To mutilate in the name of Jehovah or Allah: legitimization of male and female circumcision

Med Law. 1994;13(7-8):575-622.


Female circumcison is practised in Sudan, Somalia, Egypt and a few other Arab and Muslim countries. It has triggered a passionate public debate in the West. This debate has found somewhat of an echo in the Arab and Muslim world, but some Muslim religious circles such as Al-Azhar (Egypt), the most important Islamic centre in the world, try to justify it on the basis of sunnah (that is, to conform with the tradition of the prophet Mohammed). Male circumcision is practised by all Muslims and Jews and also by some Christians in Egypt, in the United States and Canada). For different reasons, the debate on this topic is still taboo in Western and in Arab and Muslim countries. The object of this study is to define the role of Islamic law and Muslim religious leaders in female and male circumcision. On purpose, it avoids any use of the word 'Islam', and concentrates on the written sources of Islamic law and the opinions of contemporary Arab authors, mostly of Egyptian origin. Juridical logic cannot acknowledge the distinction between female and male circumcision, both being the mutilation of healthy organs which is damaging to the physical integrity of the child, whatever the underlying religious motivations. Furthermore, both practices violate the Koran: 'Our Lord, You did not create all this in vain' (3:191), and '[He] perfected everything He created' (32:7). In our opinion, a god who demands that his believers be mutilated and branded on their genitals the same as cattle, is a god of questionable ethics. To mutilate children, boys or girls, under the pretext that it is for their own good, shows the influence of cynicism and fanaticism.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Circumcision, Male* / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Male* / methods
  • Circumcision, Male* / psychology
  • Circumcision, Male* / statistics & numerical data
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Islam*
  • Judaism
  • Male
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Sex Factors