17.7.2003 by Stop FGM Mideast
The highest religious authority in Egypt has – once again – condemned female genital mutilation. In the current climate with fears rising last year that then ruling islamists could decriminalize FGM, this is an important signal and success in the struggle against FGM. Yet, the practice remains widespread in the country.
A representative of Dar Al-Ifta, an official body responsible for issuing religious edicts based on the rulings of the religious Al-Azhar University, has told a summit in Cairo that FGM is “not a religious duty” and should be prohibited. Mohamed Wessam Khedr addressed representatives of the Egyptian government, Al-Azhar, Unicef and the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights on June 20st, Daily News Egypt reported. “FGM is practised in a harmful way that makes us say that it is forbidden in Islam,” he said. The meeting was held to commemorate Egypt’s inaugural National Day to Fight FGM – established in 2007 after a girl died during the practice.
The Al-Azhar, situated in Cairo is probably the most respected Islamic university in the Muslim world, condemned FGM already in 2006. At a conference taking place at the University, theologians from different Muslim countries concluded that female circumcision is forbidden by Sura 95, Verse 4 of the Koran: “We have created man in the most perfect image.” A joint statement read: “Female genital circumcision is harming women psychologically and physically.”
The practice was criminalized in Egypt in 2008, with those found guilty standing to receive between three months and two years in prison. They can also be fined up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (543 Euro).
Nevertheless, FGM remains widespread. More than 90% of women are assumed to have undergone the torture of FGM – not least due to the lack of law enforcement and special legal provisions (FGM is still permitted under the pretext of dubious „medical reasons“).
After the fall of Mubarak the new government dominated by religious forces as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists raised fears, that it might come to a backlash regarding FGM, even to an abolishment of the anti FGM-Law. The official positions were to say at least ambiguous. A Salafist MP claimed the practice to be part of the propehtic Sunna and proposed a new law, Egypt Independent reported. The Muslimbrothers remained mostly tacit on the topic, yet sponsered a charity medical campaign during which FGM was performed. The recent death of a 13-year-old Egyptian girl during an FGM-operation in a private clinic led to a broad discussion.
Against this background the renewed religious ruling against the practice of FGM is not to be underestimated. It is a clear signal from within an important part of the religious establishment towards islamist forces, that the controvers discussion about FGM has finally arrived in the Muslim societies itself. The claim of radical islamist forces to define the “right” muslim answer towards FGM is contested by the highest religious authority in Egypt. This development also contains an important lesson for uncritical Western observers: The practice of FGM is not a fate for some people, based on unalterable “cultural” or “religious” traditions or beliefs. Yet it also reminds us, that ending FGM will be a long term process, which has to be monitored constantly.