as it is preferable for the husband and better for the face.
Al-Qudamah (died 1223, hanbalite)
male and female circumcision are obligatory.
Al-Bahuti (died 1641, Hanbalite)
Praise be to Allah. Yes, they should be circumcised, i.e., the top of the piece of skin that looks like a rooster’s comb should be cut. The Messenger of Allah said to the woman who did circumcisions: “Leave something sticking out and do not go to extremes in cutting. That makes her face look brighter and is more pleasing to her husband.” That is because the purpose of circumcising a man is to make him clean from the impurity that may collect beneath the foreskin. But the purpose of circumcising women is to regulate their desire, because if a woman is not circumcised her desire will be strong. Hence the words “O son of an uncircumcised woman” are used as an insult, because the uncircumcised woman has stronger desire. Hence immoral actions are more common among the women of the Tatars and the Franks, that are not found among the Muslim women. If the circumcision is too severe, the desire is weakened altogether, which is unpleasing for men; but if it is cut without going to extremes in that, the purpose will be achieved, which is moderating desire. And Allah knows best.
Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (died 1328, Hanbalite)
Khitaan is a noun describing the action of the circumciser (khaatin). It is also used to describe the site of the circumcision, as in the hadith, “When the two circumcised parts (al-khitaanaan) meet, ghusl become obligatory.” In the case of a female the word used is khafad. In the male it is also called i’dhaar. The one who is uncircumcised is called aghlaf or aqlaf.
Ibn Qayyim (died 1350, Hanbalite)
[FGM's] purpose is to reduce the woman's desire; if she is uncircumcised, she becomes lustful and tends to long more for men.
Ibn Taymiyya (1263 - 1328), Hanbalite)

Shia Islam

The attitudes of Shia Islam towards FGM are as not clear-cut as with the schools of Sunni Islam. It is known that FGM is practised by Zaydis in Yemen, Ibadis in Oman and at least by parts of the Ismailis (the Dawoodi Bohras in particular) in India. A survey by WADI conducted in the region of Kirkuk in Iraq found that 23% of Shia girls and women had undergone FGM[5].


Ayatollah Khamenei, the leading scholar among contemporary jurists of Iran, says that FGM is permissible but not obligatory for women. He also states that if the husband wants his wife to be circumcised then it might be carried out if it isn’t harmful for her.
Ayatullah ali al hussaini ali Sistani form Iraq said in his fatwa in 2010 that FGM is not haram (prohibited). Later in 2014 he revised his fatwa and said that FGM is harmful for the female victims and it isn’t permissible or part of any Islamic injunction.
Boys must be circumcised when they become adult…. and it is preferable that women be circumcised even if they are adult.
Al-Amili (died 1559, shiite)
The circumcision of female slaves, if performed, is great honor and precious merit. If not, nothing bad in it.
Al-Tusi (died 1067, shiite)


FGM appears to be common amongst the Dawoodi Bohras[6] – an Ismaili sect found in India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and East Africa. Their current spiritual leader has recommended FGM as being necessary for purity and to avoid sin.

Circumcision is obligatory for every Muslim…. If somebody refuses to submit to circumcision after being ordered to do, he should be killed if he exaggerates in delaying. Circumcision is not obligatory for women but they are ordered to submit to circumcision in honor of their husbands. Women are not obliged as circumcision for women is makrumah and for men it is sunnah, and some said it is faridah (obligation).
Al-Nazawi (died 1162, ibadite)

In 2017 two doctors and a third woman connected to the Dawoodi Bohra in Detroit, Michigan, were arrested on charges of conducting FGM on two seven-year-old girls in the United States. Their Attorney confirmed that FGM was, for her clients, a religious practice[7]:

They have a [right] to practice their religion. And they are Muslims and they’re being under attack for it. I believe that they are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs


Muʿtazila is a rationalist school of Islamic theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad during the 8th to the 10th centuries. The Mu'tazila developed an Islamic type of rationalism, partly influenced by Ancient Greek philosophy.

A woman with clitoris has more pleasure than a woman without clitoris. The pleasure depends on the quantity which was cut from the clitoris. Muhammad said: “If you cut, cut the slightest part and do not exaggerate because it makes the face more beautiful and it is more pleasant for the husband”. It seems that Muhammad wanted to reduce the concupiscence of the women to moderate it. If concupiscence is reduced, the pleasure is also reduced as well as the love for the husbands. The love of the husband is an impediment against debauchery. Judge Janab Al-Khaskhash contends that he counted in one village the number of the women who were circumcised and those who were not, and he found that the circumcised were chaste and the majority of the debauched were uncircumcised. Indian, Byzantine and Persian women often commit adultery and run after men because their concupiscence towards men is greater. For this reason, India created brothels. This happened because of the massive presence of their clitorises and their hoots.
Al-Jahiz (Muʿtazila, died 868-9)

Modern Fatwas

The following is a selection of Fatwas, mainly extracts, from the 20th and 21st Century. They have been, as far as possible, arranged in chronological order. Note that many are secondary or even tertiary sources. (for a more comprehensive compilation see Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Female Genital Mutilation#Modern Fatwas)


“Medical research […] does not show that the Sunnah circumcision – cutting only the outer part of the clitoris – has caused any medical complications […] Islam condones the Sunnah circumcision; it is acceptable. What’s forbidden in Islam is the pharaonic circumcision [...] Islamic scholars believe that female circumcision is different from male circumcision. They have a strong view that female circumcision is allowed, and that there is no evidence from Islamic sources prohibiting female circumcision, unless it is pharaonic.”

