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Damaged goods
A child’s right to maintain the integrity of his/her healthy body should not be violated

Jahanshah Rashidian
August 16, 2005
Persian translation

Circumcision, or for non-believers "genital mutilation", is one of the most ancient rituals still practiced in some societies. Historical background of this old ritual; as to when and who and why it started is not precisely known. The practice varies from region to region and from epoch to epoch in its total or partial removal of the foreskin/clitoris for both sexes.

However it is believed that circumcision, in its different forms, was practiced all around the world. The Jews were the first to adapt circumcision, mentioned in the Old Testament as a religious ritual and preserved its practice into our times. Circumcision was banned by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Also the early Christians took a strong stand against circumcision.

Despite many modern anti-circumcision movements, circumcision is practiced worldwide, in the Islamic societies, in some old tribes in Africa, in some native tribes of Australia and since 19th century, occasionally, in the US. Benefits of circumcision are supposed to maintain the genital organ in hygienic conditions for male and to reduce the sexual lust for female.

Removal of a functional, sensitive, healthy and normal foreskin or clitoris with many nerve fibres, nerve endings, strictly speaking is an amputation. Medically speaking, it has no relevant healthy benefits that can objectively be used to justify its practice. And as such, it violates the principles of ethnics and the principles of justice.

The law should respect parent’s "ownership rights" over their children to protect them, namely to the extent where all their decisions are in the child’s benefits. But they have no right abusing constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion to inculcate a particular religion or ritual practice into their children. A child’s right to maintain the integrity of his/her healthy body should not be violated.

Doctors, as modern circumcisers, cutting off a functional healthy and normal part of human body are doing a business which is in contradiction to their professional rights. This is akin to remove an eyelid which protects the eye or to cut off a finger of a child.

Circumcision would have died out long ago, along with leeching, skull-drilling, and castration, if it was frankly motivated by purely medical reasons. The fact is that the "reasons" were later invented and stereotyped to justify the ritual act of circumcision.

Religious mission is to avoid rising general awareness about the scientific reasons, and in this case, about the risk of circumcision. The advisability given about circumcision, contrary to immunisation, is merely rooted in cultural customs, religious and social myths, but not in therapeutic reasons.

The foreskin protects the glands of sexual organs. Thus the foreskin is an essential part of human sexual anatomy. The foreskin is a sensitive, functional organ with a rich concentration of blood vessels and nerve endings to keep the glands soft, moist and sensitive.

The general studies have proved that all individuals, regardless of religion or gender, who have genital cutting imposed upon them as unconsenting children, bear different degrees of physical, sexual or psychological wounding. The cutting is mostly the first painful bloody trauma for a child. Many people from circumcising cultures can attest to the harm this practice inflicted on them.

Religious and cultural influence reinforces denial of these consequences and makes it, with all means, taboo for people to talk openly about their harm. The fact that religious pressure forces people to adapt to and cope with this wounding or to remain silent, does not justify the wounding.

No medical evidence about the effectiveness of this wounding in reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or considerable effectiveness of penile cancer or genital diseases has been proved.

No health organisation in the world currently accepts circumcision as a preventive procedure and advocates its practice for both sexes; even if female circumcision is in some areas absent, it is immorally perverse to excuse one cruelty by invoking a worse one. The genitals of both sexes, as the products of evolution, should be left intact.

Since 1996 female circumcision has been considered violence against women in the US. And has become illegal however cutting away a part or a young girl’s entire clitoris is a ritual practice in parts of Islamic Africa.

The legitimisation of this painful barbaric act, which can rarely be imagined without shuddering or being sick, is mentioned in a Hadith reported by Umm’Atiyya: "A female circumciser in Madineh was told by the Prophet of Islam, "When you circumcise, do not cut a big part of clitoris as that is better for a woman and more desirable for her husband."

The above narration, ignoring the image of pain and sufferance, is one of the fundamental religious sources, allowing not only circumcision of boys (Khitan), but also circumcision of girls (Khafd) in Islam.

For less conservative Islamic scholars, the narration is a "modest" reason that only the outer part of the clitoris should be cut off and not as is done in some other African Muslim countries cutting off all the clitoris.

However, even the "modest" image of removal of the prepuce of a young girl’s clitoris is still odious enough to call it a barbaric maiming of innocent girls and the despoiling of the ability to enjoy the sexuality that means so much more than procreative act.

Beside the idea of reducing all of the female extra-marital affairs, another dominant idea of female circumcision has been claimed to diminish the risk of rape. As such, the entire clitoris is cut off. The tissue are then sewn together, leaving a narrow hole for the flow of urine or menstrual blood (a second procedure is necessary to allow the sexual intercourse, even painfully). This typical misogynous idea does not consider the male rapist as the main culprit, but implicitly the female uncircumcised victim!

