Summary of the discussion on religion

There were some very interesting contributions to the debate on Religion. We are sharing a – not exhaustive – summary here.

A thematic note was disseminated, available here.

To support the debate, we could count on the participation of two experts of this issue:  

The members were invited to share their experiences and knowledge with the Community of Practice, based on these questions:

  • Is religion used as a justification to perform FGM in your country?
  • What are the official positions of religious leaders regarding FGM?
  • What role are religious figures playing in your country?
  • Which prominent religious leaders take a stand against FGM?
  • How can we better integrate them in the fight against the practice?

Experiences shared by the members

Somalia: Religion is used to justify the practice (as well as in Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia) and the majority of religious leaders argue that FGM is justified by Islam. Among the minority of Somali scholars dissociating FGM from Islam, very few dare say it publicly. Which strategy? Few are aware of the real implications of FGM. It is therefore necessary to explain to religious leaders the consequences of FGM, since Islam prohibits cutting organs for non-medical reasons; Religious scholars must meet each other (diaspora, communities who don’t practice excision…); Highlight religious leaders who have dared publicly display their position to become a reference group, and to encourage more scholars to express their position openly.

Burkina Faso: Religion is not used to justify the practice of FGM, which is practiced in all religions. Some religious leaders are members of the National Committee against FGM, through which they expressed their support for the abandonment of FGM.

Sudan: Programs for the abandonment of FGM in the religious sphere must respect certain objectives: correction of the false concepts linking FGM to religion and dissemination of a religious conscience confirming the illegitimacy of FGM; Strengthening community participation and the role of community leaders and Dawa disseminators (dissemination of Islam) to mobilize communities and change behaviors.

Somaliland (cf ref (9)): The adoption of a policy of abandonment of FGM (started in 2009) is difficult because of the distortions between the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the latter refusing to prohibit type I FGM (« Sunna »). According to a study (ref 9), this view is reflected in the community, since 80% of men and 63% of women are in favor of legislation prohibiting all types except « Sunna », while less than 10% are in favor of the prohibition of all types. Moreover the majority of religious leaders (79%) classify the type III of FGM as « not required » by Islamic law, and 87% consider the « Sunna » type as « honorable » => note that there is the same problem among Kenyan Somalis who categorize FGM into two types: type III of FGM which is considered non-Islamic, and type « Sunna » that cannot be opposed.

  • In awareness-raising actions, it is better to use other terms than « Sunna » because the more we call it « Sunna », the more we legitimize it as an Islamic practice. Example of other terms: « fircooni » (Pharaonic) and « Fiid-jar » (cut the clitoral hood = « sunna »).

Sénégal: The Islam and Population Network brings together religious leaders who raise awareness on the fight against FGM through several strategies: Elaboration of position papers and sermons ; training of Imams and religious leaders in the 14 regions of the country ; TV and radio programs with different profiles (doctors, sociologists and religious), dissemination of videos on social networks, visits to share experiences, organization of talks with women. It should be noted that sometimes religious leaders cannot be as open: they sometimes receive death threats (for example in Mali).

Information shared for Islam

It should be noted that these are the arguments put forward by members who sometimes disagreed on certain points (for example, differences in the way members perceived male circumcision and its links to FGM in the scripts).

Arguments against an alleged religious obligation in Islam:

Proponents of FGM use a common hadith to justify the practice in the name of religion, according to which circumcision is a « Sunna » (optional practice) for men and a « Makrumah » (an act of valor/honor) for women. The authenticity of this hadith has been contested, so it cannot be used to justify this practice in the name of Islam. Moreover, the meaning of this hadith is not what the proponents of excision given to it. The meaning is not to cut women. This means that circumcision is an optional practice for men and an honor for women to be married to a circumcised man. Even male circumcision is not obligatory in Islam, it is a Sunnah.

Another argument used is that if excision had the same value as male circumcision, the Prophet would have excised his daughters, his wives and his little girls just as he had circumcised his boys. Yet, there is no evidence of cut women in the house of the Prophet. The two acts therefore don’t have the same value.

It is necessary to pay attention to the hadiths mentioned by certain people to justify the excision: those coming from men born hundreds of years after the death of the Prophet with no legitimacy; no evidence of these conversations and the importance of these people in their day; translations from Arabic to other languages may result in loss of meaning and misunderstanding.

Islam prohibits any act likely to hurt the physical integrity of a person. It is shown that this practice is harmful. MGF must be abandoned.

