“Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women. For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce (Ar. bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.)” — ‘Umdat al-Salik e4.3
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Human Rights Watch urged Kurdistan’s government on Wednesday to ban genital cutting of women and girls, a practice the organization said is widespread and dangerous there, but which they said Kurdish officials had failed to move aggressively to stop.
Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization based in New York, interviewed 31 girls and women last year and combined its findings with recent surveys by other organizations that found that at least 40 percent of girls and women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region had undergone the procedure, which typically involves cutting off external genitalia with a dirty razor blade.
One of the studies, of about 1,400 girls and women interviewed during 2007 and 2008, found that almost 73 percent of women 14 years and older said that at least a portion of their genitals had been removed….
“Although it has not been completely inactive, its efforts have been piecemeal, low key and poorly sustained,” the report said of the Kurdish government….
Mariwan Naqshbandi, a spokesman for Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, dismissed the study, saying that it had distorted reality and that Kurdistan had “issues far more important” to confront.
“The report is extremely exaggerated,” he said. “It is so unfair. It relied solely on some local reports. It relied on rumors.”
He added: “Circumcision exists as an isolated occurrence, rather than as a phenomenon in Kurdistan. It only exists in certain places.”
Human Rights Watch said Kurdish girls and women described genital cutting as being physically painful and psychologically scarring.
“Girls undergoing the procedure are forcefully held down, their legs pried apart, and part of their genitalia cut off with a razor blade,” the report said. “Often the same blade is used to cut several girls. No anesthesia is applied beforehand and if anything at all is applied to the open wound afterwards, it is water, herbs, cooking oil or ashes.”
In addition to wounds caused to women, risks include an increase in the rate of stillbirths and in the occurrence of babies with low birth weight, the report said.
It is not clear how common genital cutting is in the rest of Iraq, because it has not been the subject of a comprehensive study.
UPDATE: Mark Durie observes that the above translation of Umdat al-Salik is itself deceitful, as its editors have attempted (futilely) to soften the barbarism of the practice for non-Muslim consumption. Durie writes:
“The Reliance of the Traveller, a respected manual of Shafi’i jurisprudence, states “Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the clitoris” (section e4.3). [The English translation by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (certified by Al-Azhar University) disguises the true meaning of the Arabic text by offering the following bogus English ‘translation': “For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce (Ar. Bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert).”