<Health-an Islamic Perspective>
<Islamic Ruling on Male and Female
<Pharaonic Circumcision (infibulation)>
Male and Female Circumcision
Al-Amin Dawood, Ph.D
dealing with what is known as Pharaonic circumcision (infibulation) in
its Islamic legal aspect, I would like to quote Dr Anwar Ahmad, Professor
at the School of Medicine, Khartoum University, who writes in an article
in Al- sahafa newspaper, no.1488, of26 December 1967:
I would like to discuss Pharaonic circumcision
in a frank and scientific manner. May I seek my readers' forbearance if
I use scientific language, in an attempt to make the question properly
Pharaonic circumcision is a very old custom in
Sudan. It was first introduced with the Ancient Egyptian conquest, and
is still practised today. It is also practised in Somalia, Kenya, and
certain parts of Indonesia. The old concept that female genitals are offensive
to virtue appears to be still accepted. Before dealing with the problems
which this kind of circumcision involves, I want to explain the anatomy
of the external female sexual organs, so that readers may un<;lerstand
better what exactly goes on.
female sexual organs consist of the following:
labia majora, which are two elongated folds of skin extending from
the pubis to the perineum into which they merge. They are composed
of adipose and osseous tissues, a network of sensitive nerves, and
secretion glands. The labia majora receive a great amount of blood.
labia minora, which are two folds of tender skin located between
the labia majora. They also receive a considerable amount of blood.
In the rear they meet with the hymen and in the front they meet
together and enfold the clitoris. Between the labia minora, the
urine and vagina apertures are located.
clitoris is an organ subject to erection, exactly like the penis.
It is extremely sensitive and has a very extensive neural network.
It is composed of cancellous tissues and receives a very good amount
of blood. As already mentioned, it is located at the point where the
labia minora meet in the front. Its base is about one inch from the
urine aperture. The clitoris is not created in vain; it performs a
very important natural function, for it gets erect the same way as
the male organ. When this happens, blood flows into the labia majora
and the glands begin to excrete a liquid to facilitate sexual intercourse
and allow the woman to enjoy it. All these sexual organs function
to achieve a purpose which is more sublime than many believe, and
this is done through equal pal1icipation in a highly important biological
infibulation is performed
Let us now look at what may happen when infibulation
is performed. The operation calls for cutting off most of the labia majora
and the complete removal of the labia minora and the clitoris. When this
is done, a match is placed in the labia majora aperture. After the wound
has healed, a small opening is left, from which urine comes out. At the
age of puberty, menstrual blood is let out of the same opening. At the
end of this operation, when the match is already placed, the girl's legs
are tied together for forty days to make sure that the wound heals well.
Thus, quite simply, a woman is deprived of her genitals
and denied the most basic element of life. Her life becomes one complex
on top of another, and the house is filled with needless problems. Denying
a woman the ability to share the pleasure makes her more negative. Denying
her the relaxation of nerves which accompanies proper sexual intercourse
creates in her feelings of great anxiety and loss. In turn, such negativity
and such feelings of loss give rise to psychological, physical, and sexual
disorders. An inferiority complex, a feeling of negativity, and an awareness
that the man is the dominant master, the one who feeds with a spoon of
gold, combine to gradually cancel her role in society. At the same time,
feelings of weakness, negativity, and pain in the marital bed are certain
to make her experience various sexual problems, such as sexual frigidity,
which is nowadays a real crisis and the root of many domestic problems.
effects of infibulation
The above is a brief account of the indirect problems.
The direct effects of infibulation are the following:-
shock, by which is meant the sudden drop in all functions of the body.