'Pharaonic circumcision' is a synonym for Infibulation.

"It is also indicated by the general meaning of the evidence that has been narrated concerning circumcision, such as the hadeeth in al-Bukhaari (5891) and Muslim (527) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”

[...]The Shaafa’is, the Hanbalis according to the well-known view of their madhhab, and others are of the view that circumcising women is obligatory. Many scholars are of the view that it is not obligatory in the case of women; rather it is Sunnah and is an honour for them.

But we would like to point out here that it has medical benefits to which attention should be paid, regardless of the difference of opinion among the scholars as to whether it is obligatory or mustahabb."
"DECISION OF MUZAKARAH OF THE FATWA COMMITTEE, NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS MALAYSIA The issue of Female Genital Mutilation was discussed by Muzakarah The 87th National Fatwa Committee convened on 23-25 June 2009. In this conference, Muzakarah members agreed decided that: After examining the evidence, arguments and views submitted, Muzakarah is of the view that the practice of circumcision for women is part of the syiar of the ummah Islam. While the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is contrary to the practice of circumcision prescribed by syarak. Accordingly, in line with the view jumhur ulama, Muzakarah agreed to decide that the law circumcision for women is compulsory. However, if it can bring harm to oneself, then it is should be avoided."
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Muslim Brotherhood flyer promoting FGM (amongst other medical services)
“The second strategy of the [Muslim Brotherhood] to contest the undesirability of FGM is to present it as a medical operation or procedure. By doing so, they encourage people to go to doctors – rather than midwives – who will perform the “operation” under anaesthesia and in accordance with proper surgical procedures […] Some people talk about taking their daughters to the doctor to check whether “they need it or not”, as if there is a physiological condition that would justify mutilating a woman’s reproductive organs […] Some doctors believe that not circumcising females leads to sexual arousal and that this could lead to the committing unlawful acts. So circumcision is a duty for the protection of the honour of the believing woman and for the preservation of her chastity and purity […] The third strategy deployed by the Brothers to promote FGM is to push for its decriminalization, under the premise that it is a matter that should be left to the personal choice of the girls’ guardians […] “the decision is up to the guardian and the doctor who decides on the extent to which the girl needs this operation”
"The discussion about female circumcision goes back to the past century. The first time that this subject was debated extensively was in the past century. Who were the first to talk about it? The Jews. They do not want Islam or the Muslims to be pure, developed, and civilized, so they started talking about it [...]In The Protocols of the Elders of Zion it is written: 'We must strive for the collapse of morals, so that it will be easier for us to dominate the world.'[...] Female circumcision is a preventive medical measure. Someone who is uncircumcised will be afflicted with many serious diseases{...]"
“Circumcision is not an inherited custom as some people claim, rather it is prescribed in Islam and the scholars are unanimously agreed that it is prescribed. Not a single Muslim scholar – as far as we know – has said that circumcision is not prescribed. Their evidence is to be found in the saheeh ahaadeeth of the Prophet, which prove that it is prescribed [...] With regard to the criticism of circumcision by some doctors, and their claim that it is harmful both physically and psychologically, This criticism of theirs is not valid. It is sufficient for us Muslims that something be proven to be from the Prophet [...], then we will follow it, and we are certain that it is beneficial and not harmful. If it were harmful, Allaah and His Messenger [...] would not have prescribed it for us [...] As for the opinions of doctors who say that female circumcision is harmful, these are individual opinions which are not derived from any agreed scientific basis, and they do not form an established scientific opinion […] medical theories about disease and the way to treat it are not fixed, rather they change with time and with ongoing research. So it is not correct to rely on them when criticizing circumcision which the Wise and All-Knowing Lawgiver has decreed in His wisdom for mankind. Experience has taught us that the wisdom behind some rulings and Sunnahs may be hidden from us. May Allaah help us all to follow the right path.”


Some contemporary scholars have criticised and condemned FGM. However, because nothing that Muhammad allowed can be prohibited, it is not licit to forbid FGM. Therefore fatwas critical of FGM generally stop well short of forbidding it.

