Questions

FGM Activists Answers

 Our Answers

What does it look like?

 

 

Why are you so interested in our genitalia, does your curiosity matter more than our mental health? Our answer would be the same as our anti-FGM activist friends. But to specify, there are no perceivable anatomical differences between the genitalia of uncircumcised women and those that have undergone Islamic female circumcision.

Isn’t it like male circumcision?

The only ‘reason’ FGM happens is to control a girl’s sexuality; it can be anything from a small nick in the hood of the clitoris… the partial or total removal of the labia minora… sometimes if they’re sown closed there is a tiny hole that’s left for pee to come out and menstrual blood to come out; it has a lot of implications for childbirth, it makes it very difficult… I’ve witnessed a lot of women die back home giving birth; if you were to compare it to male circumcision that would be like cutting a boy’s dick, half of his dick off; yes I think it’s weird to cut the healthy tissue of young boys, I would never support it but I think to compare the two, to make a point doesn’t help anybody. No. It is far less invasive than male circumcision. Islamic female circumcision only involves a nick on the foreskin whereas male circumcision involves removal of an equivalent of 30-50 square centimeters of foreskin tissue that would have existed on an adult male.

To respond to our activist friends: The Islamic practice of female circumcision is not carried out to curb sexual pleasure. It has a deep spiritual significance. 

Islamic female circumcision has no connection with childbirth.7 8 As only the prepuce of the clitoris is nicked, the birth canal is not touched at all.

Isn’t that a Muslim thing?

Why with the Islamophobia? It’s not written in the Quran, it’s not necessarily endorsed by the Imams; [a survivor speaks about how she was baptised and is Christian]; we believe it started two and a half thousand years ago, so it predates both Islam and Christianity. Whilst we agree that FGM is not a ‘Muslim thing’, Islamic female circumcision, which we do not regard as being FGM, is certainly very much a requirement in Islam, though different denominations within Islam put different emphases on it.  If a practice predates the coming of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that does not necessarily mean it’s not Islamic. Islam traces many of its traditions to the lineage of Prophets that came before the Prophet Muhammad.

Neither male nor female circumcision are mentioned in the Quran, but they are prescribed by the Prophet in the sunnah (Prophetic traditions). A large body of Islamic practices are not explicitly described in the Quran either (including critical elements such as prayer and fasting) but the details are provided in the sunnah. Therefore, it is illogical to reject female circumcision simply because it’s not in the Quran and predates Prophet Muhammad. Like all large religions, variations in practice and belief occur within the larger body of Islamic belief. There is no single authority on all Islamic practice. Many well respected authorities within the Islamic community have affirmed the importance of circumcision for both boys and girls.

So you can’t orgasm?

Asking such a question could definitely trigger huge emotions, it could break a survivor and set her back, so just don’t ask. Asking a circumcised woman this question is not harrowing, though it is undeniably odd. There is absolutely no anatomic reason nor is there verified clinical evidence to believe Islamic female circumcision (WHO Type 1a or 4), which only involves a minor nick to the foreskin, would negatively affect sexual function, as the procedure does not affect the clitoris and other sexually sensitive organs. In fact, clitoral unhooding, in which a substantial part of the foreskin is removed, is routinely carried out as a treatment to cure women who do have difficulty orgasming.3

Your parents must hate you

My family did that because they thought it was the best thing they could do for me at that point in time, no one wants their children to be called names; people are going to think she’s dirty, no one is going to want to marry her because you can’t prove her virginity; many of the mums who are cutting their daughters also were cut, so they feel they have an idea about what is needed; it doesn’t come from a place of hate it comes from a place of weird love and intense pressure; my mother had no role, had no power in stopping me from being cut, but she had the power to empower me to be this woman that I am. The question presupposes that the practice is harmful and destroys sexual pleasure, and so any parent wanting to do that to their child must hate them. The reality is quite the opposite. The practice is harmless and parents do it out of love for their child.

In all societies, there is a balance between informed consent and parental rights. Parents determine what is in the best interests of the child. In the case of female circumcision however, a discriminative approach is the norm, where the right of parents over their child is questioned.

Besides circumcision there are many “interferences” parents make with regards to their child’s body. From vaccinations to piercing ears, parents are hardly expected to ask their child for consent. Arguments for these non-consensual, accepted practices pertain to their proven merit or that they are not harmful, even if on closer scrutiny, some of them may even cause harm. The same argument goes for female circumcision; it is deemed to have religious merit by parents and is not harmful.

 

Why would anyone go along with it?

As if they had a choice; they’re kind of just taken with an aunty, and by the time they come back the practice had been done and no on discusses it; everyone at the age of five is not questioning what their parents are doing; often you’re being forcibly held down and cut, there’s no anaesthetic, you have no agency to resist; I’ve seen people who try to run, they are brought back; your family’s your support system, your stable place, would you want to lose that? No, so you’re going to do what they tell you. We agree with anti-FGM activists that the child has no agency in the matter. But the question really is whether it matters. Islamic circumcision, by virtue of being harmless and having perceived religious benefits, falls into the same category as inoculations and orthodontics. The descriptions offered by Anti FGM Activists do not apply to Islamic female circumcision, though they may well apply to FGM.

You’re betraying our community

Those activists who did start this movement, they’ve had some really horrible backlashes; I found it really hard when Somali girls were very critical, but I kind of understood it because you’re telling their deepest, darkest secret without their permission; all of a sudden they’re seeing females in their community being liberated, having voices, speaking out about something, taking back, owning their sexuality, owning their existence, and that intimidates them. Our concern is merely to educate. Primarily we aim to expose the conflation of female procedures in a manner that makes all procedures equally harmful when they are not ans=d to expose the double standards Western agencies apply to male and female circumcision. We seek to educate societies that this conflation and these double standards victimise the communities that practice  Islamic female circumcision and expose them to Islamophobia. The women of these communities are not trapped, imprisoned, blind, uneducated, desexualised or intimidated. But they are offended that a standard narrative exists to make them appear so.

Why do you talk about it?

I didn’t want to go on living in a world where FGM happened; being a medical student, being on the wards and speaking to doctors and they actually come and tell me they had cases of FGM today, and I’m like it’s happening, it’s real; it helps in that situation if you’re there to say to girls ‘there is life beyond FGM’; this is something we can end in the next decade. We agree with our activist colleagues that any FGM practice that is harmful must be eradicated. But we say that Islamic female circumcision is different: it is a religious rite and is not harmful. By virtue of this, it is not FGM. “By redrawing the line to separate the harmless and atrocious” a solution can be achieved by “focusing on the types that cause long-term harm and permitting the rest, if carried out by medical personnel.”1

Each practice should be referred to by its indigenous name, and research of the harm or otherwise done for each practice separately. In so doing, The WHO will do justice to the various practices and correctly identify the harmful practices that need to be addressed. This position will lead to a nuanced and more useful approach that will target prevention and eradication campaigns where they are really necessary and not victimize and stigmatise innocent communities.