June 10, 2011

Save the Clitoris!

I told you this was serious.

For those who have led very sheltered lives, the unmarried men (and less enlightened married ones), no, this has nothing to do with nature conservation.  Well, perhaps it does.  Women, by nature, are born with a certain arrangement of pleasure organs.  Seriously, for anyone not sure of the geography of the female body, you might like to acquaint yourself properly before we begin.  By virtue of Wikipedia, you can read up on what it's for and even look at a map to find out where it lives.  This is a clitoris.  

So why does this remarkable God-given instrument of pleasure need saving?  Every girl is born with one.  There should be a perfect number available - one girl, one clitoris.  But that is not so.  Because in many parts of the world, their own mothers cut them off, or allow someone else to do so.  That's right.  Along with various other bits, to a greater or lesser degree, this bodily organ gets cut.  Off baby girls, or even older ones.  Cut right off.  Yes, you might well wince.  There are names, categories and types.  But all come under the category of what is known variously as "female circumcision", "female genital mutilation" or "female genital cutting".  We'll use one of the most common abbreviations: FGM.  Again, off in Wiki-world, you can have a look at what actually gets removed.  

Yesterday, I was updating a Linoleum Surfer groupie known as Abu Haider.  Abu Haider was surprised when I told him of the subject of this coming piece.  "Female circumcision?", he said.  "But what's that got to do with Oman?".  Now Abu Haider is a man of the world.  Well-travelled, a successful businessman, a reformed womaniser and now happily married, respectable, and a loving husband and father.  When I told him that an estimated 20% of Omani women have important parts of their genitalia cut off, his jaw literally dropped.  I am not exaggerating.  Abu Haider, not an easy man to reduce to silence by the way, simply stood in the middle of the road with his mouth wide open.  He was stunned.  The thing is, FGM is not a normal topic of conversation, and certainly not for men.  Also, in Abu Haider's particular community, the practice is alien.  They don't do it.  So in his mind, neither did anyone else.  He was simply shocked to discover that so many others do.  

And there are a lot of them.  Some have brought the tradition from Africa (Kenya for example, where it is inflicted on an estimated 50% of girls at least).  Some have carried it out within tribal or "qu7i" if you'll pardon the term, groups, for generations.  Families of sheikhs even.  A friend of mine in fact, who is the daughter of one such prominent tribal figure who lives in the Eastern region, told me that as a child she and her sisters would run and hide when a certain elderly woman was sighted in the village.  They never knew why until they were older, but that lady was the genital-cutter.  Those are the few then: some from East Africa, some from certain tribes or families who probably don't know where the practice originated.  And it's not just an obscure village custom.  In cities, among PhD holders and the urban elite, it happens too.

But if they are the few, then spare a thought for the many.  I have mentioned a few times my esteemed blog-colleague Mimi, writer of the Shy Rebellious Arab Girl blog.  Mimi is a keen writer, and has covered this subject several times (please do read her charmingly frank thoughts).   A couple of days ago, I commended Mimi on the Facebook page  for again raising this issue.  The venerable Susan Al Shahri chipped in to say that she was also writing an article for the Muscat Daily on the subject - something of a first.  That excellent, eye-opening article is shared here.  Another reader, Nadia of Dhofari Gucci fame, added her voice saying "let's start a revolution".  So why do these woman all feel so strongly?  Because they are all Dhofari women.   Dhofari women alone make up about 15% of Oman's women.  And among Dhofari women, the practice of cutting the genitals of baby girls is basically universal.  

With this one small contribution, I'd like to add my voice to that of the women, and say yes indeed, let's start a revolution to save the clitoris!  Because as a man who may well marry an Omani woman, I have very strong feelings on the subject.  This is for two reasons: firstly, because I like the idea of the woman with whom I am sharing intimate love, to enjoy it.  She will enjoy it more if she retains the pleasure equipment with which she was born.  And the second reason is that I have daughters myself.  The idea of allowing anyone to cut off parts of their little bodies is simply horrifying to me.  This piece of writing, then, is addressed mainly to my brother men in Oman, the GCC, the Arab world: don't you want your wives to enjoy their lives with you?