“Allah has endowed people with dignity. In the Qur'an, Allah says: "We have honored the children of Adam". Therefore, Allah forbids all harm to people, regardless of social status and gender. Female genital cutting is an inherited bad habit practiced in some societies and has been adopted in imitation by some Muslims in several countries. This without a textual basis in the Koran or an authentic tradition of the prophet. Female genital cutting practiced today causes physical and psychological damage to women. Therefore, these practices must be stopped, based on one of the highest values ​​of Islam, namely not to harm people - according to the saying of the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him: "Do not harm and do no harm to anyone". Rather, it is considered a criminal aggression. The conference appeals to Muslims to put an end to this bad habit according to the teachings of Islam, which prohibit harming people in any way. The participants of the conference also call on the international and regional institutions and bodies to concentrate their efforts on educating and informing the population. This applies in particular to the basic hygienic and medical rules that must be adhered to towards women so that this bad habit is no longer practiced.The conference reminds educational institutions and the media that they have an absolute duty to educate about the harms of this bad habit and its devastating consequences for society in order to help eliminate this bad habit. The conference calls on the legislative bodies to pass a law that prohibits practitioners from the harmful bad habit of female genital cutting and declares it a crime, regardless of whether the practitioner is the perpetrator or the initiator. Furthermore, the conference calls on the international institutions and organizations to provide aid in all regions in which this bad habit is practiced, in order to contribute to its elimination.”
“The Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union, the highest Muslim authority in Iraqi Kurdistan for religious pronouncements and rulings, issued a fatwa or religious edict last month [...]this particular fatwa stated that "female circumcision" is not an Islamic practice.While the fatwa did not forbid the practice [...] its clear and unequivocal statement that the practice is not required by Islam was significant for women in Kurdistan, where the practice is widespread. The practice is not mentioned in the Quran, and many other Muslim scholars have disassociated the practice from Islam. Until last month, the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union had not joined those ranks [...] The fatwa will help dispel that belief and should begin to lead to a reduction of the practice in the name of Islam. But it's not all good news yet. The fatwa does not explicitly ban female genital mutilation, and the failure to prohibit it altogether remains troubling because parents may still decide to subject their daughters to this practice. ”
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Fatwa - Ayatollah Khamenei
In response to a question of the author of the book Razor and Tradition, which discusses Female Genital Mutilation, [Khamenei] noted that female circumcision is permissible but not obligatory"

[...] "Today, female genital mutilation is not common among Shiites but the usage narrative show that it does not hurt if it can be done with its conditions, including compliance with health issues. But because the social norms have changed today, this action would not be acceptable like many other topics which their sentences were changed due to circumstances and facts"

[...] The question is asked to Ayatollah Khamenei: What is the wife`s duty to her husband`s request to circumcise herself?

The answer is: “Although implementation of husband’s order is obligatory for the wife if it does not have disadvantages or it is not harmful for the wife, she has to listen to her husband’s request.”
The group of jurists from different schools of thoughts reject the permissibility of FGM in Islam and do not consider it part of the injunctions of Islam. Their arguments are as follows:

Answer to the justifications from Holy Quran: The proponent jurists alleged that Allah said in the holy Quran to follow the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S). That meant following the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S) as he believed in the oneness of God. Also if Ibrahim (A.S) was circumcised because he was a male, that cannot be taken as precedent for the females because there is no resemblance between the male and female body structure. Allah Almighty prohibits in the Holy Quran to cut a body part of human beings without any reason because a human being is the most beloved creature to the omnipotent Allah, and is the creature in whose beautiful creation the Almighty takes pride in.

Answer to the justification from Holy Sunnah: Ahadith put forward by the proponents have ‘weak health’ (Dhuaee’f Sih’ha) mainly because of the chain of hadith and of the narrators, so we cannot rely on such ahadith on such delicate issues.

Answer to the Qiyas: First of all if we are making Qiyas a deciding factor for another analogy, the ill’at (cause) must be the same between the cases but in the case of FGM, how can we use the analogy of a male body for a female when they are both totally different and distinct from each other. The ill’at of circumcision of men is to increase pleasure, is also good for sexual life and includes many other medical benefits to men. But in case of women it reduces pleasure, is harmful for her physical as well as mental health, so the idea of Qiyas here is totally strange.

Arguments De-linking FGM and Islam

”The discussion about female circumcision goes back to the past century. The first time that this subject was debated extensively was in the past century. Who were the first to talk about it? The Jews. They do not want Islam or the Muslims to be pure, developed, and civilized, so they started talking about it.”

As the above quote suggests, the idea that FGM might be un-Islamic appears to be relatively new. The earliest fatwa clearly critical of FGM appears to be from 1984[2] and since then there have been other fatwas critical of FGM. However, most are favourable towards the practice. (see Modern Fatwas)

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NGram for terms: 'FGM', 'Female Genital Mutilation' and 'Female Circumcision'

An Ngram for the terms ‘fgm’, ‘female genital mutilation’ and ‘female circumcision’ shows an increased use of ‘mutilation’ and 'FGM' as against the more anodyne 'circumcision' starting around 1990. This coincides with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which first identified female genital mutilation as a harmful traditional practice, and mandated that governments abolish it as one of several 'traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children'.[8] Soon afterwards organisations such as the World Health Organisation (1995),[9] the Council of Europe (1995), and UNICEF & UNFPA (1997)[10] also issued reports critical of FGM.

For the first time narratives critical of FGM started penetrating the Islamic world, parts of which began to feel uneasy about Islam's association with FGM, and have consequently sought to de-link the two by showing that FGM is un-Islamic.

The 'FGM as un-Islamic' narrative is reinforced by the fact that it is a minority of Muslims that practice FGM. Immigration to the West has till recently come from the Maghreb and Hanafi countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, or the Maghreb. The Hanafi is the school of fiqh which least favours FGM, merely ruling it as 'optional', and the Maghreb practices a Maliki Islam that appears to eschew FGM. These immigrant populations have effectively imported the 'FGM is un-Islamic' narrative to the West. This narrative is challenged by the rise in immigration from countries such as Indonesia and Somalia, and the Kurdish Middle East[11], where FGM-rates are high and the practice is accepted as compatible with Islam.

