Catastrophe between their legs by Metis

In the Egyptian countryside, the dayas, with a handkerchief twisted around their finger, deflower virgins for their husbands. It seems that over there they even cut everything away for the women. What they walk around with between their legs is a true catastrophe. For hygienic reasons, so those pagans claim. Since when does dirt bother vultures? Pfff! … As for me, I was trying to imagine what a woman’s sex would look like when its contours had been butchered (The Almond by Nedjma).

There is no excess in male circumcision. However, with female “circumcision” the types are several. A female child can have her clitoral prepuce trimmed or have her entire labia cut off and sewn up. I have a problem with the term “female circumcision” – I don’t agree that women/girls can be circumcised.  I treat the word as a misnomer for female genital mutilation and find it offensive especially when used by women. The foreskin over the penis if removed does not damage the organ whereas even the trimming of clitoral prepuce can severely damage the type of sensation in the female genital area because its purpose is to “protect the clitoris.”

In the 1960s FGM was banned in many Western countries including the United States prior to which many parents used to have the clitoral prepuce of their girls removed to discourage masturbation. That is the purpose of FGM – it diminishes sexual urge because exposure of the clitoris makes arousal painful. Factually many women will swear that they don’t know what vaginal orgasm means. For many women orgasm is only achieved through clitoral stimulation. Of course then FGM will keep their libido in check.

History of FGM goes back to ancient Egyptian times. It predates Christianity and Islam. Since these are the two major religions in Africa where FGM is mostly practised, it is unfortunately natural that many families who practice FGM on their girls are either Muslim or Christian. Recently many Muslim women and men have stood up with public interest groups against FGM in Muslim societies but it is hardly enough when according to British sources some 2000 Muslim girls are mutilated each year during the long summer break. That is only in Britain. Worldwide it is believed that as many as 140 million women have been the target of FGM.

On the one hand many people are largely ill-informed about FGM even thinking that FGM makes a woman “tall and beautiful” and on the other hand, some popular scholars, even those who are “Western” like Bilal Phillips, don’t want to ban what they call simple “trimming” because somehow they associate it with Islam. Luckily there are also scholars like Mahmid Ashur who call the practice “disgusting” thus showing the varied opinion on the topic.

According to Lukman Hakim, the ‘FGM’ foundation’s chairman, there are three “benefits” to circumcising girls:

  1. “One, it will stabilize her libido.”
  2. “Two, it will make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband.”
  3. “And three, it will balance her psychology.”

Although Muslim claim is that Islam is positive about sex, in practice we do not allow Muslim women the freedom to enjoy sex. Many Muslim women associate sex and everything that has anything to do with what lies between their legs as dirty, painful, and the domain of the men. When theory is put into practice we want women’s libido to be “stabilized.” On the contrary, we hardly hear how men’s sexual drive is being checked. A man who wants sex is told to get married quickly to start having sex in a halal manner.

For a Muslim girl who is raised to keep her legs crossed, speak in soft tones, and not allow anyone to see her body, the sudden shock of FGM can have serious effects where she is asked to show her private parts to several women and allow them to touch her, tug at her and snip her. This is besides the inevitable pain and the sight of blood that is very troubling for a child.

Most Muslims who practice FGM refer to the ahadith (hadith in Muslim, Malik’s Muwatta) that mention copulation as an act between “two circumcised parts.” Another hadith popularly quoted in favour of FGM is this  from Sunan Abu Dawood. It is quite possible that early Muslim women were circumcised and practiced it as part of their culture. It is also possible that the Prophet treated it as a cultural practice and hence neither condoned it nor encouraged it unlike male circumcision which was more prevalent. However, there were several practices of early Muslims that we can’t or won’t follow today. FGM should be one of those practices. I am not arguing against the evidence in ahadith for FGM, rather I am saying that even if FGM is part of the Islamic culture, it is not part of Islam the religion and hence can be not only ignored but also rejected.

