Female circumcision is a practice not uncommon in Muslim society. Although this practice does not only occur within Muslim society, this paper will focus on the practices that do occur within Islamic society. The Islamic countries with the most prevalence in practicing this form of genital mutilation are Sudan (98%), Somalia (98%), and Egypt (75%) (El Saadawi 34). Other Islamic countries that practice this are Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and India, which practice this under the name of sunnah circumcision. Sunnah refers to the Muslim religion, although it is not clearly defined within the religion.
There are three major types of female circumcision that are commonly practiced within Islamic society. These types are: sunnah; clitoridectomy or excision; infibulation or pharaonic circumcision. Sunnah is performed according to the tradition of Mohammed. Religious circles who favor this method of circumcision usually do not give details as to what the act actually entails. Some circles say that is the complete removal of the clitoris and labia minora, whereas others tend to say that it is just the cutting of the kernel-shaped external skin above the genitals (Falk). A cliteridectomy consists of ablation of the clitoris as well as the labia minora. Infibulation involves complete removal of the clitoris, labia minora, and part of the labia majora. Then the two sides of the vulva are sewn together with silk, thorns, or slivers of wood in order to close the vulva, except for a passage of urine and menstrual flow (Falk). Even with minimal excisions, this experience undoubtedly traumatizes the female. "To some extent all excisions involve some degree of irreparable loss. A loss which is unnecessary" (Sanderson 25).
Often, female circumcision is performed without the use of anesthesia and is performed in quite a primitive manner. This act is usually performed by an individual with no medical training, such as a midwife, using crude instruments which causes complications sometimes leading to death. The outcomes of this operation are excruciatingly painful, both during the actual procedure and later in the woman's life.
There were shrieks and screams as the tip of her clitoris was grasped with a pair of forceps and the whole structure removed with a scalpel. One side of the labia minora was next held by the forceps and the whole length pared off with a scalpel. Likewise the adjacent medical parts of the labia majora were removed. The whole area was then swabbed once more with cotton wool. Four stitches were inserted into the remaining skin of the large labia, commencing from the pubis and leaving a small opening posterior. This was left to allow the passage of urine and when the time came, menstruation. After extraneous blood had been washed from the wound, penicillin powder was liberally applied. (Cloudsley 115)
This story describes in vivid detail what a typical operation is like. The pain experienced during this procedure would undoubtedly be unbearable and memorable for a prepubescent female.
Generally, female circumcision in Islamic society is performed when the female is between the ages of five to ten years. This is an age of great self-awareness for the female along with awareness of her surroundings. As this act is performed at such a crucial time in the young female's life, the medical and psychological consequences are much greater than if it were performed at an earlier age.
I was seven years old when I was excised. I recall stories form women of my village who spoke of this operation as if their whole life had stopped right there and then. The atrocity of their descriptions forced a great feeling of inescapable doom to be filled within myself. This feeling triggered such a panic in me that when the terrifying day came, I began to vomit. What happened then is still excruciatingly burning my flesh, so much so that I often wake up in the night calling out for help....
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Cloudsley, Anne. Women of Omdurman. London: Ethnographica, 1983. 105-125.
El Saadawi, Nawal. The Hidden Face of Eve, Women in the Arab World. tr. & ed. Sherif
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Falk, Geoffrey. 11 August 1995. Circumcision Information and Resource Pages [On-line].
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Mire, Soraya. "A Wrongful Rite." Essnece June 1994: 42.
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