Ijma’a, Qiyas, & the origins of FGM/C

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c Ijma’a (consensus of scholars)

We should first note that this and subsequent sections are, strictly speaking, irrelevant: the evidence furnished by the Koran and the Hadith (which are both above the Ijma’a in the hierarchy of doctrinal authority) suffices to establish Islam’s stance on FGM – the Koran urges Moslems to ‘adhere to the fitrah’, sahih Hadith make it clear that fitrah is a set of practices, one of which is circumcision (khitaan). Other Hadith show that khitaan refers to both male circumcision and FGM.

The authors nevertheless examine the Ijma’a and find reasons there to rule FGM as un-Islamic.

When there is a consensus on a religious issue or practice, that consensus becomes a basis for supporting the practice or issue – provided the consensus does not conflict with the Koran or the sahih Hadith. The authors examine the stances of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) recognised by Sunni Moslems and their stances on FGM and find that those stances vary between ‘honourable’ ‘optional’ and ‘obligatory’.

Asmani and Abdi then cite some other scholars who have expressed themselves in favour of, and some who are critical of FGM. Asmani and Abdi conclude from this that there is no consensus amongst scholars by which FGM can be justified as Islamic.

However if one investigates when these scholars lived, there emerges a pattern:

scholars favourable to FGM
Ibnu Taymiya

Ash-Shaukany

Al-Mawardy

died 1328

died 1839

died 1058

scholars critical of FGM
Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq

Sheikh Tantawy

Sheikh Mohammed Arafa

Sheikh Shaltoot

Sheikh Abubakar Aljazaairy

died 2000

died 2010

died 1976

died 1963

born 1921

This fits with what further investigation confirms: no Islamic scholar has been critical of FGM before the last couple of decades of the 20th century. This consensus on FGM has held for 1400 years and has only started to fray at the edges in recent decades, under pressure from the non-Islamic criticism. Does this mean that there is a consensus of scholars or not? The answer depends on how much dissent is permitted before the consensus is broken; and whether the consensus includes scholars from the start of Islam, or if it only includes scholars who are alive today, or who died recently.

Moreover, when one reads what the critical scholars wrote on FGM, other than Sheikh Abubakar Aljazaairy’s statement (‘The khitaan mentioned in the Hadith on the five natural things clearly refers to male circumcision’) they hardly amount to ‘opposing FGM/C’:

“ahadith stating the legality of FGM/C are dhaeef; none of them is sahih.” – Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq

“There is consensus among scholars that male circumcision is part of the religion. There is proof that the grandsons of the Prophet (PBUH), Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein, were circumcised. There is no such evidence for FGM/C.” – Sheikh Tantawy

“Supposing, for argument’s sake, that the ahadith cited to support [FGM] are authentic. We would still have to deal with the problem of the extent of the ‘cut’ as it is not clear” – Sheikh Mohammed Arafa

“There is no single piece of evidence that it is part of the sunnah.” – Sheikh Shaltoot (note that Shaltoot is not saying that there is ‘not a single piece of evidence that FGM is part of the Sunnah’ but that ‘no single piece of evidence shows that it is part of the Sunnah’. This agrees with our findings: that FGM is shown to be Sunnah by a chain of evidence)

That these are the strongest statements that the authors could find in support of their argument highlights its weakness.

Asmani and Abdi next acknowledge that supporters of FGM would counter the authors’ claim that ‘there is no consensus of scholars on FGM’ with:

“…the scholars do not differ on whether or not the practice is Islamic; but rather on its status as to whether it is wajib (obligatory), sunnah (optional), mustahab (recommended), or makrumah (honourable) thereby giving it the status of mubaah (permitted).”

And that:

“since none of the scholars have said it is haram (prohibited), it is wrong to say that FGM/C is un-Islamic and that it is at least a mubaah (permissible) act.”

Asmani and Abdi counter this by pointing out that Ijma’a comes below the Koran and the Sunnah in the Islamic hierarchy of authority and that FGM conflicts with the Koran’s and Sunnah’s teachings which specify that no harm is allowed to the human body, other than those that are permitted (e.g. male circumcision, amputation of the limbs of thieves, an eye-for-an-eye justice…).

We have already dealt with this objection elsewhere – in short: the Koran and Hadith make it is clear that FGM is a mutilation permitted in Islam.