The 'FGM is un-Islamic' narrative is reinforced because the practice gives rise to a dilemma whereby telling the truth (or even just making known facts and evidence) is likely to aggravate the problem.

In recent decades many agencies and charities have engaged themselves in the fight against FGM[12]. These agencies face a particular challenge when interacting with individuals and populations who practice FGM: how, for example, does an anti-FGM charity respond to a Somali mother who asks whether FGM is Islamic? If the charity worker tells her about the FGM in the hadith, and how FGM is part of the fitrah (which Qur'an 30:30 exhorts Muslims to adhere to - see FGM in the Qur'an), and how the school of fiqh which the Somali woman follows, the Shafi'i, makes FGM mandatory - then that mother will come away from that interaction more likely to have her daughter mutilated, not less.

This dilemma is faced not just by on-the-ground charity workers, but the whole hierarchy of institutions devoted to combating FGM, including politicians, the media and academia. To resolve the dilemma a number of propositions have evolved to defend the proposition that FGM is un-Islamic.

FGM Is Not Required by Islam

“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.”

It is correct that most Islamic schools and scholars do not make FGM obligatory. Only the Shafi'i madhab (the second or third largest school of Sunni Islam) and some Hanbali scholars decree FGM to be obligatory in Islam.

But critics of Dr Talib's position point out that 'not an obligation' is by no means the same thing as 'forbidden'. If FGM is a 'crime', then 'not an obligation' is no more appropriate a response to it than it would be to murder, child sexual abuse or rape. An act that is 'not obligatory' may anything from 'tolerated', to 'highly recommended' as well as 'forbidden'. If Dr Talib believed that FGM was 'forbidden' by Islam then he would have made that clear in his statement. Moreover, acts that are 'not an obligation' can be virtuous or ethically neutral - neither charitable-giving or owning a dog are obligatory, but the former is virtuous and the latter ethically neutral. Thus Dr Talib's conclusion in no way forecloses the possibility that FGM is virtuous and highly recommended in Islam.

There Is No FGM in the Qur'an

[...] its clear and unequivocal statement that the practice is not required by Islam was significant for women in Kurdistan, where the practice is widespread. The practice is not mentioned in the Quran, and many other Muslim scholars have disassociated the practice from Islam.

(see FGM in the Qur'an)

It is correct that there is no mention of FGM in the Qur'an.

But according to traditional interpretive methodology Qur'an 30:30, by requiring one to 'adhere to the fitrah', indirectly, but ineluctably, advocates FGM. Nor is there any mention of the unquestionably Islamic practice of male circumcision in the Qur'an. Indeed, most of the practical details of how to be a Muslim come from the Sunnah (the hadith plus the sirat). The Qur'an has 91 verses commanding to follow Muhammad's example to the last detail. However the Qur'an contains virtually no detail of Muhammad's life. Muslims can only know of Muhammad's life by turning to the hadith and sirat. None of the Five Pillars of Islam, for example, are explained in the Qur'an.

FGM Existed Before Islam

While the exact origin of female circumcision is not known, “it preceded Christianity and Islam.” The most radical form of female circumcision (infibulation) is known as the Pharaonic Procedure. This may signify that it may have been practiced long before the rise of Islam, Christianity and possibly Judaism.

The archaeological and historical record do indeed amply demonstrate that FGM existed before Islam (see Female Genital Mutilation in Islam#FGM before Islam )

The premise of this argument is that if a practice existed before Islam then it can not be Islamic. Critics point out that monotheism, praying, heaven and hell, male circumcision, pilgrimage to Mecca, the veneration of the Kaaba, abstention from pork, giving to charity, the paying of bride-price, polygyny, interdictions on lying and murder, and much more all existed before Islam. These pre-Islamic practices became Islamic when, and because, Muhammad integrated them into the religion he was inventing.

FGM Is an African Practice

Basically, FGM is a practice limited to certain parts of Africa [...] As for Britain, its FGM problem is more due to where their African immigrants come from than it is to Islam per se.
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Maps showing the correlation between Islam and FGM in Indonesia: the top map shows the distribution and prevalence of FGM in Indonesia; the bottom map shows the distribution of religions in Indonesia:

FGM did exist in parts of Africa before parts of it were Islamised – notably Egypt and the West coast of the Red Sea (see Female Genital Mutilation in Islam#Non-Islamic sources).

However, the historical record shows that FGM was also practice in the Middle East before Islam. Most significantly the hadith themselves suggest that Mohammed's native tribe, the Banu Quraysh practiced FGM.

It should also be noted that:

  1. most of Africa does not practice FGM,
  2. the expansions of Islam into Africa and the Islamic slave trade appears to have spread FGM to its current extent (which closely coincides with that of Islam),
  3. where FGM is practiced in countries with no tradition of FGM (as in the West), it is almost entirely by Muslims
  4. about 40% of FGM takes place outside of Africa, in South Asia in particular.[13]

It is documented that FGM was brought to Indonesia by Muslim traders and conquerors in the 13th Century. Indonesia follows the Shaafi school (which makes FGM obligatory) and has +90% rates of FGM amongst its Muslims. FGM is rare amongst Indonesian non-Muslim. This suggests that FGM is more of an Islamic practice than an African one.

