Throughout the Muslim world, most prominently in northern Africa, young women are subjected to the hell of genital mutilation. This involves slicing off the labia and the clitoris, often with a sharp stone, and then stitching up the vaginal opening with strong twine, not to be removed until it is broken by male force on her wedding night. A small gap is left to allow for the passage of menstrual blood.
The pain, humiliation and misery caused by this procedure are beyond anything that can be easily imagined. Indeed, victims of the procedure often die from haemorrhagic shock resulting from severe bleeding, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, and overwhelming infection and septicaemia. Those who survive this torment not only suffer severe pain in the weeks following, but also commonly experience pelvic infections, development of cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers, excessive scar tissue formation, infection of the reproductive system, and serious psychological consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Additional complications include urinary and menstrual problems, infertility, later surgery (defibulation and reinfibulation), and painful sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse can only take place after opening the infibulation, through surgery or aggressive penetration. There are also problems when giving birth: the scar tissue might tear, or the opening may need to be cut. A study by the WHO of six African countries has shown that women who have undergone FGM are at significantly increased risk for adverse events during childbirth, with an additional one to two babies per hundred deliveries dying as a result of it.
This barbaric practice is not limited to the Islamic world – it is happening in Ireland as we speak. Indeed, based on 2016 data collected by the Central Statistics Office, an estimated 5,790 women and girls living in the country had undergone FGM. We also know that as many as 1,632 girls in Ireland are estimated to be at high risk. This horrific reality has been enabled by the Irish Government’s failure to honour previous commitments to combat the practice. To quote Siobhan McGee from the Irish Times:
Since the passing of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation Act) 2012, little further progress has been made on the issue of preventing FGM and supporting survivors, to follow through on the legislation and prioritise practical actions to support the elimination of FGM.
Islam and Inference
As the late Christopher Hitchens put it, no society would tolerate such an insult to its womanhood if the practice was not holy and sanctified. Indeed, although there is no explicit approval given to FGM in either the Qur’an or the hadith literature, the obsession over virginity and purity in Islam effectively makes it a foregone conclusion. To quote Ayaan Hirsi Ali in this regard:
Islam is strongly dominated by a sexual morality derived from tribal Arab values dating from the time the Prophet received his instructions from Allah, a culture in which women were the property of their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, or guardians. The essence of a woman is reduced to her hymen. Her veil functions as a constant reminder to the outside world of this stifling morality that makes Muslim men the owners of women and obliges them to prevent their mothers, sisters, aunts, sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, and wives from having sexual contact. And we are not just talking about cohabitation. It is an offense if a woman glances in the direction of a man, brushes past his arm, or shakes his hand. A man’s reputation and honour depend entirely on the respectable, obedient behaviour of the female members of his family.
In accordance with this wayward sexual morality, during their tenure in government, the Muslim Brotherhood did their utmost to decriminalise FGM in Egypt. According to reporter Mariz Tadros, the practice was offered for a nominal fee as part of the Brotherhood’s “community services”, thus exacerbating what is already a massive problem in the country. As Tadros commented at the time:
Many of the brothers (and Salafis) argue that while it is not mandatory, it is nevertheless mukarama (preferable, pleasing in the eyes of God). They also quote hadith which stipulates that female genital mutilation should involve “cutting, but only lightly.”
Earlier this month, Ali Selim of the Clonskeagh Mosque took to Irish television to advocate the decriminalisation of female genital mutilation (FGM). This brief glimpse into the mindset of organised Islam was swiftly followed up with an Irish-friendly apology. Alliance of Former Muslims recognises the PR spin of the Clonskeagh Mosque, and stands resolutely in opposition to the legalisation of FGM. We condemn the practice as barbaric, and stand on guard against all attempts to facilitate religious cruelty using the Irish State.