By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
A Detroit doctor Jumana Nagarwala, a U.S. citizen born in Washington, was charged last week with the female genital mutilation (FGM) of young girls age 6-8 in what is believed to be the first case involving a doctor since FGM was made illegal in the US in 1996. In a voluntary interview with investigators Dr Nagarwala denied being involved in any such procedure.
Now on April 21, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife Faida were arrested in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, and accused of involvement in the same FGM crime as Dr. Nagarwala.
The 16-page criminal complaint issued against Dr. Attar and his wife refers to “a particular religious and cultural community”; now identified as the Dawoodi Bohra, a sect within the Ismā’īlī branch of Shia Islam, who mainly reside in west India, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and whose world leader, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, has condemned FGM. Most Bohra clergy have banned genital mutilation of young girls, according to Jonah Blank, author of “Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras.”
“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. It is also a serious federal felony in the United States,” acting US attorney Daniel Lemisch said. “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.”
According to her online bio at the Hospital, where Nagarwala practices, she attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and speaks Gujarati, a language of western India.
Nagarwala was placed on administrative leave and her clinical privileges are suspended, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
The first recorded criminal case of FGM in the US was in 2006, when an Ethiopian immigrant was jailed for 10 years for aggravated battery and cruelty to children for mutilating his two-year-old daughter with a pair of scissors.
About 200 million girls and women around the world have suffered some form of FGM, the UN says, with half living in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. A Children Fund UN survey, described as the most comprehensive to date on the issue, found that support for FGM was declining amongst both men and women.
FGM, although wide spread in limited geographic areas, is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars (ulema). Of the four schools of Sha’aria only the Shafii school of law, declares FGM wajib, or obligatory. In contrast, the other three Sunni schools, plus the Shia schools, consider FGM sunnah- recommended but not required.
World Health Organization says female genital cutting, unlike male circumcision, has no health benefits for girls or women. The procedure can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating and infections, while increasing the risk of complications in childbirth and newborn deaths.
Thus, FGM is not circumcision: it is female genital mutilation, and calling it circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism. It is important that Muslims and Jews make this distinction clear to the general public.
Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day. Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance.
But, even during medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children.
Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have forbidden ritual circumcision of males. These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.
Many European secularists regard circumcision of minors by Muslims and Jews, as a cruel violation of children’s rights. A similar debate is occurring across northern Europe about the issue of ritual slaughter of animals, which devout Jews and Muslims require be performed on conscious animals.
This is part of a larger dilemma facing left-wing parties in Europe, which often struggle to balance their stated commitment to minority rights, with a pushy, self-righteous, secularist agenda that is perceived as intolerant by most members of religious groups.
It is totally false to compare the custom of female genital mutilation to the religious practice of male circumcision.
First, while there are great medical benefits from removal of the foreskin of a male, especially in reducing the spread of HIV; there is no medical benefit to a female from the removal of her clitoris and labia.
In Africa, Jewish and Muslim men have much lower rates of AIDS than uncircumcised Christian men.
Second, there is no evidence that female genital mutilation promotes chastity and preserves a woman’s virtue. Having a considerate, loving and faithful husband does much more to promote a woman’s virtue than female genital mutilation.
Third, male circumcision is a religious requirement; female genital mutilation is only a tribal custom, originating in sub Sahara Africa; which is now being spread by Muslim religious extremists to Asia and the West as part of a reaction against the rising rate of girls going to high school and woman going to work outside the home.
Evidence that female genital mutilation is a only a custom comes from the fact that in rural Egypt even Coptic Christians mutilate their daughters genitals. Also female genital mutilation had been denounced by most of the major Islamic scholars in the Muslim world.
Finally, and most important, male circumcision is derived from the God inspired practice of Abraham and Muhammad.
God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7): “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…
(8-12) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17: 7-12a)
And Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah said (Qur’an 16:123): “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.
Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: “Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad)
Abraham’s first born son Ishmael, was a young boy when he was circumcised, so Muslims do not have to circumcise their son’s on an exact date. A Hadith states: When Ibn Abbas was asked “How old were you when the Prophet Muhammad died?” He replied, “At that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not circumcise boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh).” (Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day.” (Related in al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)
Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for all future generations.
For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham which is also celebrated each year at the annual Hajj ceremonies.
For both Muslims and Jews circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons pain and suffering always lead eventually to great spiritual benefits.
Female genital mutilation is the exact opposite of circumcision both medically and religiously.
[Rabbi Allen S. Maller is a Reform Rabbi, currently based in the United States. His writings can be seen on his website RabbiMaller.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]