'The Southeast Asian case undermines a widespread notion that female circumcision is a pre-­Islamic custom that has merely been tolerated by the newer faith. In contrast to other regions, female circumcision seems to have been introduced into Southeast Asia as part of the inhabitants’ conversion to Islam from the thirteenth century on. Indeed, for Tomás Ortiz, writing about the southern Philippines in the early eighteenth century, female circumcision was not only a Muslim innovation, but also one that had spread to some degree to non-­Muslims.'

Christians Practice FGM Too

Although the practice is mainly found in some Muslim societies, who believe, wrongly, that it is a religious requirement, it is also carried out by non-Muslim groups such a Coptic Christians in Egypt', and several Christian groups in Kenya.

It is correct that some Christians practice FGM. Indeed about 20% of global FGM is attributable to non-Muslims, for the most part Christians.[13]

Critics can point out that the premise of this argument implies that a practice can not be Islamic if some Christians also engage in it. This would mean that Islam's scope is restricted to that which Christians don't do - for example, the fact that some Christians abstain from alcohol or meat means that Islam's interdictions on consuming alcohol or pork are un-Islamic.

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The prevalence of Female Genital Cutting. Note that many Western Christian countries are assigned the rubric ''rare or limited to particular ethnic minority enclaves''. This indicates the presence of FGM-practicing immigrants (who are almost entirely Muslim), rather than that Christians in those countries engage in FGM.

The Christians who practice FGM nearly all live as isolated and persecuted minorities within dominant Islamic FGM-practicing cultures. Islamic FGM is a purity practice, and within FGM-practicing societies girls who are not cut are considered impure - whether Muslim or otherwise. Any contact or proximity with them, or sharing of objects is considered as 'contaminating'. Individuals, families and communities that do not follow the dominant culture's purity observances are perceived as threatening the spiritual and religious lives of that community. For example, a Muslim's prayers will be rendered invalid if he is inadvertently contaminated, and will continue to be invalid until he correctly purifies himself.

This means that in such Islamic communities, non-Muslims who do not follow the community's purity observances are shunned, stigmatised, discriminated against and persecuted.[14] Non-Muslims living in such societies under pressure to adopt dominant Islamic purity practices.

The Copts are Christian and make up 10 to 15% of the population of Egypt. Copts practice FGM at about a 74% (compared to 92% Muslims). Copts acknowledge that they practice FGM in order to minimise persecution. And it is Christian minorities such as the Copts who appear to be the most ready to abandon FGM when it becomes safe for them to do so.[15]

There are however three countries where FGM appears to be practiced by Christian majorities – Ethiopia, Eritrea and Liberia.

FGM in Liberia is practiced as part of the initiation into secret women's societies. It should be noted that whilst only 12% of Liberia's population is Muslim, its marriage and kinship practices are Islamic: men can have up to 4 wives; a third of all Liberian marriages are polygamous; a third of married women aged between 15-49 are in polygamous marriages, and married woman's rights to inherit property from her spouse are restricted. [16] These are text-book conditions for the emergence of chastity assurance practices such as FGM.

Polygyny - though illegal- is also common amongst Muslims in Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, FGM in Ethiopia and Eritrea may be due to a combination of historical factors: during most of their history surrounding Islamic states endeavoured to keep Ethiopia and Eritrea isolated from the mainstream of Christianity, thus preventing them from accessing doctrines (concerning monogamy and human rights) that are incompatible with FGM. They were also the hubs of the Islamic slave trade, where slave girls captured in West Africa were infibulated to guarantee their virginity, and thus raise their value, in preparation for the slave markets of the Islamic Middle East. The practice was adopted by the locals, and has persisted.

The following graphs (adapted from graphs found at https://www.28toomany.org/research-resources/) combine rates of decline of FGM practice in a variety of African countries with the proportion of the population that is Muslim (in green and mauve). Note that the lower the proportion of a nation that is Muslim, the steeper rate of decline of FGM-practice.

Not All Muslims Practice FGM

However, not all Muslims practise FGM, for example, it is not practised in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan, Turkey, Syria, the Maghreb countries of northwest Africa, Morocco, Iran and Iraq. All the Muslims in FGM practicing countries do not practice it, for example, in the case of Senegal where 94% of the population are Muslims only 20% practice FGM (Mottin-Sylla 1990).
[https://www.help-africanwomen.org/images/downloads/FGM-Themen/FGM-Was_steckt_dahinter-EN-web.pdf What is behind the tradition of FGM? Dr. Ashenafi Moges (2009)]

(NB - since Dr Ashenafi Moges published the above-cited essay, FGM has been reported in Jordan, Syria, Iran and Iraq and many other Middle East countries. A study has found FGM-rates of 20% in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia[17])

About 20% of Muslim women have undergone FGM[13], which suggests that about 80% of Muslims don't practice FGM.

However critics have pointed out that if this fact proves FGM to be un-Islamic, it is on the assumption that Islam is defined solely by that which it universally forbids or makes universally obligatory - and that only those practices which all Muslims engage in are Islamic, and that minority practices are, by definition, un-Islamic.

But religions are also defined by (and responsible for) what they recommend, encourage, allow and discourage. For example, the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is recommended not obligatory, and not all Christians take the Eucharist. But it is nevertheless Christian. Polygyny is Islamic, despite not every Muslim having several wives.

