Azhar Conference on Genital Mutilation

Scholars Proscribe Abuse of the Female Body

The German organization TARGET has organized for the first time together with Egypt's Azhar University an international conference on female genital mutilation. No consensus, however, was reached on issuing a legal opinion on banning female circumcision. By Nelly Youssef

Protest rally against female genital mutilation in Somalia (photo: dpa)
According to the initiators of the conference, the event at Azhar university was a breakthrough success in the fight against genital mutilation

​​At the end of November the German human rights organization TARGET organized in Azhar University in Cairo an "International Conference of Scholars to Proscribe Abuse of the Female Body," at which Islamic religious scholars, jurists, and members of social institutions gathered to discuss female genital mutilation.

The conference took place under the patronage of the Egypt's Religious Edicts (fatwa) Authority and its head, Mufti Dr. Ali Gomaa. The aim of the organizers was to make it clear that female circumcision should be rejected from a medical as well as a religious perspective.

The participants agreed that this widespread custom should be stopped. The risk to the mental wellbeing and the physical integrity of circumcised women and the limits this surgical intervention places on their ability to function in society is too great.

Call for awareness training

Muslims were called upon during the conference to put a stop to this custom. Egyptian as well as international organizations are demanding more awareness training, for Islam also forbids violating the human body.

Internationally renowned Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi declared that there is no mention in the Koran of circumcising women. Although Islamic legal scholars as well as physicians unanimously regard male circumcision to be necessary, there is no consensus among legal scholars on female circumcision.

Professor Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, Minister of Religion and Chairman of the Council for Islamic Affairs, also emphasized that there is no credible religious text that recommends the circumcision of female genitals. From the medical standpoint there are no advantages.

Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Grand Sheikh of Azhar University, however, who likewise pointed out that there is no dictate in Islamic legal sources for female circumcision, pleaded to leave the decision-making authority to the physicians.

Ban on circumcision in hospitals

Fifty percent of female pupils in Egyptian schools aged ten to eighteen have been circumcised, according to Muhammad Farid, director of the project on supporting emergency services in Egypt's Health Ministry – even though the Health Ministry issued a decree prohibiting circumcision in state hospitals.

Seventy-five percent of physicians who performed circumcisions gave religion – whether Christianity or Islam – as the reason for the circumcisions. Many physicians still ignore the physical, sexual, and health impairments that attend female circumcision.

Professor Dr. Herbert Kentenich, chief physician of the German Red Cross Gynecological Hospital in Berlin and member of the medical team of the German human rights organization TARGET, addressed the situation of 20,000 circumcised foreign women in Germany.

In his clinic he frequently treats African women in particular who suffer from physical symptoms such as heavy bleeding, urinary retention, pain during sexual intercourse and pregnancy. Circumcised women also suffer psychologically.

Ninety-one percent of women in Mali affected

The prevalence of the tradition of circumcision particularly in a few African countries was also confirmed by Malian Imam Mahamadou Dallo, who talked about the risks of genital mutilation in Mali. He pointed out that circumcision is a deplorable old African custom, which has been performed on 91 percent of Malian women.

To fight this custom he recommended training qualified teams whose task would be to educate the population. In addition, further conferences and meetings should be organized as a vehicle for religious scholars to make the general public aware of how inhuman this custom is.

Annette Weber, one of the two main activists behind the German non-governmental organization TARGET, which financed the conference, positively viewed the outcome of the conference: We achieved our goal of pointing out that circumcision has nothing to do with Islam, says Weber.

Respecting the integrity of the human body, an Islamic commandment, should have higher priority to every Muslim than adherence to a custom based merely on precedence. She hopes that the call to ban female genital mutilation – starting from the conference – as a punishable offense that violates the highest values of Islam will have a broad effect.

That the conference was held in the most important religious center in the Islamic world, Azhar University, is also of major importance, according to Weber.

Rüdiger Nehberg and Annette Weber founded the aids organization TARGET in 2000. With their "Pro-Islamic alliance against female genital mutilation" they are fighting for an end to this tradition.

Nelly Youssef

© 2006

Translated from the German by Nancy Joyce

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    Comments for this article: Scholars Proscribe Abuse of the Female Body

    Genital mutilation of boys is just as horrendous as that of girls. Let us put away the prism of cultural bias and see that it is child genital mutilation, CGM, that must be eliminated. The pain and suffering of both sexes are the shame of all of us who know better.

    don cintura05.04.2013 | 02:32 Uhr