Note what the authors have done in this section: they effectively acknowledge that there is a ‘consensus of scholars’ on FGM, one that has existed for all of Islam’s history other than the past 30 to 40 years, but they dismiss all those scholars as simply being wrong. If they feel able to do this it is largely because they mis-define the word ‘khitaan’ and repeatedly commit the fallacy of ‘begging the question’ – a fallacy that the scholars, presumably having studied Aristotelian logic, knew of and avoided.

d Qiyas (analogical deduction)

Qiyas is a principle of Islamic jurisprudence where the verdict can be transferred from a belief or act that has been decreed upon to another act which has not yet been decreed upon, provided that the two acts share common features. Asmani and Abdi give the example of heroin (which didn’t exist in Mohammed’s time) being forbidden today on the basis that Mohammed forbade alcohol because of their shared intoxicant properties.

Proponents of FGM have argued that FGM is Islamic because the practice is analogous to male circumcision. Asmani and Abdi assert that:

“comparison cannot be made between male circumcision and FGM/C as they do not share a common feature or cause.”

This is wrong. Male circumcision and FGM share several common features: they both involve mutilation to the genitals; they are both perpetrated on children; and they are both legitimised by tradition. And, as should be evident to anyone who has read thus far, they are both authorised by the Koran and the Hadith, they were both practiced by Mohammed’s followers, they both precede the invention of Islam, and they are both harmful practices.

The authors list ways in which they perceive the two practices differ. However this approach completely misses the nature and purpose of analogical deduction. It is tautological that two practices that are being subjected to analogical deduction must differ in some or many aspects: if they did not differ they would be the same thing, and there would be no need to engage in Qiyas. So pointing out that differences exist between two practices in no way disqualifies them from being subject to Qiyas. What follows are my responses to the six differences that the authors focus upon.

i Male circumcision has an indisputable basis in Islam whilst FGM does not.

Anyone who has followed this critique from the start will know that the basis for male circumcision and FGM in Islam are, by and large, the same – the same Koranic verse (30:30 ‘adhere to the fitrah’), the same Hadith (the ‘fitrah Hadith’) supported by two further shared Hadith (‘when circumcised part meets circumcised part’, ‘circumcision is Sunnah for men and an honour for women’).

But there is a more significant problem with this argument – the whole function of the Qiyas is to address issues to which there is no explicit reference in Islamic holy texts, that can not be resolved by consulting the Koran, the Hadith or the Ijma’a. Again, the authors are ‘begging the question’ – tacitly and prematurely assuming an answer to the very question they are still in the process of answering.

ii FGM conflicts with the teachings of Islam on the sanctity of the human body, whereas male circumcision does not.

We have seen that in Islam all mutilations to the human body are forbidden, except those that are permitted. The authors agree that male circumcision is one of those exempted mutilations. We have seen that FGM is equally exempted.

iii male circumcision is validated by the Ijma’a, FGM is not.

We saw in the previous section that the Ijma’a validates FGM as being at least ‘allowed’ by Islam. Granted that there is a closer consensus on male circumcision, there nevertheless exist Moslem scholars who reject it as un-Islamic. Is their existence sufficient to break the consensus on male circumcision? Must the consensus be absolute? To the last scholar? And if not, where lies the threshold between ‘consensus’ and ‘disagreement’?

“Some Sunni scholars do not consider circumcision to be necessary to be a Muslim but it is highly recommended as part of Fitra, other Sunni scholars consider it obligatory. Most Shia traditions regard the practice obligatory. Circumcision, either male or female, plays no role in Quranist theology, per ayahs 95:4 and 4:119.” https://www.facebook.com/hadithulquran/posts/598231690228657

iv what is cut in male circumcision has no essential function, whereas with FGM functional tissues are damaged.

This is not true. All mammals have some form of retractable covering to the head of the penis. This is to maintain its sensitivity, that would otherwise be lost by constant exposure to the environment and friction. I can testify to this fact personally – I have two friends who both had to be circumcised in adulthood for medical reasons. Both independently mentioned that in the days and week after the operation they experienced the same hypersensitivity in the glans that uncircumcised men experience when the foreskin is retracted. However, after a few weeks this sensitivity had gone and their glans never experienced the same sensitivity as before their circumcisions.

The fact that Moslem males tend to be circumcised in early to mid childhood means that this loss of sensitivity is goes unnoticed.

The foreskin also has a mechanical function during intercourse, allowing the shaft of the penis to move within the vagina more comfortably. Circumcised men often require some form of lubrication for penetration or masturbation, whereas uncircumcised men do not.

v the extent of what is removed in male circumcision is clearly defined and accepted. This is not the case with FGM.

This is true, but to state it here is to Beg the Question, because Qiyas would allow Sunnah circumcision, which involves removing only the prepuce of the clitoris – a practice perfectly analogical to male circumcision, which involves removing the prepuce of the penis.

vi there are proven benefits (religious and medical) to male circumcision, but not for FGM, only clearly evident harm.

