FGM: Forced Sexual Honor

2016 Ramadan GraphicFemale genital mutilation (FGM) often occurs in honor-based cultures. The mutilation of a woman’s genitalia is intended to maintain family honor by preserving a woman’s virginity until marriage. The intended result is to reduce her sexual drive to ensure she will not engage in premarital or extramarital sexual behavior.

The AHA Foundation reports that FGM is often performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14. The number of girls in the United States under the age of 18 that are at risk for FGM has quadrupled since 1997. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 513,000 women and girls are currently at risk of FGM in the United States.

In 1996, a U.S. federal law was passed criminalizing the practice of FGM, and in 2013 the law was amended to also outlaw “vacation cutting,” which is the practice of taking a girl to another country to undergo the procedure. In addition, 24 U.S. states have their own laws outlawing the FGM.

UNICEF estimates that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. These numbers increased by nearly 70 million more than was estimated in 2014 after new data was collected in Indonesia. The data revealed that Indonesia is one of the countries where FGM is most prevalent even though the practice was banned in 2006. In fact, women in Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia account for half of all the FGM victims worldwide. The nation with the highest prevalence of FGM is Somalia with 98% of women and girls in the nation having undergone FGM.

The World Health Organization reports that FGM has no health benefits. It can, however, cause short-term problems including shock, bleeding, infection and injury to nearby tissue immediately following the procedure and can also have long-term effects such as recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, infertility, and complications during intercourse and childbirth.

FGM is practiced for a number of reasons. Some cultures have wrongly taught that the clitoris will continue to grow, and therefore it needs to be removed. Others have been taught the external genitalia are unclean and can cause the death of an infant during delivery.

Many Muslims believe that the failure to perform FGM on their daughters will bring shame to the family. Surveys in Middle Eastern nations have shown that FGM is considered to be both a traditional and religious practice. These attitudes and practices follow immigrants to their new nations, along with their “shame/honor” mindset if the immigrant happens to be Muslim.

Increasingly, those that have undergone FGM within Islamic cultures are stopping the practice, and there are brave Muslim women that are speaking out against FGM despite the fact that female sexuality is rarely spoken of in Muslim cultures. However, prayer and awareness is still needed because there is often great pressure from Islamic families to continue the tradition so the family will not experience “shame.”

Although it is certainly true FGM predates Islam and is still practiced by people from different religious backgrounds; there are Islamic shari’a scholars who support and encourage FGM. The “Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law” specifically addresses female circumcision. The International Institute of Islamic Thought, the Fiqh Council of North America and the prestigious Islamic Al-Azhar University have endorsed this manual. This shari’a law text states, “Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women) (Reliance e4.3, p. 59

Prayer Points:

Ask God to move on hearts, softening them to His love and truth, and giving them understanding and a new mind-set that the practice of FGM brings trauma and pain in the lives of their women and girls.

Pray for the parents of young girls that may be under tremendous pressure from their families and communities who are encouraging them to circumcise their daughters. Pray they will not give into the community pressure – and receive God’s revelation that the “honorable” thing will be to reject female circumcision.

Killing for Honor

2016 Ramadan GraphicThe U.S. Department of Justice says honor killing is a growing problem that is hidden in statistics. According to a Fox News report honor killing and violence are among the most secretive crimes in society. “Cases of honor killings and/or violence in the U.S. are often unreported because of the shame it can cause to the victim and the victim’s family,” reports Farhana Qazi, a former U.S. government analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism.

Honor Violence Measurement Methods is a study released in 2015 commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice. The study identified four types of honor violence: forced marriage, honor-based domestic violence, honor killing and female genital mutilation.

The report estimates that 23 to 27 honor killing occur each year in the United States. In comparison, the report estimates 13 honor killings each year in the Netherlands and 10 to 12 honor killings in the United Kingdom. The number of honor killing worldwide is estimated to be approximately 5,000 per year.

The concept of executing someone because they have dishonored their family is difficult for Westerners to understand. In his book Honor and Shame, Roland Muller discusses three basic emotional responses to Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden: guilt, shame, and fear.

After they had sinned, they felt guilt, because they had broken God’s command. They felt shame – they knew they were naked, and so they covered themselves. And they felt fear – they hid themselves from God.

Cultures and worldviews have been shaped by one or more of these emotional responses. Some cultures primarily operate with one clear worldview; others may be a mixture of all three. Most Western culture is primarily based on a guilt/innocence – we clearly understand the concepts of right and wrong. Guilt/innocence based cultures are typically individualistic. We believe individuals are responsible for themselves and their behavior.

Islam was based on a honor/shame basis. In fact, the honor/shame basis of Islam originated with Bedouin honor codes. Unlike the individual responsibility of those from a Western mindset, shame/honor based cultures are attached to groups – families, tribes, nations, etc. Shameful deeds affect the entire group and as such they are hidden, and if they cannot be hidden, then the shameful deed demands revenge. In this culture the importance of the group outweighs the importance of an individual. If a person shames the family, and the family is unable to hide the shameful deed, the mindset says that the family must avenge. Islam is conformity to the point of submission.

Understanding this difference in worldview certainly does not excuse honor killings, but it does help Westerners to understand why a Muslim family will often protect the murderer. Because Islam is rooted in this shame based paradigm, actions such as lying to protect the honor of the family or tribe is considered permissible. Few things are actually considered right or wrong; rather they are acceptable or unacceptable based on the family honor.

Understanding the basis of the shame/honor worldview helps us as Christians to share the gospel and pray for them. As Western Christians pray for the salvation of the Muslim people, we can rejoice in the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom which reconciles us to God – no more guilt; no more fear; and no more shame!

Prayer Point:

Pray that Christians will understand how to share their faith with people from different worldviews and cultures in a way that does not compromise the truth of the gospel, but yet still communicates the finished work of the cross.