Nor are all Islamic practices obligatory: polygyny and child marriage are not obligatory, and whilst a Muslim must complete 5 prayers a day, there are optional (nawafil) prayers which confer additional rewards. Fasting outside of the month of Ramadhan, or giving sadaqah (voluntary charity) are also optional. And where a practice is not obligatory it is generally the case that 'not all Muslims' - or onlyn a minority of Muslims - practice it.

Variations in the stances of the schools of fiqh to a large extent account for why not all Muslims practice FGM. The schools' different levels of obligation are reflected in the incidence of FGM. The Shafi'i school makes FGM obligatory and Shafi'i communities generally have +90% FGM-rates. The Maliki and Hanbali schools recommend it - and the FGM rates in those communities are generally lower than with Shafi'i communities. The Hanafi school merely allows FGM - and Hanafi communities largely eschew FGM. Where it is merely 'allowed' or 'tolerated' is it surprising that many parents abstain from an act that must go against their deepest instincts?

Islam's base-line position is that of not forbidding FGM. But FGM is not an ethically neutral act, such as the Eucharist - swallowing a wafer - or Baptism - sprinkling water on a baby's head. FGM is an act of mutilation carried out on a child. 'Not forbidding' is no more the appropriate base-line for such an act than it would be for child sexual abuse, rape or murder. Likewise a legal system does not need to make child sexual abuse compulsory for it to be defined as being favourable to child sexual abuse - it is sufficient that it fails to forbid child sexual abuse to earn itself that label.

The FGM Hadith Are Weak

Highly-ranking Egyptian Muslim institution Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriyyah recently confirmed in a press statement that female genital mutilation (FGM) is religiously forbidden due to it’s negative impact on physical and mental well-being. The statement came as a response to the Tadwin Center for Gender Studies, who has urged the Sheikh of Al-Azhar to reconsider unreliable fatwas released by some members of the faculty of Al-Azhar University who claim FGM is a religious necessity based on weak Hadith.

Some of the FGM hadith are considered weak by some scholars and schools of Islam.

But several sahih (authentic) hadith favour FGM, and Islamic scholarship does not consider that that weak hadiths cancel, or weaken, more reliable ones.

Four of the seven 'FGM hadith' report Muhammad favouring FGM. Two of these ('The fitrah is five things' and 'When the circumcised parts touch') are included in the hadith compilations of both Bukhari and Muslim. Both are considered wholly authoritative. Moreover these two hadith are also some of the best-supported hadith in these compilations. 'When the circumcised parts touch' is a 'tacit approval' in that it reports Muhammad referring in passing to FGM without him expressing disapproval of it. The two other hadith report Muhammad's attitude towards FGM ('A preservation of honour for women' and 'Do not cut severely'). These are not generally considered as sahih, but hasan (good) or daif (weak).

Al-Bukhari also compiled two adab which touch on FGM ('Someone to Amuse Them' and 'Go and Circumcise Them and Purify Them'). Al-Bukhari's evaluation of the hadiths included al-Adab al-Mufrad was not as rigorous as for his best-known collection - Sahih Bukhari. However, scholars have ruled the hadith in the collection as being mostly sahih or hasan.

Furthermore, whilst weak hadith alone cannot generate doctrine, they can be used if:

  1. the hadith not be very weak;
  2. the hadith be within the scope of an authentic legal principle that is applied and accepted in either the Qur’an or Sunnah;
  3. its weakness, not authenticity, be realized when applying it.[18]

For example, even assuming it a daif hadith, the information that Muhammad considered a form of FGM excessively severe can be taken from 'Do not cut severely', since it contradicts neither stronger hadith nor the Qur'an.

That some form of FGM was practiced by the Sahabah (Muhammad's Companions) is amply demonstrated by the hadith. The Hanbali, Maliki and Shafi'i schools of Islam all have as their principle daleels (interpretative heuristics) the consideration of what the Sahabah did or thought (Ijma, Ijtihad and Amal). The deeds and words of the Muhammad's companions are therefore second only to the Quran and Sunnah in determining what is Islamic or not - and come into play when the Qur'an and Hadith don't resolve an issue. The Hanafi school is the exception since it ascribes a lesser importance to the deeds and words of the Sahabah - which may explain why the Hanafi madhab rules FGM as merely 'optional' and why Hanafi Muslims generally don't practice FGM.[19] [20]

The Qur'an Forbids Mutilation

there is no verse in the Quran that can be used as evidence for [FGM]. On the contrary, there are several verses that strongly condemn any acts that negatively affect the human body in any way and interfere with Allah’s (SWT) creation without a justification. Examples include, “…and there is no changing Allah’s creation. And that is the proper religion but many people do not know” (Quran 30:30) and, “…and make not your own hands contribute to your destruction” (Quran 2:195)

Islam forbids mutilations to the human body. However, Islam exempts from this interdiction those mutilation that it permits.

the general rule is that anything done to the body is prohibited unless there is evidence to allow [it]

Male circumcision, for example, is a mutilation that Islamic law permits, and is therefore not forbidden by Islamic law. As are amputation of hand and feet. Beheading, stoning, and crucifixion - which all involve mutilation prior to the victim's death - are all also permitted in Islamic law.

