Islam and circumcision. Both men and women do it. Hear from a candid Muslim about khitan and sunat.
Why would you slice off a body part? When a baby is born healthy there appears no medical reason to remove something that God created, something that is naturally there. Circumcision in females and men has been a hot topic in medical professionalism and faith because of the controversy coming from varying opinions.
Yet major world religions including Islam, encourage a snip of a sensitive nature to improve one’s quality of life. So how can having less mean having more?
What is circumcision?
Male circumcision in Islam is the surgical removal of the mucosal tissue from the tip of the penis commonly known as a foreskin (prepuce). The foreskin is an incubator-type lining that can be pulled back, uncovering the head of the penis (glans) that it protects.
A local anaesthetic – a cream or injection – is used to block pain. Typically, only the foreskin is amputated by a doctor and a clamping device or a few soluble stitches prevents excessive blood flow.
Recovery can take a couple of weeks and the procedure itself shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes.
Circumcision for women, called a sunat or hoodectomy in America, involves removing a small part of the skin covering the clitoris. Read Sabrina’s account of her circumcision here.
Circumcision in Islam
In Islam, male circumcision is widely practiced at infancy, following the religious tradition of Prophet Ibrahim who “was the first to be circumcised” in his old age.
Circumcision is carried out a hospital or clinic, and although not compulsory in Islam (fardh), it is a highly recommended prophetic act (sunnah) aimed at improving hygiene.
The Prophet Muhammad of Islam, stated that good physical health is connected to the divine nature in humans (fitra). Taking measures such as circumcision, shaving pubic hair and trimming the moustache for a neat beard are rewarding acts that look good and clean.
Male or female circumcision is not enforced in Islamic teaching and is not a condition for converting to Islam or carrying out religious duties. There is no fixed age for circumcision, varying from country to country and depending on community culture.
Muslims believe the benefit of removing the foreskin is twofold. An intact foreskin can potentially trap drops of urine and as Muslims perform a ritual ablution (wudhu) before the obligatory five daily prayers, it is essential no impurity if left on the body. It is a nod to the Islamic principle of sacrifice, as the American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson said,
“We are circumcised to be reminded throughout our lives that we have an oath with God. We will not become slaves to that lower part of ourselves. If there is a section of it that is cut off… (It is) To indicate there is a purification, an obedience to the higher self, not to the animal, bestial nature of the human being…”
Further, a circumcised penis is a preventative from infections and passing on diseases during intercourse. The foreskin is more susceptible and can be an entry portal for the HIV virus. A study in Baltimore found that heterosexual men were less likely to become infected with HIV from infected partners if they were circumcised.
Health benefits to getting a snip
Organisations such as the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV have highlighted many examples that prove circumcision prevents the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases like AIDS.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), male circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring HIV in heterosexually active males by 66%.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Circumcised men are 35% percent less likely to contract HPV, a sexually transmitted virus responsible for cancers such cervical and penile cancer. A study on the transmission of HIV published this year in the Lancet showed that women whose partners are circumcised are 28% less likely to become infected with HPV.
Can circumcision affect your sexual life? Although there is little conclusive evidence, it does provide important health advantages and has the potential to increase physical pleasure (read this personal and blush-worthy account of a Muslim circumcised woman). From a British study of 150 men who circumcised as adults, 38% reported an improved penile sensation with an overall 62% satisfaction in their intimate lives.
A decade’s worth of research in the 1990’s by a senior research scientist at Harvard’s school of medical health, found that circumcision played a role in regions in Africa where HIV rates were relatively low.
That is supported by a recent case that found Zulu tribes in Africa are increasingly returning to male circumcision to reduce the spread of AIDS.
Importance to the procedure has been heightened by authoritative research. Experts summoned by the WHO and UNAIDS announced that circumcision should “be part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package.”
This proposal was because results from three medical trials of over 10,000 men in Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa, proved that circumcision could significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection. This could potentially save three million lives over the next two decades in Africa alone.
Female Circumcision versus female genital mutilation
You’d be surprised to learn that female circumcision exists in Islam. Female genital mutilation, does not. Yes, there is a difference.
Khitan, in Arabic ختان, is the word for male and female circumcision. Neither is obligatory in Islam and the ultimate purpose is personal purification.
There are Muslims who believe female circumcision is required and others who say it is not allowed. In the Islamic texts of law, there is not enough evidence supporting either position. The Quran, however, does not condemn female circumcision as long as it does not compromise women’s health.
Circumcision in women involves removing only a tiny part of the hood (‘de-hooding’ or ‘unhooding’) that covers the clitoris – a fleshy protrusion that is the female sexual organ.
This is known as Type 1 circumcision according to WHO and is very similar to male circumcision. It is typically performed on girls a few days old, although, like male circumcision, there is no timeframe or age limit.
This is the only form of legitimate circumcision allowed in Islamic law and its goal is to enhance sexuality during intercourse, as well as improve hygiene. Countries like Malaysia that banned circumcision have taken steps to medicalise and legally stipulate what needs to be removed, namely, the prepuce of the clitoris.
All other procedures, where the labia and clitoris may be removed, are completely forbidden (haram) in Islam for carrying immense bodily harm.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is regrettably more documented and a widespread brutal act amongst African and Asian regions. An unhealthy attitude towards the expression of female sexuality has lead to partial or complete removal of the female sex organs, rendering women with a lower libido, painful sexual experiences and deep psychological trauma.
Islam’s teaching has always protected a woman’s right to sexual enjoyment and health. If female circumcision violates those rights, the practice would be automatically rendered forbidden.
Egyptian Muslim scholar Dr. al-Qaradawi stands by this principle noting that female circumcision leads to a number of physical and psychological problems that make it unnecessary.
As the practice is not common, the majority of Muslim women in the West and Europe, are not circumcised.