A Muslim perspective on female circumcision

Women Health. 1995;23(1):1-7. doi: 10.1300/j013v23n01_01.


Western observers are unable to understand why women would want to practice clitoridectomy, just as they are perplexed at the vocal, if mostly inarticulate, rejection by many Muslims of the Cairo conference. The battle lines which get drawn have on one side public health professionals, development organizations, and feminists and on the other side conservative and "fundamentalist" Muslims who, if they are heard at all, sound impossibly antediluvian. Many Muslims, including myself, are uncomfortable with both sides. What is needed is an alternative to this polarization. The alternative I propose is the Islamic legal discourse, which might best be described as the discursive arena in which issues of societal importance get worked out. That positive change can come about from within--using the Islamic discourse--is possible because Islamic discursive systems are broad and nuanced enough to accommodate a wide variety of medical and public health endeavors. Meaningful social change and improved public health could come about by stimulating and recovering the many Islamic sunnah (exemplary) practices which are so conducive to physical and material well-being. By dealing change through existing, and proven, traditional formats, Muslims would be able to effect valuable and meaningful change in their communities. Muslim communities should not become dependent on and indentured to Western agencies and their own nation-states to solve the problems they face, including the tragic consequences of widely practiced infibulation and clitoridectomy; instead we need to apply our own traditional practices and to support an indigenous Islamic legal discourse.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Circumcision, Female*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Islam*
  • Legislation, Medical
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Social Change*