HOME

 

Islam and circumcision

 

Policy Statement

These pages are firmly opposed to all infant circumcision, the Islamic variety no more or less than any other. The Muslim traditions of rationality and compassion will ultimately prevail over physical circumcision.

- HY

 

"In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful!"

That invocation itself is a good argument not to circumcise: what could be less compassionate or merciful than to hold a boy down and cut off his most intimate part?

Muslims are the largest single group in the world who circumcise boys. An Intactivist website would be lacking if it said nothing against this variety of the practice. Ideally, opposition to Islamic circumcison must begin within Islam itself. The problem is where to start and how to proceed, when it is so entrenched, and the Islamic Intactivist movement is so tiny.

The Qur'an does not mention circumcision.

The main reason given for Islamic circumcision is (ritual) cleanliness. Against this it is hard to argue, except to point out that there is no more reason for the male genitalia to be ritually unclean than the female.

What has Islam got to say on female genital mutilation?

As far as female genital mutilation is concerned in Islam, it is permissible and not obligatory. Even male circumcision is not compulsory but a Sunnah. If there is any harm in female circumcision then it can even be banned in the sense that it has been proven by scientific and medical Islamic scholars that the way it is done is harmful to the health of the girl child.

Imam Baba Leigh On Child Rights in Islam
The Independent (Banjul, Gambia) INTERVIEW
August 3, 2001

 

This site also says male circumcision is not compulsory:

According to the Maliki madhab, the circumcision of a male is a highly recommended act (sunna). It is not an obligation (wajib). The ruling is the same whether the male is a child or an adult.

[Risala of Ibn Abi Zayd]

 

There is ample evidence on other pages that male circumcision itself (not just "the way it is done") is harmful to the health of the male child. It is painful, risky, often deforming, sexually diminishing and confers no health benefits.

Another reason given is "to be like Muhammad, who was 'born circumcised'". This can easily be refuted: if the Prophet was born without a foreskin (aposthetic), he was not circumcised, and that is the way to be like him.

Like Judaism, Islam forbids disfiguring the body:

"A body - be it alive or dead - should be respected. It cannot be disfigured at any stage," the Jamiatul Ulama, a council of Muslim theologians in Durban, said on Monday ... the Ulama's Ahmed Kathrada said: "We respect the human body in any form... our primary concern is that we cannot reduce it to disfigurement whether living or dead...".

"Durban dithers over frozen corpse disposal"
Independent On Line
(South Africa)
October 1, 2002

It is hard to reconcile this respect with deliberately cutting any part off a baby's genitals.

 

Some relevant quotations from the Qu'ran:

He created everything in exact measure; He precisely designed everything

(25:2)

He designed you, and designed you well.

(40:64)

He created the heavens and the earth for a specific purpose, designed you and perfected your design.

(64:3)

He created man in the best design.

(95:4)

[Satan said:] " I will mislead them, I will entice them, I will command them to mark the ears of livestock, and I will command them to distort the creation of GOD."

(4:119)

We did not leave anything out of this book.

(6:38)

The word of your lord is complete, in truth and justice. Nothing shall abrogate His words. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.

(6:115)

Say, "Did you note how GOD sends down to you all kinds of provisions, then you render some of them unlawful, and some lawful? Say, Did God give you permission to do this? Or, do you fabricate lies and attribute them to God?"

(10:59)

Edip Yüksel is a Kurdish-Turkish-American author and progressive activist who spent four years in Turkish prisons in the 1980's for his political writings and activities promoting an Islamic revolution in Turkey. He experienced a paradigm change in 1986 transforming him from a Sunni Muslim leader to a reformed Muslim or rational monotheist. He is the founder of 19.org and the Islamic Reform organization. His personal site is yuksel.org . His recent major work, Quran: a Reformist Translation, has been recently published by BrainbowPress, after being cancelled by Palgrave-Macmillan, which followed the fatwa of a "very established scholar."

Hadith (hearsay narrations falsely attributed to Muhammad and his companions) and their collections have been the prime tool in distorting the progressive message of Islam. The reactionary forces, misogynistic ideas and practices, racism, tribalism, superstitions, despotism, and many other vices of the "days of ignorance" were resurrected and sneaked back into the minds and lives of Muslim communities after they were rejected by the early Muslims at great cost.

...

Modifying God's creation for religious purposes is considered evil (See 4:119). Obviously, foreskin is not an abnormality in God's creation; it is the norm. Attempting to change such a creation through surgery to attain salvation is superstition (13:8; 25:2; 32:7; 40:64; 64:3; 82:6-9).

