Nothing cut-and-dried about female circumcision

Baby

When I was six months old, the old folk in my family invited a ‘mak bidan’ to slit my clitoral hood. I was circumcised and wasn’t even aware of it.

When I was nine years old, I witnessed my brother’s circumcision and began asking questions. That was when I found out that Muslim girls were circumcised too, just like the boys.

“Cutting the foreskin will keep his privates clean. It’s a hygienic practice,” an adult explained to me.

“Does that mean I am now clean too?” I asked.

“No, silly! Muslim girls are cut to make sure they don’t grow up ‘wild’,” I nodded, not understanding the reply.

Someone in the family later explained to me that a female’s clitoral hood when rubbed against her inner garments could bring about sensual feelings that could lead to wild behaviour.

“Why then did God create us with ‘that thing’ if feeling ‘good’ is wrong?” I asked.

No one answered.

Years passed and soon I had a baby girl of my own at age twenty. Young and naïve, I left it to the old folk in the family to take care of the common practices. That was when I personally witnessed a female circumcision.

We took my two-month-old baby girl to a private clinic in Gelugor, Penang. When my daughter’s name was called, my (ex) husband and I went into the treatment room with my baby girl. I was asked to hold her to keep her calm while her dad was asked to hold her legs spread apart, pinning her down so she didn’t move much. The doctor then pulled away the labia and used a surgical blade to slit the clitoral hood. I saw a few drops of blood emerging followed by my baby girl’s cry of pain.

There were no health complications following the circumcision, yet it bugged me that I had consented to something I had no knowledge about. In the days that followed, every elderly person I met assured me that this was an Islamic practice obligatory for all Muslim women.

“It lowers the sex drive, and protects young girls from committing sin,” they said. “All of us went through it – you, your mom, your grandmother, your aunties, your cousins, everyone!”

But traditions aren’t religious callings. A tradition followed for generations cannot turn it into one of God’s commandments. There is no verse in the Quran which promotes female circumcision. Even University Al-Azhar – Sunni Islam’s most prestigious institution and the centre of Islamic learning which studies the Quran and Islamic law in detail, outlawed the practice of female circumcision in 2007. This was followed by the United Nations which declared five years later that female circumcision was a practice that violates a human being’s rights.

But all this I learned way too late. Like me, my daughter has been cut.

Unlike male circumcision which is celebrated with a kenduri, female circumcision takes place in private. In Malaysia, slitting a female baby’s clitoral hood between the age of 40 days to eleven months is still widely practiced. Even the National Fatwa Council and Ministry of Health endorses it. The Fatwa Council believes female circumcision is obligatory for all Muslim women while MOH allows hospitals and clinics to freely conduct the procedure.

My niece, whom I called yesterday to check on her baby girl, confirmed that her daughter was circumcised a few months back. So was her brother’s daughter and every Muslim baby girl she knew.

The whole world can label female circumcision a taboo practice. However, for many Malaysian Muslims, it is taboo not to have a circumcision done. Many still believe female circumcision lends to the identity of being Muslim.

A non-Muslim male friend I spoke to about the subject was shocked, curious and intrigued.

“OMG, you were cut? How do you feel? I mean do you feel less of a woman?” asked my friend.

I laughed, “Female circumcision is different from genital mutilation. It only involves a slit compared to having the whole thing chopped off. So no, I don’t feel any less of a woman. I don’t even think it works in controlling sexual urges among female Muslims.”

“Talking from experience, eh?” he chuckled.

“Well, lemme put it this way – if circumcision can reduce a female’s sexual drive, why do you think we have so many cases of sexually active and pregnant Muslim teenage girls roaming about?” I pointed out.

The thing is, if female circumcision does nothing in “protecting Muslim females from their own sexuality” as it was intended to, why do we continue to practise it?

Perhaps the more important question, is why the need to control a women’s sexuality? I mean if it is our way to protect ourselves from committing sin, why don’t we also chop off our arms to prevent us from committing theft or cut off our tongues to prevent ourselves from lying?

God created us the way we are for a reason. If God intended females to have a lower sexual drive, He would have created us without a clitoris.

Living is not about safeguarding ourselves from the challenges life presents us with. Living is about accepting, managing and controlling desires and lustful urges. And for those with a strong will who can protect themselves from such sinful acts, heaven awaits. That is God’s promise to us, is it not?

Why is this simple concept too difficult for our Muslim brothers and sisters to grasp?

To Muslim parents, I urge you not to put your baby girls under the blade. Raise your girls well so they are strong enough to protect themselves from sinful acts. Have some faith in your child. Have some faith in yourself as a parent.

Remember, you have the option NOT to have your daughters circumcised.