Degree of brutality of female circumcision brought some of the Islamic scholars to modify their judgement about performance of its practice, arguing that female circumcision has been regarded by the Prophet as an act of merit, not as an obligation, which is the reason that it is less practiced than male circumcision in the Islamic societies.

Circumcision however is not mentioned in the Koran and has been initially an important act of purification (Taharah/Taharat) to be practiced by both sexes. This has been referred by a narration from the Prophet, which classifies circumcision as one of the five acts of Fitrah(purification), as shaving the public hair, trimming the moustaches, clipping the nails, plucking the armpit hairs .

Circumcision was imposed on Iranians through the Islamic invasion. (The preislamic Iranians, Zoroastrians, were not circumcised).

Circumcision for both sexes, along with female infanticide, was old tribal traditions practiced by the primitive patriarchal pagans in Arabian. Islam adopted the circumcision and changed its status into a religious ritual. And as such was imposed upon the territories, as Iran, occupied by the Islamic troupes.

Female circumcision, apart from some cases in southern areas, is not practiced in Iran, but the Shi'ite sect considers male circumcision obligatory and tends to lean the extreme side on the issue.

Associated with a typical ceremony (Khatneh Soorun), a reminder of a sacrificial ceremony, the Islamic circumcision is in perfect harmony with the feast of the sacrifice in Islam.

Sacrifice like cannibalism and infanticide is older than all main monotheist religions. It has been an act of worship. Human/ animal sacrifice was a routine ritual ceremony, in which young victims were killed to please their gods or spirit. In exchange for the wanton sacrifice, the human victims were baptised martyrs and were promised holly rewards like the paradise in the next world.

The human victim was not only offered to satisfy the gods and consequently the group, but as a martyr, became a promoted status of sacred. This concept of divine victim is very similar to the concept of martyrdom in Shiism.

At the early ancient cultures human/animal sacrifice was a routine ritual in times of natural disaster; even for the rise of the sun a person should be sacrificed.

Human sacrifice or mutilation still happens today as in underground practice in some traditional religions in some cultures in South Africa.

The occasions of human sacrifice and human mutilations are associated with some ritual ceremonies. In ancient Egypt, less brutal than widow-burial, ceremonial, sacrificial circumcision, for both sexes, was practiced to please their god of fertility.

In ancient Mesopotamian there were ritual festivities in which the genital organ of a young boy was brutally cut off and was offered to the goddess of fertility.

Some scholars believe that all of the monotheist Prophets were born circumcised, while some others claim that Prophet Abraham was the first to practice (self)circumcision to please Allah." today’s judgement about such an act can be reduced to the rank of pathology".

Another aspect of circumcision besides the purification and the sacrificial character, can be regarded as an act of punishment (a means of humiliating to mark captured enemies and slaves, or as a patriarchal means was in its origin an injury to the mother reducing her authority over her child).

The punishment which very often means ritual purification is attributed to tone down sexual pleasure. Human sexuality has been seen in many primitive cultures as dirty or impure and needs ritual purification, Circumcision, in this case, was the obvious way to "purify" someone.

Circumcision in Sharia is an order to cut the skin that covers the male genital and/or to cut the upper end of the skin that covers the clitoris on the female genital part. It has been considered by many Islamic judges that circumcision is compulsory on both males and females.

Considering the case of the Abraham’s self-circumcision, to be believed or not, it reflexes that a very important combined factor of circumcision is to be self-injury, a pathological practice to relieve overwhelming emotional tension. It can be practiced from a little common cut of skin to self-flagellation or self-stabbing.

Ritual practice of self-injury is a usually symbolic act. It connects the individual to the group or community.

Some practices like piercing and tattoos, or like in this case circumcision are also socially preconditioned. These practices are done to identify with a particular group. The social respect of collective practice can be also a practice of self-injury like circumcision, and is socially approved.

The self-injury in its ritual practice often focuses on the sexual organs and can be regarded as a copy mechanism for the origin of circumcision.

To conclude my article and my purpose, I point out the following traits:

- Circumcision, an old practice, has no clear references concerning its history, motive and origin.

- Circumcision is a ritual practice of primitive cultures and can be rooted in the factors of sexual punishment, ritual sacrifice and self-injury.

- Circumcision has no preventive or medical benefits.

- Circumcision, as an act of genital mutilation for both sexes, is morally not acceptable >>> Persian translation

For letters section
To Jahanshah Rashidian




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