There are many types of shock that produce the same effect, but an
external shock is often the result of surgery performed without anaesthetics,
and that is exactly what infibulation is. As a result of the great
drop in blood pressure and in the activity of the respiratory system,
this shock might end the girl's life. Or it may give the girl a psychologica1]y
painful memory, which haunts her a1] her life. It makes her afraid
of sex and can only regard it as a vice. The concept that her sexual
organs are dispensable and the great joy of her family when they are
removed will undoubtedly implant that attitude towards sex in her
which results from ignorance on the part of the midwife of the great
amount of blood that feeds that part of the female body. Many innocent
girls have been the victims of this widespread ignorance.
and putridif)~, which are caused by ignorance of even the simplest
rules of hygiene. Putridity is caused by microbes that live with us
in our bodies and in the instruments we use. The genitals are the
area of the body where the highest percentage of microbes exist. An
unsterilized or semi-sterilized knife is full of poisonous and harmful
of the urine and of the menstrual blood. During this noxious operation,
the urine aperture is liable to infection, being so close to the clitoris,
which causes urine to be retained in the early days after the operation.
The aperture may also be so narrow when the wound heals that urine
and menstrual blood cannot be discharged. No further explanation is
required, for everybody knows what this means.
A scalpel always has to be used to enlarge the vaginal opening at
childbirth and allow the child to be delivered. This is sufficient
exposure of the poor mother to the hazards of puerperal fever. It
also causes psychological complications due to the pain the woman
suffers at every childbirth, which in turn causes dystocia. I believe
we all know that contractions of the womb are the basic factor in
delivering the child. Fear stops these contractions or makes them
highly infrequent, which places the delivering mother at the mercy
of a caesarean operation.
Statistics clearly show that 20-25% of the cases of sterility in Sudan
are caused by this terrible operation, which narrows the vaginal aperture
to the greatest possible extent.
addition to all this, there is the psychological pain infibulation
causes through the incision and sewing that the woman undergoes every
time she gives birth. This should be more than sufficient.
circumcision as viewed in Islamic law.
form of female circumcision is an Ancient Egyptian habit, which was common
in particular in the age of Ramses, more than 1000 years before Christ.
It was introduced into the Sudan with the Egyptian conquests of the Nuba
country . The kings of Nuba in turn conquered Egypt, and the custom of
infibulation spread throughout the Nile Valley .
The custom obviously does not exist in other countries.
Female circumcision, whether in the form of infibulation or any other
form, is not known at all in the countries of north-west Africa, the countries
of Greater Syria, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen.
There is nothing in Islamic law that prevents the abandoning
of the simple form of female circumcision. As for Pharaonic circumcision
(infibulation), it is a major crime, and if performed, full blood money
has to be paid in compensation. It is a cardinal sin, and any person who
performs it is damned.
Pharaonic circumcision is a devilish idea promoted
by Satan. God says: They (the pagans) only appeal to mere female deities
instead of Him; they appeal but to Satan, the persistent rebel. God has
cursed him, and he had said, "Of your servants I shall take my due
share and lead them astray. I will fill them with vain desires and
order them to slit the ears of cattle. I shall order them to tamper with
God's creation". Whoever chooses Satan, rather than God, as his protector,
sliffers an irredeemable loss (4:117-19).
The Prophet (pbuh) says "Tattoo-makers are cu!sed
by God. .." and goes on, adding all those who "tamper with God's
creation". A tattoo is done by using a needle to puncture the skin
and sprinkling it with some kind of colouring that makes it green. It
is a cardinal sin. A tattooed spot is impure and the impurity has to be
removed by cutting the skin off, if possible, and if there is no serious
risk. All the practices mentioned in the hadith are forbidden, and so
are practices of similar nature. Pharaonic circumcision is one of these;
indeed there is even more reason for it to be prohibited. The hadith give
evidence that any person who performs
such practices is damned, confirming that each of them constitutes a cardinal
sin, because it is a form of altering God's creation. Abdullah ibn Mas'oud,
a Companion of the Prophet (pbuh), says something to this effect, as reported
by both Al-Bukhari and Muslim, and confirmed by Al-Nawawi and Al-Qurtubi.
A woman t blamed Ibn Mas'oud for cursing women engaged in such practices.
