Circumcision in Islam

Muslims and Circumcision

Muslims praying
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Circumcision is a process by which the foreskin of a male's penis is partially or fully removed. In some cultures and religions -- such as Islam -- it is common practice. Islam cites certain health benefits to circumcision, such as reducing the risk of urinary tract infections and preventing penile cancer and HIV transmission.

The medical community acknowledges that male circumcision does carry some potential health benefits.

However, routine circumcision is on the decline in most Western countries. This is because many medical groups believe that the risks do not justify the potential benefits, so they dismiss it as an unnecessary routine procedure.

While the act itself -- circumcision -- is not mentioned in the Quran, Muslims do circumcise their baby boys. While not enforced, circumcision is strongly recommended in Islamic practice.

The incorrectly named "female circumcision," however, is not an Islamic practice.

Islam and Male Circumcision

Male circumcision is an ancient practice dating back to several thousand years B.C. Although there is no mention of it in the Quran, it was commonly done among early Muslims during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims consider it a matter of hygiene and cleanliness (tahara) and believe that it prevents the buildup of urine or other excrements that may gather under the foreskin and cause disease.

It is also considered to be a tradition of the children of Abraham (Ibrahim) or previous prophets. Circumcision is mentioned in the hadith as one of the signs of fitrah, or the natural inclination of humans -- along with the clipping of nails, removal of hair in the armpits and genitals, and trimming of the mustache.

Although circumcision is an Islamic birth rite, there is no special ceremony or procedure surrounding the circumcision of a baby. It is considered a health matter often left in the hands of doctors. Most Muslim families choose to have a doctor perform the circumcision while the baby is still in the hospital after birth or shortly thereafter. In some cultures, the circumcision is done later, at around 7 years old or as the boy approaches puberty. The person performing the circumcision does not need to be a Muslim, as long as the procedure is done in sanitary conditions by an experienced professional.

Female Circumcision

Female "circumcision" in Islam or any religion is really genital mutilation, with no known health benefits or basis in Islamic practice. It is a minor surgery in which a small amount of tissue is removed from the area surrounding the clitoris. To be clear, it is not required in Islam and the practice of female circumcision even predates the religion itself.

The removal of female genitalia is traditional practice in some areas of Africa (where the practice is said to have existed before Islam and is therefore not an invention of Islam), among people of different faiths and cultures.

Some fanatic traditionalists try to justify the practice as culturally necessary, even though there is no mandate for it in the Quran and their judicial evidence is weak or nonexistent. Rather, this practice causes harm to women, with life-changing effects on their reproductive health. 

In Islam, the commonly cited motivation for this procedure is to reduce a woman's sexual drive. Western countries see female circumcision as nothing short of a cruel procedure used to control women's sexuality, however. And female circumcision -- whether in Islamic countries or any other -- denies a woman this fundamental right. The act is banned in many countries.

Converts to Islam

An adult man who converts to Islam does not need to undergo circumcision in order to be "accepted" into Islam, although it is recommended for health and hygiene reasons.

A man may choose to undergo the procedure in consultation with his doctor as long as it does not pose a risk to his health.