Does Islam prescribe female genital mutilation?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Female circumcision, known pejoratively as female genital mutilation or cutting, is not prescribed in the Quran and there are no authentic prophetic traditions recommending the practice. The basis in Islamic law is that it is not permissible to cause bodily harm and any such practice of female circumcision proven to be harmful would be unlawful.
Ubaida ibn As-Samit reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ
Do not cause harm or return harm.
Source: Sunan ibn Majah 2340, Grade: Hasan
Nevertheless, the practice was accepted by some of the classical schools of law and is practiced today by some Muslims, in which a small amount of skin is removed from the female genitalia, comparable to male circumcision. Sometimes the practice is done with excess, causing great harm to the girls who undergo the procedure.
There are a few weak traditions used to sanction the practice, but upon scrutiny we find that none of them are authentic.
Usama ibn Umair reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
الْخِتَانُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ مَكْرُمَةٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ
Circumcision is a tradition for men and honorable for women.
Source: Musnad Ahmad 20195, Grade: Da’eef (weak)
This narration has been reported from Usama ibn Umair, Shidad ibn Aws, and Abdullah ibn Abbas, but all of them are weak.
The narration of Usama ibn Umair has been declared weak by Adh-Dhahabi in Tanqeeh At-Tahqeeq 2/264.
The narration of Shidad ibn Aws has been declared weak by Ibn Kathir in Jami’ Al-Musaneed 5100.
The narration of Abdullah ibn Abbas has been declared weak by Al-Bayhaqi in Sunan Al-Kubra 8/325.
Accordingly, this tradition does not meet the strict requirements for establishing a legal ruling in Islam, but there is another narration cited as proof we likewise need to scrutinize.
Umm Atiyyah reported: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لَا تُنْهِكِي فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَحْظَى لِلْمَرْأَةِ وَأَحَبُّ إِلَى الْبَعْلِ
Do not cut severely, as it is better for the woman and more desirable for the husband.
Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 5271, Grade: Da’eef (weak)
Abu Dawud, who narrated this tradition, said:
وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَسَّانَ مَجْهُولٌ وَهَذَا الْحَدِيثُ ضَعِيفٌ
The narrator Muhammad ibn Hassan is unknown and this narration is weak.
Thus, this tradition also cannot be used as proof recommending the practice of female circumcision.
Some anti-Muslim writers have tried to describe female circumcision as a uniquely “Islamic” practice by citing these traditions, but as we have seen these reports are not authentic. In addition, the practice predates Islam and is supported by non-Muslim cultures as well.
According to Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf:
Linking female circumcision to Islamic philosophy and instruction has proven quite dubious. If Islam is indeed the foundation of female circumcision, how can we explain the persistence of the tradition among non-Muslim peoples who embrace it with equal ardor and enthusiasm? Conversely, how can we account for the fact that the great majority of adherents in some Muslim societies do not carry out any form of female genital excision?
Source: Abusharaf, R. M. (2006). Female circumcision: Multicultural perspectives. p. 2
From all of this, we can reasonably determine that the practice of female circumcision originated in cultures before Islam and was later “Islamized” by Muslim jurists.
Sheikh Dr. Abdur Rahman ibn Hasan al-Nafisah writes:
There is no evidence that this practice was widespread among the pious predecessors (salaf as-salih). Moreover, the practice has never been prevalent in the regions where Islam originated, Mecca and Medina and the surrounding areas of Arabia. It is extremely rare. If female circumcision had truly been endorsed by Islamic Law, it would certainly have been practiced and perpetuated in those regions. Only male circumcision is practiced, due to the authentic evidence in the Sunnah that it is part of the natural way (fitrah).
We conclude that female circumcision is merely a cultural practice that has no prescribed Islamic ruling for it and that is supported by no decisive textual evidence. It is simply a regional custom in the places where it is practiced. We must then take into consideration that many medical professionals consider it to have detrimental effects for the girls who undergo the operation. On that basis, it would be impermissible to allow this custom to continue. In Islamic Law, preservation of the person, the life and bodily soundness of the person, is a legal necessity. Anything that compromises this legal necessity by bringing harm to the person is unlawful.
Therefore, the practice of female circumcision does not have support from the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet. It is a cultural tradition that has been adopted by some Muslim cultures and most Muslims do not practice it. If performing female circumcision leads to bodily harm, then such acts are forbidden by Islam.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.