THE PRACTICE OF FEMALE CIRCUMCISION IN AFRICAN AND MUSLIM SOCIETIES IN AFRICA – Book Sample
The purpose of this study is to ascertain the reason for the continuation of the practice of female circumcision in certain African and Muslim societies in Africa, despite attempts at abandonment by many international aid agencies, researchers, governments and individuals. The girls and women belonging to the respective communities who have been subjected to the practice of female circumcision are experiencing detrimental effects to their health and well-being. A multidisciplinary, critical and analytical approach has been utilized throughout the study. This study traces the practice from earlier times to the present era. The respective areas where this phenomenon exists have been illustrated. The physiology of the practice of female circumcision provides details on the procedure, the complications that result from the practice are highlighted, and the practice of female circumcision within the South African milieu is also indicated.
Religion and culture as well as ethics and morals in the context of African Traditional Religion (ATR) are discussed, thus facilitating a critique of the religion. Various key beliefs and concepts that give rise to the practice and its continued persistence have been elucidated. Likewise, female initiation rite, with and without the practice of female circumcision, has been mentioned. Moreover, the reason why diviners have been singled out as the most suitable persons to campaign against female circumcision have been addressed. The retaining of the practice by societies that converted from African Traditional Religion to Islam in earlier centuries is clarified with focus on the manner by the clergy accommodated the practice into Islam. This thesis focuses on the need for clergy and diviners to be included in campaigns to discontinue the practice. The erroneous focus on the sexual aspects is ascertained. The perpetuation of the practice due to the emphasis on fertility and ancestor veneration is also highlighted. This study has indicated why the practice persists in
African and Muslim societies and offers effective solutions towards abandonment of the practice. The concept of cultural hermeneutics has been applied to the practice and to ancestor veneration. This theory indicates that the beneficial aspects, that is, the ethics and morals in African Traditional Religion and in ancestor veneration should continue to remain intact and only such teachings that actually condone the practice should be expunged. Anti-campaigners should consider the application of the aforementioned theory as outlined in this thesis at their gatherings. A plea is made that female initiation rite should be retained because it provides education to initiates, but the cutting involved in female circumcision should be abolished.
This thesis affirms that all the Aḥādīth (Traditions of Prophet Muhammad that some Muslim Jurists had cited to justify the practice in Islam are unauthentic. Therefore, it is pertinent for Muslim jurists to effectively condemn this practice. By abandoning the practice, the health and welfare of the girls and women from the practicing communities would substantially improve. Undoubtedly, the implementation of this change will encourage social transformation.
This chapter is in essence the introductory chapter. It attempts to unfold the problem of female circumcision and specifies the key questions and outlines the relevance of the study. It also focuses on the aims and objectives of the study and briefly describes the chosen research approach and methodology. It also includes a section on literature review and outlines the structure of the study.
The Stark Reality
This day, like any other, some 6 000 girls will spread their legs for a surgical operation. If they are lucky, only the clitoris will be scraped out. If not, their visible genitals will be removed, and then the residue stitched together, perhaps with thorn. And it will be their female friends, mothers and grandmothers who urge them to lie back and think of traditional culture as they undergo what is known as female circumcision (The Economist, 1996:34)
The aforementioned is a description of what many girls and women undergo wherever female circumcision is practiced. According to Chege et al (2001:1) globally, about two million girls are annually at risk of being victims of female circumcision. Such a practice has been documented in many countries, but is most prevalent in at least 28 African countries.
I could not understand why Muslim jurists condoned a practice that was detrimental to the health and well-being of girls and women. I was eager to examine the Islamic justification of female circumcision. Subsequently I researched a paper on the topic for my Honors Degree in religious studies. When I began the present study, my main focus was on the health effects and on the Islamic ruling on female circumcision and interviewed gynecologists at state hospitals to research the existence of the practice in South Africa. As I read widely on the topic, I realized that the practice of female circumcision also had roots in African Traditional Religion. Subsequently, the focus of this study changed to examining the practice in both African Traditional Religion and Islam.
Towards Unfolding the Problem
The concern for this study lies in the persistence of the practice of female circumcision in all the respective areas where it is practiced. Although many sectors are working towards abandoning the practice, attempts at abandonment are not very successful. Therefore there must be reasons and factors that are hindering these attempts.
The dignity, well-being and health of females are being compromised for the sake of religion and culture. Any form of pain and suffering inflicted on another human being that has no beneficial effect is contrary to the teachings of all religions. It is to be noted that some communities in Africa perceive the practice of female circumcision as providing a sense of identity and togetherness. Hence, the adherence to the practice of female circumcision provides peace and stability in these societies. On the other hand, some see the practice as detrimental to women‟s health and well-being, and are advocating ending this practice.
Historically, cultural practices were affirmations and a means of socialization of individuals into society. Female circumcision was seen in a favourable light because it connected the community. However, African and Muslim women are beginning to realize the need to eliminate cultural practices like female circumcision because these practices are no longer relevant in modern-day society. They are insisting that a change for a better life for the women of Africa is essential.
The practice of female circumcision is complex and bewildering. The description of the practice itself is misleading. The procedure described under the umbrella term “female circumcision” lacks clarity. The extent of the cutting of the female genitalia varies greatly. The procedure ranges from a prick of the clitoris or the removal of the tip of the clitoris only, to the removal of the entire female genitalia.
This is followed by the suturing together of the raw edges, leaving only a small opening to allow body fluids to pass. As a result, the health complications that may arise also vary greatly. Furthermore, the conditions under which the cutting is performed differ from community to community. Consequently, some may experience no ill-effects or ill- health due to the cutting, whilst others may experience serious life-threatening medical problems.
Hernlund (2000:241) aptly points out that in the past, campaigns to stop this practice had only been partly successful. This may be ascribed to the fact that circumcised women who experienced no health complications during childbirth are shown videos of women who suffer serious complications during childbirth. In Gambia, where that occurred, the women responding to these videos claimed that they experienced no complications during the delivery of their babies. Therefore, abandonment strategies have to be context specific.
Due to the erosion of traditional African ethical values, many social ills have manifested in society. For example, corruption, crime, teenage pregnancies and many other ills are surfacing daily. Therefore, there is a need to promote the indigenous African values. Historically, when the religious and cultural values of Africa were being actively promoted, many of society‟s present ills did not exist.
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