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Female Genital Mutilation: Humiliation and Violation of Women’s Rights

Written by Ahlam Akram
One obvious purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM) is to minimise a woman’s sexual appetite and deter her from promiscuity. Although FGM is most commonly practised in Africa, we cannot deny the strong link it has with some of the Muslim communities there.

One can refer to the legendary myth from the time of the Prophet Abraham that presents one of its origins. When Abraham’s Jewish wife Sarah realised that it was getting late for her to provide him with an heir, she arranged for him to marry her Egyptian maid Hagar, who soon fell pregnant.

Even though it was Sarah’s choice, jealousy took over when she found out that she was pregnant too. And as each of them gave birth to a boy, without mercy Sarah urged Abraham to get rid of his new wife and her son Ismail. (We know from the Quran that Abraham then accompanied Hagar far away and left her in Mecca in the Arabian desert without water, food and shelter).

The rest of the tale we learned from school and became legend: that Hagar’s running between Safa and Marwa, in total fear about her son in the desert, became a part of the Hajj practice before and after Islam, as the sacred water of Zamzam sprung up when the little baby Ismail kept digging the ground with his tiny hands.

There is also a contrasting story in some of the heritage books written 300 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, which state that this same well was in fact dug up by his first grandfather Abdul Mutaleb, when an order came to him in sleep from heaven to give water to the tribes coming to Mecca for pilgrimage and trade in those days.

What is not taught – or more popularly known – however is the second part of the myth that can be found in the writings of Al Tabari, one of Islam’s most renowned scholars. He states that Sarah got so jealous and angry of Hajar that she swore to put an end to Abraham’s love for her and wanted to mutilate her in one way or other.

In her deliberations how to do that, Sarah first thought of cutting Hager’s nose but then changed her mind to cut her ear. But in the end, she finally decided it was best is to mutilate her genital so that Abraham wouldn’t find Hagar sexy to sleep with anymore. And so, she cut her clitoris.

The myth continues that after being cut, Hagar covered herself with a black Abaya to wipe off the traces of blood in the sand in an attempt to cover the humiliation. It is confirmed that Sarah’s action was out of blind jealousy and a deliberate act to put off the husband from her competitor sexually.

The story proves that FGM is a deliberate act of mutilation to put the male partner off the woman. Although this is never mentioned in the Quran, there is a very unsupported Hadith by the Prophet Mohammed that the propagators for political Islam today are using to make a false connection between Islamic identity and FMG.

This was heard a few months ago, when in front of 15,000 Tunisians, the Salafist Muslim propagator Wagdi Ghunaim emphasised in his speech that as Jihad for men is a part of their Muslim identity, FGM for women is part of an honorary privilege to their being Muslim.

On a personal level, this writer wonders which Jihad Ghunaim is calling for? Is it to urge men to use their power and insist on the mutilation of women? Or, is it a jihad against the kafer world around him and to enable Muslim men as per the old days to get more slaves and concubines?

In the twenty first century, some Islamist are calling for such a jihad; because in their interpretation, a man’s sexual appetite requires more than one woman for overall satisfaction and they can claim religious permission to have sex with slaves and concubines under the term of “ma malakat aimanukum’’.

If FGM is an obligation (fard in Arabic) from God as they claim, why isn’t it mentioned in any verses in the Quran? Besides, there is no evidence that it existed during the Jahilia period before Islam.

The offered justification is based on a weak hadith that states: Once the Prophet was walking in Medina when he saw a woman called Om Atayeh about to cut someone. He apparently said to her: “Om Ateyah, don’t cut too much because it is nicer to look at and better to please the man.”

Based on this – and there is no consensus from the scholars – some Islamists are insisting that whilst male circumcision is obligatory (sunna in Arabic), female circumcision is honorary (makrama in Arabic). But the question is: If this is a practice to honour women, why is it that not one of the Prophet’s wives and not one of his daughters ever circumcised?

The information above is all correct to this author’s knowledge and can be found and confirmed in the old Islamic tradition books. But the big concern is how and why some of today’s religious scholars want to revive FGM in the twenty first century and urging to implement a truly disgusting practice.

Indeed, FGM is something that effectively kills the humanity of women and society as a whole and it unfairly denies the female a right to sexual pleasure. Further, the dilemma is why the general society is not standing up to these men whose aim is to besiege our freedom of thinking and refuse to accept a more humane culture towards women.

We need a culture that is not afraid of the past and that dares to independently and collectively analyse and criticize it; and, we need a society that should not be afraid to challenge those who want to brain wash the rest of us by carrying on the practice of FGM. In fact, it is time now to state that this is a barbaric practice that must immediately be stopped and criminalised without hesitation.