So why?  Why the hell would anyone actually do this to their daughter, or allow it to be done?  Mostly, ironically, the practice is perpetuated by women.  Men might not even know about it, or that it is done to their daughters.  And even if they do, with their ignorance of the female body, and the misleading terminology of "female circumcision" (ختان المرءة)  or "طهارة" ("making clean"), they might somehow consider it equivalent to the hygienic circumcision of boys: the simple removal of a piece of ordinary thick skin, that covers the glans or head of the penis.  

But, gentleman, that's not it.  You see (I hope you're sitting comfortably), the clitoris is very, very similar to a penis.  And the visible part of it is exactly equivalent to the glans or head of your penis.  that nerve-packed, sensitive, pleasure-centre of a head.  Complete with a little hood of skin over it called the "prepuce".  And guess what boys?  They don't cut back that little piece of skin like they do for a boy.  They cut the glans - the whole visible thing - right off.  So when you think of "female circumcision" applied to you, don't think of how you were circumcised.  Imagine the doctor slipped, and cut the head of your penis right off.  Sure, it would still be functional.  But would you feel the same about it?  About having had the sensitive part of your dick cut off?  That's right.

That is what happened to 20% of Omani women.  Although the percentages are lower, it happens all over the Gulf region to a greater or lesser degree.  In Yemen it happens even more.  In Iraq, it is reportedly up to 60% within the Kurdish community.  In other parts of the Arab World, like Egypt and Sudan where it probably originated, the percentage is more like 70%.  And what they do is simply unbelievable (look up "type three" in the Wiki article linked above - but not if you're of a sensitive disposition).

You will see from the background picture on this page, that I have some old books written by travelers in Arabia many years ago.  One of them writes a detailed description of the brutal circumcision rituals carried out on boys in some tribes.  In one account, a bedouin boy having just reached puberty, had the skin of his entire penis, scrotum, lower abdomen and upper thighs peeled off.  The massive area of exposed flesh was then cauterised over a smoking fire.  This was around 150 years ago.  Such extraordinary tortures have been long-forgotten: wiped out by education, enlightenment and urbanisation.  So why are women still having their sexual organs cut off?

Let's face it, no parent - male or female - wants to harm their child.  Africans, Dhofaris, this tribe or that tribe, in whatever country, are not barbarians or monsters.  We are all men and women who love our baby boys and girls with all our hearts.  We want what's best for them.  So we have to wonder, what is it that makes anyone think such a violent act against their daughter could be in her interest?  Well, looking into this, there seem to be a few common reasons.  One is simply that "everyone does it so it must be right".  And if everyone does it, not doing it makes a bit of a statement.  What if your daughter is the only one not "done"?  Will this cause her social exclusion, or trouble finding a husband?  Then there's two, the argument that it protects a girl's virtue by making her less likely to seek sex out of marriage.  Three, in some cases, people are led to believe that it enhances fertility.  And finally four, perhaps the most sensitive issue, some people think it is a religious duty.  These are all reasons that can be very persuasive to parents.  So it's time to shoot some big holes in them.

1.  If a social group, or potential husband, are seeking a woman who is genitally-mutilated, educate them.  It's as simple as that.  And if a man is not willing to be educated and consider his and his wife's well-being in a serious, unprejudiced way, then he's not fit to marry your daughter.  Could it really be that simple?  I think so.

2.  Although the most extreme forms of FGM can physically prevent sexual intercourse, they do not make any difference to sexual desire.  A woman's hormones are unaffected (unlike, say, a man losing his testicles - a woman's hormone factories are inside, beyond the old witch's reach), so her sexual urge is perfectly normal.  What she might suffer instead is pain or psychological problems that make her married sex life an unpleasant ordeal for her.  Who wants his wife to find sex with him an unpleasant ordeal?!  Some women find that they can still stimulate the sub-cutaneous (under the skin) part of the clitoris, which is equivalent to the shaft of the male penis (erectile tissue too - did you know women kind of get erections, boys?).  This is despite having had the glans or head removed completely.  So a mutilated girl can still fancy boys, quite possibly still masturbate and almost certainly still want to.  Bit of a waste of time then, wasn't it?

