Excision in Europe : confusion and responsibilities

Malika HAMIDI

On the 6th of February 2012, the International Day of “Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation”, the whole world is mobilized with hope and determination to eliminate once and for all the practice of excision, wrongfully attributed to Islam. Although Muslim communities have condemned and legislated against this practice with conviction, in the name of the spirit of the Coran which recommends tolerance and protects life, excision is still considered as a rather delicate taboo. Therefore this Day is the occasion for several demonstrations and campaigns to raise public awareness on this issue.

Because of migration flows, excision has unfortunately become a European reality that threatens now each year thousands of young girls in Paris, Berlin, Roma, Amsterdam and Brussels. Approximately 500 000 excized women are living in Europe, according to the European Parliament, and each year, nearly 180 000 women undergo this practice, sometimes even in Europe.

“Religious leaders” denounce and discourage the practice of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

The conviction for this practice draws its legitimacy from Islamic judicial precedent. Yet in some Muslim communities in Africa, female genital mutilation still provokes heated, fierce and contradictory debates between supporters and opponents of this traditional practice.

Most scholars, such as Muhammad Rashid Ridha which had already issued a Fatwa in 1904, agreed and are definite about the fact that transmission chains of ahadith relating to excision are weak, they may not be considered as law because their authenticity is dubious.

Today, scholars reached a consensus about the need to abandon this practice with tragic medical, psychological and social consequences.

In 2010, two major events allowed considerable progress on how this taboo question is dealt:

The Forum of Islamic thought and dialogue between cultures gathered some 30 scientists who discussed for two days on female genital mutilation in Mauritania. Let us recall that in 2006, the Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr Ali Gomaa and ten other prominent figures of the Muslim world have resolved together the issue. Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest religious reference in the Muslim world, issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, describing it as a “crime against human being”;

In May 2010 a conference was held in Mali with the aim of producing a declaration (known as MOPTI) which pointed out three essential pillars of the Islamic perception of the human being in order to denounce this practice, namely that Islam preaches the respect of the body, the religion and soul’s goods, as well for men as for women.

Double and mutual responsibility

Excision is a significant and complex sociocultural issue which could not be evoked without an extreme prudence and particular skills so as to obtain concrete results in the long term.

In Europe, medical and social sectors of the civil society are already facing this issue and effectively dealing with it. Prevention as well as medical and social support to women who have already been excised has increased in recent years.

However, this will be truly effective only if religious actors are fully involved in actions lead to put an end to this practice: promotion for actions towards the abandonment of female genital mutilation cannot be done without the constructive, critical and effective involvement of hands-on Muslim organisations which must feel concerned by this combat.

On the other hand a great number of organizations in the civil society as well as in European Governments have committed themselves to hands-on actions for a few years by giving a médico-psychological support to victims and by legislating on the question; unfortunately they forget too often to act in partnership with Muslim associations and religious leaders.

In Africa, imams and NGOs (Non-Gouvernmental Organizations) discuss this issue and openly commit themselves to combatting this practice. This mutual commitment produces good results since informative work to raise awareness about health issues is doubled and justified by arguments from the highest Muslim references which are unanimously respected in this part of the world.

It is the duty of Governments and NGOs to involve religious actors and leaders both in political and practical actions so as to work together in educating populations at risk throughout the presence of medical specialists who will explain the harmful consequences of this tradition.

And lastly, knowledge and education are necessary to combat this traditional practice. Our imams can really act as opinion leaders in this struggle by raising awareness among parents within European mosques: to educate the population and support each argument with the sacred text will lead to the abandonment of female genital mutilation.

In Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recognized and commended the work of religious leaders in collaboration with NGOs. The African experience is a good example: the collective work with medical authorities and religious actors have a significant impact on interlocutors who feel then legitimate by sacred Word.

There cannot be any discussion about “forcing” the abandonment of this practice by repression only, it is necessary above all to educate people who will be able therefore to act with full awareness of the importance of their role and to manage gradually to turn away from this tradition.

Victories are fragile and it is a long struggle ahead, but the time has come for Muslim communities, Europe and NGOs to take their responsibilities to compensate for breaches by a collective work so as to eradicate an act which is both physically and psychologically injuring and traumatic. It is hoped that mutual understanding and self-criticism will prevail for the sake of million of women, daughters, grand-daughters and of the whole humanity…

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