It is frequently referred to as “beautification,” and in countries where the practice prevails, men are usually unwilling to marry a girl who has not been subjected to it. Except for wealthy families who take their daughters to doctors, the procedure is normally carried out before a girl reaches puberty by untrained village women (sometimes midwives) who use any knife at their disposal and operate in unsanitary conditions. Frequent medical problems result: infection, cysts, high fever, severe pain, excessive bleeding, damaging the urinary tract – even death. It also often results in painful intercourse.
Three reasons are given for the procedure: so the girl won’t “run after men,” cleanliness, and the belief that if a baby’s head touches the clitoris during delivery, the baby will die.
There is no mention of it in the Koran, but a hadith (an extra-Koranic text considered authoritative) states, “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her, ‘Do not cut severely, as that is better for the woman and more desirable for a husband.’”
Because of this hadith, some Islamic scholars, particularly the Shafi in East Africa, consider the procedure to be mandatory. Other schools of thought, such as the Hanafi, maintain that it is recommended but not obligatory.
In Sudan, a particularly brutal form of FMG known as infibulation is performed, where girls have to be held or tied down while it is carried out. This procedure removes not only the clitoris but also the labia minora and labia majora. The sides are sutured together – usually with thorns! – and only a tiny opening is left for urine and menstrual flow. The girl, usually age seven or eight, has her legs tied together until she heals.
Many do not. It is hard to get accurate statistics, but countless girls die from hemorrhaging or from shock. Those who survive are likely to experience difficulties walking or urinating for the rest of their lives. Further, when they marry, their husband has to penetrate them forcibly, sometimes requiring weeks of effort. Many husbands lose patience and wind up using knives.
Not surprisingly, this is not a pleasant experience for the bride. There exist, in fact, special honeymoon areas isolated from population centers so that people don’t have to listen to the screams of the brides. Infection and excessive bleeding are almost routine.
But the complications are only beginning: childbirth, without cutting the scar tissue and enlarging the opening, is impossible; many mothers and babies have died because of inadequate or sloppy handling of this essential step. And after each childbirth, most women undergo infibulation again.
In the U.S., doctors have had to have special training about how to deal with increasing numbers of patients who have endured this barbarity.
In Mosul, Iraq, an imam representing the Islamic State has ordered the circumcision of more than two million girls and women ages 11-46 under threat of severe penalties, “to distance them from debauchery and immorality.” This fatwa has shocked many Iraqis who had originally welcomed the Islamic State, because FMG has not traditionally been widespread in Iraq.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million girls and women worldwide have suffered from this procedure, which offers absolutely no health benefits and on the contrary, leads to numerous and completely unnecessary medical complications. Its primary purpose, regardless of however it is euphemistically described, is to surgically enforce female subservience. A man has the right to sexual pleasure, but a woman is there strictly as a vehicle for his satisfaction; she cannot and should not expect or even dream about reciprocity.
Imagine the outrage if an imam had ordered the castration of more than two million men! Actually, there would be considerable justification: Islamic law recognizes that the male sex drive is stronger than the female, so why not eliminate the problem, men’s inability to control themselves, at its root?
Female genital mutilation is an especially horrific practice that violates the most fundamental rights of girls and women in more than 30 countries. Old habits die hard, but this is one that should be done away with as soon as possible.