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24 thoughts on “Catastrophe between their legs by Metis

  1. […] is Metis writing on the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the essay titled “Catastrophe between their legs.” In this short essay I have tried to explain very briefly why I think FGM should be banned by […]

  2. Lat says:

    The Malay community here practices FGM but I’ve not heard cases of severe damage done or cases that have gone awry.All i’m told is that only a very minimum section is cut off.When I questioned them about this,they don’t seem troubled at all and dismiss it as harmless and that is recommended for muslim women.My community does not follow FGM.In fact I don’t think those in India follow it either as I’ve once checked with a relative from there.That’s why it was news to me that Muslim girls are circumcised and I’m lucky that I was not brought up thinking about a catastrophe between my leg.That would’ve been an awful experience! It’s definitely a cultural practice entwined with religion to make for stronger validity for the case.

    • almostclever says:

      Love this article, Metis. I love how you call ahadith “Islamic Culture” and I assume Quran is “Islam the Religion?”

      Great distinction.

      • Metis says:

        Thanks Sarah! I didn’t intentionally make that distinction but it seems possible 🙂

        • almostclever says:

          Oh, then I have to ask what you mean then, when you say “Islamic Culture” versus the religion of Islam?

          • Metis says:

            By Islamic culture I meant things that if you don’t do don’t remove you from the fold of Islam. I think religion of Islam is acknowledgement that God is one and acceptance that Muhammad is a prophet of God. Following the five pillars is also part of that. Islamic culture, I feel, is like shaving a newborn’s head, circumcision, sacrificing animals on Eid Al Adha etc. But it can very well translate as sunnah Vs Quran. You have a point.

            • Great article! I agree with the statement that ahadith is culture and the Quran is religion- There are plenty of things that are mentioned in hadith that were simply common-place during the Prophet’s time due to culture but weren’t religiously mandated. Also, there are a lot of hadiths about what the Prophet personally preferred – for example, one about the Prophet not liking wool because it was itchy to him, does that mean we should tell Muslims in Scotland/Ireland/New Zealand not to wear wool? Just because FGM existed during the time of the Prophet doesn’t mean it’s Islamic, or Islamically required for that matter. Honestly the idea that we have to cite ahadith as reason to abandon this practice is disheartening and frustrating- isn’t it obvious how cruel and sexually repressive this practice is? You’re right when you say it’s nothing like male circumcision- offensive comparison 😦

              • Metis says:

                It is awful and offensive. I get really angry when people think it’s no big deal. I wish people would click on the links and watch the videos. They horrified me 😦

                • Even though I said we shouldn’t have to quote hadith…I just read an essay saying that when asked about FGM, the Prophet said, “Do not wear out and do not mutilate.” Pretty sure FGM fits easily under the mutilation category.

    • Metis says:

      “When I questioned them about this,they don’t seem troubled at all and dismiss it as harmless and that is recommended for muslim women.”

      Who recommended it?? This is what makes me so angry. Even if something did go wrong people will hide it because in their minds it is something that is “recommended.”

      • Lat says:

        This recommendation is presumably to be found in hadith.I think the practice is so entwined with culture that it became part of religion.Not doing it means an abnormility to them.Those who do it here are practicing it in a safer way than as compared to say,Egypt.They don’t do any excess but I find this minimum not necessary even.Why even bother?! I don’t believe in the reasons they justify doing it including keeping the area clean.To quell sexual libido is one reason I was not told about.this cannot be true as the community which practices it,is certainly not living to it’s name as the women do seem sexually active to me.

  3. Amal says:

    This is hard for me to explain properly. In Arabic, when it said “the two circumsised parts” it’s the same as saying “the two Marwas” meaning it’s a pair of similar things, but we say the same name to mean them both because they are a pair, so “two circumsised parts” is not necessarily to mean the circumsised female part, it can just mean the matched pair, because the penis is circumsised and the vagina is its mate, but they are a set, so we call them “two circumsised parts.”
    Sorry that this is so long and I hope someone else can explain this more clearly than me.

