This article is in response to an inquiry
about the issue of female circumcision. The person who asked
the question referred me to a youtube video where a scholar
was using a Hadith to argue that female circumcision was
Sunnah. While I appreciate that many experts consider female
circumcision to be harmful and causing permanent damage to the
person (and therefore not allowed by Islam), I write this
article disregard of the above and wholly on the basis of
analysis of the religious evidence for this practice.
Within the scope of the established
Sunnah, as defined in this website, female circumcision is not
included. This is simply because, unlike male circumcision, we
do not see this practice coming to us, even as a
non-obligatory recommended act, through the perpetual practice
or consensus of the whole ummah, generation by generation.
When we look at the source of information for this practice,
we find that instead of the established Sunnah, the source is
ahad (single narrated) Hadiths.
As far as I am concerned, the above is
all that needs to be said about the subject. However for more
detailed information to see why we cannot equate established
Sunnah with information that is derived from single narrated
Hadiths, I will look at the Hadiths that are often referred to
with this regard:
There are in principle three Hadith that
are normally used to argue for female circumcision as a
religious act. I look at these Hadiths in turn
Hadith No. 1
الْخِتَانُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ، مَكْرُمَةٌ
Circumcision is a Sunnah (obligation) for
men; honour for women.
This Hadith is not reported in the more
reliable books of Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim and is not even
included in Mu’atta’ of Imam Malik. It is narrated in less
reliable books like Musnad of Ahmad (no. 20719), al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir
(no. 7112-3, 11590, 12009, 12828), al-Sunan al-Kubra (17565-8)
and Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah (no. 26468). None of these and
other sources that I looked at has narrated this Hadith with a
trustworthy chain of narrators:
To start with, all these chains of
narrators include Hajjaj ibn Artah. While there are scholars
of rijal (science of narrators) who praise him, there are also
those who have condemned him. Yahya ibn Sa‘id says he has left
out Hajjaj intentionally and does not write his Hadith at all.
Abdullah ibn Mubarak says he used to do tadlis (ie. claiming
that he directly narrates from person X while in reality he is
narrating from person Y who narrates from person X). Al-Nasa’i
says that he is not strong (in narration). Abu Ahmad ibn ‘Adi
says people criticized him for his tadlis of al-Zuhri and
others, and that sometimes he would make mistakes in some
narrations. Yaqub ibn Shaybah says he is honest but his Hadith
is untrue (واهی) and there are many
weaknesses (اضطراب) in it. (al-Mizzi,
Tahdhib al-kamal, entry 1112).
The presence of Hajjaj ibn Artah is one
of the reasons why al-Albani also lists this hadith among the
weak ones in his collection of weak Hadiths (al-Albani,
Silsilah al-ahadith al-da‘ifah, entry no. 1935).
Apart from the above general issue, in
the variety of chains of narrators that are reported for this
particular Hadith there are a number of problematic and weak
narrators, including al-Walid ibn Walid (included in the chain
of narrators reported in al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, Musnad al-Shamiyyin
and al-Sunan al-Kubra), Muhammad ibn al-Fudayl (included in
the chain of narrators reported in Tarikh Dimashq), ‘Abd al-Rahman
ibn Ahmad (included in the chain of narrators reported in al-Sunan
al-Kubra) and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Masisi (included in the
chain of narrators reported in al-Mu‘jam al-kubra).
Also it is worth noticing that the Hadith
is in fact implying the opposite of what the pro female
circumcision argues for. It makes it clear that while
circumcision is Sunnah for men, it is not Sunnah for women. It
should be noted that the word Sunnah in the Hadith cannot
refer to the same technical meaning as in Hanafite school of
thought. Therefore one cannot argue that the Hadith means
circumcision is obligation for men but recommended for women.
The word Sunnah, in the terminology of the Prophet (sws) and
the companions, simply means a prescribed religious task.
Therefore the above Hadith, while not being authentic, simply
implies that female circumcision is not a prescribed religious
The above Hadith is therefore not
reliable nor relevant enough to be used as evidence.
Hadith No. 2
إِذَا مَسَّ الْخِتَانُ الْخِتَانَ فَقَدْ
When the circumcised (part in a male)
meets the circumcised [part in a female] then ghusl< [ritual
bath] will become obligatory.
With its different versions, the Hadith
is reported in a wide number of collections of Hadith,
including Muslim (no. 531), Mu’atta’ of Imam Malik (no. 71,
76, 125, 143), Jami‘ of Tirmidhi (no. 109), Sunan
of Ibn Majah
(no. 600, 603), Sahih of Ibn Hibban (no. 1205), Musnad
Ahmad (no. 24206), Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzaq (no. 936, 955)
and al-Sunan al-kubra (no. 779).
