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Fears of female genital mutilation revival in Egypt

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Auveen Woods
WVoN co-editor

Azza El Garf, a prominent member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of just 11 female parliamentarians in Egypt, has publicly denounced the 2008 ban on genital cutting (or female genital cutting, ‘FGM’) for Egyptian women.

“It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor”, El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to FGM as beautification plastic surgery.

El Garf maintains that it is a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to choose to undergo the currently outlawed procedure in consultation with a medically-trained professional.

The reality however, for most women and girls who undergo FGM, is that it is often characterized by a lack of choice.

In 2005, a UNICEF report on FGM reported the practice was almost universal among Egyptian women of reproductive age, with an astounding 97 per cent having undergone the procedure. That figure has declined little since then.

Outside Egypt, the procedure is usually performed on girls between the ages of 9 to 12 years, prior to the onset of puberty, but the UNICEF report recorded the average age of girls undergoing FGM in Egypt was lower, at seven to 11 years old.

Children are not likely to be asked for their view, as Newsnight‘s Sue Lloyd-Roberts discovered when interviewing an Egyptian mother;

‘”Of course she must be circumcised,” said Olla, referring to the timid 11-year-old girl sitting beside her.

‘I asked Olla if I could find out from the child herself, her daughter Raaja, who sat shaking with fear, what she thought.

‘”There is no need to ask her,” her mother declared. “She doesn’t understand what we are talking about”.’

Initially, the Egyptian government banned FGM in hospitals in 1996, but because licensed practitioners were still allowed to perform the surgery elsewhere, the practice continued.

The Egyptian government implemented a full legal ban in 2007, following the death of Badour Shaker, a 12-year-old child who overdosed on anesthesia in an illegal clinic after the procedure.

FGM, or female circumcision as it is called by its proponents, is the practice of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia.

It can range from the most minor procedure involving the removal of the clitoris to the most severe form, where all external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is stitched nearly closed.

FGM is often done in unsanitary environments, using basic tools for doing the cutting and most often with the permission and assistance of mothers.

In Egypt two types are commonly practiced.

Type 1 involves removing the clitoris and Type 2 is the removal of the clitoris and the labia or the “lips” that surround the vagina; both mean removing those sensitive parts of female genitalia which make the sexual act a pleasurable one.

Female sexual pleasure is deemed to be incompatible with the concepts of “purity”, “honour” and “tradition” which lie at the heart of FGM in Egypt.

The principal justification lies in the belief that the procedure reduces the uncontrollable sexual desire of a female, thereby helping maintain a girl’s virginity prior to marriage and her fidelity thereafter, thus ensuring a daughter’s future marriage prospects

Despite being denounced by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, in 2010, some religious leaders claim FGM is sanctioned by the Quran.

But in reality it has no doctrinal foundation; it is practiced by both Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt, illustrating its cultural basis.

Unlike male circumcision, female circumcision has no health benefits.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, bacterial infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term, aside from reducing any sexual pleasure, side-effects of FGM can include psychological trauma, infertility and a higher risk of complications during childbirth.

El Garf’s support for the legalization of female circumcision, her opposition to resurrecting the National Women’s Council and to the “liberalisation of divorce” is a reflection of her conservative values as an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood:

“Family is the most important part of life,” El Garf said, adding that the husband’s job was to feed his wife and care about his family because together they are one.

“The woman’s job is to make him happy,” she added. “In Western society everybody is an individual. That system doesn’t work here.”

El-Garf, in line with the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, has asserted the need for restoring the framework of ethics and values that the corrupt former regime endeavored to destroy for 30 years.

Being socially conservative is one thing, but to permit the practice of FGM as part of a “cultural revivalism” in celebration of political freedom would be misguided and diminish the equality of Egyptian women at the start of a new political era.

  1. Female Circumcision is one of the most misunderstood practices of Islam. Here’s an excellent article showing that it is not the kind of mutilation it is commonly believed to be and that it is the same as hoodectomy which western women are increasingly choosing to undergo for better genital hygiene and an enhanced sex life :

    There exist many ahadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam.

    Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).

    He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.

    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.

    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”

    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.

    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet is reported to have told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).

    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.

    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).

    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).

    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.

    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.

    For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com

    Another interesting observation

    Oral sex linked to cancer risk

    US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men. In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world. The team led by Maura Gillison reported in the May 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that oral HPV infection is the strongest risk factor for oral cancer. The team found that oral sex, including both cunnilingus and fellatio, is the main mode of transit for oral HPV infection. See http://www.cancerfacts.com/Home_News.asp?NewsId=2170&CB=14&CancerTypeId=4.Cunnilingus refers to the oral stimulation of a woman’s sexual organs with particular focus on the clitoris. The Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why.”

    It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy might provide a solution by removing the area in which the virus thrives in, thus safeguarding their male partners from the risk of oral cancer

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