Islam to end female genital mutilation?

One activist pushes a faith-based opposition to the practice.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published December 7, 2006 12:45AM (EST)

This is the second story I've come across in the last week that's so gut wrenching to read that it felt like there was a giant intestinal parasite burrowing out of my stomach. Last time it was a frank feature on child sex abuse in Africa; this time it's the most graphic, uncensored account of female genital mutilation that I've ever come across, courtesy of Der Spiegel. Yet, thankfully, it comes with this encouraging development: A group of prominent Muslim scholars recently convened in Cairo, Egypt and agreed that the practice is incompatible with Islam.

The two-day confab was the brainchild of 71-year-old R|diger Nehberg, who has documented female genital mutilation throughout Africa in order to convert world leaders to his cause. Despite protestations from the audience -- one man argued that showing photos of female genital mutilation was a crime and that "our women have been circumcised for thousands of years, and they have never complained" -- conference attendees concluded that there is no medical or religious basis for the practice. (Nehberg noted, "We simply did not invite those who disagree with us.")

Both Christianity and Islam have been used to defend female genital mutilation, but Nehberg believes the "custom can only be brought to an end with the power of Islam." It should be noted, though, that a UNICEF report on the practice concluded that by "looking at religion independently, it is not possible to establish a general association with [female genital mutilation or circumcision] status." Not to mention that while female genital mutilation is common in parts of Africa and the Middle East, "it is relatively unknown in most other parts of the Muslim world, including South and Southeast Asia, North Africa and Saudi Arabia," according to the BBC.

Nevertheless, Nehberg's approach seems like a reasonable place to start. Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa signed a resolution to criminalize female genital mutilation. Nehberg also plans to "print a small book containing the recommendation and the scholars' comments and distribute 4 million copies worldwide." It isn't too likely that this will spark an overnight revolution, but here's hoping the right people read it and take heed.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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