Friday, 27 April 2012

From Tarim to Granada By the Radical Middle Way

Secrets of the Prophetic Chamber: Interview with Shaykh Muhammad Ali Madani

Bism Allah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, revealer of the Qur’an Kareem that says to His noble Messenger: And We have not sent you except as a Mercy to the aalameen: all the worlds.
And as-Salaatu was-Salaamu upon the most noble of the mursaleen (Messengers), our master Muhammad, and upon his family and descendants until the Yawm al-Deen.
I stood this Sunday morning in London’s V&A Museum before three magnificent pieces of silk in the Islamic Arts section. The most wonderful in design and color was a red band from the Honored Kaaba, dating from the 1800s, because for hundreds of years the Kaaba’s covering was green- not black- in color, with a red band instead of the gold of today.
The two others were green pieces of the silk that once covered the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam). The first from 1517-1600, and the second from 1600 to 1700. For a hundred years each, these pieces of silk were exposed to all the blessings and mercies that were sent down from Allah upon the Noble Messenger, and to the majestic lights that rose up, emanating from the Light of the Worlds himself, Salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
Ever since Abbasid times, the coverings of the Honored Kaaba and the Noble Chamber were made in Egypt; at one point in history the latter was being changed every five years. But after the reign of the Ottomans in the lands, the coverings of the inside of the Kaaba and of the Prophetic Chamber were made in Turkey, while the outer covering of the Kaaba remained the work of Egypt.
But the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Aal Saud, ordered that a factory be created in Mecca to manufacture these coverings from his day forward. Journalist Omar al-Midwahy, whose writings focus on the two Holy Sanctuaries and other important Islamic sights, was able to interview in Mecca two of the men who worked on the last covering of the Prophetic Chamber and its installation.
On the occasion of this servant’s viewing of the blessed coverings, and hoping for forgiveness and acceptance from His Lord, he will attempt to translate this interview that reveals some of the secrets of the majestic chamber of Allah’s Beloved, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, hoping to gain the favor of Allah and to one day be counted among the servants (khuddam) of His Messenger, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
Omar al-Midwahy says to
The Conversations of Tears and Reverence
I still remember the conversations with the two old men in Mecca, while looking at their weaving. I was in Mecca, so I headed toward the factory of the covering of the Kaaba, and there I learned that the factory has another honor, for it produces also a covering for the Prophetic Chamber.
I met at that time- several years ago- with men who partook in the production and installation, and I didn’t want to waste that opportunity as their youngest was in his sixties and I feared that they would leave this world before I could document this work.
I recorded with them conversations that were mixed with tears and reverence; sometimes words would betray them, and at others, their emotions would choke them, as they spoke of their unique experience. Their limbs shook from just the memory- as if it happened yesterday- and not a quarter of a century ago.
Shaykh Muhammad Ali Madani, head of the automated weaving division of the factory at that time, was generous with me. I learned from him that he was one of those who took part in weaving and installing the covering of the Prophetic Chamber. I said to him, tell me about the covering and the Prophetic Chamber- describe them to me.
His sight wandered far, as if he was bringing those treasured memories before him. Then he answered: On that day, I felt a state of complete amazement take over me. It is a grand spot- of utmost grandeur. I do not know its exact circumference, but it seemed to me that the Prophetic Chamber was 48 meters in circumference.
The awe of the place was so overbearing that nothing attracted my attention. I was so dazzled that I only saw the lamps hanging from the chamber ceiling, which were old gifts that would be given to the Mosque of the Prophet in ancient times. I was told that there were some Prophetic relics that were kept in another place- I don’t know where- but I do know that some historical items were kept in the chamber of sayyidaFatima al-Zahraa- the same place that she lived in.
He added: the chamber covering is a weave made of pure silk, green in color, padded with a strong cotton cloth, and it is crowned by a belt similar to that of the covering of the Honored Kaaba, except that it is red in color. A quarter of its space is taken up by an embroidery of noble Quranic verses from Surat al-Fath, made of lines of cotton and wires of gold and silver…
The covering of the Prophetic Chamber is not changed every year like the covering of the Honored Kaaba, because it is kept inside the chamber and far from the hands of the people and of the elements, and so it is only changed when needed.
Then I met shaykh Ahmad Sahirty, head of the embroidery division of the factory. It was apparent to me – back then- how old he was, and how weak his vision. He took the initiative, saying: How can I speak to you about my feelings at the moment I entered the Prophetic Chamber… I can’t.. That is a speech above my abilities of speech, and I never thought that I would one day be asked about this experience. And I guarantee you that I will not be able to go through it again.
When the Doors Were Opened
He drew nearer to me and added: Look at the lenses of my spectacles- and he pointed at their thickness- and look at my white hair and the weight of the years that I carry. My age I do not count, but I’ve heard them say that I was born in the year 1333 A.H. (1917 C.E.). And in all those years, I did not know a single hobby other than the love of beautiful scents and perfumes. I’ve spent such a long period of time in those years that I’ve lived, trying to satiate that voracious appetite that is still with me; I traveled much and learned much, but I can tell you this with confidence: that I have my own special blends that you will not find with anyone else, and that no one else could ever make.
