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Health Ministry Circular against female circumcision comes under flack


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A recent Health Ministry circular prohibiting medical practitioners from carrying out female circumcision has been condemned as an affront to Muslims who practice it.

A circular issued by Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services states, “Any involvement in the procedure, be it conducting the procedure or encouraging it, is considered highly unethical and that all medical professionals are instructed to refrain from any involvement in female genital mutilation, adding that “Disciplinary action shall be taken against any medical professional practicing or promoting female genital mutilation, and not adhering to the stipulated instructions.” 

Dr. Jasinghe states that the circular had been issued at the request of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender of the Sri Lanka Parliament which has identified the procedure as harmful and has initiated processes to abolish the practice in Sri Lanka.

Asiff Hussein, Vice President-Outreach, Centre for Islamic Studies Sri Lanka stated that the circular that lumped the Islamic duty of female circumcision with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was an affront to Muslims who regarded it as an obligatory religious duty and threatened to undermine the free practice of religion guaranteed by the law and constitution of Sri Lanka. 

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama has issued a fatwa in 2007 stating that circumcision was obligatory for both males and females, echoing similar sentiments expressed by Islamic organisations all over the world including the Islamic Council of Switzerland. There is also strong evidence in the hadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad) to show that female circumcision is an obligatory Islamic duty as held by some of the best scholars of Islam such as Imam Shafi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Sheikh Jaddul Haq.

Hussein observed that the Islamic procedure of female circumcision was similar to male circumcision and involved the removal of only the clitoral hood (prepuce) which facilitates genital hygiene and improves sex life. In fact even Western women choose to undergo this procedure under the name of hoodectomy to improve sexual satisfaction, a fact which has been proven by numerous studies. He noted that certain activists have in their campaign against the practice resorted to the devious tactic of  associating it with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) of the kind that takes place in certain African countries where the external female genitalia including the clitoris is removed. 

In contrast what takes place here in Sri Lanka is either a nick on the prepuce of the clitoris (in the case of the majority) which is harmless or the Islamically prescribed procedure of removing the hood or prepuce of the clitoris (in the case of religious Sunni families well versed in Islam and among the Bohras) which has been proven to confer numerous benefits to women.

“There is an urgent need to medicalise the procedure to ensure that female circumcision is carried out in hygienic clinical settings and to define what needs to be done as done by health authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia for example. In Indonesia, for instance, the largest circumcision chain, Rumah Sunatan, now offers female circumcision as part of their services and is gaining immense popularity among parents who prefer to have it done in a hygienic environment instead of traditional practitioners who may pose a health risk,” he pointed out.

“The move to ban it being carried out by medical practitioners and in hospitals here not only infringes on our religious rights, but also threatens to drive the procedure underground, putting it in the hands of people who are not qualified to carry out a surgical procedure of this nature and leading to the possibility of dangerous forms of FGM arising within the community,” he said, adding that it would also affect local surgeons who perform cosmetic genital surgeries on women as an elective procedure.

Hussein called on the health authorities to rescind the circular or issue a fresh circular excluding the Islamically defined procedure and female genital cosmetic surgeries from the definition of FGM.

 


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