FGM can be perceived as a religious practice

FGM can be perceived as a religious practice by the communities who practice it

Studies show that many individuals who practice FGM perceive it as a religious obligation. Thus, even if the practice is not religious in terms of formal obligation in the texts, it is still perceived as a religious practice by concerned groups. While FGM is not religious in theory it can be lived as such in practice. FGM is religious for individuals who practice it.. How can this be explained?

  • FGM is frequently (and wrongly) associated with sexual purity of women: control of their sexual desire, virginity before marriage and fidelity within marriage … Since purity is highly valued in religious texts and ideologies, FGM can be perceived as a way to comply to religious requirements of morality and chastity. (4)
  • Similarly, marriage is an important aspect of monotheist religions’ doctrines. Because FGM is associated with the idea of marriageability for women, it may also appear as a way to observe the path outlined by the religious norms.
  • Regarding the association made between FGM and Islam more specifically, it has been noted (4) that the use of Islamic terms such as « sunnah » to name the practice can reinforce the misconception of FGM as a requirement of Islam. Moreover,the word « khitaan » (“circumcision” in Arab) is understood by some asdescribing both male circumcision and female genital mutilation, while others use it only when referring to male circumcision. Finally, FGM is also wrongly associated with the idea of « cleanliness », a necessary state to perform tohara (ablution ritual before the prayer) (4).
  • According to Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, if female genital mutilation can be lived as a religious practice, it is most importantly because the practice contributes to the creation of a Muslim collective identity, more than individual. In other words, the practice is a sign of belonging to the community and helps reinforce the cohesion of the society. The collective meaning of FGM thus prevails on the sacred aspect of the practice, only secondary here. (6)

In Guinea for example, 64% of women believe that the first interest of practicing FGM is social acceptability, while only 32% first evoke the respect of a religious obligation (1).

« Excision (…) is more a practice of Muslims than a practice of Islam. » Abdelwahab Bouhdiba (6)