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Circumcision or Genital Mutilation

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Circumcision, or for non-believers “genital mutilation”, is one of the most ancient rituals still practised in some societies. Historical background of this old ritual, as to when, who, and why it started is not precisely known. The practice varies from region to region and from epoch to epoch in its total or partial removal of the foreskin /clitoris for both sexes.

Circumcision, in its different forms, is practised in a big part of the world. The Jews were the first to adapt it as a sign of religiosity; it is mentioned in the Old Testament as a religious ritual and preserved its practice into our times. Circumcision was banned by the ancient Romans and Greeks considering it as an act of barbarity. Also the early Christians took a strong stand against it.

Despite many modern anti-circumcision movements especially for the female one, circumcision for both sexes is practised worldwide in the Islamic societies, in some old tribes in Africa, in some native tribes of Australia and since 19th century, occasionally, in the US.
Benefits of circumcision are believed to maintain genital organs in hygienic conditions for male whereas it is practised to reduce the sexual lust for female. Removal of a functional, sensitive, healthy, and normal foreskin or clitoris with many nerve fibres, nerve endings, strictly speaking is a genital mutilation. Medically speaking, it has no relevant healthy benefits that can objectively be used to justify its practice. And as such, this heritage of passed rituals violates the principles of modern morality and the very principles of sciences.

The foreskin protects the glands of sexual organs. Thus the foreskin is an essential part of human sexual anatomy. The foreskin is a sensitive and functional organ with a rich concentration of blood vessels and nerve endings to keep the glands soft, moist, and sensitive.
No medical evidence about the effectiveness of this wounding in reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or considerable effectiveness of penile cancer or genital diseases has been really proved. Only periodical speculations, which are mostly loaded with religiosity, justify this practice.

No health organisation in the world currently accepts circumcision as a preventive procedure and advocates its practice for both sexes; even if female circumcision is in some areas absent, it is immorally perverse to excuse one cruelty by invoking a worse one. The genitals of both sexes, as the products of evolution, should be left intact.

Since 1996 female circumcision has been considered violence against women in the US and thus has become illegal, but the “civilised world” ignores the practice of it in many circumcising cultures. In Egypt, a US alley, more than 90% of women are victims of female circumcision.
The legitimisation of this painful and barbaric act, which can rarely be imagined without shuddering or being sick, is mentioned in a Hadith reported by Umm’Atiyya:
“A female circumciser in Madineh was told by the Prophet of Islam, “When you circumcise, do not cut a big part of clitoris as that is better for a woman and more desirable for her husband.” The narration, ignoring the image of pain and sufferance, is one of the fundamental religious sources, allowing not only circumcision of boys (Khitan), but also circumcision of girls (Khafd) in Islam.
For less conservative Islamic scholars, the narration is a “modest” reason that only the outer part of the clitoris should be cut off and not as is done in some other African Muslim countries cutting off all the clitoris. Cutting away a part or a young girl’s entire clitoris is a ritual practice in parts of Islamic Africa. However, even the “modest” image of such a removal of the prepuce of a young girl’s clitoris seems still odious enough to call it a barbaric maiming of innocent girls. It practically is to inflict a despoiling of ability to enjoy sexuality. It means that sex for women is not so much more than procreative act.

Degree of brutality of female circumcision brought some of the Islamic scholars to modify their judgement about performance of its practice, arguing that female circumcision has been regarded by the Prophet as an act of merit, not as an obligation. This is the why that female circumcision is less practised than male circumcision in the Islamic societies.

Circumcision however is not mentioned in the Koran and has been initially inspired as an act of purification (Taharah / Taharat) for both sexes. This has been referred by a narration from the Prophet who classifies circumcision as one of the five acts of Fitrah (purification), namely shaving the public hair, trimming the moustaches, clipping the nails, plucking the armpit hairs.

Circumcision was imposed on Iranians through the Islamic invasion in 7th century. (The pre-Islamic Iranians, Zoroastrians, were not circumcised). Circumcision for both sexes, along with female infanticide, was old tribal traditions practised by the primitive patriarchal pagans in Arabian; the advanced culture of Persians did not adopt such atrocious rituals. Islam adopted the circumcision and changed its status into an Islamic ritual. And as such, it was imposed upon the conquered territories, including Iran.

Some scholars believe that all of the monotheists Prophets were born circumcised, while some others claim that Prophet Abraham was the first to practise (self) circumcision to please God.” No need to mention that today’s judgement about such an act of “pleasing” can be reduced to the rank of pathology.
Another aspect of circumcision besides the purification and the sacrificial character, can be regarded as an act of punishment (a means of humiliating to mark captured enemies and slaves, or as a patriarchal means was in its origin an injury to the mother reducing her authority over her child).
The punishment which religiously often means a ritual purification is attributed to tone down sexual pleasure. Human sexuality has been seen in many primitive cultures as immoral and impure and thus needs ritual purification. Circumcision, in this case, was the obvious way to “purify” the believers. In this light, sex with an uncircumcised man is not allowed for a Muslim woman.

Considering the case of the Abraham’s self-circumcision, to be believed or not, reflexes that a very important combined factor of circumcision is to be self-injury. This is a pathological practice to relieve overwhelming emotional tension. It can be practised from a little common cut of skin to the collective practice of self-flagellation or self-stabbing in the Shiite mourning rituals. As witnessed in the period of mourning month of “Moharam”, self-injury in Shiite is widely practised. In this case, the practice is usually a symbolic act to connect the individual to the group of believers.

Some practices like piercing and tattoos, or in this case circumcision, are also socially preconditioned. These practices are done to identify with a particular group, religion, and collective identity. So, the social respect of collective practice can turn into a practice of self-injury like circumcision, and its harm is socially justified for the members of that society.

The self-injury in its ritual practice often focuses on the sexual organs and can be regarded as a copy mechanism for the origin of circumcision.

I conclude by pointing out the following traits:

  • Circumcision, an old practice, has no clear references concerning its history, motive and origin.
  • Circumcision is a ritual practice of primitive cultures and can be rooted in the factors of sexual punishment, ritual sacrifice and self-injury.
  • Circumcision has no preventive or medical benefits.
  • Circumcision, as an act of genital mutilation for both sexes, cannot morally be permitted.

by Jahanshah Rashidian

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