And I tell you this because I discovered my inability and the meagerness of my knowledge on that blessed night, when the doors were opened to us, and we entered the Prophetic Chamber, and I inhaled perfumes and scents that I have never known before, and have never known since. I still do not know the secret of its composition: it was a scent above scents, an aroma above and beyond aromas- something else that us people of expertise, the people of the trade, have never experienced before.
When I asked him to describe to me the Prophetic Chamber, a slight chill struck him and coursed through his body. And he said in a faint voice: I believe that the chamber is 11 meters in height. Below the green dome is another dome on which is written: “The tomb of the Prophet, the tomb of Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq, and the tomb of Umar ibn al-Khattab”. And I saw also that there was another tomb that was empty, and next to the four tombs was the chamber of sayyida Fatima al-Zahraa, which is the house in which she lived.
From our awe we didn’t know how to remove the special pieces made for the dome- our fingers would shake and our breaths would race. We stayed 14 full nights working from after the Isha prayer until the first adhaan of the Fajr, in order to finish our task. We kept removing the pieces, untying the knots of the old covering, and cleaning all the dust and pigeon feathers that were stuck in that pure place. This scene goes back to the year 1971 C.E., and the covering that we changed was old: it was 75 years old according to the date that was weaved on it, and had never been changed since.
I was the first to enter, with the Sayyid Habib, one of the notables of al-Madina al-Munawwara, As’ad Sheera the director of religious endowments of Madina at the time, and Habib Moghrabi from the factory management, and Abd al-Karim Flomban, Nasir Qari, Abd al-Rahim Bukhari and others. We were 13 men, I don’t remember most of them, for they have left unto the Mercy of Allah.
We were accompanied by the chief of the Aghas who kept the keys to the Prophetic Chamber, and a number of the servants of the Chamber. Whispering was our speech, and that was if signaling was not sufficient. I was, and still am, suffering from weakness of vision and these spectacles have not left my eyes since those days, but in that chamber I was another person… I felt it, and the difference was clear to me.
Strange Happenings
The shaykh Sahirti swore, saying: I used to put the thread into the hole of the needle without my spectacles, despite the dim light in which we worked. How do you explain that? And how do you explain the fact that I didn’t feel the allergy that I suffered – and still suffer- from? Because I cough severely from the slightest bit of dust. But that day, I was not affected by the dust of the chamber, or the sand flying into the air. As if sand was no longer sand, and as if the dust became a medicine for my ailment. I used to feel all during those nights that I was a young man, and that youthfulness had been given back to me.
Another strange thing happened to me whose secret I haven’t understood until today. We had to take out the old covering, and it was carried by whoever carried it. The embroidered band, 36 meters long, remained. I said to them wrap it and leave it. I went up to it, and despite my weakness, carried it over this shoulder. I went out of the Prophetic Chamber with it, without ever feeling its weight. But after that, they came with five young men to carry it from where I had put it down and they couldn’t.
The shaykh began to weep silently and continued, while sighing: Someone asked who carried it and brought it here. I replied saying: me. They didn’t believe me. I said to them: Ask Abd al-Rahim Bukhari, the famous calligrapher of the covering.
And may Allah continuously whelm the Messenger and his family with Salawaats, Peace, Blessings, and Light, until the day in which his brother Messenger, Isa son of Mary, is buried in that fourth empty grave of the Prophetic Chamber, and yet even after that, and forever.

Being Religious Without Being a Jerk By Abdul Sattar Ahmed

There is nothing that has gentleness in it except that it is beautified, and there is nothing that has harshness in it except that it makes it ugly. So be calm, O Aisha!”
The above words were spoken by our beloved Messenger ﷺ to his wife, `A’isha radi allahu `anha (may Allah be please with her). A group of people had passed by the Prophet ﷺ and our Mother `A’isha, and said to him: “As-sa’amu `alaykum” (death be upon you).”  It was a wordplay on “As-salaamu `alaykum (peace be upon you)”, with the intent of ridiculing the Prophet ﷺ. `A’isha (ra) became so angry that she rose up and began yelling at them that death should be upon them, and the curse of God, and so on.
At this, the Prophet ﷺ turned towards her, and spoke these words, telling her to calm down, and not to lose her composure, even in the face of personal insult. This man, our Messenger ﷺ, was the pillar of tranquility in an ocean of chaos. Our mother Aisha (ra), did this out of a pure, sincere, and unyielding love for the Prophet (saw). Not out of any arrogance or pride. For her it was an anger rooted in love, a desire to protect her Prophet from those who hated him. May Allah be pleased with her.
Unfortunately however, many of us react with harshness when faced with religious differences, especially WITHIN our own ummah – not out of love, but out of arrogance. When we examine ourselves today, especially those among us who are students of religious knowledge or believers striving to better ourselves, a tragic observation can often be made: Religiosity often turns people into jerks.
Many have witnessed this story: A young man or woman who used to be friendly, well-mannered, who treated people well, sadly turns into someone who shows mild annoyance upon meeting people who follow a different religious opinion. He shows anger when presented with arguments against his or her own point of view. Finally, he or she begins to pronounce judgment against others—pronouncing minor differences in opinion as proofs of disbelief.
When told to calm down, to stop being judgmental—the response comes in one of many flavors:
  • “Brother, I am enjoining the good and forbidding the evil!”
  • “We are defending the Sunnah!”
  • “When people are harsh against the Sunnah, we will be harsh in defending it!”
And so on.