Religious justification of excision:

Members emphasized that Islam is practiced in thousands of different ways in the world: there are different schools of thought (Malikism, Ismailism, Ibadism, Shafeism, etc.):

  • Within the Shafi school, it is common to consider excision as a religious obligation (cf ref (2)), and this school is far from being marginal: it is present in Indonesia and Malaysia, among the Malays of other countries (Singapore, Sri Lanka, Brunei), dominant in the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Iran, and mainly in Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. In these regions, FGM is strongly justified by religion (cf ref (5)) (sometimes even from government and political parties). According to a survey, 95% of Indonesians and Malaysians say religion is their main motivation to practice FGM.
  • Other groups justify FGM in the name of religion, such as the Mufti of Oman (Ibadism), the Dawoodi Bohras in India and the Mufti of Dagestan (Sufi)

information shared for the Christian religion

Proponents of FGM sometimes use Genesis 17: 10-14 to justify the practice. In this text, God ordered to Abraham to circumcise every child in his household. Except he never mentioned women (cf ref (3)).

Some Christians explain that circumcision is biblical because it is present in the Bible. A professor of theology refuted this: the Bible doesn’t require women to be circumcised (cf ref (7)).

what can be done ?

Members stressed that the involvement of religious leaders as being fundamental, especially through the development of fatwas to raise awareness of the fact that a practice that harms the health of girls and women and that is not mandatory in the Qur’an should not be practiced. When engaging with them the question is not the veracity or not of the hadiths, but rather « how can we make opinion leaders who consider FGM to be a good practice admit other religious “truths” on the issue”?

A tandem doctor / religious leaders would be interesting to set up (example in Mali where the religious authorities have worked with doctors), but the problem is that « those who defend the practice have answers to everything »: whether in the religious field (pushing for medicalization to reduce health consequences), or in the medical field (resistance of some doctors to acknowledge health consequences of the practice, in Mauritania).

Care must be taken to the terms used in sensitization: confusion between the Arabic terms of male circumcision and female cutting.

Emphasize on the fact that FGM can affect their health or their lives so it is crucial to stop it.

One members argued that hinders the achievement of successful results is « the fact that in Muslim societies where this practice is present, FGM is a women’s issue, » and they don’t take part in the Friday prayer where preaching against FGM are disseminated, so they don’t benefit from the messages in relation to Islam’s position towards FGM.

In addition, one should always keep in mind that the fundamental cause of FGM is inequality between women and men => it is therefore necessary to transform attitudes by « adopting a holistic approach that includes all stakeholders « (religious, health workers, decision makers, sociologists, psychologists, opinion leaders, women’s groups, watch committees …) and a fluid coordination mechanism for better monitoring.

Moreover, it is important to strengthen civil society outside of religion by encouraging freedom of thought and debate, to make people understand that religion can be debated.

Conclusion

  • Thus, members agreed that FGM has no religious justification, neither in Islam nor in Christianity.
  • Nevertheless, one member stressed the importance of putting this debate in perspective because “by saying « FGM is not religious » the argument implies that if it WERE religious then it would be morally and legally permissible” (see ref (8)). Instead, we must argue that “EVEN IF cutting a child’s genitals is an explicitly religious practice, this does not automatically make it morally or legally permissible.”

shared References

(1) Video – « Islam does not support FGMC » : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27ENTiMkCu4

(2) Shafi School Religious Thinking: http://shafiifiqh.com/question-details.aspx?qstID=173

(3) Reference within Christianize: Exode 4:25, Josué 5: 7, Actes: 7: 8, Romains 2:28, Romains 4:11, 1 Corinthiens 6:18

(4) Qur’an, Hadith and Scholars: Female Genital Mutilation: https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Qur%27an,_Hadith_and_Scholars:Female_Genital_Mutilation

(5) Discussion on the link between FGM and religion in the Middle East and Asia region, « Religion or culture? »: http://www.stopfgmmideast.org/background/islam-or-culture/

(6) List of Fatwas against FGM: http://www.stopfgmmideast.org/fatwas-against-fgm/

(7) Press article, Adie Vanessa Offiong, « Stories of Nigerian women mutilated in secret » (Christian perspective), February 2018: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/stories-of-nigerian-women-mutilated-in-secret.html

(8) Brian D. Earp, Jennifer Hendry, Michael Thomson, « Reason and paradox in medical and family law: shaping children’s bodies », November 2017: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316505694_Reason_and_paradox_in_medical_and_family_law_shaping_children’s_bodies

(9) Baseline Research Report, Katy Newell-Jones, « Empowering communities to collectively abandon FGM/C in Somaliland », January-May 2016: https://www.28toomany.org/static/media/uploads/Country%20Research%20and%20Resources/Somalia/somaliland_action_aid_fgm_baseline_report_(jan_2016).pdf

(10) Position Paper of the Islam and Population Network (Nigeria) (11) Dr. Mohamed Salim Al-Awwa, « L’Excision des filles au regard de l’Islam »: http://www.npwj.org/GHR/L%E2%80%99Excision-des-filles-au-regard-de-lIslam.html

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