Circumcision

By: M. Afifi al-Akiti

"Verily in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day, and who engages much in the praise of Allah." (33:21)

"The practices related to Fitrah are five: circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and removing the hair of the armpits." (Related by Bukhari, al-Muwatta & the Group)

Contrary to the Jewish tradition, in Islam circumcision (Khitan) is not a symbol of Allah's covenant with humans. Furthermore it is not mentioned anywhere in the Qur'an and most references to circumcision occur in the examples and traditions of the Prophet (s.A.w.) and those of his companions.

"And whatsoever the Messenger of Allah gives you, take it. And whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it)." (59:7)

The Hadith, the acts and the approvals together constitute the Sunnah. This is the second source of Islamic Law. The Ahadith are not to be confused with the Qur'anic verses which the Prophet (s.A.w.) recited and reported, but did not compose himself. If the ruling is not found in the Qur'an, it is looked for in the Ahadith. Once a sound Hadith is found, it is acceptable. So if the matter is not mentioned in the Qur'an, this does not affect in any way the validity of a ruling found only in the Hadith. This is how the Fuqaha', (Jurists who posses the skills and tools) derive Islamic rulings with respect to the first two primary sources of Islamic Law - the Qur'an and the Sunnah. And there are also other sources such as Qiyas and Ijma'. Usually it is not a straight forward process as some might think, just like an architect building a house. And that is why it is necessary when deliberating about any Fiqh issues, it has to be according to the Qur'an and Sunnah and facilitated with the guidance of the scholars of Islam.

"O' you who believe, obey Allah and obey His Messenger and those of authority (Ulama') among you." (4:59)

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the skin surrounding the head of the boys penis (Hasyafah) and the skin dangling above the girl's vagina. Circumcision, Khitan, falls under the category of Sunan al-Fitra. These are acts that come naturally to human beings to cleanse and to keep pure. Here Fitra stands for the Sunnah of the Prophet of Allah (s.A.w.). The conduct of our Prophet (s.A.w.) is compatible to nature and Fitra here implies the inner sense of cleanliness.

As-Shawkani said in his book Nayl al-Awtar (1/184):

"What the Prophet (s.A.w.) means by Fitra is that if these characteristics are followed by a man, he would be described as a man of Fitra, which Allah (s.w.t.) has gifted his servants with, and encouraged them to follow, so that they attain a high degree of respectability and dignity."

Allah (s.w.t.) ordered Prophet Muhammad (s.A.w.) to follow the religion of Ibrahim (a.s.). when Allah says:

"Then We inspired you: 'Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith'." (16:123)

And part of the religion of Ibrahim is circumcision.

The prophet (s.A.w.) said: "The Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an adze." (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)

Ibn Abbas (r.a.) was asked "How old were you when the Prophet (s.A.w.) died?" He replied, "At that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not circumcise the boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh)." (Related by Bukhari)

Most Fuqaha' say that circumcision is obligatory upon the men and this is the opinion of Jumhur (the majority of the scholars). If it were not obligatory, then Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) would not have troubled himself at such a later stage of his life. However, the Hanafi and the Maliki schools consider male circumcision only as Sunnah Muakkadah - the Stressed Sunnah, not obligatory but is still strongly recommended. This is the most lenient position in Shari'ah, regarding male circumcision. This is based on the Hadith:

"Circumcision is Sunnah for men, a noble action for women" (Related by Ahmad & al-Bayhaq)

And al-Hasan al-Basri said: "That all peoples, white and black, Romans, Persians and Abbysinnians accepted Islam in the time of the Prophet (s.A.w.) and none of them were investigated concerning circumcision"

The Shafi'i school says that circumcision is obligatory (Fard) upon the men and the women. While Imam Ahmad said: "Circumcision is obligatory (Wajib) upon the men and it is only good for the women".

Ibn Abbas, one of the most liberal Fuqaha' among the Sahabah recommends circumcision strongly, saying that the prayer (Solah) and the Hajj of a man who is not circumcised are of no value. Imam Malik said that an uncircumcised man cannot lead the prayer although Qadi Iyadh, one of the later Maliki scholars from the Murabitun (western Muslimdom) says that it is Makruhat (disliked) for the uncircumcised Imam to lead the prayer. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami's work of al-Zawajir 'an Iqtiraf al-Kaba'ir which is similar to ad-Dhahabi's work of al-Kaba'ir (the Great Sins), lists down actions that the Jumhur of Fuqaha' has agreed upon as acts of misconduct. Under the chapter of 'Justice', Ibn Hajr writes: "men not getting circumcised, even after having reached puberty (Baligh) is an enormity" if done so without a valid reason.

