Recently, thousands of British Muslim men who make up the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, the UK's largest and oldest Muslim youth association, issued a single statement denouncing female genital mutilation (FGM). The statement, published on the website Muslims for Humanity, read:
"FGM is an oppressive cultural practice that has no place in the civilised world. It is very worrying that since 2009 at least 4,000 women have been treated in the UK as a result of having been forced to endure this type of mutilation. As an Islamic organisation representing thousands of British Muslim men, we are particularly concerned that extremist and ignorant religious preachers are using Islam as a justification for this terrible practice. FGM runs contrary to the teachings of Islam and we will continue to welcome any and every opportunity to raise our voices and to campaign against this vile practice."
Within any context, FGM is a vile and inhumane practice. For God-fearing Muslims, however, it strikes a particularly painful cord given that a small minority of the Muslim religious elite and their ill-guided flocks manipulate the peaceful teachings of Islam to socially, morally and even physically force women to undergo this harmful procedure.
Culture vs. Religion
The eradication of FGM - certainly a goal common to all civilised human beings - is a cause that demands our united and unyielding support. Unfortunately, in the modern world issues that can be linked to religion, particularly to Islam and Muslims, attract the attention of right-wing pseudo intellectuals who are ready to use any issue as a conduit for attacking 'the other'. This selfish approach only deflects attention away from the real task at hand; the eradication of FGM.
Writing on the Huffington Post, Leyla Hussein, the prominent anti-FGM campaigner who brought us the eye-opening documentary The Cruel Cut, highlighted some common myths about the religious demographic of FGM. For example:
- FGM is practised by Jews, Christians, Muslims, animists, and non-believers.
- 80% of the Muslim world do not practice FGM.
- FGM pre-dates all of the major world faiths and was prevalent during Pharaonic Egypt.
- FGM often reflects the practices of specific communities. For example, 55% of Niger's Christian population practices FGM, as compared to 2% of the Muslim population.
Muslim scholars have traditionally relied upon two historical sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in support of female circumcision. The reports infer that the Prophet stated that female circumcision is an honour for women and that the procedure should be minimal. Blind acceptance of these sayings by scholars, coupled with their strong desire to reconcile them with wider Islamic tradition form part of a much wider problem facing today's Muslim's world.
There are a number of serious issues with the sayings that clerics rely upon when justifying female circumcision. For example, the historical authenticity and strength of these hadiths have been called into question and are largely not relied upon by most Muslims. Furthermore, the practice of female circumcision is known to harm women and both the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad state in numerous places that to inflict harm on others is forbidden. In a sound hadith, the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: ''Do not harm (others) and do not be the cause of harm.'' It is also quite telling that there is no record of the Prophet Muhammad ever asking his wives, daughters or a single woman in his community to practice female circumcision.
There are numerous obstacles that stand between FGM and its eradication. It is sincerely hoped that the united voice of thousands of Ahmadi Muslims against this practice will help to combat some of those obstacles. Islam teaches that all of God's creation should be treated with kindness, compassion and without prejudice; this is the religion for which I am an adherent and so it is with great conviction that I say: Not in Islam's name, not in my name!