This argument is an example the fallacy of Petitio Principi ('Circular Reasoning' or assuming in the premise of an argument that which one wishes to prove in the conclusion).

(NB Quran 2:195 - referenced in the quote at the start of this section - forbids suicide and self-mutilation, and therefore does not apply to FGM)

'Circumcision' is not Mutilation

The World Health Organisation’s biased classification of female circumcision as FGM from a perspective of harm is not supported by any scientific study. The limited, prescribed religious ritual of female circumcision has been regrettably deemed by the WHO to be a form of female genital mutilation [...] The classification of female circumcision as FGM “reinforces the image of female circumcision as a barbaric one, practiced by an uncivilised people.” Conflating the practice of female circumcision with mutilation prohibits any possibility of impartiality in considering the practice as a legitimate, protected religious rite.

The term 'Female Circumcision' is used by those who consider certain practices insufficiently harmful or intrusive to merit the epithet 'mutilation' (as in 'Female Genital Mutilation') and can be applied to any procedure short of infibulation.[21] The relatively moderate procedure of the "removal of the clitoral hood or a ritual nick on the external female genitalia" is called 'Sunnah Circumcision'.[22]

Sunnah Circumcision is mostly practiced by South Asian Muslims, who belong to the Shafi'i school, which makes FGM obligatory and is associated with the most severe form of FGM, infibulation. Infibulation would have been a practice alien to South Asian Muslims, arising as it did from the Islamic slave trade, which largely spared South Asia.[23][24] Sunnah circumcision may have been a way of sparing girls the extremities of infibulation whilst still fulfilling the obligation to engage in FGM.

Granted that 'Sunnah Circumcision' is a lesser mutilation than full clitoridectomy, excision or infibulation, it nevertheless remains a mutilation because:

  1. it serves no medical or prophylactic purpose
  2. it damages the functioning of an important body part (e.g. permanent exposure reduces the sensitivity of the clitoris)
  3. it unnecessarily exposes the child to health risks, both short-term and long-term[25]
  4. it is generally done in a needlessly traumatic manner: anaesthetics are generally eschewed
  5. it is practiced on children, who can not give informed consent to such a procedure
  6. though children can not consent to this procedure, they can refuse consent or withdraw it (signaled by the child struggling to escape the procedure or begging for it to stop). However the child's consent-decision is rarely respected by those carrying out the procedure

The removal of the clitoral prepuce is justified by Qiyas as being analogous to male circumcision. Proponents of this position accuse bodies such as the World Health Organisation of double standards in that they condemn 'Sunnah Circumcision' but not Male Circumcision.

If one accepts that ritual male circumcision is not mutilation then their position seems coherent. However, the six above-listed characteristics apply equally to male circumcision, and thus male circumcision is a mutilation. The failure of the WHO and other bodies to classify male circumcision as a mutilation is a political and pragmatic decision, not one based on ethics or an objective evaluation of the practice. Male circumcision is simply too widespread and too entrenched for such organisations to condemn (it is estimated that 38.7% of males are circumcised, with 68% of that figure being Muslim men[26]).

The argument that 'Sunnah Circumcision' should be allowed because Male Circumcision is allowed is to argue that Evil X should be allowed because Evil Y is allowed. The WHO etc should achieve coherence by condemning both practices, not by condoning them.

NB - no-one who practices, or defends, FGM refers to what they do as 'mutilation', not even those who infibulate. This is especially so for Muslims, since the Qur'an appears to forbid mutilation (Quran 30:30, Quran 2:195 - but see previous section). The line which separates 'justified intervention' and 'mutilation' is therefore always set somewhere beyond the practice being defended. It can happen that a Muslim who condemns 'Female Genital Mutilation' will on further discussion, reveal themselves to support 'Female circumcision'.

There Is No Record of Muhammad Having His Wives or Daughters Circumcised

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had four daughters and we have no strong sources to prove if even one of them was circumcised, therefore it can be concluded that this practice has no strong reasons to be called as Islamic.

The Qur'an, hadith and sirat contain no reference to Muhammad having his wives or daughters mutilated.

However, there is also no record of Muhammad having undergone circumcision himself, or of him having his sons circumcised. Indeed, there are many aspects of Islamic law for which there is no record of Mohammed having practiced: there is no record of Muhammad limiting himself to just four wives, for example.

The hadith suggest that females in Muhammad's circle would have undergone FGM before puberty, and current practice confirms this (a 2013 UNICEF pamphlet reveals that in about half of countries with available data, the majority of girls undergo FGM before five years of age[27]). In the hadith narrated by Umm ‘Alqama the persons being cut are clearly children, and the function of Islamic FGM requires that it be prepubescents who are submitted to FGM, not adolescents or adults. Therefore it is unlikely that Muhammad would have needed to command or require the circumcision of his wives, since they would have already been circumcised before he married them.

FGM in Islamic cultures is matriarchal, taboo-ridden and secretive affair, usually arranged by female relatives. The hadith 'do not cut severely' and 'One who circumcises other ladies' depict women performing the mutilation, not men. Male family members are excluded and may not even realise that their community engages in the practice.[28]

[...]brothers are often unaware that their sisters have been 'cut'. The author records a striking instance of this: an Omani undergraduate who was assisting his research into FGM, was stunned to read surveys reporting FGM-rates of between 75 to 95% in Oman, having assumed that his country was free of the practice. [29] He was even more stunned when, on raising the issue with a sister, he learnt that she, his other sisters and his mother had all undergone FGM.

