It is politically correct to deny that the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) has anything to do with the religion of Islam. We see how entrenched this view has become by considering what happened in June 2008 when David Littman tried to present a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council under agenda item 8: Integrating the Human Rights of Women throughout the United Nations system. Littman's statement attempted to raise concern about FGM in Islamic coutnries throughout the world. His statement also suggested practical steps the Human Rights Council could take to combat these outrages.
Instead of allowing Littman to raise these issues for dialogue, discussion in the chamber was continually stonewalled by representatives from Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries, who urged the council’s president to ban Mr Littman from speaking.
Littman’s offence was that he referred to FGM and similar crimes as Islamic practices. The Islamic delegate from Egypt and other OIC nations eventually bullied the council into dropping discussion of these and other crimes since it involved references to Islamic law.
A corrective to the politically correct idea that FGM has nothing to do with Islam is put forward by Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer in the Winter 2007 edition of the Middle East Quarterly. Their article, titled 'Is Female Genital Mutilation an Islamic Problem?' raised the following concerns, showing that FGM is a religiously motivated practice for Muslims.
Many Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice [of FGM] is not rooted in religion but rather in culture...But at the village level, those who commit the practice believe it to be religiously mandated. Religion is not only theology but also practice. And the practice is widespread throughout the Middle East
Islamic scholars disagree on FGM: some say no obligatory rules exist while others refer to the mention of female circumcision in the Hadith. According to Sami A. Aldeeb Abu Sahlieh, a Palestinian-Swiss specialist in Islamic law:
The most often mentioned narration reports a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um 'Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: "unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it." Muhammed replied: "Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband."
Abu Sahlieh further cited Muhammad as saying, "Circumcision is a sunna (tradition) for the men and makruma (honorable deed) for the women."
While some clerics say circumcision is not obligatory for women, others say it is. "Islam condones the sunna circumcision … What is forbidden in Islam is the pharaonic circumcision," one religious leader explained. Others, such as the late rector of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gad al-Haq, said that since the Prophet did not ban female circumcision, it was permissible and, at the very least, could not be banned.
In short, some clerics condemn FGM as an archaic practice, some accept it, and still others believe it to be obligatory. It is the job of clerics to interpret religious literature; it is not the job of FGM researchers and activists. There is a certain tendency to confuse a liberal interpretation of Islam with the reality women face in many predominately Islamic regions. To counter FGM as a practice, it is necessary to accept that Islam is more than just a written text. It is not the book that cuts the clitoris, but its interpretations aid and abet the mutilation.