Female 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
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.
Amal Farah has not spoken to her family since 2005 after she told them she was leaving the Islamic faith. She believes if she still lived in her native Somalia, rather than in Britain, she might actually be dead for leaving Islam. She shared her story with The Telegraph for the first time after reading about Mariam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman that remains trapped in Sudan after being released from prison for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
Amal’s father was a high-ranking general in the Somali army and very secular. A landmine killed him when Amal was only three years old. After the death of her father, Amal says her mother became more religious. “We were all Muslims, of course, but the older I got the more I was told to pray, to wear conservative clothes and so on. …I disliked being told what to do, like being forced to wear the hijab. I dreamt of having control over my own life.”
This loss of control became quite tangible when her mother prepared her to be circumcised. She says, “I was really scared, and she was talking about how it was religious purification – an essential rite. I asked if there was anything I could do to change her mind, and she said no. I think that’s when I realized that I hated this feeling of powerlessness.”
Amal began to question her faith even more as she attended a British university. “I met atheists, staunch Christians, Jews, Hindus – they challenged me about my views, and I about theirs. It was an incredible sensation to be able to ask questions, and discuss ideas without fear, without looking over my shoulder. I had been in a cocoon- unquestioning, with everyone told they had to think the same way.”
She read different translations of the Qur’an and listened to tapes of imams from other nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but ultimately she made the decision that Islam was not for her. Her mother was heartbroken with her decision and told her that she was going to hell. Amal describes her mother as feeling guilty that had daughter had left Islam, and also as “very, very angry.”
Her mother believed exposing her daughter to “corrupt Western ways” had cause her to abandon Islam, and she moved with the rest of her family back to Somalia in order to ensure that her other children remained Muslim.
The experience of many young women in Islam is similar to the life of Amal – as a Muslim, they are disenchanted with the control over their lives. Pray that many young Muslims will find themselves in a position of safety where they are able to ask questions and explore their faith without fear.
Ask God to equip Christian students on college campuses to understand the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam that will enable them to have encouraging and truthful conversations with other students.
Oftentimes Muslims who leave the Islamic faith have a distorted view of God and it is difficult for them to be open to the Christian faith. Pray that the Lord will divinely connect the Christians with Muslims who are open to truth, empowering the Christians to stand strong in their faith and share the gospel without compromise.