    • Metis says:

      Amal thanks so much for bringing up that point! I have read that as well in several places. But then why do Arabic speaking scholars cite these ahadith to claim that FGM is required? That is what’s puzzling. Why would they want women to go through that trauma?

      • Amal says:

        My thought is that in addition to sexism, it’s because scholars have always tried to avoid going against peoples old traditions. Scholars hate to be unpopular so they just go along with anything that doesn’t make their own selves unhappy. Besides female cutting, think of the marriage traditions in south Asia (like the woman’s family giving the man’s family huge gifts). Clearly not a part of Islam, but scholars there make excuses as though it IS part of religion in order to justify cultural tradition so that the people will not begin to dislike them. Just my thought.

  4. Sara says:

    Female circumcision continues to be a social problem in many countries. I recently discovered that the clitoris is also cut in the US and some European countries. So clearly female circumcision is a universal issue, not tied to religion or culture.

    • Metis says:

      That is true, FGM was practised in the USA until 1960s. I mentioned it in the post (“In the 1960s FGM was banned in many Western countries including the United States prior to which many parents used to have the clitoral prepuce of their girls removed to discourage masturbation”). But I don’t know if it still happens there. It is not a Christian or Muslim issue only (since these are the two major religions in Africa) and I hope that if we make enough hue and cry that Muslims begin banning it.

  5. Metis says:

    Moonshineveritas, I have been thinking about the hadith you cited and I feel that there are so many words that are subjective. For example, I know a couple of men who were circumcised in adulthood and after having an intact penis for a number of years even circumcision seemed “mutilation” to them. Now look at a woman who doesn’t even have a penis and someone tries to *circumcise* that! To me that is mutilation but then again someone may argue that it is only slight trimming and not mutilation.

    You can see how strongly I feel about it 🙂

    • People could definitely take it’s ambiguity and twist it to how they want….but if you look at what is actually happening to women vs men? Maaaaaan no way….male circumcision PALES in comparison. I know a few of my guy friends have told me that actually, a non-circumcised penis feels more sexually? I had totally bought into the whole “its for cleanliness reasons” idea until I actually talked to some guys about it; a lot of people are under the impression that an uncircumcised penis is more prone to infection, etc when in reality that’s not correct. So maybe it is a form of mutilation? My problem is when people discuss FGM and Male circumcision as if they’re actually comparable. If circumcising a penis actually does remove a degree of intensity for sexual pleasure, it is in no way similar to what happens with FGM: sex doesn’t “lessen” in intensity for women, it becomes painful, and usually removes sexual pleasure all together- many women die from the procedure! So, all things considered, if someone compares FGM and male circumcision, FGM is most definitely mutilation! Ask these people if they’d like their penis’ trimmed completely OFF- THAT might be comparable. riiidiculous.

  6. susanne430 says:

    Great post and comments. I remember Reza Aslan mentioning many many many of ahadith were things culturally popular or practiced and they got “scientifically” accepted as something Muhammad wanted done despite that not being the case at all (in his opinion.)

    Were Arabs circumcised prior to Islam? I wonder if Muhammad got this practice from knowing Jews in the region.

    • Metis says:

      Circumcision spread from Egypt and Heathen Arabs were circumcised at birth so the Prophet was circumcised as a baby. I can’t recall the source but I read somewhere (maybe it was in Ibn Ishaq) that he was seven days old when he was circumcised.

  7. Becky says:

    This is a topic I’m very passionate about, and which makes me really angry, because in my opinion FGM has NOTHING to do with religion (Islam, Christianity or otherwise). Thank you for writing such a great and thought-provoking post on the topic.

  8. sana says:

    whether religious or whatever reasons, that is not only unnecessary but so so painful ,. how cruel:(

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