Fact checking Qasim Rashid
on Female Circumcision
As we came across a blog by a popular Muslim apologist it struck us once again how uninformed the West is on the subject of Islam despite it being at the top of public debate for many years. One would think that by now prominent Muslims such as mister Rashid wouldn’t dare feed us such a biased and unscholarly article, echoing the clichéd mantra “nothing to do with Islam”. Nothing ever seems to have anything to do with Islam as far as advocates like Rashid are concerned. At least not when it’s viewed as negative by the West. Slavery? Never a thing in Islam. Child marriage? Yes, for the prophet perhaps but certainly not for regular Muslims. Offensive warfare against non-Muslims? Never heard of it. And while all of these topics have been accepted within mainstream Sunni Islam since the very beginning, Westerners are content with hearing any modern Muslim’s denial without ever researching the issues for themselves.
It’s no different in the case of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision as proponents prefer to call it. While fully embraced by all four madhabs (schools of thought) within Sunni Islam for centuries on end, now suddenly Islam advocates like Rashid are clinging on to modern interpretations. This is fine by us because we should by all means exterminate the practice of FGM as soon as possible. But we do have a problem when a spokesperson for Islam tries to whitewash Islam’s current and past marriage to FGM, pretending it was never part of any serious view of the religion.
It is quite the opposite as we will be demonstrating in this blog. For any honest student of Islam it becomes clear that female circumcision has been considered (at least) permissible and even admirable for ages by all four madhabs. In fact quite a few notable islamic jurists of the past have deemed the practice just as compulsory as the well-known circumcision of boys. We will start by highlighting a few of Qasim Rashid’s points in the mentioned article and provide them with our commentary. We know mister Rashid is an Ahmediya Muslim but in his article he seems to draw from theological sources also accepted by the Sunnis.
Only one hadith?
Rashid immediately draws as much attention as possible to one particular hadith which proponents sometimes mention. This hadith is indeed a weak narration according to some renowned scholars. Quite slowly, by continuing to dwell on this one hadith, Rashid suggests to his readers that nothing else is ever brought forth by proponents of female circumcision and critics of islam (who he quite unfairly labels as extremists and Islamophobes). Soon enough he apparently feels he has dwelled on this theory so much that he can safely say that “Extremists and Islamophobes alike ignore the Qur’an altogether and focus only on the single Abu Dawud Hadith”. However, as we’ll soon find out, this is absolute nonsense.
If we simply go to islamqa.info and check the fatwas on the issue of female circumcision, we see that the very people Rashid presumably refers to as extremists base their theology on hadiths other than the one in Sunan Abu Dawud. In fact the irony is that they specifically mention that this hadith is not what they base their theology on:
“The fact that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam is confirmed by the ahaadeeth quoted above, not by this disputed hadeeth.” [i]
The same legitimacy can be found on Sunnah.org.[ii]
So, Rashid says the extremists only have one weak hadith while they themselves provide us with several other authentic ones. At the very least Rashid’s statement was uneducated but we think it may have been meant to be misleading. We say this because a man of his education must know about the evident acceptance of FGM and the proof scholars have provided on numerous occasions.
You may wonder which hadiths were “quoted above” in the mentioned fatwa. The two hadiths are both from collections which are considered sahih (authentic). The first, from Sahih Bukhari, mentions Muhammad saying the fitrah (human nature) of people is five things, one of them being circumcision. Because no gender is specified, most scholars have taken this as a sign that it refers to both.[iii] The second hadith, from Sahih Muslim, mentions that the ritual washing (ghusl) is obligatory after the two circumcised parts of a husband and wife have touched. [iv]
Qasim Rashid failed to mention these hadiths even once, while popular “extremist” websites are very open in their reference to them. It seems Rashid has grossly misrepresented the view of his opponents. This sloppy work of apologetics in all likelihood does not help the Islamic community in the long run. Honesty remains the best policy and if people find out that a spokesperson like Qasim Rashid has for years provided them with only half the story, it may do more damage to the already dubious reputation Muslims scholars have with regards to their truthfulness when informing a Western audience. We can understand a man’s desire for Islam to be free from FGM but this must never get in the way of one’s scholarly task to be honest about all of the material at hand.
Irrelevant Quran reference
Let’s continue with Rashid’s article. He mentions that one particular verse in the Quran refutes the idea that FGM could ever be allowed in Islam. But upon visiting the Quran it becomes painfully obvious that this verse has absolutely nothing to do with the subject. One cannot take back money once given to a wife after divorcing her, it says in Surah 4 verse 20. Well that’s wonderful, but what does that have to do with not being allowed to cut into a girl’s genitalia?
Cultural or religious?
Then Rashid mentions that FGM has been practiced by Muslims, Jews and Christians, presumably in an attempt to generalize the tradition so we can all buy into the idea that it was never anything more than a cultural phenomenon left over from the ancient times of the Pharaohs. But the fact is that female circumcision, though indeed merely a cultural phenomenon for Jews and Christians – and impossible to prove through any exegeses of their respective scriptures – is religiously inspired in the case of Islam. For it is clear that the scriptures of Islam are not silent on the matter nor are the most notable scholars, who have embraced the practice since day one.
Mainstream Islam and FGM
We’ve already seen that the so called extremists base their ideas on authentic hadiths. Whether we agree with them is a different – and for our discussion irrelevant – issue. After proving that influential speakers like Qasim Rashid seem to deliberately misrepresent their opponents positions, the only other thing relevant to our topic is to determine whether the practice has indeed only been embraced by extremists and never by mainstream scholars of Islam.