3.  FGM does not increase fertility.  Even in its lesser forms, the build up of scar tissue, damage to the urinary tract and destruction of important tissues around the area, can make birth problematic.  Also, because the procedure is often unclean, infection is likely and that can cause infertility.  Add the high likelihood of the woman not enjoying sex as much as she might have, or even finding it unpleasant, and you're not doing much for her breeding potential.

4.  We all know that different sects and schools of jurisprudence exist in Islam.  None (let me repeat that, NONE) of the main seats of Islamic learning, none of the four Sunni schools, neither the Ja'fari school, nor the Ibadhi school, consider female genital cutting to be obligatory.  Not in any way.  The problem is that two of them - the Sunni-Hanbali school led in effect by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and the Ibadhi school led by the Grand Mufti of Oman, consider it "mustahhab" or "commendable".  Most Dhofaris are Sunni, and most seek religious guidance from Saudi-trained scholars.  Most of the rest of Oman are Ibadhis, or also Sunni.  Therefore, most Omanis might have heard some suggestion that doing this is a good idea.  Shia are a much smaller minority (like TLS-fan Abu Haider above), and don't do this.

Why the difference then, and what to do about it?  Well, the first thing is to reiterate that it is NOT required.  But how to tackle this "commendable" thing from two sources?  The fatwa in each case (a fatwa, for any infidels reading, is a scholarly religious opinion by the way, not a death sentence on Salman Rushdie...).  Anyone who calls himself a mufti can issue a fatwa (a mufti, in Arabic grammar, is a "fatwa-maker" - the words are from the same root).  What makes it a proper fatwa is people's choosing to follow it.  Most Muslims choose to follow one school of Islamic jurisprudence, or even a particular individual within it.  The Grand Mufti is a very respected individual - for good reason that he knows a lot - and so many people follow his words carefully.  And as described above, although none of those schools enforce this practice, two suggest it is commendable.  Why?

The origin of this fatwa is a single hadith (a report of something the Prophet, peace be upon him, has said).  This particular hadith is agreed by all scholars to be weak i.e. there is a doubt over its provenance.  Even the two leading schools that support FGM, personified in the Saudi and Omani Grand Muftis, would agree on that point.  The trouble is that it's the only hadith in existence that discusses the subject at all.  It says that Um 'Atiyah asked about carrying out the practice, and was told "When you circumcise then do not cut severely, since that is better for her and more pleasing to the husband.".  Some argue that as this hadith is not considered "true" (صحيح), it is best ignored altogether.  But other scholars argue that this hadith requires a small circumcision, such as removing part of the prepuce - a very literal equivalent to male circumcision, i.e. leaving the clitoral glans unharmed, and should be taken as a recommendation in itself.  The Saudi and Omani scholars are in the latter category, although neither go into detail as to the nature of the procedure.

But whichever way you look at it, whichever scholar you respect or follow, what is happening in Oman and basically all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and most of North Africa, is wrong.  Religiously wrong.  Because even in the Dhofari tradition, they are still cutting off every girl's clitoris - not just a piece of skin; i.e. not a mere circumcision.  And there is no fatwa, from pretty much anyone of note, calling for that.  

Fortunately, some big name scholars have stepped up and taken an interest in the anti-FGM campaign.  Their voices need to be heard, and I would like to relay some of them here.  In 2006, a German NGO called "Target" organised a conference of Muslim scholars in Egypt (where the practice is both severe and widespread), and achieved something extraodinary.  I can't find a list of those who attended, but they got the Sheikh of Al Azhar - the late Ahmed Tantawi (الله يرحمه), the Grand Mufti of Egypt (the largest Arab country) - Professor Ali Gom'a, and probably the most famous Muslim scholar in the Arab world and beyond - Yousef Qaradhawi.  These scholars and the others attending reached a unanimous verdict:  not just that FGM was not compulsory.  Not just that it was not recommended.  But that FGM is haram.  A grave and terrible sin.