Over what kinds of issues? Not the serious lack of counseling services in the community. Not the difficulty that our youth are having in protecting their faith from intellectual attack. Not the issues of domestic abuse, poverty, family breakups or homelessness afflicting non-Muslims and Muslims around us.
But the length of our pants and whether or not they are above our ankles, the lengths of our beards, etc. Perhaps one’s adherence or lack thereof to a group or organization. What we think about pseudo-philosophical concepts about the essence of God’s attributes.  Such meanness and harshness occurs not over what is physically affecting people, but over a disagreement between opinions in our minds. Over varying textual interpretations that result in different legal opinions or a creedal points unknown to the majority of the world’s Muslims.
Why does this happen to us when almost nothing is more important in our religion than the subjugation of our egos to the Power and Oneness of God?
The Remedy
“Islam takes us and throws us so we fall totally in love with The Creator. Yet, somehow some of us turn it into a way to look down upon the creation.”
This happens because somewhere along the line in striving to love God, the ego—the innermost part of our soul which continuously wishes to be glorified and exalted over others—made our religiosity a means of doing just that. The religion exists to crush the ego, and enslave it towards the worship of its Creator.
When we say AllahuAkbar (God is the Greatest), the true meaning of this, when one explores Arabic grammar, is “God is the Greatest Above All Things”—including our loves, our hates, our desires, our weaknesses, our dreams, our hopes, our very essences. Success in reaching our desires is only through His permission, and the power to overcome our weaknesses is only through His Mercy. This phrase is formulated to remind us of Allah’s greatness over ourselves and over every element of our lives. It acknowledges the overwhelming power that is Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
On the ego’s path to enslavement and the realization of recognizing Allah (swt) alone as the sole object of adoration and love, our ego sought a way out so it would not have to undergo such tribulation and destruction; so that it would not have to give up its position as the one that is praised and feels valued.
That ego essentially hijacks the religiosity of the individual and takes it on a detour. What is that detour? Rather than letting Islam be Islam and allowing the soul to get lost in the wonders of Allah’s power, the limitless nature of His love, the magnanimous breadth of His Mercy, the immeasurable depth of His knowledge, the care and affection that He showers upon His creation—the ego detours the soul into LOVING ITSELF.
When the soul begins to love itself, it becomes dissatisfied with not only God, but with God’s creation. It sees its own knowledge, opinion, and worldview as superior to all others. In order to maintain its false notion of being humble, it will even fake humility to those on the outside: “I’m nobody, I’m not knowledgeable”—while secretly harboring contempt for all those who follow different opinions or ideas about Islam. It is easy to recognize this tendency in ourselves. It happens when our religious discourse, our religious speech, and our religious vocabulary become less about loving God, adoring his Messenger ﷺ, bettering ourselves and more about creedal disagreements, legal fine points, and how one group is bad or another is good.
When religion becomes more about how one person does not practice the way that pleases us  (even if we are correct in expressing the opinion of orthodox Islam) than about how we can please God, the religion has essentially turned into a tool to make us feel better about ourselves.
This does not mean we should turn off legitimate criticism in religious discourse. Enjoining the good and forbidding evil means that we must take an active interest in our communities, and in striving to develop our communities and our religious practices in a way that is healthy, natural, and allows Muslims from all backgrounds to be included and non-Muslims to feel welcome.
Rather, it is time we examine our deeper motives and feelings when we criticize and put forth negativity: “Am I criticizing and putting forth negativity because my criticism and the way I am putting it forth will actively help to prevent harm and bring benefit? Or am I criticizing to ridicule, make myself feel better, and make others see me as superior?”
Answering this question correctly and being sincere is the difference between the religious jerk and a servant of God.

Mutilating Facts: Setting the Record Straight About Female Circumcision & Genital Mutilation By Imam Afroz Ali

Female circumcision today has been made synonymous with female genital mutilation. This has added to much confusion as well as has raised legitimate as well as ill-motivated concerns regarding the position of either act under Islamic Law. As such, and preamble to the discussion submitted in the Paper below, it must be publicly and categorically stated that female genital mutilation is prohibited under Islamic Law. The prohibition is such that it is considered a crime under law deserving of full compensatory considerations. One of the most senior Jurists of all time, Imam Malik, considered it similar to a person losing any other bodily limb, and subject to full force of the law.[1]
This entire discussion is underpinned by a Hadīth which states:
On the authority Of Abdullah bin Yazid Al-Ansari, The Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, forbade robbery and mutilation of bodily limbs.[2]
Circumcise: /ˈsəːkəmsʌɪz/, verb, to cut off the foreskin of (a young boy or man, especially a baby) as a religious rite, especially in Judaism and Islam, or as a medical treatment; cut off the clitoris, and sometimes the labia, of (a girl or young woman) as a traditional practice among some peoples.[3]
It is noteworthy that the English term ‘circumcision’ is defined to include the practice of mutilation of the female genitalia, i.e., cutting off of the clitoris. Furthermore it is as noteworthy that the supposed practice of the cutting off of the labia is a ‘traditional practice among some peoples.’ We will see in this Paper that such definitions themselves are prejudicial and inaccurate in their attempts to define the act. Presumably they reflect a toeing of the line of secular and modern claims against some forms of such acts or against some religious practices in general. The definition itself is normatively accurate, but descriptively presumptuous.
