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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Debates about FGM in Egypt: before 2007

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The following is an excerpt from a book by Nawal El Saadawi: "The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World." She is an Egyptian novelist, MD and militant writer on Arab women's problems and their struggle for liberation.

"I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes. It was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few minutes ago."

"Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold unfeeling, cruel hands. ..."

When I returned to school after having recovered from the operation, I asked my classmates and friends about what had happened to me, only to discover that all of them without exception, had been through the same experience, no matter what social class they came from. ..." 1

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Developments regarding FGM in Egypt:

FGM is a social/cultural custom, not a religious practice. It is common in Egypt and in other countries of Northern Africa. It is usually performed on pre-pubescent girls, often without anesthetic or precaution against infection. In those countries where the mutilation is common, it is generally practiced by persons of all religions: Muslims, Christians, followers of Native religions, etc.

Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim victim of infibulation, stated:

"The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. " 2

A 2005 report titled "Children in Islam: Their care, development and protection" issued by UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and the International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research at Al-Azhar University states:

"Islam and female circumcision: From an Islamic perspective, the Qur'an says nothing relating explicitly or implicitly to female circumcision. The use of the general term ‘Sunnah Circumcision’ is nothing but a form of deceit to misguide people and give the impression that the practice is Islamic. As for the traditions attributed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, in this regard, past and present scholars have agreed that none of these traditions are authentic and should not be attributed to the Prophet." 3

Sunna circumcision involves cutting of the outer part of the clitoris, but not its complete removal.

An older meta-study on "female sexual castration" presented in 1989-MAR showed that five surveys conducted between 1977 and 1985 estimated that 80.5% of Egyptian women in Cairo and Alexandria had undergone FGM. 4 The percentage was probably much higher in rural areas.

During 2007-JUN, Ahmad 'Aliwa, a women's rights activist, described one finding that shows the near universal practice of FGM in Egypt, noting:

"The Center for Social Studies conducted a survey which showed that 85% of the prostitutes in Egypt were circumcised. There is no relation between female circumcision and the girls' behavior." 5

A 2005 report by UNICEF suggested that 96% of Egyptian women between the ages of 15 and 49 who were married or had been married in the past had undergone a form of FGM or circumcision. 6

A more recent study by the Egyptian government found that 50.3% of girls aged 10 to 18 have been circumcised. 6

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FGM debate in Egypt:

Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of the al-Azhar Islamic Institute, had stated during the 1990s that the practice is un-Islamic. The Health Minister of Egypt, Ismail Sallam, announced a ban on FGM in 1996-JUL. This was upheld by a junior administrative court in Cairo.

Sheik Youssef Badri, a fundamentalist Muslim, took the health minister to court. In 1997-JUN, an Egyptian court overturned the ban. Eight Muslim scholars and doctors had testified that the ban exceeded the government's authority and violated the legal rights of the medical profession. Sheik Badri commented:

"[Female] circumcision is Islamic; the court has said that the ban violated religious law. There's nothing which says circumcision is a crime, but the Egyptians came along and said that Islam is a crime."

In 1997-JUL, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel interviewed Sheik Badri. He claimed that many Muslim women are pleased with this victory of Islam over its enemies. When it was pointed out to him that parents in Morocco and Algeria do not practice FGM, he replied that the clitoris in Egyptian girls was larger than in those countries and had to be cut back to a normal size. He quoted a French study which showed that circumcised girls are less likely to catch AIDS. [Author's note: This may well be true, if for no other reason but that victims of FGM are probably less likely to be sexually active.] Badri believes that the United States is spreading misinformation on the health risks of FGM.

We have been unable to find any documentation to support Badri's assertion about clitoral size.

The government appealed the case to Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court. They ruled that the operation is not required by Islam, and that "female circumcision is not a personal right according to the rules of Islamic Sharia (law)." Thus, FGM is subject to Egyptian law. The government prohibited the procedure, even if it is done with the agreement of the child and her parents. However, gynecologists were still allowed to perform the surgery if it is needed for health reasons.

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An important fatwa:

A fatwa is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law that has been issued by an Islamic scholar.

Professor Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, issued a Fatwa on FGM on 2006-NOV-24 concerning FGM:

"In the name of God the all merciful

The international conference of scholars concerning a ban on abuse of the female body was held on 1st and 2nd Du al-Qi’dah 1427 of the Hijri, corresponding to the 22nd and 23rd November 2006, in the conference facilities at Al-Azhar University. An array of research work was presented. Once scientists, Islamic scholars, experts and activists from civil rights organisations in Egypt, Europe and Africa had been heard, the following recommendations were issued:

  1. God gave people dignity. In the Qur’an God says: 'We have dignified the sons of Adam'. Therefore, God forbids any harm coming to man, irrespective of social status and gender.

  2. Genital circumcision is a deplorable, inherited custom, which is practiced in some societies and is copied by some Muslims in several countries. There are no written grounds for this custom in the Qur’an [or] with regard to an authentic tradition of the Prophet.

  3. The female genital circumcision practiced today harms women psychologically and physically. Therefore, the practice must be stopped in support of one of the highest values of Islam, namely to do no harm to another – in accordance with the commandment of the Prophet Mohammed 'Accept no harm and do no harm to another'. Moreover, this is seen as punishable aggression against humankind.

  4. The conference calls on Muslims to end this deplorable custom in accordance with the teachings of Islam, which forbid injuring another in any form.

  5. The participants of the conference also called on international and religious institutions and establishments to concentrate their efforts on educating and instructing the population. This concerns particularly the basic rules of hygienic and medicine, which must be maintained for women so that this deplorable custom is no longer practiced.

  6. The conference reminds the educational establishments and the media that they have an implicit duty to educate about the harm this custom brings and its devastating consequences for society. This will contribute to stopping the custom of mutilating the female body.

  7. The conference calls on the legislative organs to pass a law, which bans the practice of this gruesome custom and declares it a crime, irrespective of whether this concerns the perpetrator or the initiator.

  8. Furthermore, the conference calls on international institutions and organisations to provide help in all regions where this gruesome custom is practiced, which will contribute to its elimination."
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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nawal El-Saadawi, "The hidden face of Eve: Women in the Arab World," translated and edited by Sherif Hetata, Zed Press, London, (1980), Pages 5-8. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. "Egypt strengthens ban on genital mutilation following girl's death," EITB 24, 2007-JUN-28, at:
  3. "Children in Islam: Their care, development and protection" UNICEF and the International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research of Al-Azhar University, 2005, at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  4. Mohamed Badawi, "Epidemiology of Female Sexual Castration in Cairo, Egypt," Paper delivered at the First International Symposium on Circumcision, Anaheim, California,1989-MAR-1 &. Online at:
  5. "Death of Girl During Circumcision Stirs Debate in Egypt and Prompts a Fatwa by Mufti of Egypt Banning this Practice," Transcript of program on Al-Mihwar TV, 2007-JUN-24, at:
  6. Ian Black, "Egypt bans female circumcision after death of 12-year-old girl," Guardian Unlimited, 2007-JUN-30, at:

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Copyright © 1998 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-MAR-13
Last update: 2014-APR-22

Author: B.A. Robinson
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