Pharaonic Circumcision (infibulation)
Al-Amin Dawood, Ph.D
Before dealing with what is known as Pharaonic circumcision (infibulation) in its Islamic legal aspect, I would like to quote Dr Anwar Ahmad, Professor at the School of Medicine, Khartoum University, who writes in an article in Al- sahafa newspaper, no.1488, of26 December 1967:
I would like to discuss Pharaonic circumcision in a frank and scientific manner. May I seek my readers' forbearance if I use scientific language, in an attempt to make the question properly understood.
Pharaonic circumcision is a very old custom in Sudan. It was first introduced with the Ancient Egyptian conquest, and is still practised today. It is also practised in Somalia, Kenya, and certain parts of Indonesia. The old concept that female genitals are offensive to virtue appears to be still accepted. Before dealing with the problems which this kind of circumcision involves, I want to explain the anatomy of the external female sexual organs, so that readers may un<;lerstand better what exactly goes on.
The female sexual organs consist of the
The labia majora, which are two elongated folds of skin extending
from the pubis to the perineum into which they merge. They are composed
of adipose and osseous tissues, a network of sensitive nerves, and
secretion glands. The labia majora receive a great amount of
The clitoris is an organ subject to erection, exactly like the penis. It is extremely sensitive and has a very extensive neural network. It is composed of cancellous tissues and receives a very good amount of blood. As already mentioned, it is located at the point where the labia minora meet in the front. Its base is about one inch from the urine aperture. The clitoris is not created in vain; it performs a very important natural function, for it gets erect the same way as the male organ. When this happens, blood flows into the labia majora and the glands begin to excrete a liquid to facilitate sexual intercourse and allow the woman to enjoy it. All these sexual organs function to achieve a purpose which is more sublime than many believe, and this is done through equal pal1icipation in a highly important biological function.
How infibulation is performed
Let us now look at what may happen when
infibulation is performed. The operation calls for cutting off most of the
labia majora and the complete removal of the labia minora and the
clitoris. When this is done, a match is placed in the labia majora
aperture. After the wound has healed, a small opening is left, from which
urine comes out. At the age of puberty, menstrual blood is let out of the
same opening. At the end of this operation, when the match is already
placed, the girl's legs are tied together for forty days to make sure that
the wound heals well.
Thus, quite simply, a woman is deprived of her genitals and denied the most basic element of life. Her life becomes one complex on top of another, and the house is filled with needless problems. Denying a woman the ability to share the pleasure makes her more negative. Denying her the relaxation of nerves which accompanies proper sexual intercourse creates in her feelings of great anxiety and loss. In turn, such negativity and such feelings of loss give rise to psychological, physical, and sexual disorders. An inferiority complex, a feeling of negativity, and an awareness that the man is the dominant master, the one who feeds with a spoon of gold, combine to gradually cancel her role in society. At the same time, feelings of weakness, negativity, and pain in the marital bed are certain to make her experience various sexual problems, such as sexual frigidity, which is nowadays a real crisis and the root of many domestic problems.
Harmful effects of infibulation
The above is a brief account of the indirect
problems. The direct effects of infibulation are the
Surgical shock, by which is meant the sudden drop in all
functions of the body. There are many types of shock that produce the
same effect, but an external shock is often the result of surgery
performed without anaesthetics, and that is exactly what infibulation
is. As a result of the great drop in blood pressure and in the activity
of the respiratory system, this shock might end the girl's life. Or it
may give the girl a psychologica1]y painful memory, which haunts her a1]
her life. It makes her afraid of sex and can only regard it as a vice.
The concept that her sexual organs are dispensable and the great joy of
her family when they are removed will undoubtedly implant that attitude
towards sex in her head.
Bleeding, which results from ignorance on the part of the midwife
of the great amount of blood that feeds that part of the female body.
Many innocent girls have been the victims of this widespread
Infiammation and putridif)~, which are caused by ignorance of
even the simplest rules of hygiene. Putridity is caused by microbes that
live with us in our bodies and in the instruments we use. The genitals
are the area of the body where the highest percentage of microbes exist.
An unsterilized or semi-sterilized knife is full of poisonous and
Retention of the urine and of the menstrual blood. During this
noxious operation, the urine aperture is liable to infection, being so
close to the clitoris, which causes urine to be retained in the early
days after the operation. The aperture may also be so narrow when the
wound heals that urine and menstrual blood cannot be discharged. No
further explanation is required, for everybody knows what this
Puerperal.fever. A scalpel always has to be used to enlarge the
vaginal opening at childbirth and allow the child to be delivered. This
is sufficient exposure of the poor mother to the hazards of puerperal
fever. It also causes psychological complications due to the pain the
woman suffers at every childbirth, which in turn causes dystocia. I
believe we all know that contractions of the womb are the basic factor
in delivering the child. Fear stops these contractions or makes them
highly infrequent, which places the delivering mother at the mercy of a
Sterility. Statistics clearly show that 20-25% of the cases of
sterility in Sudan are caused by this terrible operation, which narrows
the vaginal aperture to the greatest possible extent.
In addition to all this, there is the psychological pain infibulation causes through the incision and sewing that the woman undergoes every time she gives birth. This should be more than sufficient.
Pharaonic circumcision as viewed in Islamic law.
form of female circumcision is an Ancient Egyptian habit, which was common
in particular in the age of Ramses, more than 1000 years before Christ. It
was introduced into the Sudan with the Egyptian conquests of the Nuba
country . The kings of Nuba in turn conquered Egypt, and the custom of
infibulation spread throughout the Nile Valley .
The custom obviously does not exist in other countries. Female circumcision, whether in the form of infibulation or any other form, is not known at all in the countries of north-west Africa, the countries of Greater Syria, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen.
There is nothing in Islamic law that prevents the abandoning of the simple form of female circumcision. As for Pharaonic circumcision (infibulation), it is a major crime, and if performed, full blood money has to be paid in compensation. It is a cardinal sin, and any person who performs it is damned.
Dr Mahmoud Ahmad Fora
Last Updated February 25, 2005