Dr. Hamim Ilyas, born in Klaten on the 1st April 1961. He is a teacher, an activist for women’s justice. He has been working as a lecturer at Faculty of Sharia State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, since 1987 until now. A Lecturer who now serves as Assistant Director of UIN Graduate Program, had taught Master of Policy Studies at Gajah Mada University (UGM) since 2004. He is also active in the Majlis Tarjih and the Development of Islamic Thought of the Muhammadiyah Central Executives. Hamim is also listed as an expert member in the Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI) of the Reproductive Health Specialist Center. His thoughts on Gender and Islam have been widely published, such as in the book “The Involvement of Muslim Men in the Reproductive Health” (2006). In the interview, he revealed that female circumcision causes upsetting many aspects of good reproductive, physical and psychological health of women. Hamim also asserted that women’s sexual urges are not determined by being circumcised or not. Why are women still circumcised? What are his comments on female circumcision in the Islamic point of view? This is the following interview.
What is the origin of khitan or female circumcision?
The certain origin of female circumcision is unknown in the history. The popular Islamic tradition only know the origin of male circumcision come from the Prophet Abraham who performed circumcision at the age of eighty years.
Does this female circumcision also come from the Prophet Abraham?
There is no information that female circumcision is also from the Prophet Abraham. But from history, it has been known for thousand years that female circumcision is commonly practiced in Nile basin of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and limited to Arab, Russian and Latin American communities.
What are the reasons underlying the practice in early days?
In my opinion, the reason is about morality. Among the people who practice, there is a belief that if the external vital organs of women are circumcised, it calms sexual urges and help to control women easily. So the women can keep their honor until marriage.
Before Islam came, are there any practice of female circumcision in Judaism and Christianity?
If we see from the widespread practice of female circumcision before the advent of Islam, it is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Prior to arrival of Islam, female circumcision has existed among Jews and Christians, especially Christian-Jewish descents. They practice it because they believed as a religious teaching from the Prophet Abraham, known as the Father of the believers.
What are forms of female circumcision practices in the Jewish time, the ignorance (jahiliyyah) time, until the time of Prophet Muhammad?
Female circumcision in the past was carried out ranging from its small to extreme forms. The small form, it is performed by taking a very small portion of labia tip (clitoral hood). While the extreme form, performed by removing labia minora and clitoris, then sew the edges of skin by leaving a small hole for urine and for penis during intercourse. This extreme form mainly occured in valley of Nile River and Sudan.
How exactly was Islam in the time of the Prophet viewing this practice?
Islam at the time of the Prophet did not introduce the practice. When the Prophet knew the practice in one tribe, the Prophet told the shaman of female circumcision named Ummi Rafi’ah who always asked parents to circumcise their daughters, to do it as little as possible, not in an excessive manner.
Is female circumcision a religious teaching or a tradition?
Female circumcision was originally a community tradition, not a religious one. But when religion encountered the tradition, it is being responded.
The religious response accommodated the tradition of the practice. When the religion spread to other areas outside the community which practicing female circumcision, the original response that became teaching, is also carried along.
What about the basis of the Qur’an and Hadith about female circumcision?
In the Qur’an there is no direct reference to circumcision, both for men and women. The verse which is usually used as the basis is Surah An-Nahl: 123 which commands the Prophet Muhammad to follow millah (teachings) of Abraham as a person inclines to the truth (hanif).
The Hadith associated with female circumcision is the Hadith which explain there are five fitrah (pure human nature): circumcision, obligation to have bath of junub (ritually impure due to sexual intercourse or seminal discharge. The person needs to take a bath in order to become ritually pure and be able to perform prayers) after two circumcised genitals met, as the Prophet’s advice to Ummi Rafi’ah.
What about Madzahibul Arba’ah’s argument related to this matter?
There is a difference of views among the Islamic four schools of thoughts about female circumcision. Hanafi and Maliki schools are viewing legal status of female circumcision is only mustahab, under sunnah, or being recommended. The Shafi’i school is viewing, the female circumcision is obligatory. As for Hanbali school, there are those who declare it is obligatory, and not obligatory (Ibn Qudama).