He answered, "Why should I refrain from cursing those cursed by the
Prophet (pbuh) himself. I have support in God's Book, where He says: Do
whatever God's Messenger (pbuh) bids you, and refrain from whatever
he forbids you (59:7).
So a man who allows his daughter to be subjected to
circumcision in the :1 manner now common in the Sudan, namely infibulation,
is damned in Islamic law. He commits a major crime and cardinal sin. The
same is true of any mother or woman who performs it. It is stupid and
foolish for a father to say, "I do not interfere in such a thing,
for it is a matter for women to decide", thus ignoring the saying
of the Prophet (pbuh) that "Each of you is a guardian, and each is
responsible for his charges." In Al-Bukhari's and Muslim's version
of this hadith, bother parents are included as bearing such responsibility.
Such a father would also be ignoring the hadith which says, "Whenever
any of you witnesses an abomination, let him rectify it with his hand;
if he cannot, then with his tongue. ..". A father can rectify the
abomination by suing the woman who has performed infibulation, even if
she is his own mother, and having her brought before court. God, if He
pleases, will reward him when he does that for obeying His order to have
abominations in society rectified, and for observing God's injunction:
Believers, stand outfinnly for justice and bear true witness before God,
even against yoLtrselves, your parents, or your kill. Whether the man
illvolved i.'i rich or poor, God call best take care of both (4: 135).
Some people, failing to see the issue correctly,
may think that Pharaonic circumcision leads to chastity and protects the
girl concerned. If it were so, God would create women with closed passages.
But He creates them in the best possible form, and "no one can be
keener to maintain virtue than God".
When the colonial authorities tried to stop this
savage practice, some people, with a superficial outlook, thought the
British meant to harm them and were interfering in their private affairs.
They forgot that the Prophet ~ tells us: "Accept wisdom, and do not
worry what container it has come out of'. This means that even if it comes
out of the mouth of a sinner or an unbeliever, wisdom should be taken,
and its source does not reduce its value.
The tragedies of Pharaonic circumcision which
people talk of and are sometimes published in the press constitute a great
burden for us all. They are an abomination too great to tolerate. Here
is an example of a lady complaining in the Abnaa al-sudan newspaper. She
My problem is that I feel angry
and get mad at everything other than my three children. I cannot stand
to see my husband, who loves me. I cannot stand to touch him or to go
to bed with him. I cannot stand him. I cannot stand him. I hate men. I
hate sex. I find no satisfaction in it whatsoever. I am not moved at all,
when I have intercourse with my husband as happens with other couples.
Dear editor, I do not know the secret why I loathe my hus- band, the secret
of my frigidity when we have intercourse, of my anger and resentment,
of my contemplating suicide. Does anybody know? Is there any remedy.
I hope so, and I impatientJy
await your answer.
A.M.A. Abbasiya, Omdurman
is the lady's complaint. The editor tells her that it is wrong to contemplate
suicide and that she should drive such notions out of her head because
suicide never solves any problem. We also tell this lady that if this
sinister practice of Pharaonic circumcision is not the basic reason for
her feelings, it is certainly a major factor. This is a fault and a crime
committed by her parents, and it is a sufficient punishment for them to
be included in God's curse mentioned by the Prophet (pbuh).
You hear of many ladies like this one. InAI-Sudan al-jadid
newspaper, a story was published about a young man who got married. Five
days after the wedding he killed his wife because it was rumoured that
he could not have sex with her. He believed the wife was the origin of
the rumour and that was why he killed her. Many young men are prevented,
for several months, by this ugly practice from getting on with their wives.
Praise be to God, who has created man in the best possible form and distinguished
him with reason from all animals.
One night recently, my little son came to me crying.
