CAIRO: “Banning [female] circumcision has faced a lot of opposition from those with weak knowledge in Egypt, especially those who live in rural areas and slums,” head of the preaching department of the Islamic Research Academy Abdel Aziz al-Naggar told Hayat TV Friday.
On the occasion of the U.N.-designated Worldwide day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Naggar reiterated that the practice was followed in Egypt before the inception of Islam, and that the phenomenon does not exist in other Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia.
“They do not understand the truth of this matter because they follow an old inherited [custom;] that it is from the religion of Islam, it is at the heart of religion, and it is a sound instinct,” Naggar said, adding that this “gruesome custom” was accompanied by celebration feasts.
Egypt has the largest number of women who have been subjected to genital cutting in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The 2008 Egyptian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) reported that 91.1 percent of women from ages 15-49 have experienced FGM, and that 74 percent of girls age 15-17 have undergone the practice, marking a reduction from previous surveys. The decline is expected to reach 45 percent among girls age 15-17 over 15 years.
The EDHS also shows that the more educated, urbanized and wealthier mothers are, the lower rate of FGM there is among their daughters.
Egypt’s efforts to eradicate FGM
In 2008, the Egyptian parliament passed a Penal Code amendment criminalizing FGM with a prison term of three months to two years or a fine of 1,000 EGP to 5,000 EGP.
The first application of the law only took place in January 2014, where a doctor who circumcised a 13-year-old girl was sentenced to two years in prison after the girl died of complications in 2013. The doctor had been acquitted in a previous ruling, but prosecutors appealed the sentence.
In 2007, Dar al-Iftaa decreed that the practice, which is followed by both Muslims and Christians, was “un-Islamic and forbidden.”
Naggar, however, noted that Dar al-Iftaa said in 1981 that female circumcision that reduces the size of the external genitalia and does not remove them was a “form of honor.”
He said that forbidding FGM was gradual over more extensive research that proved Prophet Muhammad most likely did not approve of female circumcision, adding that there have been different opinions because there is not a categorical holy text adjudicating on the matter.
“[T]hese are opinions of men, we consider or differ with them; they are not binding on anyone but those men,” Naggar said.