Sunni sources report many contradictory stories regarding circumcision. For instance, Ahmed B. Hanbal in his Musnad reports that Usman bin el-As refused to participate in a circumcision ceremony, since he considered circumcision an innovation. The Sunni historian Taberi reports that Caliph Abd al-Aziz rejected the suggestion of his advisors that the people of Khurasan should be circumcised; they were converted to "Islam" to avoid paying extra tax! Bukhari gives contradictory numbers for the year Abraham was allegedly circumcised, 80 versus 120. Bukhari who reports hearsay regarding the circumcision of converts and women, also reports that when Greeks and Abyssinians embraced islam they were not examined at all by Muhammad.

Hadith books, including Bukhari, contain numerous hadiths promoting circumcision including female circumcision, which is a torturous mutilation. However, hadith fabricators somehow forgot to fabricate hadiths about the circumcision of prominent figures during the time of Muhammad. More interestingly, since the practice of circumcision was adopted centuries later, they missed the opportunity to attribute this practice to Muhammad himself. Sunni scholars, therefore, came up with another so-called miracle: Muhammad was born circumcised. This would answer those who wondered about the absence of such an "important" record in the books of hadith and sunna.

- The Fictional Muhammad?

 

The Prophet was not circumcised

The American Muslim
July 24, 2012

Did You Know Prophet Muhammad Wasn't Circumcised?

By Dr. David Liepert

Itís not surprising, but it is disappointing. After a German District Court Judge partially banned pediatric circumcisions in Germany earlier this month (when a young Muslim boy almost bled to death after a botched one) Muslims, Jews, Christians, religious rights advocates, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel erupted in condemnation, consternation, Nazi allusions and apologies respectively.

I wonder though, whether Muhammad might have backed the German Judge this time. Because Muhammad wasnít circumcised, and most Muslim scholars agree Muslims donít actually have to be either.

...

 

Reverts are not required to be circumcised

Sunni Forum
May 27, 2008

From Suhaib Jobst

As Salaam Alaykum

... No one claims that it is not an accepted Islamic practice. Everyone accepts that it was practiced by the prophets. However, calling to this practice is not one of the necessary elements for a Muslim, i.e. it is not one of the Five Pillars, Six Fundamentals, or wajib such as Salat five times a day.

It also ignores the fact that people are coming to Islam in great numbers and many of them come from peoples who do not practice this. So it becomes a needless stumbling block from acceptance to Islam, and makes Islam appear to be a cultural phenomenon rather than the Universal Religion.

... I have found some interesting fatawa which explain the matter distinctly and wisely, masha'Allah:

"While circumcision is an incumbent religious duty in Islam, it is not a condition for being a Muslim. Given that, it doesn't affect the validity of his prayer, or your marriage." http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.a...=1&cate0&t=rss

"Because of this difference of opinion, scholars are generally easy-going and gentle with recent converts to Islam on the issue of circumcision." http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.a...3&cate=0&t=rss

"Hence it is a greatly meritorious sunnah as well as physically beneficial to perform this act. However it is not a pre-requisite for conversion to Islam." http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.a...ID=1376&CATE=3

"However, it should be remembered here, that he who opts not to be circumcised should regularly clean the area underneath the foreskin of his sex organ because, in Islam cleanliness of the body is obligatory for performing prayers." http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.a...=1731&CATE=115

"In any case, it is not a condition for the validity of a person's profession of accepting the Islamic faith or the performance of his religious duties." www.islamset.com/hip/health5/circum.html

In any case, like I said no one debates its merituous place in our Din but most can only quote the hadith about the five acts of Fitra. So you are exactly right about the matter.

I myself am a proud Muslim revert of German, Spanish and Flemish ancestry. I was a former catholic who was guided to Islam, masha'Allah. That being said, I came from peoples who do not practice circumcision, yet who are naturally eager for the message of Islam, as it would solve many of the social ills in European and Latin societies.

So I would ask our Arab, Pakistani and other brothers who were raised Muslims to keep in mind how early scholars tackled this issue in relation to their Da'wa and their concern with spreading Islam:

"That all peoples, white and black, Romans, Persians and Abbysinians accepted Islam in the time of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and none of them were investigated concerning circumcision." - Al-Hasan al-Basri

"It has been narrated from Al-Hasan that he allowed adult converts to Islam relaxation in getting themselves circumcised. He did not see any harm in their being uncircumcised. He did not see anything wrong with their being called as witnesses or their slaughtering animals or their going for Hajj or their offering prayers." (Imam Ibn Abd al-Barr, Al-Tamheed)

"If a male adult embraces Islam and feels apprehensive about circumcision, it is waived in his case, since ablution, ghusl or grand ablution, and other obligations are waived in his case if he feels any of these is hazardous. It makes then more sense for circumcision to be waived in such a case." (Imam Ibn Qudama, Al-Mughni)

After the conversion of many people stopped the revenues from Jizya, Jarrah the governor in Khurasan, advised that circumcision be adopted as the religious test for true acceptance of Islam. However, Khalifa Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (rahimahullah) replied in a letter: "Allah sent Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) to summon men [to Islam] and not to circumcise." (Ibn Jarir At-Tabari, Annales, vol. II, p. 1354)

So what are our priorities? Is it not to call ALL the people to Islam? Should we focus on those matters which it is OBLIGATORY for them to believe or practice, such that failure to do so would cause them to leave the fold of Islam? Such as not believing in the Six Fundamentals, not practicing the Five Pillars, and failure to pray five times a day. So I ask that we become wise and realistic in this regard. Wa Allahu A'lam.


