A common line of apologism for religion in general and Islam in particular is to claim that an objectionable belief or behaviour be it witch hunts, honour killing, FGM (female genital mutilation)… is cultural not religious. For some reason this argument never seems to be used if the belief or behaviour under discussion is in any way admirable, apparently good stuff is due to religion bad stuff that’s culture.
That double standard aside there are other issues with this argument. One is that religion is both part of people’s culture and a major shaper of that culture. To many believers round the world this distinction between their ‘culture’ and their ‘religion’ would be completely nonsensical as their faith touches most aspects of their life.
Another is that just because a particular practice such as FGM has only a tenuous or even no scriptural justification that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of someone’s religion. Some Protestants like to criticise aspects of Catholicism which seem to have no apparent connection with the bible and so far as I can tell (with my admittedly fundamentalist protestant bible training) they seem to have a point. However this doesn’t stop every aspect of Catholic doctrine and practice from being religious.
This isn’t to say that everything any given individual or group of people do should blamed on or credited to their religion, it’s a specific rebuttal to the selectively narrow interpretation of ‘religion’ that apologists adopt when trying to distance a given faith from a given practice. Clearly there are any number of folk practices that have nothing to do with religion, and the practitioners acknowledge this. The argument here though is that if a given group of people think a tradition such as FGM is part of their religion, and practice it in accordance with that belief then we should treat FGM as part of their religion. Whether or not a clear justification for the practice can be found in scripture is irrelivant.
As it happens a fair few Muslims, both lay people and clerics, sincerely believe that Islam and FGM have everything to do with each other. They believe this so sincerely in fact that they mutilate their daughters in accordance with that belief and exort others to do the same. A prime exponent of this understanding of Islam Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem was recently brought to my attention when he was invited by Sheffield Hallam Islam Society to give a talk to them somewhat perversely on “Pearls of Islam– Position of Women in Islam“.
Mr Hakeem is quite clear that he believes that FGM is Islamic and in the scriptures:
If female circumcision si sunnah can you tell me if one of the wifes or daughter of the prophet was made it?
It is an issue of dispute among scholars. Some say that it is obligatory like males and some say that it is not permissible. the most authentic opinion is that it is recommended but it is neither mandatory nor forbidden.
As for thr daughters and wives of the Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, we don’t have any information on this.
He expands upon that answer on his TV Show:
That’s right he has a TV show, sadly as his bio demonstrates he isn’t just some lone nutter but seems to have quite a following. Recent moves by Egyptian Islamist MPs to legalise FGM to repeal the ban on FGM further are further evidence of this school of thought within Islam.
So long as there are clerics and lay people who believe Islam mandates FGM and act on those beliefs then like it or not FGM is part of Islam. When it comes to things like stoning ‘adulterers’ and homosexuals, subjugating women, suicide bombing and other crimes against humanity that have widespread support within Islam, apologists never seem to tire of telling us that Islam isn’t monolithic. They give ‘Islamophobic’ critics lectures about how we should acknowledge the rich, diversity of beliefs within Islam. The apologists are right in that Islam is diverse and by no means do all muslims fall in with the Taliban or the Mullahs of Iran on what should happen to gays, adulterers and the role of women in society. I just wish the apologists would show a little consistency and acknowledge that Islam is anything but ‘monolithic’ when it comes to things like FGM as well.
Another popular apologist argument is that even though a fair few Muslims seem to believe FGM to be Islamic it isn’t because FGM is also carried out by non-muslims. Now the premise of that argument is certainly true, assorted non-muslim peoples in North Africa and the Middle East practice FGM. Everything which follows is problematic though; Since when did a belief or practice have to be unique to be an authentic part of a religion? By this logic avoiding pork isn’t Islamic because Jews do it as well.
Regardless of the why people do it FGM is a brutal practice that the world would be better off without so please take a moment to check out Amnesty International’s END FGM Campaign.
edit. It’s recently been drawn to my attention that the ever active Avaaz are currently running a campaign to Stop female genital mutilation in the UK! so please sign their petition to encourage the government to act.