e4.3 Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women). For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce.(Ar. Bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.) – Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law
As the population of immigrants to the United States increases from countries where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced, so does the practice of cutting. This is the finding of a new study published by the New York-based non-profit organization, Sanctuary for Families, which specializes in gender-based violence.
The study, "Female Genital Mutilation in the United States: Protecting Girls and Women in the U.S. From FGM and Vacation Cutting," relied on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and data from the 2000 U.S. census.
Both CDC and the census appear to have arrived at their conclusions by extrapolating from the numbers of immigrants who come from countries documented by the World Health Organization as places where FGM is common, in order to arrive at a number of women and girls in the U.S. deemed "at risk" for FGM, either in the U.S. itself or while on "vacations" to home countries of origin.
Available statistics on the global prevalence of FGM come mostly from African countries, especially Muslim-majority ones, and have been gathered primarily by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
There seems to be a deliberate dearth of FGM statistics from Middle Eastern countries, where the influence of Islamic law (sharia), mosque imams and local traditions that pre-date Islam may all contribute to what is likely a vastly underreported practice. Indeed, as noted by Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer in a Winter 2007 Middle East Quarterly essay, "[m]any Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice is not rooted in religion but rather in culture."
This is exactly what the Sanctuary for Families study does, asserting, "A common misperception about female genital mutilation is that the practice is required by religion, particularly Islam…FGM is not particular to any religious group, and is not prescribed by any faith."
Except that it is. As cited at the beginning of this piece, the Shafi'i shool of Islamic jurisprudence explicitly states that "circumcision is obligatory" for both men and women. Other schools of Islamic jurisprudence, such as the Maliki school, call FGM "praiseworthy (makruma)."
The Maliki school is most prevalent among the 35% or so of the world's Muslims who live in North and West Africa (in addition to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). The Shafi'i school is dominant among Muslims in the African countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and parts of lower Egypt.
Although statistics generally (and perhaps deliberately) are lacking for Muslim populations elsewhere in the Middle East, an important June 2010 Human Rights Watch (HRW) study documented the startling prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Entitled "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing," the report described the traumatic experiences of girls and women and the terrible toll that the mutilation takes on their mental and physical health.
The HRW study is credited with prodding the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to pass the Family Violence Law, which banned FGM and went into effect on August 11, 2011. To its credit, the KRG since then has implemented measures designed to raise awareness of the negative effects of FGM, train judges and issue instructions to the police who are charged with dealing with domestic violence incidents. Nevertheless, progress in stamping out the practice is slow, attesting to the ingrained influence of Islam and cultural practice.
Nor should any of this information be especially surprising, given that all Muslim countries belong to the 57-member-strong Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which in 1990 explicitly rejected the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the Cairo Declaration. According to Articles 24 and 25 of the Cairo Declaration, the only human rights that Muslim-majority OIC members recognize are those granted by sharia.
As if right on cue at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (taking place at UN Headquarters in New York City from March 4-15), the Muslim Brotherhood issued an official statement denouncing a proposed UN declaration entitled "End Violence Against Women."
Their objection? That granting women equal rights with men in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody and sexuality "would lead to complete disintegration of society." "Granting wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment" seems to have struck an especially sensitive nerve with the Brotherhood—as well it might, given that the Qur'an explicitly grants husbands the right to marital rape:
Your wives are as a tilth unto you: so approach your tilth when or how ye will
Yes, the Ikhwan do have a point: Granting women full equality with men would very likely would spell the end of Islamic society. Allowing women to choose their sexual partners (just as men do), to marry and have children with whom they will (just as men do) would surely end Islam as it's been known and practiced for nearly 1400 years.
Significantly, the Brotherhood's condemnatory declaration concluded with a call to Al-Azhar University "to take the lead, condemn this declaration, and state clearly the Islamic viewpoint with regard to all details of this document." This, of course, is in perfect alignment with the new 2012 Egyptian Constitution which states that "The Council of Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars shall be consulted on issued related to Islamic Sharia."
While many Muslim immigrants to the U.S. come for the chance to escape just such abuse and violence as the FGM practices of their homelands, others clearly are bringing the practice with them.
The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) provides guidance on Islamic jurisprudence to Muslims in the U.S. through an in-house group of sharia scholars. On the question of FGM, Dr. Hatem al-Haj offered a fatwa on the topic twice (once in 2006 and repeated again in 2010).
Citing the hadith and touting alleged "health benefits" of FGM as somehow analogous to male circumcision, Dr. al-Haj clearly links the practice to Islamic doctrine (however he seeks to minimize the actual cutting involved). Even though he ultimately advises Muslims in the West where FGM is illegal not to have the procedure done "as long as you are a resident/citizen of the West," he leaves no doubt about where he really stands on the topic: "We should never doubt anything in our religion because of the bad publicity the media creates about it." American Muslims who are sharia-compliant know what he means.
Incredible as it may seem that such a barbaric practice as FGM should exist in the U.S., Congress found it compelling enough in 1996 that it directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop estimates of how many women and girls either have suffered FGM or were at risk for being subjected to it.
The initial report, based on 1990 data, found that some 168,000 women and girls in the U.S. fit that category. The new Sanctuary for Families study, based on 2000 census data and work by the African Women's Health Center (AWHC) at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), found that the numbers of those at risk had risen to 228,000 (a 35% increase).
The Federal Criminal Code (18 U.S.C. § 116 : US Code - Section 116) makes FGM illegal in the U.S., although only some 20 states also criminalize it. As of 2012, however, there had been no prosecutions for FGM under federal law and only one case brought under a state statute.
To ensure that all communities living in the U.S., immigrant and native-born alike, understand and comply with the ban on FGM in this country, educational efforts aimed at the immigrants themselves, health care professionals and local law enforcement must be stepped up.
Equally, effective enforcement is needed to ensure that girls are not sent abroad, on "vacations," to be cut.
FGM is an abusive and brutal practice that has no place in the U.S. or any other civilized society.