By: Rohmatul Ummah (Kepala Departemen Kemuslimahan JS 1439 H)

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.[1]

What does FGM Stand for?

FGM or Female Genital Mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). Female Genital Mutilation happens primarily in Africa, in particular in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa. However, it also takes place in the Middle East, in South-East Asia –and also among immigrants in Europe. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) 200 million women are affected by FGM worldwide. In Europe, the number of mutilated women or girls and women threatened by FGM amounts up to 1,000,000. Nearly half of the FGM cases represented in official statistics occur in Egypt and Ethiopia; Sudan also records high prevalence of the practice.[2] There are four main types of FGM:

  • Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy). When it is important to distinguish between the major variations of Type I mutilation, the following subdivisions are proposed:
  • Type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only;
  • Type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.
  • Type II — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed:
  • Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only;
  • Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora;
  • Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora.
  • Type III — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). When it is important to distinguish between variations in infibulations, the following subdivisions are proposed:
  • Type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora;
  • Type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.
  • Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

This practice has “a tremendous cost”: many girls bleed to death or die of infection, most are traumatized, and those who survive can suffer adverse health effects during marriage and pregnancy. New information from Iraqi Kurdistan raises the possibility that the problem is more prevalent in the Middle East than previously believed and that FGM is far more tied to religion than many Western academics and activists admit. Is that so?

Many Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice is not rooted in religion[3] but rather in culture. “When one considers that the practice does not prevail and is much condemned in countries like Saudi Arabia, the center of the Islamic world, it becomes clear that the notion that it is an Islamic practice is a false one,” Haseena Lockhat, a child clinical psychologist at North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust, wrote.[4] True, FGM occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa. And in Arab states such as Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation,[5] both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit.

How’s in Indonesia?

The New York Times reports on a “new global assessment”[6] [that] documents for the first time that [FGM] is widespread in one of the most populous countries in Asia: Indonesia.” This underscores that lack of reporting on the problem in a given country is not evidence that it doesn’t exist. How can?

The inclusion of Indonesia on the list has raised the tally from 130 million circumcised girls and women in 29 countries estimated in 2014, albeit the study claimed that the prevalence of FGM has fallen significantly. According to the data, 14-year-old girls and below represent 44 million of those who have been cut, and Indonesia is among the three countries with the highest prevalence of FGM among this age group, along with Gambia and Mauritania. It is difficult to compare practices of female genital mutilation or cutting in Africa with those in Indonesia and it should be done with caution. In contrast, in Africa the practice frequently involves partial or total removal of the clitoris (or the prepuce) and stitching to narrow the vaginal opening.

In Indonesia, people perceive circumcision as a required act of faith and part of tradition. A majority of Muslims in Indonesia obliges circumcision for boys and girls. Indonesia tried to ban the practice in 2006. But religious clerics reacted by releasing an edict declaring that it was part of a religious practice. In 2010, the Indonesian Health Ministry released a regulation that allowed medical personnel to perform female genital cutting on young girls. The argument supporting medical process of FGM is that it is better to have trained medical personnel perform the procedure than risking severe infections if performed by traditional circumcise-rs. However, it may actually be even more dangerous. Midwives tend to use scissors instead of penknives. Hence, they actually conduct real cutting of the skin. Traditional circumcise-rs, meanwhile, use penknives for more symbolic acts of scraping or rubbing. In 2014, the Ministry lifted the regulation. However, medical establishments continue to carry out the procedure. Female genital cutting is now more commonly performed by medical personnel than traditional circumcise-rs.

And How’s The Islamic View About It?

FGM (also known as female genital cutting) is often equated with female circumcision (known as khitan in Arabic or sunat in Bahasa) —though the essence of both is much different. FGM is just an ancient tradition that harm women, while female circumcision is in the fiqh principles of Islam. Circumcision is one of the sunnah(s) of the natural tendency (fitrah), as is indicated by the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah —circumcision, shaving the pubes, plucking the armpit hairs, cutting the nails, and trimming the mustache.”[7]

Undoubtedly with regard to the sunnah(s) of the fitrah, some of the wisdom behind them is obvious, and that includes circumcision. There are clear benefits to it which we should pay attention to and understand the wisdom behind it. Circumcision is prescribed for both males and females. The correct view is that circumcision is obligatory for males and that it is one of the symbols of Islam, and that circumcision of women is mustahab (recommend) but not obligatory. There are reports in the sunnah which indicate that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam. In Madeenah there was a woman who circumcised women and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to her: “Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman and more liked by the husband.”[8]

