A website serving Calgary Muslims has raised eyebrows by making a lengthy pitch for female circumcision, arguing the practice has “immense” value and blaming its poor reputation on Jewish-controlled media.
The provocative blog post by a foreign Islamic scholar drew strong rebukes this week from researchers and advocates concerned about female-genital mutilation, and from a major Jewish group.
It also resurrected questions about whether genital cutting of young women is taking place in Canada, despite being a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
The essay advocates only removing the prepuce, or layer of skin, over the clitoris, calling it similar to taking off the foreskin in male circumcision. But all forms of female genital cutting have been outlawed here since 1997.
One expert on FGM said she’s worried the authoritative-sounding article could send the wrong message to Muslim families.
“It’s putting a burden on these parents, because now they are having to choose between maintaining adherence to (the author’s views), versus the Criminal Code,” said Corinne Packer, a senior researcher with the University of Ottawa’s School of Epidemiology and Public Health. “Any cutting of the genitalia for non-medical reasons is prohibited — it has been prohibited for 20 years.”
Any cutting of the genitalia for non-medical reasons is prohibited. It has been prohibited for 20 years
The Muslims in Calgary website lists three local mosques, one of which hosts the Muslim Council of Calgary, on its contacts page.
The council, the community’s elected body, said Thursday it actually has nothing to do with the site, and condemned the Jewish references in the article.
But it voiced support for the limited type of circumcision the blog promotes.
“Female genital mutilation in the form that cuts the clitoris or inhibits a woman’s ability to achieve sexual pleasure in any way is absolutely against Islam and the values it preaches,” the group said in an emailed statement. “Female circumcision in the form that removes the skin above the clitoris, thereby further exposing it and enabling a woman to achieve more pleasure during the sexual act, is something that scholars in the Islamic world have recommended for many centuries.”
The post by Asiff Hussein, affiliated with the Centre for Islamic Studies in Sri Lanka, promises to explain “how misogynists and feminists are feeding upon each other to denigrate an Islamic practice that brings untold benefits to women.”
It says circumcision should only involve removal of the clitoral prepuce, argues it is endorsed by the Hadith, sacred interpretations of the Prophet Mohammed’s words.
He said Islam forbids the more severe forms of genital mutilation practiced in Africa, but the truth about female circumcision has been obscured by “Islamaphobic sentiments expressed by a largely Jewish-controlled media.” Jews also want to hide the fact that limited female circumcision is another “feather in the cap” of Islam, the article says.
But the variety of health groups that have condemned genital cutting, citing its often-serious physical and emotional impacts, include removing the prepuce in their definition of the act.
The World Health Organization classifies the procedure as a type-one form of mutilation, on a scale of severity that extends up to type four.
And the Canadian Criminal Code section banning non-medical genital cutting says excising “in whole or in part” the clitoris constitutes aggravated assault.
There has been some debate within the medical community lately about whether this form of cutting does constitute mutilation, said Els Leye, a professor in the International Centre for Reproductive Health at Belgium’s Ghent University.
But there’s no guarantee the circumcizer won’t go further, and advocating it as a religious rite could legitimize the whole concept of genital mutilation, said the leading FGM expert.
“It doesn’t have any health benefits, of course,” Leye said. “Circumcising women is clearly something that impacts on their sexuality, on their right to bodily integrity … It’s very difficult to maintain that it is harmless.”
Meanwhile, a Jewish group voiced dismay that the article was “littered with classical anti-semitic tropes.”
“To gratuitously implicate Jewish people in the discussion is unnecessary and disturbing,” said Jared Shore of the Calgary Jewish Federation.
Citing census data on families from countries where FGM is common — including Sudan, Somalia and Egypt — Packer and a colleague have estimated that 5,572 Canadian girls are at risk of being subjected to the practice.
But little is done to advertise the criminal ban in Canada and, unlike in other Western countries, there is no attempt to track how often it might occur here, she said.