What are the reasons underlying each different schools?
The reasons used by the schools are related to Hadith. The three pointed school of thoughts do not indicate obligations, female circumcision is not mandatory. On the contrary, the school or scholars who view the traditions indicate an obligation, declaring female circumcision is obligatory.
In Indonesia, what is the origin of female circumcision among Muslims?
The dominant school of thought in Indonesia is Shafi’i. Therefore the origin is the teaching of Shafi’i school that obliges female circumcision.
Are there in practice of female circumcision, reasons of economic aspect, or question of male domination over women?
Seeing from the dominant school, there is no economic consideration in the practice in Indonesia. The practice is purely religious, but it is possible there are economic considerations from executors, especially from the service providers who may gain benefits.
In my opinion, fiqh is developed from detailed arguments in the Qur’an and Hadith. Anyone, male or female, who view above Hadith as mandatory argument for female circumcision, surely think that female circumcision is mandatory. So the question in fiqh is epistemology, not gender.
Why in Indonesia the Islamic nuances are considered the ones to teach female circumcision?
In Indonesia, Islam is a religion of majority of population. Since the dominant is Shafi’i school that obliges circumcision, generally they practice it. It is natural there is an impression that female circumcision is identical with Islam. But it’s not like that. Viewed from the practice in Indonesia, it is not taught by Islam alone, but also by ethnic or tribal cultures in Indonesia.
In certain areas of Indonesia, there is the practice by putting corn or grain on the genitalia of a girl, then a rooster is directed to peck it (in Javanese: nothol). This is clearly an ethnic culture, not an Islamic teaching.
Religion and scholars seem to legitimize the practice. What is your opinion?
Female circumcision has become customary, the scholars let it happen. In religious practice there is a saying al-‘adatu muhakkamatun (customs made law) and custom is the king. The scholars generally do and think in line with the life of the people.
They participate in preserving, because they see it as a religion, reinforced by female stereotypes as seducer or slander. They see female circumcision as useful in controlling the potential of women as seducers.
Truly “what is the point” or what is the benefit of the female circumcision?
The benefits of female circumcision are nothing more than merely indigenous rituals, used for social integration. For those who believe it as religious teaching, it can provide spiritual benefit to reassure the heart for having carried out God’s commands.
What is female circumcision from the side of advisability?
There is no advisability from female circumcision, besides social integration and spiritual satisfaction.
How about from the disadvantaged side?
It endangers the health of women in general and in the reproductive of women. It preserves negative images of women that are very harmful to themselves.
How is female circumcision from aspect of gender, sexuality, and reproductive health?
In practice, female circumcision has created gender injustice to women in form of stereotypes and violence which surely lead to marginalization. It also preserves myths in controlling female sexuality. The myths are not proven.
Female sexual desire is not determined by circumcision, but by psychological and hormonal factors. Female circumcision can also impede access to women’s reproductive health, from lack of information access to physical and psychological related.
Do you think female circumcision violates women’s basic rights?
Reproductive health is part of basic human rights. Female circumcision performed in extreme and un-hygienic ways, certainly violate those rights. When it is done symbolically by rubbing a turmeric on clitoris for example, does not violate rights, as long as it is not assuming female stereotypes.
How should people respond to this “tradition”?
People must be smart in responding to long established traditions. Today science can help to build that attitude. In religion, people cannot abandon science. The ummah should not view female circumcision from theological aspect only, but also from scientific aspect, to see how the reality is. If it clearly causes harmful (mudarat) and injustice, it should be abandoned.
What do you think the government should do?
The government must protect the rights of its citizens. Female circumcision has become a violent practice against women, it should be stopped. In Indonesia to stop the practice of female circumcision, it is not enough with political and legal approaches only, but also with cultural approaches. The government needs to be encouraged to do it comprehensively, first by awakening awareness among the people that female circumcision is endanger women’s reproductive health..
What are your personal expectations regarding this issue?
In accordance with my humanitarian Islam, religious beliefs and practices that do not value humanity should be avoided by any religious adherents. Female circumcision that degrades women’s dignity should be thrown away.