Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Female Circumcision - is it Islamic?

Around 2-3 million girls are circumcised each year, especially in Northern Africa. 

The WHO distinguishes among four types of genital mutilation:

    * Type I, or "clitorectomy": Excision of the skin surrounding the clitoris with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris
    * Type II, or "excision": Removal of the entire clitoris and part or all of the labia minora
    * Type III, or "infibulation": Removal of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching together of the vaginal orifice, leaving only a small opening
    * Type IV: Various other practices, including pricking, piercing, incision and tearing of the clitoris.

One out of every three girls dies as a result of infibulation, also known as pharaonic mutilation.

Many families circumcise their daughters because they believe it to be an Islamic requirement. But is it?

The Hadith related to female circumcision (that I could find):

"When two circumcised parts unite then bathing becomes obligatory." (Sahih, Reported by Ahmad and Al-Baihaqee)

The saying of the Messenger (SAW) in the Hadith of Umm ‘Atiyyah to a female circumcision:

"When you circumcise then do not cut severely, since that is better for her and more pleasing to the husband." (Reported by Abu Dawud and Al-Baihaqee and declared Hasan by Shaikh Al-Albani).

"Circumcision is Sunnah for men, a noble action for women" (Related by Ahmad & al-Bayhaq).

Scholars who approve of these Hadith claim that they are simply recommending circumcision, not saying it is required.

At a conference in Cairo in 2006 both Sheikh Tantawi and al-Qaradawi confirmed that the practice was un-Islamic. Every doctor at the conference agreed that there is no medical justification for female circumcision. The Grand Mufti of Egypt signed the resolution condemning the practice the next day.

One argument is that God has created us and thus we do not have the right to mutilate our bodies. Another is that in Islam husband and wife are supposed to fulfill each other sexually, almost impossible for a man to do if the woman has been circumcised.

In 2007 a debate was aired on al-Arabiyya between Egyptian Al-Azhar University scholars Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mussayar and Sheikh Mahmoud Ashur. 

Ashur said: “Female circumcision is a traditional custom, and not a religious act. All the hadiths dealing with female circumcision are unreliable. Moreover, the hadith cited by those who support circumcision calls to refrain from it more than it calls to perform it.”

Al-Mussayar said: "All the jurisprudents, since the advent of Islam and for 14 centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted by Islam. But they were divided with regard to its status in shari'a. Some said that female circumcision is required by shari'a, just like male circumcision. Some said this is the mainstream practice, while others said it is a noble act. But throughout the history of Islam, nobody has ever said that performing female circumcision is a crime. There has been a religious ruling on this for 14 centuries."

Interesting! I didn’t know about this. If this is the case, what does it mean? That as Muslims we can’t condemn the practice?
Ashur responded with: "In the days of Jahiliya [i.e. the pre-Islamic period] and in the early days of Islam, a man whose mother carried out this custom was scorned by people who called him 'you son of a clitoris cutter.' This proves that it was never part of the religion of Islam.”

Al-Mussayar responded with: “"First of all, there are reliable hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim which support female circumcision. The Prophet Muhammad said: 'If a circumcised woman and man have intercourse, they must undergo ablution.' Unreliable hadiths do not cancel out the reliable ones. People would curse one another by saying: 'You son of a clit woman' - the son of a non-circumcised woman. ”

So they have different versions - one says a woman who wasn’t circumcised was an embarrassment, the other says a circumcised woman was an embarrassment.

Al-Mussayar then argues: "Some sources said: 'Reduce, but do not remove.' In other words, it is neither about removing the organ, nor about leaving it. It is a trustworthy Muslim doctor who makes the decision. She decides whether the girl needs it or not. We do not obligate every girl to undergo circumcision. We say it should be left up to the doctor, and she can evaluate the case and determine whether the girl needs circumcision or not."

Ashur responds with: "If it is left up to the doctor, then it is a custom and not part of the religion."

I found this debate very interesting. If al-Mussayar is right and there are reliable hadith about this, what does it mean in terms of the campaign against FC? Do we have the right to demand that the practice ends? I did find his notion that a doctor should decide strange: like Ashur said, if it is up to the doctor, then it isn’t really Islamic. I think al-Mussayar’s point in the end is that although FC is not required, it is either recommended or allowed. This negates the argument of many Muslims (and Westerners) that FC is not an Islamic practice.

Once again a controversial issue comes down to whether or not the hadith relating to it are reliable.

What do you all think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Feminism's Bad Rep?

"I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."  Rebecca West

I have a question for anyone reading: why does feminism have such a negative reputation, especially in Islamic cirlces?

When someone says "feminism", what do you think? What is your gut reaction?

When someone says they are a feminist, what do you then think of them?

Do you think it is possible to be a feminist and be Muslim?

I have lots of opinions on this but I really want to hear what other people think, because I find it interesting that "feminism" has become such a negative thing these days, and I really want to understand why.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ramblings about an Islamic State & Nostalgia about the Cairo of the 50s...

For one of my classes, the Sociology of Religion, we had to choose an article about religious movements for the class to read, and I chose the preface of Gilles Kepel's book "Muslim Extremism in Egypt". It gives an overview of when, how and why the trend of Islamic extremism began. During the class discussion, I began thinking about whether having an Islamic state is viable.

Personally, I'm definitely against it. Who gets to interpret Islam in an Islamic state? What if they are very orthodox or fundamentalist (like the Muslim Brotherhood)? What does that mean for moderate and liberal Muslims, for non-Muslims, and for foreign policy?