Muhammad Wanted to Forbid FGM but Couldn't

Islam did not forbid [FGM] at that time because it was not possible to suddenly forbid a ritual with strong roots in Arabic culture; rather it preferred to gradually express its negative opinions. This is how Islam treated slavery as well, (gradual preparation of the society for the final forbiddance of slavery) [...]The Prophet had prevented people several times from circumcising women

Nothing in the Qur'an Sirat or Hadith supports the claim that Muhammad 'had prevented people several times from circumcising women'. The nearest thing to this is a hadith in which Muhammad instructs a women performing FGM to moderate her cutting:

Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: "Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband".

Critics of this argument note that this hadith, when used as evidence that Muhammad approved of FGM, is treated as daif (weak). However, when (as here) used as evidence that he wanted to moderate the practice it is treated as sahih (authentic). Regardless of its level of authority this hadith is a textbook example of a tacit approval.

However Muhammad's words are more advice than criticism. An analogy might be a consultant surgeon advising a junior surgeon to "not make too deep an incision in case you cut an artery". Such a statement does not imply that the consultant surgeon is against or critical of the surgical procedure in question - quite the contrary, such a statement show that the surgeon approves of the procedure.

Furthermore, Muhammad affirmed the practices that cause FGM: polygyny and sex-slavery. He also affirmed practices that emerge from the same causes, and that create a normative, legal and institutional structure that support, justify and normalize FGM, such as male circumcision, child marriage, bride-price and gender segregation.

One of the major attractions of Mohammed’s new religion was that it overturned and rejected the established practices of pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism. Mohammed suddenly forbade many things that would have been dear to the people he ruled over - pork products, alcohol, gambling, instrumental music, singing, art depicting the human form, the easy fraternization of men and women, interest in debt, and the public display of women’s faces. He also imposed on his followers such new practices as male circumcision, ritual ablutions and praying 5 times a day.

His followers obeyed these new rules. How much more willingly would his followers have abandoned a practice that is harmful, and that must be distressing for loving parents to perform and witness?

One can speculate how things would be different if in the Qur'an Muhammad had forbidden FGM with the same force he did alcohol, instead of approving of it in his words and deeds in the Hadith.

“[Mohammed] cursed alcohol and the one who drinks it, the one who sells it, the one who buys it, the one who carries it, the one to whom it is carried, the one who consumes its price, the one who squeezes the grapes and the one for whom they are squeezed.”

Would Islam have allowed its followers to practice FGM for 1400 years? And would the Islamic world be as rife with FGM as it is today?

See Also

Female Genital Mutilation in Islam (includes sections on FGM before Islam, The Sociology and Causes of FGM, and FGM as unislamic)

Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars: Female Genital Mutilation

'Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam'

A Critique of the Above (Delinking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam)


  1. ''Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account' - Gerry Mackie (1996)
  2. 2.0 2.1 p54 "Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy" By International Symposium On Sexual Mutiliations 1996
  3. Reliance Of The traveller (عمدة السالك وعدة الناسك) By Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al Misri English Arabic
  4. بعث | Lane's Lexicon, page 222
  5. Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq (April 13, 2012)
  6. Reminder to government: New study confirms widespread female genital cutting among Bohra Muslims
  7. Prosecutor: 'Brutal' genital mutilation won't be tolerated in US
  8. Convention on the Rights of the Child
  9. Female genital mutilation : report of a WHO technical working group, Geneva, 17-19 July 1995
  10. Female Genital Mutilation - A Joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA Statement
  11. Effect of female genital mutilation/cutting on sexual functions - Mohammad-Hossein Biglu et al
  12. 20 Organizations Fighting Female Genital Mutilation
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 What Percentage of Global FGM is done by Moslems?
  14. The Story of Asia Bibi
  15. Prevalence of and support for Female Genital Mutilation within the Copts of Egypt: INICEF report (2013)
  16. https://www.genderindex.org/wp-content/uploads/files/datasheets/LR.pdf
  17. Almost 1 in 5 women in Saudi subject to FGM (2019)
  18. Portrait of Sheikh Dr. Yusuf Abdallah al-Qaradawi, senior Sunni Muslim cleric, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood - The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (2011)
  19. Four Schools of Sunni Law - Fatima Tariq
  20. Islamic Jurisprudence [Fiqh] - Tej Chopra
  21. Somali Women in Western Exile: Reassessing Female Circumcision in the Light of Islamic Teachings Sara Johnsdotter
  22. A Problem of Definition: Female Circumcision vs FGM
  23. l'Esclavage: l'Histoire à l'Endroit' by Bernard Lugan (2020)
  24. The Forgotten Slave Trade - the White European Slaves of Islam by Simon Webb
  25. Health risks of female genital mutilation (FGM) WHO
  26. Estimation of country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision - Brian J Morris et al. (2016)
  27. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change United Nations Children’s Fund, New York, July 2013
  28. I’m a survivor of female genital cutting and I’m speaking out – as others must too - Maryum Saifee
  29. Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East: Placing Oman on the Map, June 2018, Hoda Thabet & Azza Al-Kharousi