Sami Aldeeb

Presented at the Fourth International Symposium on Sexual Mutilations,
University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, August 9-11, 1996.

In Chapter 17 of Genesis, God is reported to have ordered Abraham, then 99 years old, to circumcise himself and all the males of his tribe and their slaves as a sign of alliance between God and the descendants of Abraham. The "uncircumcised shall be cut off" as violating this alliance. In the Bible, "uncircumcised is the synonym of "impure," and the uncircumcised were forbidden to enter Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:1 and Hezekiah 44:9).

We find a shifting in the conception of the Bible. Circumcision of the skin gradually is replaced by the circumcision of the heart (Jeremiah 4:4, etc.) This conception prevailed in the debates opposing Pagans and Jews converted to Christianity.

The Koran does not mention male circumcision. Furthermore, the philosophy of the Koran considers the creation of God as perfect (32:7). The Koran forbids slitting the ears of animals as defacing the fair nature created by God (4:119). Nevertheless, male circumcision was adopted by the new Islamic community on the pretext that Abraham was circumcised. Mohammed is also reported to have ordered it. But this is contested and some classical authors say that he never searched under the clothes of those converted to Islam to verify if they were circumcised or not. For this reason, most probably, male circumcision was introduced by Jews converted to Islam.

The Koran does not mention female circumcision, but Classical authors rely again on contested sayings of Mohammed, who is reported to have praised it. They add that female circumcision became a norm among women after Sarah circumcised Hagar, who became pregnant, out of jealously. This is a way to attach female circumcision to the foremother, Hagar, as male circumcision was attached to the forefather, Abraham.

Today, Muslims practice male circumcision without contesting it. But they easily begin doubting it with mention of Koranic arguments. On the other hand, female circumcision is contested in many Muslim circles, although it continues to rage in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and other Muslim countries. With female genital mutilation, laymen oppose religious leaders, and an intensification of this opposition can in the end bring male circumcision into the debate as neither custom is mentioned in the Koran and both are contrary to its philosophy. For this reason, it is important to link male and female circumcision. We have also to have an eye on mixed marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, as their children are automatically circumcised, being Muslims by law.

[The complete paper is published in Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy, New York: Plenum Press, 1997 (ISBN 0-306-45589-7).]

[For a more extensive treatment of this subject, see: To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah.]

Sami Aldeeb is a graduate in political sciences and doctor of law. He is the Staff Legal Advisor for Arab and Islamic Law in the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, Lausanne, Switzerland. He is the author of the text, To mutilate in the name of Jehovah or Allah published in many languages and periodicals), and of a book in French on Muslims and human rights, Les Musulmans face aux droits de l'homme, Winkler, Bochum (1994), the first book on human rights which treats and condemns both male and female genital mutilation.

Return to the Fourth International Symposium page.