It is the mainstream media’s universal practice to claim that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice with no justification in any religion, and to point out that around 97% of women in Egypt have been subjected to it, which means that Christian women as well as Muslim women are among the victims of this practice. They ignore, however, the fact that FGM has justification in Islamic teaching, but not in Christian teaching:
Muhammad is said to have justified the cutting of women’s genitals: “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” (Sunan Abu Dawud 41.5251) The problem with this is that the distinction between cutting and cutting severely is subjective.
Some Islamic authorities say that this is a weak hadith. That’s wonderful. I hope they manage to convince every Muslim authority in the world that this is the case. Unfortunately, many remain misunderstanders of Islam. A few examples:
Gambia: “Alhaji Abdoulie Fatty, the Imam of State House Mosque has rebuted [sic] claims published on 1st June edition of the Daily observer, entitled ‘Female Genital Cutting Unislamic’ as utter rubbish.” — Gambia’s Daily Observer, June 6, 2007
Egypt: “Omayma Idris, a Cairo-based gynaecologist, says that more than 90 percent of all married Egyptians today are thought to have undergone mutilation. After the prohibition, she says, one could see a decline, ‘but since the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are in power in Egypt, the numbers are on the rise again; they encourage families to do it again.’…Salafists and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood – the political home of Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi – want to see female genital mutilation legalized again.” — Deutsche Welle, November 23, 2012
The late Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi of Egypt’s venerable Al-Azhar University once called circumcision “a laudable practice that did honor to women.”
Indonesia: “The the Muslim intellectual Sumanto Al Qurtuby says the faction that supports tetesan [female genital mutilation] is linked to the Salafi and Wahhabi community, which together with other fundamentalist groups are concentrated in Bandung and Aceh. They believe that circumcision is ‘morally’ encouraged by Sharia, or Islamic law, and reiterated in the hadith, in anecdotes related to the life of the Prophet Muhammad.” — Asia News, December 7, 2012
“The Position Of the Coptic Church On Female Genital Mutilation (FGM),” by Dioscorus Boles at On Coptic Nationalism, February 21:
Female genital mutilation (FGM) has no religious textual backing in Christianity as in Islam, or any support by the Coptic Church. In fact, the Coptic Church clearly and openly opposes the practice of female genital mutilation and finds it contradictory to divine values.
One of the largest bishoprics of the Coptic Church is the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, which was established by the late Pope Shenouda III (1971 – 2012) in 1993. The Diocese covers the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. It includes 26 Coptic communities with 37 churches that are currently served by 44 priests. His Grace Bishop Youssef, one of the most learned and dynamic bishops of the Coptic Church, oversees it.
In the official site of the Diocese, Bishop Youssef asks the important question: What is the Christian perspective on Female Genital Mutilation? And he unambiguously answers that female genital mutilation is “contrary to divinely revealed principles.” Very clearly, he states that female genital mutilation destroys human life and disfigures God’s creation – the female body is part of that creation, which was seen by God as very good; and it shouldn’t be interfered with. Further, female genital mutilation is “detrimental to health, threatening to life, and harmful to sexual function,” and, therefore, it “contradicts the will of God.” Adding to the opposition to this practice is the fact that it threatens healthy childbirth. Furthermore, God has blessed marriage as the Bible says, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your use.” Female genital mutilation, therefore, Bishop Youssef says, is a violation of God’s blessing of, and defying of His intention for, marriage – that is, as the lay reader will understand, the rejoicing and enjoying, wife and husband together, of each other’s body and life.
Female Genital Mutilation is practiced by some Copts in Egypt, particularly in Upper Egypt, as a matter of assimilation to the Muslim majority. This must stop. There is no doubt that Bishop Youssef’s answer to the question about the Christian perspective of female genital mutilation is that of the Coptic Church; however, to be more effective in stopping the barbarian practice, other bishops of the Coptic Church must speak out against it more strongly. One is optimistic that, in the near future, Pope Tawadros II will condemn this very unchristian practice at the highest level, and lead the Coptic Church Holy Synod to issue an ecclesiastical canon banning it as contrary to God’s will. Meanwhile, Coptic organisations must work harder to educate the Copts on this issue: practices that have been followed by centuries die hard, but we can present female genital mutilation not just as unchristian, risky and unhealthy, but, also, as barbarian and foreign to us.