at stake: muslim female genitals

A couple of weeks ago, a friend invited me to the Freedom Film Fest premiere at The Annexe, Central Market and the only reason I decided to go was Nia Dinata. Tentatively, she was the guest of honour for the opening ceremony, but little did I know, her latest project “Pertaruhan” (At Stake) were scheduled to be screened as the opening film for the festival.

“Pertaruhan” is a compilation, or anthology of 4 documentaries revolving around women issues, i.e. migrant workers, pap smear treatments, prostitution and one, which caught my full attention, female muslim circumcision.

During the Q&A, I asked Nia, since the director for that particular documentary was absent, how wide is the awareness of this issue among muslim women in Indonesia, and how many people did question the validity of this practice. She told me there’s many inquiries on the issue, but when I told her that we, in Malaysia, goes through this process like a compulsory practice among Muslim practitioners, some of the audience were astounded. Moreover, the representative from JAG mentioned, no statistic were available on this particular issue in Malaysia, nor it was a huge concern of the community.

This morning, a friend of mine forwarded an article from MalaysiaKini, malaysia’s online newspaper which is only available upon subscription. The article titled Female genital mutilation: ‘Don’t touch the children’ by Colin Boyd Shafer. Allow me to borrow some excerpts by no intentions of plagiarising.

The writer quoted:-

“Excision doesn’t remove your desire or ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. The excision of women is cruel on many levels. It is physically cruel and painful; it sets girls up for a lifetime of suffering. And it is not even effective in its intent to remove their desire.” – Ayaan Hirshi Ali

The writer wrote,

Until recently, I assumed that FGM was not found in Southeast Asia. However, I had a conversation recently with an ethnic Malay here in Malaysia, and to my surprise found out that female genital mutilation/circumcision is not unusual in the Muslim community.

It is most certainly not unusual. As a 27yr old Malay Muslim woman in Malaysia, I can verify that I have not yet heard any of my female Muslim friends or relatives who has not gone through circumcision. We have never even question why we should, it’s just stated that it’s better that we were circumcised when we were born, or while we were a baby, to avoid memorable trauma of the ordeal.

The writer continues on explaining in the article,

Isa, Shuib & Othman sampled 262 pregnant woman admitted to the labour ward, and found that all of the women had undergone the surgery which they described as “nicking of the tip of the clitoris or prepuce with a penknife or similar instrument, which only drew a drop of blood and caused brief pain.”

In the documentary produced by Nia Dinata, some female activist went around trying to find justification of the practice, consulting with a few Ustadz. Most of them explained that it was to avoid, or reduce, sexual desire. Apparently cutting the tip of the clitoris, will control a woman’s wild sexual desire. Of course, this is not true. I, myself, wouldn’t know for sure, I wouldn’t have the ability to compare if I would be more easily aroused or sexually wild if I haven’t been circumcised. As a person in her late 20s, of course I have sexual desires putting aside whether I am single or not, OR, whether I am sexually active or not.

True to the research in the article, if someone were going to be sexually active or get impregnated or lose her virginity before marriage as clearly forbidden in the said religion, is not justified by her genitals being circumcised or not. Then what about worldly and material desires which is equally destructive to someone’s ethics?

The writer then thought,

But if God is great and infallible, than surely his natural genital design is acceptable? We need to stop tip toeing around religious practices and start analysing FGM for what it is.

Let your child decide what they want to do with that area of their body. If you raise them well, they will be clean, happy and careful about whom they have sex with.

Recently, I asked my sister, did she circumcised her baby girl, Aisyah Nur, who was born on October 25th last month, and she look a bit panic saying, no she haven’t. I explained to her, it’s not “wajib” and I told her about the documentary and the issues raised regarding the issue.

My heart already broke seeing Aisyah Nur crying because she is suffering from constipation, how can I survive knowing someone took a razer and cut the tip of her genitals? It’s crazy!

Do go through a few discussion websites via Google for this issue and decide for yourself. We are individuals and I respect people’s belief and stands. But as for me, as much as I want to believe what I have been raised to believe, the common sense and emotional part in me, does not believe this to be a necessary practice in Islam.

Let our faith guide us to whether we are able to control our desires and let mistakes guide is to the path of truth. But don’t do or practice things which to prevent what we never know will happen in life.