But this Paper is not a polemic against definitions and presumptions per se’; it is more aimed at setting the record straight regarding what Islam’s position is on two kinds of acts: female circumcision in the one hand and female genital mutilation in another. They are, in fact, two very different, and unrelated, kinds of acts; the former being permissible and the latter completely forbidden under Islamic Law. The butchery that this issue has received in modern times is as barbaric as what some customs and cultures have practised; the worst culprits being western academics, including Muslims. Such academics have written scores of influential Papers from social anthropology, making highly inaccurate theological conclusions, such that it is almost impossible to search for the practice of female circumcision without it being connected to genital mutilation. Interestingly, the practice of female circumcision is alive and legally permissible in many western nations (that have whipped the horse to death so to speak), including nations like USA and Australia, but under a very different and almost inviting name. But more on that later, if only to encourage the reader to keep reading in order to get a better grasp of the subject.
Undoubtedly, malpractice of circumcision is not uncommon in Muslim communities. But that is a highly deceptive statement; the practice of female circumcision and its malpractice which includes genital mutilation are quite global in distribution. Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, as well as Brazil, Peru, China and the Aboriginal tribes of Australia are not exempt from such practices.[4] Such malpractice also occurs in countries like USA and Australia through the legalised procedures, leaving many women unable to sexually function.[5] The criminal malpractice is a human problem, violating the rights of women the world over, through various means of manipulation of women , e.g., religious claims, cosmetic beauty, and the like. The rhetoric that exists in social research and reporting on this issue is acutely prejudicial despite the facts, and women remain the victims, despite the investigations and reports claiming to advocate for women’s and indeed human rights. The clearer, and apolitical, we are regarding the prohibition of female genital mutilation, the better the results will be in protecting the rights of women. This means also to be clear regarding the legal permissibility of female circumcision, as discussed and explained below.
This topic is a hotspot for securing “research” grants, particularly if it also includes vilifying religion through it. My targeting of academics in the west in this Paper is solely because they are an incredibly influential body today which shapes much of societal thinking. Just as it is relevant to educate the academics so that they do not keep wasting valuable paper and resources writing factoids, there is also relevance in raising awareness amongst the many cultures that are doing the wrong thing. Both groups play their proportionate role in maligning the facts. This short Paper aims to set the record straight for whoever chooses to read it in full, and aspires to be amongst the many wonderful resources that are already available from those who truly want to help uphold the rights of women in full without prejudice.
Before looking into specific evidences and guidelines regarding what Islamic Tradition has to say about female circumcision, it will be important (particularly for those who are unfamiliar withHadīth science and its diversity) that one understands the fact that ‘Hadīth’, from which Islamic Law is derived, includes not only the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, or The Verified Six (or the Collection of Six),[6] but in fact scores of other authentic Collections. The methodology of classification of Hadīth is a complex science, particularly in terms of which one of the Five Rulings would fall under as derived by any one of the four Schools of Law. Furthermore, it is simply untrue that if an authority like Bukhari did not include a Hadīth in his Authenticated Collection, this somehow means that it is inauthentic. This Paper does not go into any detail regarding Hadīth classification and the science pertaining to it for deriving the law itself; it should be clear to the reader that such a science will need scholarly study. Unfortunately, numerous modern writers have either taken it upon themselves to render certain Ahadīth ‘weak’ or ‘inauthentic’ and thus somehow unfit for legal purposes, or quote someone else to assert the same thing. I suspect this is because many Muslims writing on this matter are either embarrassed or lack knowledge and assume that all aspects of it are inhumane; particularly regarding the blurred distinction between circumcision and genital mutilation. Statements like “even if the Prophet had said so….” are rampant in academic literature, mainly from Muslims, who seem to find it difficult to come to terms with what is evidentially true; that female circumcision is permissible in Islam, as it is in secular law of countries like USA and Australia.
The problem in reality is not in the statement I have just made, but in that the vast majority of people (the mal-practitioners, the academics, the lay Muslims, as well as many clerics altogether) simply do not know what that statement means. i.e., that female circumcision is permissible in Islam.
So what does female circumcision refer to, first and foremost within the Islamic Legal Tradition? Some of the verified Ahadīth that refer to circumcision in general (i.e., male and female) and to female circumcision in particular are as follows:
The Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, said, “Five matters are from the Fitrah [i.e., primordial human nature that inclines to goodness and wellbeing]: circumcision, shaving off of pubic hairs, trimming of one’s moustache, removing of hair from the armpits and cutting of nails.”[7]
The Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, said, “Circumcision is from my practice for men and kindly honourable for women.”[8]
The Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, said, “When the circumcised part touches the circumcised part, purificatory bath becomes obligatory.”[9]
Here is an important Hadīth that needs some explanatory comments, and which will also be referred to later in the Paper in some detail:
A woman who was known as Umm ‘Attiyah was known in Madinah to perform female circumcision [probably even from before the advent of Islam] and the Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, said to her, “Umm ‘Attiyah, when you do circumcise, restrict yourself to cut a minute part and do not excise the glans. That will be far more pleasant for the wife and satisfying for the husband.”[10]
Commonly in popular articles, this Hadīth is claimed to be a sole reporting in the Abu Dawud collection and, as such, claimed to be weak and unreliable. For example, the following comment is not uncommon:
“This is known to be a “weak” hadith in that it does not meet the strict criteria to be considered unquestionable (classified as mursal, i.e. missing a link in the chain of transmitters in that none was among the original Companions of the Prophet.) In addition, it is found in only one of the six undisputed, authentic hadith collections, that is in the Sunan of Abu Dawud…….”[11]
There are significant errors in the statement above: The Hadīth in question is reported by other narrators with sound chains of narration and Abu Dawud is not the sole narrator at all; MursalAhadīth are in fact subject to legislation and have several levels of legal usage; contrary to the claim, a Mursal Hadīth is not a weak Hadīth… that should suffice to know that such careless and ignorant statements are neither proofs against female circumcision nor conducive to expert consideration. We will refer to this particular Hadīth as the Umm ‘Attiyah Narration when we return to it for further details. It is noteworthy that thisHadith clearly distinguishes between circumcision and genital mutilation or cutting, but presumably the subject article either ignored this fact or confused one with the other.
