Question: Alot of people use the practice of female circumcision common in North African Muslim countries in order to attack Islam, what is the correct view regarding the issue?
According to my knowledge, there is difference of opinion amongst the scholars regarding the issue of female circumcision ranging from some who believe it is obligatory, some say it is recommended, others say it is mubah (permissible) but the strongest view in my opinion is that it is mubah. After some research, there are certain points which are necessary to clarify regarding this:
1. It is important to understand the reality of female circumcision and its various types and then to understand the type that Islam permits.
Types of circumcision:
a) Removal of the hood (or prepuce) of the clitoris. This procedure is, to some degree, analgous to male circumcision since in both cases, no part of the sexual organ is cut off. In both cases also, it is only the foreskin, or outer fold of the skin, which is cut off. Properly done, it is not likely to cause any "matrimonial" problem. This is the type the scholars mentioned is permitted according to the Islamic evidences.
b) Removal of the entire clitoris (clitorectomy) along with part of the labia minora, which is satured together leaving an opening. This is a form of mutilation and is haram (forbidden).
c) Removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and medial part of the labia majora, with both sides of the female organ stitched together leaving a small opening. This procedure requires tying together the child's legs of nearly three weeks. It is called the Pharaonic procedure and also haram.
2. “For most of the Shafi'i school, circumcision is obligatory upon the women. While the Hanbali school and few scholars of the Shafi'i school hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but Sunnah, while the Hanafi and the Maliki consider it a mere courtesy to the husband. And according to some scholars, female circumcision is customarily done in a hot climate.” [Fiqh al-Islam wa Adillatihi 3/741]
3. Some people quote the following hadith to argue that it is recommended: "Circumcision is a commedable act for men (Sunnah) and is an honorable thing for women (Makromah)." However this hadith is considered da’if (weak) according to the hadith scholars. [Al-Shawkani, Nayl Al-awtar, Dar Al-Jeel, Beirut, 1973, vol. 1, p. 139]
Da’if (weak) hadith cannot be used as evidence in ahkam shariah.
4. There is the following hadith on the subject:
"Cut off only the foreskin (outer fold of skin over the clitoris; the prepuce) but do not cut off deeply (i.e. the clitoris itself), for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favourable with the husband." [Al-Tabarani, quoted in Al-albani, Muhammad N., Silsilat al-Ahadeeth Al-Sahihah, Al Maktab Al-Islami, Beirut, Lebanon, 1983, vol. 2, Hadeeth no. 722, pp. 353-358 espeically pp. 356-257. See also N. keller (translator/editor), The Reliance of the Traveller by Ahmad al-Masri, Modern Printing Press, Dubai, 1991, e 4.3, p. 59.]
5. There is also a Hadith narrated in Ahmad, also in Malik with similar wordings to the effect that if the two areas of circumcision (for a male and female) touch one another, than Ghusl (bathing) is required. This expression simply signified that after the intimate matrimonial relationship, both husband and wife must take a complete bath before they perform their daily prayers. The relevant part of this Hadeeth, however, is its reference to the two circumcised parts. Imam Ahmad uses this Hadeeth as an evidence that women (in Madinah) used to be circumcised. However this does not indicate that it is recommended, simply that it is permitted.
6. It is true that in some Muslim countries some of the people in Egypt and Somalia undertake the form of circumcision that Islam forbids i.e. the cutting off of the entire clitoris (clitorectomy) – however this is due to following traditions rather than Islam.
While the exact origin of female circumcision is not known, "it preceded Christianity and Islam." [Stewart, Rosemary, "Female Circumcision: Implicaitons for North American Nurses, " in Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, vol. 35, no.4, 1997, p. 35] The most radical form of female circumcision (infibulation) is known as the Pharaonic Procedure. This may signify that it may have been practiced long before the rise of Islam, Christianity and possibly Judaism. It is not clear, however, whether this practice originated in Egypt or in some other African countries then spread to Egypt. [Haqa'iq Ilmiyya Hawla Khitan Al-Inaath (in Arabic), Jam'iyyat Tanzeem Al-Usrah, Cairo, 1983, p.7.]