FGM: Violation of Fulfillment in Marriage
By Zahrah Awaleh**
Nov. 23, 2005
Male circumcision is the cutting of the foreskin on the penis to
enhance cleanliness (taharah). Female circumcision involves the
cutting of part of the clitoris. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is
the partial or total elimination of the external female genitalia for
cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. FGM is not equivalent to male
circumcision, as many people have misconceived.
FGM has no therapeutic benefits. Instead it has long-term and
short-term health consequences that have damaged the lives of some
100140 million girls and women in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle
East, Asia, and increasingly among the communities of the United
States, Europe, and Australasia ( WHO Female Genital Mutilation Fact
Sheet). FGM is a violation of the bodily integrity and dignity of
women and girls. In the short term, one can suffer violent pain,
post-operative shock and clitoral hemorrhage. These two outcomes can
lead to death. The long-term consequences include problems with
menstruation, urinary and kidney infections, sexual frigidity, and
psychological problems regarding body image.
FGM is prohibited in the United Kingdom by the 2003 FGM Act (Local
Authority Social Services Letter ). Any UK national or permanent
resident caught practicing FGM in the United Kingdom or abroad, or
being an accomplice to it, is liable fine or imprisonment for up to 12
years, or both, in the United Kingdom. This is irrespective of whether
the other countries have laws against FGM or not. There are many
African countries that have passed laws against FGM, including Kenya,
Ghana, Togo, and the Ivory Coast. Thus anyone who practices or aids
someone in doing so in these countries could face imprisonment, fines
What Muslims and Islam Say About FGM
The typical reasons given by Sunni Muslims (the majority of Muslims
are Sunni) for the practice of FGM are
To protect chastity/virginity
To reduce sexual desire
To enhance fertility and childbirth
However, FGM doesn't guarantee any of these. Rather, FGM Type 3, which
involves closing over the urethral and vaginal openings with the
gutted labia minora/majora, leaves a hole that traps traces of urine
and menstrual blood. This can cause infections in the woman or girl
and complicate childbirth if the individual is not opened in time to
prevent this from happening. No form of FGM has been proven to reduce
sexual desire or promiscuity, but FGM may hinder sexual intercourse,
having a devastating effect on women in later life when they marry.
Men and women are said to originate from one soul, nafsun wahida
(An-Nisaa' 4:1), making them equal before God in Islam. Men are said
to be protectors, qawwamun (An-Nisaa' 4:34), of women. And God has
ordered both men and women to be modest in their gaze and guard their
chastity. These verses prove that FGM in Muslim communities is
unnecessary, and it is God-consciousness (taqwa) that keeps Muslim men
and women from illegal sexual intercourse or indecent thoughts, and
not the absence of any part of their genitalia.
The well-known Canadian-Egyptian Islamic scholar Dr. Jamal Badawi used
the term "Female Circumcision" in his work Gender Equity in Islam,
Appendix: Is Female Circumcision Required (1995). He refers to the
following types of FGM:
1. Type I: Removal of the hood (prepuce) of the clitoris only.
2. Type II: Removal of the entire clitoris (cliterodectomy) along with
part of the labia minora, which is sutured together leaving an opening.
3. Type III: Removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and medial
part of the labia majora, stitching both sides of the vulva together
leaving a small opening. This is known as "Pharonic Procedure."
Dr. Badawi clearly states that the second and the third procedures
were never mandated, encouraged or even consented to by the Prophet
(peace and blessings be upon him). Furthermore he condemns Types II
and III as mutilation. He says nothing justifies genital mutilation.
In fact, no mutilation is allowed by Islam, even on the battlefield.
It is unjustifiable, brutal, inhumane, and it violates Islam. Dr.
Badawi continues that female circumcision is not in the Qur'an and no
hadith requires it, but some appear to accept it. "Circumcision is a
commendable act for men (sunnah) and is an honorable thing (makrumah)
for women" (Ash-Shawkani, Vol 1. p. 139). Badawi explains the hadith
term makrumah has no religious obligation, and that the hadith is weak
according to scholars of Hadith. Badawi cites the following hadith as
being more authentic: Umm Atiyyah Al-Ansariyyah reported: "A woman
used to perform circumcision in Madinah. The Prophet (peace and
blessings be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is
better for a woman and more desirable for a husband" (Dawud 41:5251);
or Cut off only the foreskin [outer fold of the skin over the
clitoris, the prepuce], but do not cut off deeply [the clitoris
itself], for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more
favorable with the husband" (At-Tabarani, Vol. 2, Hadith 722).
If cutting the prepuce of the clitoris is allowed in Islam, according
to this hadith, it is meant to enhance sexual pleasure, not curtail
it! This is clear from the wording "for this is brighter for the face
(of the girl) and more favorable with the husband"meaning both she
and her husband will derive pleasure from the intimacy.
Therefore, female circumcision in this case stands in direct
contradiction to the arguments for it by its proponents, as it does
not control by reducing female sexual appetites; rather it increases them!
For those that argue that Type I is sunnah, Badawi argues that the
Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) only used "sunnah" while
referring to male circumcision; female circumcision is not obligatory.
In addition, Badawi comments on the public welfare, al-masalih
al-mursala, as a principle in Islamic jurisprudence that is used by
all Sunni schools. It advocates the general principle of no hardship;
a sub-clause to it is sadd adh-dharai, blocking the ways to evil. This
involves preventing the spread of evil practices, even if they are
halal in theory but become haram in practice.
The Islamic Right to Sexual Fulfillment in Marriage
The Qur'an says:
[And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves
that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and
compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who
reflect.] (Ar-Rum 30:21)
The above verse describes the ideal marital relationship for Muslims,
and it is the right of every Muslim to find a mate and achieve all the
benefits that come with that. FGM, however, does not allow a woman to
enjoy sexual intercourse fully because of
Lack of sensation, due to not having a full and healthy clitoris and
other external genitalia
Flashbacks of FGM operation on her wedding night
Problems relating to the infibulations when in many cases the husband
opens her with an object on the wedding night and thereafter he can
penetrate more easily
Other problems trying to sexually relate to her husband because of the
negative attitude towards her sexuality
Not understanding her Islamic right to sexual enjoyment
[Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you
difficulty.] (Al-Baqarah 2:185)
Islam came to bring glad tidings, not bad news, and enlighten the
ignorant, not keep them in the darkness. Islam does not allow its
followers to harm themselves intentionally, and it vehemently protects
the rights of women and children, who are among the weakest of the
groups in every society. "And the best among you are those who are
best to their women" (At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Hibban).
All that we can conclude from the above is that all forms of female
circumcision or FGM are not Islamic; rather they are harmful and
require a total ban in order to safeguard the health and well-being of
all Muslim women throughout the world for all time.
Badawi, Jamal. Gender Equity in Islam.
Ash-Shawkani. Nayl al-Awtar. Beirut: Dar al-Jeel, 1973.
Al-Tabarani. Quoted in Al-Albani, Muhammed N. Silsilat al-Ahadith
asSahiihah. Beirut: Al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983. Vol 2 Hadith Nos: 722,
** Zahrah Awaleh is a mother of two who works part-time for a Somali
women's refugee group in West London. She is working on an anti-FGM
leaflet for use with Muslim practicing communities, primarily in the
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