Given that it is clear that female circumcision is at the very least permissible in Islamic Law (as to which one of the Five Rulings it takes is beside the point for now), it is absolutely critical to understand what ‘female circumcision’ means. The key misconception and misrepresentation arises from varied levels of ignorance regarding this simple yet important point: definitions. We will return to what Islam defines it as, but firstly it is noteworthy to understand what current explanations and descriptions exist amongst researchers, social commentators and those who work in the field of advocacy against the mixed understanding of female circumcision/female genital mutilation. It is rather unfortunate that the two terms are commonly used interchangeably when, as we will see, they are two completely different things, and should be treated as such to help in removing the confusion.
There are numerous descriptions and definitions of the two terms and they are unfortunately commonly interchangeably used. In truth, what is a violation of human rights of a female isgenital mutilation, and the World Health Organisation classifies it into four kinds:[12]
i) Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
ii) Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
iii) Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
iv) Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
It must be stated clearly that Islamic Law has explicitly prohibited all such kinds of procedures since approximately 1433 years ago, except the removal of the extra labial or prepuce skin without damaging the clitoris where such a need arises; a legal practice in secular nations like USA and Australia today.[13]
Cultural practices around the world do practice such violent methods, and WHO lists some reasons for such inhumane practices:
- Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice;
- FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage;
- FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage “illicit” sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM;
- FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”;
- Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support;
- Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination;
- Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice;
- In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation;
- In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement;
- In some societies, FGM is practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.
Again, it must be stated clearly that all such motivations and reasons for practising female genital mutilation are also rejected in Islamic Law.
What are the evidences that Islam rejects and prohibits the practice of clitoral removal, clitoral cutting, and the like?
Firstly, the very definition of the Arabic term used for female circumcision – khafđ al-mar-āt – is defined by Classical Lexicons as follows:
Removal of the uppermost skin at the top of her glans.”[14]
The academic misconception (or dishonesty) in many Papers and government documents incorrectly refers to khafđ al-mar-āt (female circumcision) as Clitoridectomy in relation to the removing of part or the whole of the clitoris! This is totally false.
Secondly, the Umm ‘Attiyah Narration is key to the rejection of all forms of genital mutilation, including the excising of the clitoral glans, as it explicitly states that:
“Umm ‘Attiyah, when you do circumcise, restrict yourself to cut a minute part and do not excise the glans. That will be far more pleasant for the wife and satisfying for the husband.”[15]
Thirdly, the most authoritative analyst of Hadīth, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, has this to say to define circumcision for the male and the female (in relation to the Hadīth quoted earlierregarding the “two circumcised parts meeting and necessitating purificatory bath):
“What is meant by the dual form in the phrase “the two circumcised parts” is the circumcised genitals of the man and the woman respectively. Male circumcision (khatn) is the removal of the skin of the head or glans of the penis. Female circumcision (khafđ) is the removal of a tiny piece of skin above her glans which resembles the crest of a rooster [referring to the skin forming a clitoral hood]…”[16]
One of the Principles for deriving Legal Rulings is the principle of limitation where the particular ruling cannot be applied beyond the stated limitation itself. Female circumcision (and indeed male circumcision) is limited by definition explicitly to avoid all harmful actions and procedures. In other words, Islamic Law manages its Laws not by exhaustive lists of do’s and don’ts, but by prescribing limits, everything beyond which is not permitted. In the case of female circumcision - by definition, by Prophetic statement and by practice - the limits are set to include nothing but the extra clitoral prepuce and any associated labia, (which we will discuss more on in the next section of this Paper).
It ought to be abundantly clear, that:
i) Islamic Law prohibits Clitoridectomy, Excision, Infibulation and other harmful female genital surgical procedures;
ii) Islamic Law permits - by definition, by Prophetic Statement and by practice - female circumcision. The definition under Islamic Law for female circumcision is exclusively the removal of the uppermost extra skin at the top of the clitoral glans.
