Monday, May 7, 2012


Just had a conversation with some people who insisted that Female Genital Mutilation must be described as an Islamic practice. So I did some research to find out.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, There is only circumstantial evidence that it is practiced in secret in parts of western Iran. The Cultural Consul of the Islamic Republic of Iran said Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not a fundamental practice in Islam and that women should not be forced to undergo it. There is a group that actively works against FGM in Iran. However, The official government position is that there isn't any, that this is something that only happens in Africa and is not a true part of Islam. This is probably delusional, like the claim that there is no homosexuality in Iran. But people suffering from such delusions can't be accused of actively promoting FGM as part of Islamic teaching.

This is a folk practice that even the most conservative of the top clerics in Iran have rejected. I also found an article about the Iranian Embassy actively campaigning against the practice in Sierra Leone by denouncing it as Anti-Islamic. In Egypt, there are many clerics who argue that FGM is required by Islam. However the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, the highest religious authority in Egypt, issued a statement that FGM had no basis in core Islamic law, and this enabled the government to outlaw it entirely. In Mauritania, where almost all the girls in minority communities undergo FGM, 34 Islamic scholars signed a fatwa in January 2010 banning the practice.

In the Arab pennisula, the practice is done primarily by Kurds and Bedouins. As these people have wandered throughout the Arab world, there many countries where the practice occurs, but usually the majority Islamic cultures condemn it as something done by these ignorant tribal peoples. The Kurdish state in Iraq has banned FGM, and several Kurdish clerics have protested this law as unIslamic. But once again, the establishment position is that it is not a proper Islamic practice.

The Muslims did not bring FGM to Indonesia. It was already there, as a practice in Pagan Micronesia. It's also practiced by Australian Aborigines. According to a report prepared by the US state department, the practice in Indonesia is largely symbolic, involving a very light pinprick that heals without leaving permanent damage. In some cases, it is even performed symbolically on a plant stalk. I don't like the symbolic implications of such an act, but it's clearly misleading to identify the symbolic act with the barbarism of real FGM.

It appears that the Clerics who defended the practice are the Islamic analog to redneck backwoods preachers. Those on the top of the Islamic hierarchies are at worst neutral, and frequently openly condemn the practice. This is true not only of Muslim Liberals but of even the most conservative fundamentalists. The only reason that more Muslims are involved in the practice today is that Islam spread into areas where it was already there, and either tolerated the practice or were unsuccessful at stamping it out. Those few FGM countries that are majority Christian or Animist had no more success. Ethiopia is over 90% Christian, and the practice is as common there as in Egypt.

These distinctions are important because there are people like Geert Wilders and Sam Harris who claim that it is impossible to build a humane modern religion out of Islamic teachings. There are also Muslim extremists who believe this, and think it's a good thing. The best way to fight FGM is to do what many Muslim clerics do--separate the two by using texts to show that the practice is unIslamic, regardless of how many people do it who call themselves Muslims.

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