One of the interesting things about this is that Yousef Qaradhawi admitted that he had previously believed the practice to be commendable.  But on learning about the damage done to a woman's body and her ability to enjoy married life and bear children in the normal, desirable way of Islam, he changed his mind completely.  He explained his reasons, and used the most strident language in declaring FGM forbidden.

There you go then.  FGM.  What it is, why it's important to anyone even in what we like to think of as the enlightened Islamic world; why FGM is still practiced, and why all four of those common reasons are wrong.  This is a message that has to be shared, please.  Think about it:  20% of Oman alone is over 200,000 babies, girls and women who have been cut.  Whichever country you're from, this is happening right on your doorstep.  As a woman, you need to think about your daughter.  And as a man, you need to think also of your sister and your wife.  There are four excuses given, and four good reasons above why they are just wrong.

Along with sisters Mimi, Susan and Nadia I'm writing about this to do my little bit to help.  So can you.  Mimi is setting up a Facebook page "Stop FGM in Oman" - keep an eye on it, support it if you can.  And you can share this article on your Facebook page, forum, email, or anywhere else you can think of.  Don't worry about copyright, permission, credits or whatever.  Just take this in its entirety and pass it on.  Pass it on especially to your male friends - we're the ones most ignorant about this, and the ones who can demand its end.  We can let women know that we don't require it; even more, that it offends and disgusts us.  We demand our women as God made them.

And/or please read and forward, these:

- Mimi's previous blog posts on the subject, first, second, third.

- Target's website (English and عربي)

And if you're of the "Electric Mufti" mindset, you might be interested in forwarding these fatawa in their full and original texts:

- Resolution of the 2006 Cairo Conference on FGM, signed by Prof. Ali Gom'a (English, عربي - original)

- Fatwa by Yousef Qaradhawi issued in Doha, 2009, in English or عربي (pdf of the original)

It's a subject that can easily make you squeamish, but the reality would make you more so.  So please pass this on.  The Facebook/Twitter share buttons are just below the end of the post.  There is a "StumbleUpon" share button to the right at the top of the page, just between the Google follow and Facebook boxes.  Use them however you can.   

Thank you.


Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

This was my original post on it explaining how it is not a "sunnah" though the hadith about circumcision for girls IS contained within the sunnah, and how FGM is haraam: http://howtolivelikeanomaniprincess.blogspot.com/2011/02/dear-omani-women-female-circumcision-is.html

I am a Sunni against any kind of FGM living in an Ibadhi community where type 1 FGM (not cutting out the clit but poking the membrane with a hot needle) is done. I was aghast to hear from Mimi that Sunni sisters were having their entire clits cut out, afterall, the hadith says (if you even believe it recommends anything, which is doesn't, just forbids) don't hack the whole thing out, i.e doing so is haraam.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thanks a lot for the share; I'll try to make it a link. I'd be curious to know to which community you're referring.

What you describe would come under type 4 I think according to the WHO definitions, and it's not something I've heard of among Arabs/Omanis - more common in South East Asia I think?

Anyway, educate us please, if you're willing...

I'm Farsilla said...

yep its common. im from malaysia , so basically some elders told my mum to do this procedure to me. n i think there r some malaysian r still practice this. n when i asked other muslim, they said its not a must but its better. lol. when i think it over. it is scary


Neil Roberts said...

Great post - really good to raise the issue.

La Tarzane said...

I've just arrived in Oman and was fascinated and disgusted to read about how prevalent this is - in the 21st century! I will be forwarding this to anyone who will listen, and thank you and all who work to spread the word. As you say, education in the key! (and I'm not just saying that as an ex-teacher ...)

