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Circumcision in Islam

The above prophetic tradition provide basis for circumcision in Islam. Though khitan is not mentioned in the Qur’an, it is enough if hadith or sunnah…

The above prophetic tradition provide basis for circumcision in Islam. Though khitan is not mentioned in the Qur’an, it is enough if hadith or sunnah of the prophet (SAW), which is the second primary source of law in Islam provides for it. If a matter is not mentioned in the Qur’an, it is looked for in the hadith; and if found, it becomes a reference point of law in Islam. Allah (SWT) sanctions in Qur’an 59:7 “And whatsoever the messenger of Allah gives you, take it; and whatever he forbids you, abstain (from it)”.

Scholars differ in their opinions about whether circumcision for men is compulsory or not. Some scholars including Imam Hassan Al-Basry, Imam Abu Hanifa and some Hambilites consider circumcision as a prophetic tradition.  They base their position on the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) in which he said, ‘Circumcision is sunnah for men, and honorable for women”. The Shiite School of Islamic Thought as well as other scholars including Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad and Yahaya bn Sa’d Al-Ansary all regard circumcision as compulsory for men. It is the opinion of Imam Malik that an uncircumcised person is not qualified to lead in congregational prayers, and his standing as a witness on issues shall not be valid. As for Imam Shafii, circumcision is compulsory for both men and women.   

Scholars who view circumcision as compulsory for men derive their argument from some hadiths of the Prophet (SAW). First, Uthaim bn Kulaib narrate that his grandfather after embracing Islam came to the Prophet (SAW) who said to him, “Shave the hair of belief from your head and get yourself circumcised”. Second, the Prophet (SAW) in a hadith related by Abu Daud and Bayhaqy also said, “Whoever embraces Islam should get himself circumcised even if he were big (grown up)”. For new converts into Islam, circumcision would be a firm sign of commitment to the new faith. However, it could be delayed for new converts if such would cause them to dislike Islam or flee from it.

Some of the hygienic values of circumcision include the fact that it prevents the male organ from infections. When the foreskin is not removed, urine and other secretions could collect under the folded skin, which may lead to painful infections from bacterial growth around the male organ. According to medical experts, some conditions such as phimosis found commonly among uncircumcised males could have been prevented if circumcision had been carried out. Thus, circumcision, which as part of Sunnan ul-Fitrah reflects the wisdom of Islamic precept, similarly has medical implications. The next question that comes to mind concerns the time for circumcision.

Majority of scholars opine that khitan should be carried out in infancy before a person attains puberty so that religious worship particularly salat is not ridiculed at maturity by impurities from non-circumcision. Bayhaqy and Tabrani both relate that Jabir (RA) and Aisha (RA) said, “The Prophet (SAW) performed the aqiqa (naming rite after birth) of Al-Hasan and Al-Hussain, and circumcised them on the 7th day. Part of the wisdom of circumcising a baby on the 7th day is to make it easy for the child. Circumcision may be deferred for practical reasons such as ill-health until the person is fitter to cope with it. A hadith of the Prophet (SAW) tells us that Prophet Ibrahim (AS) circumcised himself when he was eighty years old.

This discourse would be incomplete without highlighting on female circumcision (khafd). It involves the cutting of the outer portion of the clitoris. This is the type of female circumcision recognized in Islam, and called clitoridotomy. It becomes un-Islamic if the cutting goes deep and beyond the prescribed point as practiced in some countries including Somalia, Sudan and Southern Egypt; because such amounts to mutilation of the female genital. Abu Daud and Bayhaqy relate on the authority of Umm ‘Atiyyah that a woman used to perform khafd in Madinah, and the Prophet (SAW) said to her: “When you circumcise, do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more favorable with the husband”. It is said that the benefit derivable from khafd is that it increases sensual pleasure in circumcised women.

There is also another form of female circumcision popular in Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. This involves total excision of the clitoris and joining the two sides of the vulva across the vagina, sewn with thread or secured with other items, until it heals joining together. Only a small hole is left to allow passage of menstrual blood and urine. This practice, called infibulations or Pharaonic circumcision, which is not the same with the one prescribed by sunnah is meant, according to those who practice it, to forestall sex before marriage. Most scholars of the Shafiite School consider circumcision obligatory for women. While the Malikite and Hannafite scholars regard female circumcision as a mere act of courtesy, the Hambilite School holds that circumcision for women is sunnah. May Allah (SWT) guide us to abstain from all things that would cause injury to nature, amin.

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