Suhaib adds:

I believe there can be an open debate on this subject and once many in Western Islamic communities become aware of this matter, then what commonly happens in one area of the Islamic umma never fails to have ripple effects on other areas of the umma. There can be a flow of knowledge and debate, which may originate in the periphery (i.e. Islamic communities in the West) but ultimately lead to positive results in the core (i.e. the Islamic world). The well-known "golden age" of Islam occurred in much the same manner.

How many practices have been amended due to advancing knowledge of health and medicine? The same old claims about circumcision being "hygienic" come from those who naturally accept their own cultural status, without realizing circumcision has not stopped medical problems in the United States or that the lack of circumcision has not led to some horrible epidemic in much of the world that doesn't practice it. How hard is it to simply clean the area? This is something which is required for the Muslim in any case, so how can this logically be used as an excuse?

There is a growing movement which opposes Female Genital Mutilation, based on a re-evaluation of Islamic religious evidences. This is because they recognize it was a cultural practice which was falsely justified under the guise of religion. So they are freely re-examining the issue, why not open up a dialogue on circumcision across the board?

The Muslims are agreed that it is not obligatory, even though it is deeply ingrained in most Islamic cultures. Verses of the Qur'an indicate that there is no compulsion in the Deen. So how can the practice of coercive circumcision be justified? As it is not compulsory, should it not be left up to the individual when they reach the age of consent? Even recommended or Sunna practices are not forced upon the individual, but rather left for them to choose whether to implement them or not. Faith must be sincere and voluntary, otherwise it is coercive and therefore false.

It is a well-known fact that circumcision is not even mentioned in the Qur'an, which itself says that it is a Divine Book from which nothing has been left out of consequence. The Qur'an addresses itself to all of humanity, obviously to people with diverse practices and unique life-experiences. Islam accomodates the various cultures, rejecting that which is contrary to the worship of the One God and accepting all that is compatible to this belief. So if the Qur'an does not even mention circumcision, how can some Muslims make it an issue?

Rather circumcision is mentioned in the Ahadith largely in relation to Semitic tradition: The Prophet Abraham was circumcised, as was also mentioned in the Bible. The Qur'an indicates that the central message of all prophets was the same, while there were unique differences in their Sunna, or practice. For example, the followers of Prophet Joseph would prostrate to him as a sign of respect whereas it is forbidden to prostrate to another human being in Islam.

Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad completed and abrogated the messages of the previous prophets. Abraham was circumcised, but what role does this fact have in the ability of the Muslims to achieve their religious duties or hold those core Islamic beliefs? There are other aspects of his times which are not followed by Muslims, so why make some special exception for circumcision? How does circumcision have any bearing on the belief and worship of One God?

The second "evidence" used by Muslim advocates of circumsion is the hadith:

"Five practices are characteristics of the Fitra: circumcision, shaving the pubic region, cutting the moustaches short, clipping the nails, and depilating the hair of the armpits"

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book #72, Hadith #779).

Let us examine the role of Fitra under Islamic law: these are acts which are recommended but not necessarily obligatory. Notice the key word "characteristics", implying that Fitra is not a status which can be attained by the human being in its perfect sense. But the most significant fact lies in how other ahadith describe the practices of Fitra:

"Five things are included in the fitra: trimming the moustache, cutting the nails, shaving the pubic hair, plucking the armpits, and using the siwak (arak stick for cleaning the teeth).

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Adab al-Mufrad)

"Ten are the acts according to Fitra: clipping moustache, letting the beard grow, using the tooth-stick, snuffing water in the nose, cutting the nails, washing the finger joints, plucking the hair under the armpits, shaving the pubes and cleaning one's private parts with water." The narrator said: "I have forgotten the tenth, but it may have been rinsing the mouth."

(Sahih Muslim, Book #2, Hadith #502. Also reported by Ahmad, al-Nasa'i, and at-Tirmidhi)

In neither of these other versions is circumcision even mentioned. These ahadith about acts of Fitra are general, but what about specifics? There is one hadith where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was visited by two Persian envoys whose moustaches were long, and he indicated how his Sunna is to keep the moustache trimmed. Another hadith which specifies these acts of Fitra:

"A time limit has been prescribed for us for clipping the moustache, cutting the nails, plucking hair under the armpits, shaving the pubes, that it should not be neglected for more than forty nights."