Some statements of the most authoritative Scholars will also help to understand and reinforce these two points of clarity that must not be confused:
i) Imam Nawawi said (commenting on the Abu Hurairah Hadīth stated earlier), “Circumcision is obligatory according to al- Shafi`i and many of the scholars, recommended by Sunnah according to Malik and the majority of them. It is further, according to Shafi`i, as regards to males it is obligatory to cut off the whole prepuce or skin which covers the glans or head of the penis, so that the latter is wholly denudated. As regards to females, it is obligatory to cut off a minute part of the skin in the highest region of the genitals. The sound view in our school (Shafi`i), which is shared by the large majority of our companions, is that circumcision is allowed in a youthful age but not obligatory.”
ii) Shaykh Nuh Keller’s Translation of al-Misri’s “Reliance of the Traveller” (Shafi`i school) p. 59: “Circumcision is obligatory (Sh. `Umar Barakat: for both men and women). For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce of the clitoris (Keller: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (Sh. `Abd al-Wakil Durubi: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but recommended by Sunnah, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.”
iii) It is not obligatory for women either in the Maliki school or in the Hanbali school. Both schools consider it merely recommended. See Al-Qayrawani’s “Risala” p. 161, 305; and “al- Mughni” 1:85. Ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki says in “Tuhfat al- ahwadhi” (1:167): Khafđ for the woman is like khitan for the man and consists in removing a piece of skin the size of a rooster’s crest in the uppermost region of the genitals.
Unfortunately modern texts, in particular the highly erroneous book titled “Fiqh as-Sunnah”[17] loses true scholarship and confuses the prepuce with the actual genital and clitoral glans and erroneously states:
The first of the features of natural religion [fitra] is circumcision. It is the removal of the skin which covers the head or glans of the penis… As for the woman, it consists in removing the upper part of the genitals. The opinion of the large majority of scholars is that it is obligatory….[18]
Proof is entirely against two claims made here in the book Fiqh as-Sunnah: female circumcision neither refers to the removal of the genitals/clitoris, nor is it a dominant opinion that it is obligatory. In fact, the obligatory nature stated in the Shafi’i School is conditional, and will be discussed later in this Paper.
Another important fact that must be highlighted is that there is no evidence at all that female circumcision can be performed upon an infant girl. In fact, evidence and inferences clearly point to the permissibility (or conditional obligation) of female circumcision upon puberty, as explained below. This highlights another important fact completely ignored in the discourse regarding female circumcision: that it is the female herself who would elect to take up the permitted procedure by her own consent. It is quite obvious to realise that it is only at the post-pubescent stage that the female would become fully cognisant of any arousal conditions. It may be that she does not become aware of it until she is legally married and when she enters into sexual intimacy with her husband. The female in question, due to certain anatomical factors affecting her sexual arousal, may decide to take up the voluntary procedure of female circumcision through a legal and professional service. With such an understanding, it would be unthinkable and preposterous to justify the practice of female circumcision on a pre-pubescent female child.
Imam Nawawi states regarding female circumcision and age:
The sound view in our school (Shafi`i), which is shared by the large majority of our companions, is that circumcision is allowed in a youthful age but not obligatory.[19]
Imam Shawkani states:
Nothing has been transmitted with regard to its timing nor its obligatory nature.[20]
Furthermore, one may want to return to the previous quotes stated above; they refer to post-pubescent women, as ‘woman’ and ‘wife’. It is absurd to suggest that female circumcision refers to its practice on female children.
Once the reasons for female circumcision are understood it becomes evidently clear that the decision is solely in the hands of the female adult herself. The question then arises as to why female circumcision would be allowed in the first place. And that is when the laws of nations like Australia and USA help shed some light on this; countries that rightfully ban female genital mutilation but that refuse to make an attempt to understand female circumcision (as defined and explained above), although their laws already permit it!
In the secular west, you may not hear the term ‘female circumcision’ as a legally approved practice. This may be because the term is popularly interchangeably used and therefore confused with genital mutilation. Regardless, it is legally practised under a more nuanced and an almost attractive genre of…. cosmetic surgery. To be exact, the procedure, exactly as outlined under Islamic Law in relation to the clitoral prepuce and associated extra-labial skin, has a specifically technical term. The procedure is called labiaplasty (and sometimes labioplasty).
Labiaplasty is defined as:
Labiaplasty is a surgical procedure that will reduce and/or reshape the labia minora and the associated prepuce - the skin that covers the female clitoris and vaginal opening. In some instances, women with large labia can experience pain during intercourse, or feel discomfort during everyday activities or when wearing tight-fitting clothing. Others may feel unattractive, or wish to enhance their sexual experiences by removing some of the skin that covers the clitoris. The purpose of a labiaplasty is to better define the inner labia. During this procedure the urethral opening can be redefined, and if necessary improvements to the vagina may be made.[21]
The most common reason for women today to seek labiaplasty is for cosmetic, aesthetic and beautification reasons, although a lesser number of women elect to have the procedure for medical reasons, e.g., discomfort, pain, sexual inhibition and the like. According to statistics of USA, the procedure is not commonly elected for by women regardless.[22]
Unfortunately it is a rising trend (up by 30% in USA), heavily driven by cosmetic surgery campaigns, where more and more women are taking up the procedure purely from a perceived cosmetic, aesthetics and beautification perspective.
It is also important to highlight that malpractice also occurs in these legalised procedures. Whilst malpractice is never satisfactory and cannot be excused, the point being highlighted here is that it does occur, and there is an equitable responsibility for us in the western world to advocate, at the very least, for safer standards and practices for labiaplasty in countries like Australia and USA, just as there is a call for the more acute problems in African nations, for example. The rights of women must be protected and upheld not through geo-politics but through ethical standards.