For more detailed references see: Al-Sharh al-Kabir 2/126; Sharh ar-Risalah 1/393; Al-Mughni 1/58; al-Qawanin al-Fiqhiyyah pg. 192; al-Ifsah li Ibn Habirah 1/206; al-Darar al-Mubahah fi al-Hazr wa al-Ibahah li al-Shaybani al-Nahlawi pg. 33 and Sharh al-Inayah ala al-Hidayah fi Takmilah al-Fath vol. 8 pg. 99.

Circumcision for New Muslims?

Another Hadith demonstrates further the importance for male circumcision:

The Prophet (s.A.w.) told a man who had just embraced Islam,

"Remove the hairs from the time of disbelief from you and get yourself circumcised."

(Related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud & al-Bayhaq)

Shaykh Abdullah Nasih Ulwan wrote in Tarbiyatul Awlad fil Islam (1/124):

"Circumcision has been ordered. It is one of the Fitra (natural) acts of cleanliness. It has been legislated as a completion of purification in the case of men. For that reason, it is obligatory. The Hadith: "Remove the hairs from the time of disbelief from you and get yourself circumcised." apparently implies obligation (…) However, if it may cause the new Muslims to flee from Islam, this order may be delayed after they have become steadfast in Islam and they love Islam."

For the new Muslims, circumcision would be a firm sign of commitment to the new Faith. Circumcision for men is a very simple operation, and does not cause much complications. It is a minor operation in which the foreskin of the male sexual organ is cut away. Jerome and Julia Rainerm writes: "The hygienic value of circumcision has today been generally conceded, and some physicians recommended the operation as a routine measure for all male infants, it is part of the routine of bathing an uncircumcised boy to draw back the foreskin and sponge the head of the penis, for general cleanliness and also to remove pasty white secretion called smegma, which accumulates under the foreskin and may lead to local irritation unless it is regularly cleansed. Whenever a new born is found to have a foreskin with urination, the physician recommends circumcision." (Sexual Pleasures in Marriage, pages 185-186)

Shaykh Syed Mutawalli ad-Darsh says:

"The male convert should be circumcised, as this is part of the natural manners recommend in Islam. If circumcision would pose any risk to health it may be delayed until the person is fitter and more able to cope with it. The scholars refer to the example of Ibrahim (a.s.) who circumcised himself at the age of eighty. Some Muslim scholars would not accept an uncircumcised person leading prayers. Incidentally, there is no requirement of circumcision for females in Islam (…)

It is really best to have it at that earliest suitable time. That is when the weather is suitable, the health is good and there are no mitigating circumstances (…)

In conclusion, once a man becomes a Muslim at whatever age, as long as he is healthy and there are no complications, he-I stress he not she-ought to choose the right moment and be circumcised."

The Fuqaha' differs on two other issues relating to circumcision, which are, when to observe circumcision and the validity of women circumcision.

The Time for Circumcision:

During the time of the Prophet (s.A.w.), circumcision was done for boys at about the time of their Aqiqah, as reported in al-Bayhaq. Other Ahadith mention it being done later. The details here are not important but it goes without saying that this minor operation is easier on a baby than it is on an older boy. If it is essential, circumcision can be delayed for practical reasons, but it would be sensible to perform circumcision before the boy starts praying regularly due to practical purposes of simplifying Taharah, or being clean.

Abdullah Ibn Jabir (r.a.) and Aisha (r.a.) said:

"The Prophet (s.A.w.) performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein and circumcised them on the 7th. day." (Related by al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)

On the timing of circumcision, as-Shawkani says (Nayl al-Awtar 1/132):

"There is nothing that states explicitly about its time. As-Shafi'i maintains its observance is necessary during minority, but the majority of the Fuqaha' (Jumhur) hold that there is no time limit defined for circumcision. Its observance is not obligatory during the age of minority (baby) as was proven by the Hadith of Ibn Abbas (circumcised at the age of 10). A small group among the Shafi'i school holds that it is prohibited to be circumcised before the age of ten but this opinion cannot be used because there is a Hadith related from Aisha, that the Prophet (s.A.w.) circumcised Hassan and Hussein on their seventh day prior to their birth."