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

I can't say where or I'll have a whole tribe on me for the blog in general whether or not some of the posts were mine or not. I kind of stand out, but I will give a clue based on all the expats married to Omanis: where we ARE from, there are 2 in Nizwa, 1 in Ibra, 1 in Bahla, 1 in Al Hamra, and 1 in Sumail.

Trygve said...

What a great article! I will share it directly.

Balqis De Cesare said...

apparently also SAS doctors found themselves involved in this practice during the war in dhofar

Balqis De Cesare said...

but maybe just that of males

SHABUON said...

Let the women save their baby girls,
We can't do anything for such practice. It's all hidden deep inside females community Sir.
Thanks for spreading the facts scientifically.

Anonymous said...

FGM is widely practised in Egypt and Sudan (95% of women are affected according to the conference in Cairo in 2005) but not only in the Muslim population. In the Coptic villages you have the same percentage as in their Muslim neighborhoods = 100%. The same is true for the Sudanese north and south (nowadays independent)

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thanks for your comments.

Shabuon: No! Don't leave it to the women to be bullied by mothers and aunts. Forbid this from happening to your daughter and take some responsibility! Don't you think?

Rafa said...

Whilst I found your title a little crass, what followed was very insightful and quite shocking actually. I had no idea that the practice was still so commonplace, especially in a highly educated and relatively modern place like Oman. Really quite disturbing and definitely an issue worth making waves about.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thanks Rafa - please pass it on, and I think the Qaradhawi fatwa's important too.

As for the title, there's a lot of stuff on the net. Calling it "Important cause about women's health" would not have had the same impact. Sorry if the more tabloid title grates, but the "WTF-factor" as I call it, gets people to read.

Thanks again for commenting, and that's really the point - even people in Oman don't imagine it. Especially men.

midgetviking said...

Thank you for this post. It is so important to know that it is not just "the odd feminist" that wants to see an end to this barbaric practice.

I am sure you are familiar with Waris Dirie's work. For those who really want to know how widespread FGM is, here is her blog: http://warisdirie.wordpress.com/

Unfortunately it's a spreading phenomenon. The more globalised the world's population, the more it moves between countries and continents for whatever reason, the more this affects communities where it was never an issue. And out of sheer ignorance, political correctness is an excuse for even the most educated of people not to deal with this when faced with it.

A doctor I know told me about a birth in Norway by a Somali woman who had been subjected to the 3rd type of FGM (the worst kind). Before she was released from hospital the Norwegian doctors very helpfully sewed her back up again so as not to offend their culture. When doctors such as those, and men and people of power refuse to engage, this is the kind of stuff that happens.

Mutassem said...

Thank you for the post and YES the title was quite shocking and thought intriguing to continue reading! I believe that finding prominent women to advocate this cause through awareness campaigns should be the next step... Only talking and commenting in blogs is just the first step really and needs to be taken further and ensure that it is supported by health studies and proofs that it is actually harmful and should never be practiced! This message should reach women who would be able to penetrate the ministry of Health and start an awareness campaign in order to stop this practice.
Any one reading if you know someone please share it with!
Thank you again for bringing this up, really insightful and I wasn't aware that it is as widely common in Oman!

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thanks a lot bro. But I think it's important that we point this message at men too - the fathers of the next generation of girls. So many men are unaware that this even exists, or what is involved (hence the graphic descriptions above).

If they were, I think more would be ensuring that this could never happen in their family. We me always like to think we're in charge, so I think we need to pass this on to our brothers and ask them to TAKE charge of their daughters' health,

Coffeebean's Dailies said...

Hi! First of all, thank you and my hat's (sheila) off to you Sir for even broaching this subject! A dude!! As an American convert or revert to Islam many years ago; I came across this horrible practice. I feel strongly against it. I made sure my future husband's family did not do this and my man had to call his dad to ask about it. He wasn't aware as you say so many Omani men aren't! ?? "It's ONLY practiced in the Dhofar region and Africa" is what we were told. I met many a woman in Muscat whom had been affected or someone in their family was. I remember seeing on a channel a live recording of a FGM going on in Egypt! I threw up. I hope this stops. I realize it takes more than me hoping. We, my daughter and I, are not affected. Alhumdulilah. I know that so many out there are. It affects their everyday lives, forget about pleasure time with their hubbies. What can we do? Talking about it sure is a start. Again, thank you for taking a stand on this topic. The Omani women and Arab/Muslim women thank you, I'm sure.