There is a more specialised cosmetic surgery that is legal in countries like UK, USA, Australia, etc. It is called clitoridotomy, or more commonly known as clitoral hoodectomy. These procedures specifically specialise in clitoral prepuce surgical procedures to reduce or shape the skin, such that a woman can experience better sexual pleasure, when without the procedure she would not be able to and may not ever experience an orgasm. Clitoridotomy is very often also referred to as female circumcision, to distinguish its legal nature from the illegal act of female genital mutilation.
These procedures are for exactly the same reason as the Islamic Law permits them, to the extent that the Shafi’i School considers it a personal obligation to undertake the procedure so as not to be sexually deprived.
When the clitoral prepuce is abnormally large, thick or heavily and tightly covering the clitoris, women can suffer from a condition called Clitorial Phimosis. This causes the sensitivity of the clitoris to be greatly reduced to almost having no sensation at all. If this were the case, women during sexual intimacy with their husbands could experience pain and high levels of stress and frustration due to being unable to reach orgasm. In other cases, particularly in warm climates, such a condition can lead to unintended sexual arousal simply by the friction caused between the clitoris and the tightly covering prepuce.[23]Without going into any further detail, I am certain that anyone can understand such a problem; sexual frustration ruins individuals and marriages. It is with these facts in mind that one should read the Umm ‘Attiaya Narration in relation to the permissibility of female circumcision:
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings of God the Exalted be upon him, said, “Umm ‘Attiyah, when you do circumcise, restrict yourself to cut a minute part and do not excise the glans. That will be far more pleasant for the wife and satisfying for the husband.”[24]
Islam’s permissibility is entirely based on a sincere concern regarding the natural wellbeing (fitrah) of the female, and her human right for sexual pleasure within her marriage. Female circumcision under Islamic Law, as is the case for legal labiaplasty and clitoridotomy, allow for surgical procedures that protect and enhance a woman’s arousal via the clitoral glans. Neither the laws of the secular west nor the Islamic Law tolerate or allow female genital mutilation in any form whatsoever. However, it can be argued that Islamic Law has the principle of limitation, but the secular law does not necessarily. As a result some of the legalised procedures in nations like Australia and USA may well be genital mutilation even if carried out with the express consent of the female. Whilst that is for lawyers of the secular jurisprudence to deal with, one thing is undoubtedly certain - Islamic Law protects the right of the woman and permits her to make a personal choice for female circumcision, in order to eliminate any arousal problems that may have been present for her. Islamic Law also prohibits any form of genital excision, mutilation and surgical alteration regardless of her consent. In other words, it is not only prohibited for a woman to seek genital mutilation, it is as prohibited for people to facilitate or perform acts of genital mutilation. The reason is simple: the former permission is part of the primordial human nature that leans to good and wellbeing (permitted sexual satisfaction is part of wellbeing). The latter prohibition is because it is against human nature even if the human has a depraved desire for mutilation, and is similar to the responsibility of authorities to stop a person from harming themselves even if they may consent to such a depraved action.
An interesting but sad fact that surrounds the issue of female circumcision is that there is a great deal of opposition to it because it is seen as a “religious” practice. This may be the paradigm of many religions, but it is not of Islam. Islam’s Five Rulings – from obligation to prohibition – are not only a matter of ritual devotion but also a mode of living by such values because in them are inherent human benefits that outweigh harm or have no harm. And at the same time, whilst a Muslim may rarely seek to understand the inherent material benefits, her Faith in God is sufficient to participate in an act as a ritual devotion which is permissible. What is damaging and dangerous is the ongoing and accelerating attack on actions because their basis arises from a religious instruction. This is not only prejudicial, extreme and undemocratic, it is also simply unacceptable. It is like banning Muslims from washing their hands before and after eating because the act arises from a religious instruction! Washing hands for hygiene may be simply understood today, but it was not always the case, to the extent that in Australia, the Department of Health has had to run media campaigns to educate teenagers and youth to wash their hands before eating.[25]
Call it by whatever name we choose to, female circumcision as explained in this Paper is permitted under Islam Law, and the choice to undertake the procedure is entirely upon the woman, upon her puberty, when she becomes aware of any sexually inhibiting or arousal conditions.
The confusion, malpractice and criminal activities surrounding female genital cutting, i.e., either mutilation or legal circumcision, must first be properly understood by those who advocate for human rights of women. Otherwise, false claims and rhetoric against religious practices, often driven by geo-political agenda, will only force communities which are in breach of the law and human rights to disengage. The real problem of violence against women that female genital mutilation is part of, cannot in that case be properly addressed. Currently the blazing fire of crime against women is largely fuelled by the academics and activists themselves, who are armed with the wrong information. To disarm a society obsessed with violence means they must first arm themselves with unbiased and accurate facts.
Communities around the world that practice female genital mutilation under whatever name and excuse they give it, commit an unacceptable crime against women and female children. Proper education regarding the act must be a priority. Community leaders must reject female genital mutilation. Indeed in Muslim communities, influential and educated leaders must become aware of the facts in order to help curb the practice of female genital mutilation in their communities. But this will only happen if those in leadership and positions of influence themselves understand the facts. Every reader of this Paper has a responsibility to promote a better and clearer understanding of the subject by stopping ignorant and misguided claims and teachings from spreading.
