A common phenomenon which has been regretfully
associated almost exclusively with Islam is the various forms of female genital
cutting, or FGC. Although many
of those who are involved in this act attribute to the religion of Islam, the
majority of the forms of FGC present in the world today which are acts truly
abominable, acts of which the religion of Islam is innocent. In no way does
Islam condone these actions, and they should be looked at something purely
culture and not Islamic. Amnesty International asserts, “FGC [female genital
cutting] predates Islam and is not practiced by the majority of Muslims, but
has acquired a religious dimension.” The Female
Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project states, “...it is not an
Islamic practice. FGC is a cross-cultural and cross-religious ritual. In
Africa and the Middle East, it is performed by Muslims, Coptic Christians,
members of various indigenous groups, Protestants, and Catholics, to name a
One sect of Jews, the Falashas, also circumcise both sexes.
We will first look into the various types of FGC, and then examine why various
cultures implemented these techniques upon their female constituencies.
Types of Female Genital Cutting
Female genital cutting is “term
used to refer to any practice which includes the removal or the alteration of
the female genitalia.” There are three
basic types of FGC:
This is the mildest form of FGC, which includes removing or splitting the
prepuce (foreskin or ‘hood’) which covers the clitoris of females, thus exposing
the glans. This may be couple with partial or total excision of the clitoris.
This is known as clitoridotomy (slang: hoodectomy). According
to the United Nations Population Fund, this form is comparable to male
circumcision. This is sometimes also called “sunna circumcision” due to the fact that
it is this type which is performed commonly by those Muslims who believe it to be
legislated in Islam.
II: In this type, known as clitoridectomy, the clitoris and labia minora is
partially or totally removed.
III: This is one of the most extreme forms of FGC, involving the total
excision of the clitoris, both the labia minora and majora, and the joining of
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, pencil-size hole is
left to allow passage of menstrual blood and urine. This is known as infibulation
or Pharaonic Circumcision, in reference to its origins.
IV: This type is inclusive of all other forms of genital cutting, such as: pricking,
piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris
and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue;
introcision, scraping (angurya cuts) or cutting (gishri cuts) of the vagina or
surrounding tissue; and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the
Various forms of FGC is practiced throughout the world,
but it is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, in a band stretching East from Senegal to Somalia, as shown on the map. It also exists in the Middle East, North and South America, Indonesia and Malaysia. Type III is almost exclusive to Somalia, Sudan and southern Egypt, along with some areas in Mali and Nigeria.
We find that in some societies, such as Somalia, Eritrea , and Ethiopia, almost all women undergo type III of FGC. Reasons range from
regarding the woman as unclean if the clitoris is not completely removed, to ensuring
that women remain chaste until marriage. This is practice is an age old custom
in these societies, and members fear to leave it out of fear of chastisement. Women
may not be able to get married, or even be accused of committing fornication. Families
may also loose their honor if this tradition is not kept with.
FGC was also a
common practice in North America, and specifically in the U.S., type I, II and III was common until the 1950’s in order to control female sexuality. Clitoridectomy
was performed for various reasons. One of the most common reasons was to reduce
masturbation. In England, Isaac Baker Brown published a book about his
successes in treating female masturbation with clitoridectomy. He also claimed
it to cure obscure nervous disorders such as hysteria and epilepsy.
Many more solutions were offered for masturbation, such as chastity belts,
first used in medieval times to ensure that wives remain chaste while their
husbands were away. In order to prevent masturbation in boys, spiked rings even
more drastic measures were employed, such as cauterization and even castration.
In one of the most classic of pediatric textbooks, Diseases
of Infancy and Childhood, published 11 times from 1897 to 1940, the author L.E.
Holt advocated cauterization of the clitoris as well as blistering the vulva as
a preventive measures for masturbation. Masturbation was seen as the reason of
many ills, such as neuroticism, disobedience, and disrespect of parents.
In the U.S. an organization known as the Orificial
Surgery Society was formed, publishing journals mentioning the various benefits
of clitoridectomy, even for things as trivial as headaches.
There were also many hygienic benefits that were thought
to be produced by clitoridotomy. C.F. McDonald states in a 1958 paper entitled Circumcision of the Female: “If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not
the female? I have operated on perhaps 40 patients who needed this attention.”
The author states that it remedies “irritation, scratching, irritability,
masturbation, frequency and urgency,” and smegmaliths causing “dyspareunia
Until recently the clitoris was seen as un unclean thing.
Even Sigmund Freud, one of the founders of modern psychology, stated in one of
his books Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, the “elimination of
clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of
Today in the west, many adults
choose to undergo clitoridotomy, as some doctors
and others advocate clitoridotomy, claiming that it increases
sexual pleasure. They state that over-sized clitoral hood may impede
in the stimulation of the clitoris.
Some websites, such as Circlist, BMEzine, and geocities, even have
testimonials of people who underwent the process, as well as medical reports promoting
the practice. They show that the majority of women reported increased sexual
pleasure after the procedure (87.5% in Rathmann’s 1959 study
and 75% in Knowles’).