KUALA LUMPUR: Female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision, is not part of Islamic teachings despite being widely practised by a large section of Muslims in this country, say two Muslim medical experts.
“There is not a single verse in the Quran or anything from the collections of hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that makes female circumcision a requirement,” said Farouk Musa, a cardiothoracic surgeon and senior medical lecturer at Monash University in Petaling Jaya.
Farouk, who heads Muslim youth empowerment group Islamic Renaissance Front, said hadiths claiming that the practice was to preserve chastity and honour of women were not considered authentic.
FGM involves the removal of parts of the female genitalia and is controversial, with opponents saying it was rooted in gender inequality.
In Malaysia, FGM is widely practised among the Malays, who are predominantly Muslims subscribing to the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence.
Islamic authorities in this country have in the past recommended FGM, despite the practice being frowned upon in other parts of the Muslim world.
In 2009, the National Fatwa Council’s Consultative Committee ruled that female circumcision was obligatory, but could be dispensed with if there was harm in the procedure.
That stand contrasted with the view taken by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely regarded as an authority of Islamic jurisprudence among contemporary Sunni Muslims.
The Qatar-based scholar had in 2009 decreed that FGM was not sanctioned by Islam and must be abolished.
A common argument by those who advocate FGM is that it promotes sexual virtue in women by curtailing their sexual desires.
But Harlina Siraj, associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, dismissed such a view as insulting to women.
“It is very insulting,” she said. “According to the sirah (life story) of the Prophet, he never carried out circumcision on his daughters.
“As medical practitioners, we only carry out something with medical and scientific basis,” she said. “Unlike male circumcision, there has not been any finding to show that FGM is beneficial. In fact, the procedure is risky.”
According to Farouk, FGM is an Arab cultural practice, as stated by contemporary Egyptian Islamic scholar Mohammad Salim Al-Awa
He said it was not the practice of Prophet Muhammad and therefore not part of Islamic teachings.
Farouk said such a practice stemmed from a patriarchal interpretation of culture and religion.
Several Muslim countries have recently taken steps to eliminate FGM, and these included Egypt and Indonesia, which have strengthened laws prohibiting the practice and launched public campaigns against it.
In 2006, Jakarta’s move to outlaw FGM was resisted by some Islamic scholars, including the hardline Indonesian Ulama Council.
Jakarta has since renewed the campaign against FGM by cooperating with Islamic organisations and women’s groups to increase public awareness of its harmful consequences.
Last month, Egyptian lawmakers passed stiffer punishments against those who carry out FGM.
Egypt, where nine in 10 women aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, has banned the practice.
FGM is also rampant among African Christians, and is considered normal in countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
According to Farouk, compared to how it is done in other countries, FGM as carried out in Malaysia does not involve too much mutilation.
“But it is best not to do it,” he said.
“What right do we have? There is nothing good, only harm, because of the physical risks such as infection and psychological effects on the girl.
“I urge the muftis to revisit their fatwa by taking into account the views of Qaradawi and Al-Awa,” he added.