Governments, service providers, authorities and the media must refrain from misguiding the public by spreading false information as part of an agenda to malign religions, and indeed Islam. They need to redefine their intentions and purposes, which must solely be for the care and concern for the women and children who are suffering from criminal malpractice of what is commonly referred to as female circumcision. Global organisations like the United Nations should not have their websites optimised to search engines where a person seeks information on female circumcision but gets directed to pages on genital mutilation; this is grossly irresponsible and contrary to helping the victims themselves. Female circumcision in its legitimate form is a personal and human right of a woman; genital mutilation is a horrible crime. We must inform the people of the difference.
In summary, female circumcision under Islamic Law is not different to the legally practised procedures called labiaplasty (or labioplasty) and clitoral hoodectomy (or clitoridotomy) under secular laws of nations like Australia, UK and USA. Islamic Law limits such a procedure to a female adult who may experience mild or severe clitoral phimosis, i.e., formation of extra skin as prepuce and connecting labia which affects sexual arousal, either through a lack of clitoral stimulation due to the heavy and tight layer of extra skin, or through unintended sexual arousal through friction when, for example, a female would merely be walking or running.
From Islam’s point of view, female circumcision is not only a human right; it is a Divinely Ordained right of a woman. And if it helps the sceptic, it may be worth reflecting that we as humans evolve in our knowledge and understanding, and it is for that very reason God The Creator has revealed Laws and Guidelines so that the human does not have to wander in darkness for centuries before being enlightened with knowledge which help in the wellbeing of the human. We the human might not know everything but our Lord has not abandoned us. God’s Final Messenger, Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, was sent as Mercy to the entire creation. He had a deep sincere concern for the wellbeing of the human being, and so lived God’s Word in full, giving us the best of examples to follow - there is no doubt about that. The argumentation and misleading information human beings spread is a devastating force and, in the context of the subject of this Paper (whether claiming that genital mutilation is somehow Islamic, or that legal circumcision is somehow equivalent to mutilation), is ruining the lives of innocent women and children. And so it may be apt to end by quoting from Divine Revelation that God Almighty said:
Here you are - those who have argued about that of which you have little knowledge; but why do you argue about that of which you have no knowledge? And Allah knows, while you do not.
[Qur’an 4:109]
We may want to take counsel from that.

[1Muwatta of Imam Malik, and can be found in the section dealing with “Blood Money Matters” (Compensatory Laws)
[2] Hadīth recorded by Bukhari
[3] Oxford Dictionary Online
[4] Female Genital Mutilation, L.P. Cutner (Obstetrical and Gynaecological Survey, p40, v7, 1985)
[5] To be discussed further below under section 5.
[6] I refer to the Hadīth here and not the Qur’an, because the key evidences to consider regarding this subject is in the Hadīth literature, which is a record of the Sunnah of the Messenger of God, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, and forms part of the Primary Sources from which Islamic Law is derived.
[7] Hadīth recorded by Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Malik and numerous others.
[8Al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, al-Tabarani (Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, Beirut, latest print edition- 2009); recorded in the Musnad of Ahmad and by others.
[9Al-Muwatta, Malik, and recorded by numerous others.
[10Majma al-Zawa’id, al-Haythami (Dar ul-Kutb al-‘Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1999); also in al-Mu’jam al-Awsāt, al-Tabarani (Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, unknown date of publication); and numerous others with verified chains of narration.
[11Female Genital Mutilation, Muslim Womens League (Paper presented, January 1999 and available at their website:
[12Female Genital Mutilation, World Health Organisation (Fact Sheet no. 241, February 2012). It can be accessed via their website at
[13] Refer to Section 5 of this Paper.
[14] One may refer to lexicons like Lisān al-‘Arab, as well as Lanes Arabic-English Lexicon. A modern collection of the classical definitions is also a good reference, titled Muj’am al-Lughāt al-Fuqara, Rawwas and Sadiq (Dar al-Nafa’is, 1985).
[15]Majma al-Zawa’id, al-Haythami (Dar ul-Kutb al-‘Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1999); also in al-Mu’jam al-Awsāt, al-Tabarani (Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, unknown date of publication); and numerous others with verified chains of narration.
[16Fath al-Bari, ibn Hajr al-Asqalani- this is a well-known work and is available from numerous current-day publishers.
[17] A book which is unauthorised for legal teachings, and which contains dubious and erroneous claims.
[18Fiqh as-Sunnah, Sayyid Sabiq (Dar al-Bayan lil-Turath, Cairo, 1987)
[19Al-Minhaj bi-Sharh Sahīh Muslim, Imam Nawawi
[20Nayl al-Awtar Sharh Mantaqa al-Akhbarmin Sayyidil-Akhyar. Imam as-Shawkani
[21] For detailed information regarding labiaplasty, including definitions and scope of procedures, go to Warning: the web pages have graphic images and must be avoided unless the textual explanations are difficult to comprehend. Individuals with a genuine concern to understand this issue properly should be the only ones accessing such information. Any abuse of the graphical information, including desire to view it for sexual gratification is prohibited under Islamic Law.
[22] American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2000/2005/2006 National Plastic Surgery Statistics: Cosmetic and Reconstructive Procedure Trends: commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=23628
[23] A beneficial website that provides sound and professional advice on these matters can be found at
[24] I remind the reader to note that the reference is explicitly to an adult female.
[25] I recommend reading information available at