His friend's mother was having great difficulty in her labour and no midwife
was available to help her. Without help, she soon died. Her little children
were all crying. I was greatly touched by this story and believed that
if I died that night, I would be punished by God. I therefore determined
to deal again with the subject of infibulation. The talk with my son reminded
me of a conversation I had with Dr Abu Shamma, former under-secretary
of the Ministry of Health. I had gone to him at the Ministry and asked
him to recruit women who are efficient in performing female circumcision
from abroad to come to Sudan. He answered, "That is not possible.
We have given other countries the impression that Sudan is a civilized
country, k and that female circumcision is only practised in one small
part of Sudan, and that soon it will be stopped altogether". He then
added, "Women should be able to give birth by themselves, naturally,
just as animals do. It is much to be regretted that Sudanese women have
to have surgery every time they deliver. When a woman lives in a remote
area and no midwife or physician is available, she will certainly die".
It is clear from Dr Abu Shamma's words that he shared my conviction on
Let these words reach the ears of these imbeciles who
value, and give importance to, corrupt family habits and traditions more
than Islamic legislation and who are similar to those whom God describes
when He says: 11 they see the right path, they do not follow it (7: 146).
remedy I suggest for this odious crime
Since Pharaonic circumcision is closely related to
personal and family matters, entailing great haml for both wife and husband,
and since scholars all agree on the necessity of stopping excuses and
measures that lead to corruption, I hope a law will be passed by which
female circumcision, whether the Pharaonic form (infibulation) or any
other form, is utterly banned. I also hope that this law will stipulate
that it is for the judges of religious courts to review any case related
to female circumcision, when somebody violates the ban, because it has
a close relationship with the personal and family laws.
The public know well that a judge in a religious court
passes his judgements according to Islamic law. Therefore, if such a judge
is in charge of a sensitive issue like this one, people are more likely
to accept the matter and to observe his rulings. But no, by your Lord,
they do not truly believe unless they seek your arbitration in all their
disputes, have no quabns about accepting your verdicts, and entirely submit
Since Pharaonic circumcision is a major crime in Islamic
law, it entails the payment of the full amount of blood money. Scholars
say: "Full blood money is required when a woman' s labia are removed;
otherwise, a verdict". This means that if the labia are not completely
removed, and only part of them is cut off, a verdict imposing the punishment
he finds most appropriate should be passed by a judge, according to his
discretion, so that it may serve as a deterrent against this savage practice.
When a judge has detemlined that what was perfomled
is indeed infibulation, he should order the person who perfomled it to
be arrested and placed in prison if he wishes, until she pays the full
amount of blood money to the victim. This woman is the one responsible,
having not been forced to perform the savage act. Scholars are unanimous
in the view that the clansmen do not have to pay collectively the blood
money for an intentional act, and that the criminal alone should be made
The judge should then invite the parents to appear
before him and to discipline them as he deems proper, for the hadith quoted
in Al-Bukhari's and Muslim's authentic anthologies regards them as accomplices
of the woman who commits the crime.
This woman should also pay, in addition to the blood
money, compensation for the defect of atresia, that is narrowness of vagina,
that she has caused to the girl. This is one of the four defects which,
scholars agree, give a husband the right to reject a mariage even if he
consummates it, when he has not been informed of it beforehand.
All of us should take a vow that we will never allow
female circumcision to be performed on our daughters, since it is not
something ordained by God and, from the point of view of Islamic law,
there is nothing to prevent it being abandoned. In addition to Qbserving
!slamic law, let us help in promoting better awareness among people through
all legitimate media, such as radio and television. Let speakers at mosques
advise parents and explain to them how Islam views Pharaonic circumcision,
pointing out that it is an abomination and a cardinal sin, entailing the
payment of full blood money. Let them make it clear that a person who
performs it is damned and that such a person, as well as those who order
it and who know of it and do not speak up, is required to repent his crimes.
Let people fear God in dealing with their little daughters. Muslim people
continue to be safe as long as they recommend good deeds to each other
and discourage each other from abominable acts. I hope many wise people,
who listen to things that are said and follow the best, will respond to
this invitation. God guides whomever He wishes to the right path.