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CLITORIDECTOMY, commonly known as female circumcision, has historically been practiced in some areas of the Islamic world. The practice is pre-Islamic in origin and its distribution should be attributed to indigenous cultural norms rather than specifically religious requirements. It is known primarily in a number of African societies, Islamic and non-Islamic, in the area extending eastward fromSenegalto the Horn of Africa. The operations referred to collectively as clitoridectomy range from excising only the tip of the clitoris to total excision of the clitoris and labia, and total excision with infibulation. This most severe form of the practice, total excision with infibulation, is referred to commonly as either “pharaonic” or “Sudanese” circumcision and is attested primarily inSudan,Somalia,Djibouti, and parts ofEthiopia. In those areas where it is practiced, clitoridectomy is not limited to the Muslims. InEgypt, for example, clitoridectomy has a long history among the Coptic population. On the other hand, it is relatively unknown among non-Muslims inSudan. It is not practiced inSaudi Arabia,Tunisia,Iran, andTurkey, and is practiced unevenly in Java.

The Arabic terminology used to refer to the practice is khafd or khitan, the latter term being used also to refer to male circumcision. There is no mention of it in the Qur’an, although there is evidence of its existence in the traditions of the Prophet, who condemned the severe forms of the operation as being harmful to women’s sexual health and recommended the minor form of the operation (excising only the tip of the clitoris) if it was to be performed. Generally, the schools of Islamic law regard it as a recommended, but not obligatory, practice. Although explicitly religious justifications may be invoked, the rationales given for continuing the practice are generally not expressed in religious terms. The most common justification given is that it is “the custom”; however, numerous other reasons are also given, for example, the control of female sexuality and the preservation of virginity. Failure to perform clitoridectomy is believed by some cultures to result not only in promiscuity and adultery, but also in infant mortality, infertility, and poor general health. In addition, in the cultures where it is practiced, uncircumcised female genitalia are considered to be ugly, and uncircumcised women are considered, for diverse reasons, to be unmarriageable. The practitioners of clitoridectomy are ordinarily women, many of whom are also midwives. Because clitoridectomy is often performed under septic conditions and is associated with a variety of medical complications, better educated parents, especially in urban areas, may seek medical professionals to perform the operation on their daughters under sterile conditions. In some countries where clitoridectomy is widespread, it has been prohibited by law for a number of years (e.g.,EgyptandSudan). In recent decades, clitoridectomy has become a highly politicized issue in the context of human rights and women’s rights campaigns to eradicate genital mutilation.

[See also Circumcision; Puberty Rites; Rites of Passage.]


Donzel, E. J. van. “Khafd.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4, pp. 913-914.Leiden, 196o-.

Giorgis, Belkis Wolde. Female Circumcision inAfrica.Addis   Ababa, 1981. U.N. publication with an extensive annotated bibliography. Hosken, Fran P. “Female Genital Mutilation and Human Rights.” Feminist Issues 1 (Summer 1981): 3-z3. Outlines human rights arguments.

Sa’dawi, Nawal al-. The Hidden Face of Eve. Translated by Sherif Hetata.London, 198o. Considered a classic statement on clitoridectomy by an Arab feminist.

Wensinck, A. J. van. “Khitan.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 20-22.Leiden, 1960-.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/clitoridectomy/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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