The Reliance of the Traveler is a classical manual representing the Shafi school of thought within Sunni Islam. We know that Qasim Rashid at least admires imam Shafi, whose name was given to that particular school of thought, since he proudly quoted him on his Twitter account just two months ago.[v] The Reliance of the Traveler was written by the renowned sheikh Al-Misri in the fourteenth century. His work is still today considered essential for any student of Islam. What does it say about female circumcision?
Let’s find out:
“e4.3 Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women. For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce (Ar. bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.” [vi]
This book can be bought everywhere online, and yet Qasim Rashid said that “the vast majority of the Muslim world condemns FGM, and always has throughout history”. What a strange thing to say when this famous medieval manual on Sharia is found in every major bookstore. We also know that all four madhabs have embraced FGM, not just the Shafis. Now of course they would never call it Female Genital Mutilation because, like circumcising boys, they do not consider it to be a mutilation. Regardless, two of the four madhabs consider female circumcision obligatory. The other two recommend it as a righteous thing to do.
Fath al Bari
Fath al Bari is the most notable commentary on Sahih Bukhari. When its writer, Ibn Hajar, discusses a hadith on ritual washing which doesn’t mention the circumcised parts of the male and female, he makes a reference to the discussed hadith that does, saying:
“What is meant by the dual form in the phrase ‘the two circumcised parts’ is the circumcised genitals of the man and the woman respectively. Male circumcision (khatn) is the removal of the skin of the head or glans of the penis. Female circumcision (khifad, khafd) is the removal of a tiny piece of skin in the uppermost part of her genitals which resembles the crest of a rooster, and between it and the entrance of the penis there is a thin membrane.” [vii]
Different types of FGM: only one is Islamic
Just like Al-Misri, Ibn Hajar states that the Islamic female circumcision is the removal of a tiny piece of (fore)skin. It is only fair to note that the types of FGM often found in countries like Egypt and Somalia are an exaggeration of the practice as it was meant to be. Cutting off the clitoris is widely viewed as an un-Islamic version of female circumcision. However, this does not exempt Islam from any blame, since cutting in the genital area of young girls should not be a religious doctrine to begin with. Medical professionals generally distinguish between three types of FGM, type I being the so called ‘Sunna’ type which refers to the one recommended in Islamic jurisprudence. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also uses this name.
Ahmad Ibn Hanbal
We have one more quote from a foundational Islamic scholar to show you. This time we cite the work of a man whose name was given to the Hanbali school of thought:
“Abu al- Malih ibn `Usama’s father relates that the Prophet said: “Circumcision is a law for men and a preservation of honor for women.” [viii]
It is needless to say that Rashid’s comments lack any historical balance since he focuses on post-modern Islam while the religion he adheres to has a vast history on the matter of female circumcision. One he dismissed altogether without ever substantiating his denial of its existence.
Not in the Quran
Qasim Rashid further states that female circumcision is not mentioned once in the Quran. This argument is simplistic and quite boring to us since we’ve heard it over and over again by both Muslim apologists and Westerners who seek to appease them. Our shortest refutation of that argument is: “neither is the circumcision of boys found in the Quran.” The smokescreen quickly vaporizes when you point out this fact, because it brings us right back to the hadith collections, where so many Islamic doctrines stem from. And as we’ve already seen, there are at least two hadiths the mainstream jurists of Islam have always used to legitimize female circumcision, none of which Rashid ever allowed his audience to learn about.
Now it is true that FGM predates Islam. But so do praying and fasting. The crucial factor is that Islamic scholars have, based on their theological sources, embraced the practice since the very beginning and the same cannot be said for Jews and Christians. At this point we would like to note that those Christians in Africa who do join Muslims in the horrific practice are almost exclusively found in Christian minorities within Muslim countries. It’s obvious that assimilation has played a crucial role here as people often think of their traditions as cultural while ignorant of the fact that they are rooted in the predominant religion of their country as it was once installed by their more knowledgeable ancestors. A comparison can be made to Muslims in the West partaking in the celebration of Christmas and Easter or their adherence to the Christian prescription of monogamy, including the belief that polygamy should be outlawed. These are practices which Westerners themselves often regard as a cultural traditions and no longer recognize for their religious roots.
Based on two authentic hadiths which Rashid failed to mention, the rulings of the madhabs throughout the ages and the terribly transparent smokescreens Rashid pulled up by presenting an unrelated ayah and alluding to Christians and Jews, we must dismiss his claims about FGM being completely disconnected from Islam. On the contrary: the fact is that FGM was always a part of Islam and still is to this day. That’s why it is not merely practiced in Africa, as many people claim, but also in places like Indonesia which is the largest Muslim country. We agree with Rashid that FGM should be banned, today rather than tomorrow. But to misrepresent Islam’s history, as is done so often in the case of slavery and Jihad, must never be accepted as a means to an end. If Islam has embraced the practice throughout history, be honest about it and call yourself a reformer rather than an adherent of the one true form of Islam as it was understood for fourteen centuries.
[vi] Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al-Misri, Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik, translation: Reliance of the Traveler, translation by Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller, section e.4.3
[vii] Fath al Bari 1:520, chapter 28, hadith 291
[viii] Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5:75