(Sahih Muslim, Book #2, Hadith #497)

There is one singe hadith mentioning circumcision as one of these acts of Fitra, while at least two other versions do not even mention it and ahadith which go into specific rulings do not mention circumcision either. These acts are mentioned in relation to hygiene, as is the Islamic practice of Istinja', i.e. keeping the private parts clean. We intact men all know that it takes little time or effort to clean the penis - a foreskin certainly serves as no impediment to hygiene.

There is also much to the story about the caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. The majority Sunni Muslims believe that there were four Rightly Guided Caliphs, after which followed a degeneration of the rulers - except for Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, whose status was such that he is often considered the fifth, even though he came later. His knowledge and piety was such that he is even regarded as the Mujaddid (reviver of Islam) for the first Islamic century. Hence, if he refused making circumcision an issue for following Islam, how can the less-knowledgeable regard it otherwise?

The QuranicPath website includes some finely detailed argument, noting that "[Satan said], 'I will lead them astray and fill them with false hopes. I will command them and they will cut off cattle's ears. I will command them and they will change Allah's creation.' (4:119) seems to suggest circumcision is also of Satan.

But depending on where they are, any campaigners against Islamic circumcision will have to proceed with extreme caution....

 

The New York Times
May 12, 2001

Death to Blasphemers: Islam's Grip on Pakistan

By BARRY BEARAK
Blasphemy is a capital crime in this volatile Islamic nation, so Dr. Younus Shaikh, while teaching at a medical college, might have wisely avoided any discussion of the personal hygiene of the holy Prophet Muhammad.

But the topic came up during a morning physiology class. And the doctor talked briefly about seventh-century Arabia and its practices regarding circumcision and the removal of underarm hair. Some students found his remarks deeply offensive. "Only out of respect, because he was our teacher, did we not beat him to death on the spot," said Syed Bilal, 17.

Instead, they informed a group of powerful mullahs, who in turn filed a criminal complaint. Lest the matter be treated with insufficient urgency, these clerics dispatched a mob to the medical school and the police station, threatening to burn them down.

Precisely what Dr. Shaikh said in class last October is now a matter of mortal dispute, but he has been jailed ever since, awaiting trial and pondering the noose. Defending himself presents a conundrum. What can he safely say?

...

Dr. Shaikh is charged under Provision 295-C of the law: the use of derogatory remarks about the holy Prophet Muhammad. Whether such an offense is intentional or not, the mandatory punishment is death.

...

"My statements about the holy Prophet, peace be upon him, were made in his praise only, and these have now been twisted out of context," he said in measured phrases.

Moments later, pressed for specifics, he said: "My students asked me about the shaving of pubic and armpit hair, and I, in describing the glory of Allah's revelations, said that before the arrival of Islam, the Arabs did not have these practices. And they did not."

...

Occasionally, Dr. Shaikh's digressions embarrassed his students; occasionally, they seemed impious. One irksome topic was how Muslims had come to practice circumcision and, for purposes of cleanliness, the removal of pubic and underarm hair. A question arose: Had Muhammad been circumcised before receiving God's revelations at age 40?

The ensuing discussion brought on no great ado, and Dr. Shaikh said he only remembers saying, "The Prophet's tribe did not practice circumcision."

But the offended students repeat a different version.

"He told us the Prophet hadn't been circumcised before," insisted Majid Lodhi, 22. "We asked, 'In what book is this knowledge?' And he said, 'I'm telling you the way it was, and if you have evidence to the contrary, bring in your proof.' "

...

"No blasphemy has been committed in this case," proclaimed Maulana Abdul Hafiz. An elderly, stern-faced man, he, too, heads a chapter of the Movement for the Finality of the Prophet, his being in Bahawalnagar. "Blasphemy can be committed only if issues are raised about the period after the holy Prophet declared his prophethood. These issues are pre-prophethood."

...

 

Circumcision is not universal among Muslims:

"Muslims, mostly ethnic Chams, make up about 0.5% of the population. The Chams consider themselves Muslims, but in practice they follow a localised adaptation of Islamic theology and law. Though Muslims usually pray five times a day, the Chams pray only on Fridays and celebrate Ramadan (a month of dawn to dusk fasting) for only three days. In addition their Islam based religious rituals co-exist with animism and the worship of Hindu deities. Circumcision is symbolically performed on boys at age 15, when a religious leader makes the gestures of circumcision with a wooden knife."

- the Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam,
8th Edition 1991, 2005, pp 47-8

 

 

Link to video of an interview with Dr. Arif Bhimji, a Canadian Muslim Intactivist.

Danish flag Lena Nyhus of Intact Denmark interviews a Muslim who did not circumcise (In Danish with English subtitles).

Related pages:

Correspondence from Muslims concerned about circumcision is welcome, and will be treated in strictest confidence.

Back to the Intactivism index page.