When looking at the chains of narrators
of this Hadith in different sources, a not very promising
image comes about. Narrators like Muslim ibn Abi Karimah,
al-Rabi‘ ibn Habib, ‘Ubaydullah ibn Abi Zyad, Yahya ibn Sa‘id,
‘Uthman ibn ‘Ata’, Salih ibn Muhammad, etc. are not reliable
narrators and their names can be found among many of the
reported chains of this Hadith.
Having said that, the scholars generally
approve the authenticity of the Hadith, mainly on the basis of
the versions that are narrated in the book of Muslim and the
Mu’atta’ of Malik. These versions have stronger chains of
The important point to notice however is
that the Hadith does not imply in any way that female
circumcision is Sunnah. It is only referring to the female
private part as one of the circumcised. This seems to be a
case of using the method of mujanasah in Arabic language where
two associated items are referred to by using a feature that
is related to the more familiar one or the one that is easier
to refer to. Arab would say qamarayn (the two moons),
referring to Sun and Moon. They would say ‘isha‘ayn, meaning
the two ‘isha, referring to maghrib and ‘isha prayers, just as
zuhrayn refers to zuhr and ‘asr prayers. Abawayn, two fathers,
refers to father and mother, ‘Umarayn, refers to Abu Bakr (rta)
and ‘Umar (rta).
Let us assume that one denies the
application of mujanasah in this Hadith. It should be noted
that the practice was already in place in the Arab society
(like some other societies) before the advent of Islam. The
Hadith is therefore simply referring to parts of the body with
the use of a word that Arab would associate with those parts.
In other words, the Hadith is not instructing about
circumcision, rather, it is instructing about when to do ghusl.
Accordingly, whether the argument of
mujanasah is accepted or not, unless one has already decided
that female circumcision is Sunnah, it is not legally possible
to use this Hadith in order to prove female circumcision as a
So this Hadith, authentic or not, is not
even relevant to the case under study.
Hadith No. 3
أَنَّ امْرَأَةً كَانَتْ تَخْتِنُ
بِالْمَدِينَةِ، فَقَالَ لَهَا النَّبِيُّ: " لَا تُنْهِكِي،
فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَحْظَی لِلْمَرْأَةِ وَأَحَبُّ إِلَي الْبَعْلِ
A woman used to do circumcision in
Madinah; so the prophet told her: “Do not overstrain, [this
way] it will be more pleasant for the woman and more liked for
This Hadith is reported in a number of
collections of Hadith, including Sunan of Abu Da’ud (no.
4589), al-Sunan al-Kubra (no. 16136, 16137) and Shu‘ab al-iman
of al-Bayhaqi (no. 8125).
None of the chains of narrators of this
Hadith are without defect. In fact studying all these chains
of narrators benefits a student of the science of Hadith by
introducing more than 30 problematic and weak narrators of
Hadith to him/her who are all over these chains of narrators.
Even Abu Da’ud himself, who has narrated this, and the Hadith
is often quoted from his collection, writes that the Hadith is
This should be enough to leave out the
Hadith instead of attempting to use it as evidence. However,
since some use this Hadith as evidence, it is worth noticing
that this Hadith too, like the previous ones, in no way makes
it clear that female circumcision is Sunnah. As stated before,
the practice already existed among Arabs of the time (it seems
like this was even more usual for slaves, in order to reduce
their sexual desire). Therefore even with the false assumption
that the Hadith is authentic, the Prophet (sws) has in fact
shown his concern about this practice by advising the woman
who circumcises to not do this in a severe way. There is no
sign in the Hadith that the prophet considered this as a
Accordingly, this Hadith too is not at
all good as an evidence for female circumcision as it lacks
both authenticity and relevance.
So to conclude, the three main proofs
that are used for female circumcision all lack relevance and
at least two of them also lack authenticity, they therefore do
not prove anything with regard to female circumcision.
It is important to note that the above
analysis by no means leads to a rare conclusion about female
circumcision. In 2010, in Mauritania, 34 scholars signed a
fatwa against female circumcision. This is a place where
according to reports more than 70% of girls are circumcised.
Also well-known scholars like Ibn ‘Abidin
(d. 1836), Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926), Dr. ‘Ali Jumu‘ah (d.
2013) and Dr Muhammad Sayyid Al-Ṭantawi (b. 2010) have issued
a fatwa against female circumcision.
Based on the above analysis my conclusion
is that not only female circumcision is not prescribed in
Islam, but it is also a serious oppression of women where, as
the result of confusing a cultural practice with a religious
one, their rights are taken away and they are also put at a
serious health risk. Those who practice this in the name of
Islam are therefore potentially guilty of two crimes:
disfiguring Islam and causing permanent oppression of people.