Although there are differences of opinion among ulama’ about circumcision for women, however, circumcision is part of the Shari’a for women, regardless of compulsory law or sunnah. Whoever does it is more important, and this includes the passage of the sunnah of The Prophet that is almost gone, so that the person who does it is one of those mentioned by The Prophet s(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in his word; “Whoever makes a good sunnah in Islam, then he will get the reward and reward of those who follow it without deducting from their reward at all.”[9]

Female circumcision has not been prescribed for no reason, rather there is wisdom behind it and it brings many benefits. Mentioning some of these benefits, Dr. Haamid al-Ghawaabi says:“The secretions of the labia minora accumulate in uncircumcised women and turn rancid, so they develop an unpleasant odour which may lead to infections of the vagina or urethra. I have seen many cases of sickness caused by the lack of circumcision. Circumcision reduces excessive sensitivity of the clitoris which may cause it to increase in size to 3 centimeters when aroused, which is very annoying to the husband, especially at the time of intercourse.”

Another benefit of circumcision is that it prevents stimulation of the clitoris which makes it grow large in such a manner that it causes pain. Circumcision prevents spasms of the clitoris which are a kind of inflammation and also reduces excessive sexual desire. Dr al-Ghawaabi refutes those who claim that female circumcision leads to frigidity by noting; Frigidity has many causes, and this claim is not based on any sound statistics comparing circumcised women with uncircumcised women, except in the case of Pharaonic circumcision which is where the clitoris is excised completely. This does in fact lead to frigidity but it is contrary to the kind of circumcision enjoined by the Prophet of mercy (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) when he said: “Do not destroy” i.e., do not uproot or excise. This alone is evidence that speaks for itself, because medicine at that time knew very little about this sensitive organ (the clitoris) and its nerves.

The female gynecologist Sitt al-Banaat Khaalid says[10]: “For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the sunnah which encourages it. We all know the dimensions of Islam, and that everything in it must be good in all aspects, including health aspects. If the benefits are not apparent now, they will become known in the future, as has happened with regard to male circumcision –the world now knows its benefits and it has become widespread among all nations despite the opposition of some groups,” Then she mentioned some of the health benefits of female circumcision and said: It takes away excessive libido from women, prevents unpleasant odors which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce, also reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections and the incidence of infections of the reproductive system.  Also mentioned in the book on Traditions that affect the health of women and children[11]: With regard to the type of female circumcision which involves removal of the prepuce of the clitoris, which is similar to male circumcision, no harmful health effects have been noted.

But when we talk about FGM at the details of its type, for Muslims, cliterodectomy and infibulation should be considered harâm (prohibited) practices and opposition to it should be part of our ongoing mandate to fight against superstition and oppression. As to the mildest form of female circumcision, the risks to the girl’s future ability to enjoy sexual relations with her husband must place it at best in the category of makrûh (disliked) practices. Since it has neither hygienic nor religious value, there is no justification for Muslims to engage in this painful and potentially harmful practice and it would be best to avoid it completely.


Overall, Allaah knows best. Wallaahu a’lam.



[1] Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern. UNICEF, New York, 2016.

[2] Eiman Okro, “Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung im Sudan,” PhD dissertation, Humboldt University, Berlin (Hamburg: Akademos Science Publishing House, 2001); “Female Genital Mutilation in Africa: Information by Country,” Amnesty International, accessed Sept. 1, 2006.

[3] See, for example, Marie José Simonet, “FMG: sunnah oder Verbrechen aus Tradition,”, Vienna, June 24, 2005.

[4] Haseena Lockhat, Female Genital Mutilation: Treating the Tears (London: Middlesex University Press, 2004), p. 16.

[5] Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung: Geschichte, Ausmaß, Formen und Folgen (Vienna: Renner Institut, 2004), p. 6.

[6] Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung: Geschichte, Ausmaß, Formen und Folgen (Vienna: Renner Institut, 2004), p. 6.

[7] Narrated by al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257).

[8] Narrated by Abu Dawood (5271), classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

[9] Narrated by Muslim (1017).

[10] Liwa’ al-Islam magazine, issue 8 and 10; an article entitled Khitaan al-Banaat Ru’yah Sihhiyyah (Female circumcision from a health point of view).

[11] Published by the World Health Organization in 1979.

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