Also, what do you think of Iran? Is it a success or a failure, or in between? Or is it too soon to tell? Iran after all is an Islamic state.

Then again, so is Saudi, and I would definitely call that a failure.

In terms of Egypt, I just don't see it as viable at all. The Muslim Brotherhood have so far been pretty vague about their specific plans for what to do if they get power. The only things they have explictly said is that the president will have to be a Muslim man.  I wonder what will happen to the large Christian population. Will they become a protected minority, like at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), and does this conform with modern ideas of complete equality between citizens, since they will have to pay jizya (a tax for protection)? Will this status even be respected, since we all know that laws are one thing and their application another? Will they in reality be pressured to convert or leave, or suffer even more abuse and discrimination than they already do?

All of this is making me nostalgic for the Egypt of 50 years ago, when (so I've heard and read) diversity was celebrated, when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side, when Egyptians were more concerned with a balance between inner and outward forms of piety, as opposed to the modern obsession of outward signs of religiosity.

Cairo sounded like the most beautiful city back then. It still is beautiful, but it is also stressful, unbearable, and full of tension and anxiety.

I know this post is a bit all over the place, but I just wanted to get some thoughts out there...

I still don't have an internet connection at my new place, so sorry that I haven't been commenting on all your blogs/my blog as much...soon i'A!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I Love You with Two Loves"

 Hey everyone! I just moved to my new apartment, so things have been pretty hectic! I love it here though, so it's all good.

Anyways, I just wanted to post this piece of writing about God, which I found beautiful. It is from Rabi'ah al-Adawiyah, one of the most famous Sufis in history. She says,

"I love You with two loves, a love of passion
And a love prompted by your worthiness of that.
As for the love of passion,
It consists in occupying myself with remembering You and no one else.
And as for the love of which You are worthy,
It consists in Your lifting the veils, so that I may see You.
However, mine is not the merit in this or that,
But Yours is the merit in this and that."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Prophet and the Sacred Earth

So, my amazingly talented friend Omnia recently started a website to try and promote environmentalism in Egypt (and we all know how Egypt needs it!). Sure she used to annoy all of us with the constant talk about "saving the earth" and "buying organic" and blah blah blah, and we all incessantly complain about it, but I'm actually very impressed with her drive, determination, and skill, especially towards this website. The site is called eco-options Egypt and you can check it out here: ecooptionsegypt.

I just wrote an article for it about the Prophet and the environment. Would love to hear what you all think! Here it is:

“And remember how He made you inheritors after the ‘Ad people and gave you habitations in the land: you build for yourselves palaces and castles in open plains, and carve out homes in mountains; so bring to remembrance the benefits you have received from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the Earth.”
Al-Qur’an 7:741

There is no doubt that the Prophet Muhammad was a man ahead of his time.  He believed that men and women deserved the same value and respect; that animals should be treated kindly and not abused; that children should be loved and taken care of; and that the elderly deserved great respect and reverence.
Just as importantly, he believed in the sanctity and importance of the environment, and saw the immense power and beauty that can be found in nature. “The Prophet was a staunch advocate of environmental protection. One could say he was an “environmentalist avant la lettre”, a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management, one who constantly sought to maintain a harmonious balance between man and nature”2.  There is also no doubt that the Qur’an places great emphasis on the earth and nature. The earth is mentioned more than 450 times in the Qur’an3, and God has instructed humans that we are to take care of it.

The Prophet believed that all of God’s creations are equal, and to abuse any of them is a sin. This includes abusing the environment.  The Arabs at the time already knew of the importance of treating the environment well: they knew that if they abused it, they would in turn suffer. Man wasn’t trying to overpower nature, but rather understood that benefit came from working together with nature. Prophet Muhammad managed to add an extra dimension to this attitude, by focusing on how the beauty of nature is proof of God’s existence, and how every living thing deserves respect.

One well-known saying of the Prophet is the following: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it”.  This eloquent reminder clearly shows how important the environment is to God. Even if doomsday is upon us, we should stop and plant a tree if we are holding a shoot. Another saying goes “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation.” This shows the Prophet’s concern towards animals. Similarly, his saying “If someone plants a tree, he will receive merit as long as the tree bears fruit” shows how beneficial taking care of our surrounding can be to us in terms of religious benefits.

During battle, the Prophet used to remind his men not to cut down any trees unnecessarily, and to limit any damage to the environment. He also admonished the killing of animals and the burning of crops. This was something new to 7th century Arabia, and even modern warfare is wholly unconcerned with environmental damages.

The concept of “dry wudu” also shows the sacred side of the earth. If one is unable to perform wudu (cleaning before prayer) due to lack of water, one can use dry dirt instead.  The Prophet was alleged to have said, “The earth has been created for me as a mosque and as a means of purification.

“The Prophet gave the necessary importance to cleanliness in the environment and he stated that it should begin with body cleanliness; that houses, streets, and public places like mosques should be kept clean; that water sources should not be polluted; that not only people, but animals should not be bothered by pollution”4.  If Egyptians followed these guidelines, we would be living in a much cleaner environment. Having clean streets, pure water sources and unpolluted air would benefit all of God’s creatures, and both God and the Prophet encouraged this.

Water in particular is given special importance in the Qur’an and Hadith. “We made from water every living thing,” (21:30).  One way the Prophet saved water was by creating haram zones near water sources. Another way was by advocating careful use of water, even if there was enough of it.  For example, he recommended that people do wudu no more than three times, even if near a source of water. A final way was by forbidding urination in water2.

I will conclude with the following Hadith, cited by Bukhari, to remind us all the benefits of taking care of and cultivating the environment: “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].”