Swedish Imam Says Islam Forbids Female Circumcision

Mon 10 November, 2003 17:31 
By Patrick McLoughlin


STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Female circumcision, or female
genital mutilation, is forbidden under Islam, a
dominant religion in countries where it is practiced,
a leading Swedish Muslim leader told an international
conference on Monday.

Two million girls are circumcised each year, 130
million women in 30 countries have already been
mutilated in this way, and campaigners said they hoped
the cleric's comments would help stop the practice by
making clear it had no basis in religion.

"I as Imam would like, with my colleagues, to turn to
the Islamic world, particularly in Africa, and inform
people that female genital mutilation is prohibited,"
said Sheik Omar Ahmed.

"It is a matter of abuse and violation of the female
body and is quite clearly forbidden according to
Islam," he told delegates from 13 African countries,
Sweden and international bodies such as the World
Health Organization.

Imams, whose role as mosque prayer leaders gives them
great influence in Muslim communities, differ in their
interpretation of Muslim teachings.

Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, grand sheikh of Cairo's
prestigious al-Azhar mosque, told a June conference on
the practice in Egypt that the Koran did not demand or
even mention female circumcision. Delegates at that
conference said his remarks would help the Africa-wide
campaign against the practice.

In some African countries, including Egypt, Somalia
and Ethiopia, cutting off the clitoris and other parts
of the external genitalia is an ancient tradition that
persists despite a widespread ban. In Eritrea 95
percent of women have been circumcised, according to
the U.N. Children's Fund.

For communities which practice female circumcision it
is a rite of passage to womanhood which, by reducing
sex drive, also limits promiscuity. It is sometimes
carried out by a doctor but more often by a relative
or local "healer" using a razor blade.

Sweden staged the two-day conference to coordinate
action against genital mutilation in its own immigrant
community and overseas, with the aim of total
eradication by 2010.


The Swedish Imam said female circumcision dated from
Pharaonic times in Egypt but caused pain and infection
and led to diminished sexual feeling, causing mental

Experts say it leaves women physically and emotionally
scarred and can cause infertility, incontinence and
pain during intercourse. When carried out with
unsterilized blades it can cause death by hemorrhage,
blood poisoning or urine retention.

Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds told Reuters
on the sidelines of the conference that the Imam's
remarks were significant in the fight against a brutal

"Many people think this is a religious practice and
it's important that people with authority -- like an
Imam -- tell people this is not right," she said.

"This has no basis in religion, full stop. It's not a
matter for discussion," Sweden's special ambassador
for human rights, Ulla Strom, told Reuters. "We had
this very clear statement from the Imam and it's going
to be difficult for other Imams to challenge it."

A major conference on genital mutilation in Addis
Ababa proposed adopting February 6 as an international
day for the war against female circumcision.

"We shall push hard on how to coordinate between
migrants in Europe and communities in Africa to create
awareness that things are changing," said Linah
Kilimo, Kenyan Minister of State.


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