Egyptian Muslim theologians change course on female circumcision

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Egyptian Muslim theologians seek to change the Islamic position on female circumcision at a conference at Cairo's Al-Azhar University. The theologians decided that female circumcision is forbidden by Sura 95, Verse 4 of the Koran: "We have created man in the most perfect image."

It represents a major shift in the position of the Muslim religious community because many of the attending theologians are extremely powerful and respected, including Mahmoud Hamdi Saksuk, the Egyptian minister for religious charities, and Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University.

A minority of liberal Muslim scolars had denounced the practice as early as 1998; however, hardliners continuned to endorse the practice.

In 1994, the Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Jad Al-Hâqq 'Ali Jad Al-Hâqq issued a fatwa stating "Circumcision is mandatory for men and for women. If the people of any village decide to abandon it, the [village] imam must fight against them as if they had abandoned the call to prayer."

Al-Azhar University itself issued fatwas endorsing female genital mutilation in 1949, 1951 and 1981, which were only reversed by Dean Ahmend Talib in 2005.

The conference was organized and funded by the Target group of German adventurer Rüdiger Nehberg, who had travelled through Africa and collected video material on the practice. The Egyptian religious scholar and journalist Yusuf al-Qaradawi criticized the foreign influence and stated that the conference was "biased and presumptuous"; however, he ultimately accepted its conclusions.


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