The authors may be correct to the extent that male circumcision appears to reduce the risk of HIV infection of heterosexual men by about 60% (other claimed benefits are not backed up by data and research) and that there are no medical benefits, only harm, to FGM. However it is (again) to Beg the Question to say that there are no religious benefits to FGM – that depends on whether FGM is ‘Islamic’ or not, if it is Islamic then it must have religious benefits, if not medical ones. The authors are not yet at a stage in their enquiry where they can deliver a verdict and, therefore, by assuming that there are no religious benefits to FGM, are, yet again, Begging the Question.

e Islamic Teachings That Counter FGM/C

Asmani and Abdi claim that FGM contravenes many fundamental teachings of Islam and deal in details with nine examples. I will not dwell on these arguments other than to point out that the whole list overlooks the fact that FGM is justified by the hierarchy of authority of Islam and is therefore exempt from the interdictions implied by these teachings; male circumcision gives us a clear instance of this – if it were not allowed by Islam it too would contravene most of the teachings the authors mention. Moreover the teachings referred to are all extremely vague; admit many contradictions and exceptions; they Beg the Question when used to show that FGM is un-Islamic; or are based on claims that have already been debunked in earlier sections.

f The origins of FGM/C is not Islamic

In this section the authors imply that because FGM existed before the invention of Islam it can’t be Islamic. It is true that Mohammed did not invent FGM. Nor did he invent male circumcision, the reverence of the Kaaba, Allah was originally a moon god, and Mohammed himself commanded his followers to ‘follow the religion of Abraham’. Many of the teachings of Islam probably date back to Mankind’s early history – such as interdiction of murder, blasphemy, bearing false witness and theft, and the encouragement of charitable giving. If only those aspects of Islam which Mohammed originated, and which no other religion shares, there would be very little left of Islam.

The authors also make the following claim:

“FGM/C is not practiced in many Muslim countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria and Pakistan, to name but a few. In Kenya, some non-Muslim communities practice FGM/C and some Muslim non-Somali communities do not. Thus, the practice is not limited to Muslims and cannot be considered Islamic.”

Neither the premises of this argument, nor its conclusion withstand testing.

It is true that FGM appears to be little practiced in some Moslem countries – though of the five countries the authors mention four (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Algeria) have been discovered in recent years to be far from free of FGM.

It is true that some non-Moslems practice FGM (data suggests that 20% of FGM is attributable to non-Moslems). But to conclude from these two facts that FGM can not be considered ‘Islamic’ is to establish a criterion for ‘Islamic’ that I’m sure the authors would reject for the rest of Islamic doctrine, since this criterion means that if non-Moslems engage in a certain practice then that practice can not be ‘Islamic’.

Does the fact that Jews and some Christian Americans practice male circumcision make male circumcision un-Islamic? Does the fact that many non-moslems practice charity make Zakat un-Islamic? Or that Hinduism condemns murder make the Islamic interdiction of murder un-Islamic?

Of course not. A practice is not rendered un-Islamic by someone of another religions engaging in that practice. That would be to allow the activities of non-Moslems to define what is Islamic doctrine.

The hierarchy of doctrinal authority in Islam is the Koran, the Sunnah, Ijma’a, Qiyas. But by concluding ‘the practice is not limited to Muslims and cannot be considered Islamic’ they are not only introducing the criterion of ‘what most moslems do or don’t do’ into that hierarchy, but also the criterion of ‘what non-moslems do’! And if the authors really want to follow through with the implications of their statement they must be ready to strip Islam of every precept or practice that any other religion or ideology shares with it – which would include its most important precepts and practices.

Nor is it necessary that all Moslems practice FGM for it to be a practice caused or perpetrated by Islam. Remember, FGM, depending on what school of Islam you adhere to ranges from ‘optional’ to ‘obligatory’. That some populations who hold it as ‘optional’ also choose not to take up that option does not mean Islam forbids FGM. Not all Moslems go on the Hajj – that does not make the Hajj un-Islamic. Certain prayers are optional. Does this makes them any less Islamic?

As to non-Moslem FGM, the huge majority is perpetrated by non-Moslem minorities isolated in intensely Islamic societies, often adopting, over a millennium of persecution, the presiding culture’s practices in order to blend in and survive. The Egyptian Copts are an example of this.

A map comparing the distribution of FGM and that of Islam shows that other than one or two minor exceptions FGM is only ever practiced where Islam is present and dominant (including FGM in the West which is ‘limited to particular minority groups or enclaves’ – namely Moslem immigrants).

FGM + World Muslim Population
FGM + World Muslim Population

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