Georgie said...

Please please please would you write this up again in Arabic. I have some very good friends in Salalah who would not be able to read through all of this in English, I would dearly love to pass it on to them so that they can start talking to their famnilies about it (because they will). When I lived there, the practise shocked me too. The young women I was teaching were so lovely, so gentle, and the thought of this having been done to just about every one of them, not to mention the brutal effects it has on a woman's sex life later on, really sadden me. It also saddened me because a number of my male friends in Dhofar mentioned to me how boring they find sex with their wives, which leads back to your other post about the use of prostitutes in the Khaleej. Seriously, guys, making love to a woman who truly enjoys it is a great experience, how much better if she was your wife. This article cannot be spread around enough.

♥ααℓiα♥ said...

Help stop this barbaric practice inshaaAllah!! I get very upset about FGM since I first read about it at a young age. Call me "anti-Sunnah", "deviant" or whatever but I will still say that FGM is *against* what Islam is about.

Thnx for the Post -- as usual, enlightening, good resources and packs a punch in a blunt but not in an overly crass way.

Perfect combination on such a sensitive!!

The Linoleum Surfer said...

That's the second request I've had to re-write a post in Arabic...I'll see what I can do. I just write so slowly in Arabic compared to English, but you're right, it's important to get the message around. In the mean time, you can at least maybe pass on some of the Arabic content linked (e.g. the fatawa from respected Sunni scholars - Arabic texts are there.

Thanks a lot for your comments and shares (92 people shared on Facebook so far...)

The Linoleum Surfer said...

By the way, if anyone's wondering why the FB page mentioned hasn't really got going yet, it's because Mimi is in the UK for a couple of weeks. I'm not sure she's even seen this post yet. Anyway, bear with her...I'm sure she'll be right into it when she gets back.

julie said...

thanks for the article. really adore the way you argue.
did you know this article? http://humdev.uchicago.edu/publications/shweder/whataboutfgm.pdf
to my firm conviction the sine qua non in any case is the freedom of decision. that cannot be observed by a child, that is circumsized without having the possibility and the power to refuse

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Men can stop it. For anyone who says they can't. It was a regular practice in a family in Emirates who I am friends with. The Grandfather never knew it went on , at all until one of the little grand daughters got an infection and the expat wife complained to her husband about not having it done to her daughter. The Grandfather warned all the women in his family that he would divorce any of his wives who had it done to any of their grandchildren, and would be angry at his daughters who persued it for their daughters. THAT's how men go about helping change it.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Yes Maam!

Go grandad, and tell your friends!

Anonymous said...

Today is the first time I have read any of Linoleum's blogs and I think they are quite excellent. To him I say,"You should have your own current affairs programme and guests on Oman TV. Your blogs combine wisdom, humour,vibrancy and compassion in all matters you address in our current affairs. And its all served up on a bed of good old fashioned Omani decency and common sense.A blog can too easily be just an exercise in vanity. Only the best provoke serious thought and sensible discussion."
Salaams, Abu Shenab.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Thank you my mustachioed friend! What very kind things to say!

I'm not Omani though, as mentioned in the article. Although I did once try "Sun Top", which is almost the same thing. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great article Surfer! The Clitoris Revolution should take notes from those who put an end to foot binding in China during the middle of the last century!

Frances said...

Hi there! Great post. I really want to study FGM in Oman and would really like to know where your stats come from! Feel free to email me back!


Phone sex said...

I would love there to be a study of these medical professionals who are making a perversion out of medical science. What is wrong with them that they cannot understand that the trauma from these experiences will ruin lives much in the same way torture and rape.

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