Imam Nawawi says:

"…circumcision is recommended to be performed on the seventh day of infancy-the day of Aqiqah…" (Al-Majmu 1/303)

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

"When Wahb Ibn Munabbih (a Tabiin) was asked about the wisdom of circumcising on the 7th. day he said: 'To make it easy for the child.'" (Tuhfatul Mawdud pg.112)

While according to the Maliki school, it is better to delay the circumcision until the age when he is taught how to pray. That is between the ages of 7 and 10. (Fiqh al-Islam wa Adillatihi 3/742)

Circumcision of Girls (Khafd):

If the circumcision of women is to be done, it involves cutting only the outer portion of the clitoris and not as is done in some Muslim countries as cutting off all the entire clitoris. 'Female circumcision' of the type practised by some people in Somalia, Egypt and some other African countries is a mutilation forbidden in Islam.

There is a Hadith reported by Umm 'Atiyyah: "A woman used to perform circumcision in Madinah. The Prophet (s.A.w.) said to her: 'When you circumcise, do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.'" (Related by Abu Dawud & al-Bayhaq)

When explaining this Hadith, the Ulama' say this Hadith points out that if a woman is circumcised, it would make her more sensitive during sexual intercourse and that they are told not to cut off all the clitoris for this would result in sexual problems. It is only removing the prepuce (bazr) of the clitoris, not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert. Most Ulama' say that this Hadith does not convey that it is an obligation for it only carries a request. The Hadith quoted above may be speaking about a social custom where women used to be circumcised. Furthermore this Hadith is considered Da'if (a weak Hadith). Abu Dawud himself commented: "It is not a strong tradition. It has been transmitted in Mursal form (missing link of the Sahabah). A narrator, Muhammad bin Hassan is obscure, and this Hadith is Da'if."

For most of the Shafi'i school, circumcision is obligatory upon the women. While the Hanbali school and few scholars of the Shafi'i school holds that circumcision of women is not obligatory but Sunnah, while the Hanafi and the Maliki consider it a mere courtesy to the husband. And according to some scholars, female circumcision is customarily done in a hot climate. (Fiqh al-Islam wa Adillatihi 3/741)

The medical doctors have differences of view regarding female circumcision just as our Fuqaha' have differences of opinion regarding it. Some of the medical scholars encourage this practise while the others disagree with it. Actually the harm that is associated with female circumcision is because of either cutting it too much (as it is against the method prescribed in the Shari'ah) or the circumcision is carried out by inexperienced persons or by using dirty equipment which can cause other complications such as infections.

"Allah does not want to place burden on you. Rather, He wants to purify you and to complete His favours to you so that you may be grateful." (5:7)

In Islam, Fitrah is of 2 types, spiritual and physical. The mental and spiritual Fitrah cleanses the heart while the social and physical Fitrah cleanses the body as in circumcision. And disparity is not stressed between the different types of Fitrah whether it is spiritual or physical, a Muslim would strive to keep close to Allah and His Messenger.

Circumcision is an important aspect of Taharah and purity, which is so strongly emphasised in Islam, for when the foreskin is not removed, urine and other secretions can collect under the folded skin. In Islamic hygiene, all Muslims regularly wash with water at the toilet in a process called Istinja' to remove what is impure (Najas), otherwise Wudhu' (ablution) is not acceptable. This area can become the site of very painful infections from bacterial growth and the minor operation of circumcision greatly simplifies basic hygiene for men and boys.

"Indeed God loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean."

"O' Allah, the Turner of hearts, turn our hearts to Your Obedience."

"Our Lord, bestow on us Mercy from Yourself, and dispose of our affairs for us in the Right Way." (18:20)

And the last of our prayers,

"Glory to your Lord, the Lord of Honour & Power! He is better from what they ascribe to Him! Peace be upon the Messengers! Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds." (37:180-182)

M. Afifi al-Akiti,

Belfast, 24 March 1996.

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