MALE CIRCUMCISION: a Muslim perspective
Dr Bashir Quereshi traces the origins of male circumcision, with a focus on the Muslim perspective
Male circumcision is religiously practised by the followers of Judaism and Islam. The ceremony, with great rejoicing and festivities, usually takes place one week after birth for Jews and within the early few years of age among Muslims. The followers of Hinduism and Bikhism are religiously against this ritual. However, secular ritual of circumcision varies from one country to another and has changed with time in human history but has existed in all parts of the world : In the USA, male circumcision is still prioritised routinely on the majority of male neonates in hospitals today; in England, this ritual was fashionable among upper classes in Victorian times. At present, it is provided under the NHS on medical grounds such as phimosia and paraphimosis. - According to Rolande (1), it is practised among African Tribes, Austrailian Aborignes, the Mayays of Borneo, American Indians, the ancient Aztecs and Mayas, the Caribs, the Fijians and the Samoana. Nevertheless, it is estimated that about 20 per cent of males in the world are circumcised and 80 per cent of men are against it.
Broadly speaking there are two main reasons for this ritual : religious custom and health promotion. Religious customs may have originated for different reasons in various parts of the world. For example, in ancient Egypt, there was a pharanic belief that gods were bisexual or persone. A man or a woman must be unisexual so as to belong to their respective gender group and not to mimic gods. Pharaohs believed that the feminine soul of the man was located in the preprice and the masculine soul of the woman was situated in the clitoris. Therefore, male and female circumcision were performed to please gods so as to obtain favours.
It would appear that it was a cost-benefit or provider-purchaser exercise of that time. Naturally, Jews and Muslims inherited this custom. Health promotion is ingrained in the fabric of secular society. In the USA, it is extensively practised as an anti-masterbatory secular rite (3). Worldwide, other obvious reasons are the prevention of phimosis, paraphimosis and other diseases.
Male circumcision existed before the birth of the Prophet Mohammed and this custom is religously practised by Muslims as a precedent of the Prophet, which is called the SUNNAH. In the index of an authentic English translation of the Holy Quaraan, with Arabic script, circumcision was not listed. However, every Muslim is expected to follow the way of life of Prophet Mohammed (be peace upon him). Therefore, all Muslims - devouts, liberals or seculars - observe this ritual. Muslims are obliged to follow not only Allah's message in the Holy Quaraan but also what the Prophet said or did, as a proof of their dedication to Islam.
Logically speaking, religiously carried out male cirumcision will remain unchanged but the secular custom may decline in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the arguments about its merits and demerits will continue unabated. The foreskin of the penis arouses emotions among its supporters and opponants but health professionals must examine the issue objectively so as to play fair in dealing with their patients.
Bashir Quereshi is a general practitioner in Hounslow, London and author of Transcultural Medicine
1 Bolande RP. Ritualistic Surgery - Circumcisions and Tonsillectomy. New England J Medicine. 1969; 280, 591-6.
2 Shaalan M. Clitoris Envy; A Psychodynamic Construct Instrumental in Female Circumcision. W110/EKRO Technical Publication 271, 1962
3 Lightfoot-Klein. Prisonero of Ritual. New York: Haworth Press. 1989; 183
4 Quereshi R. Transcultural Medicine. Newbury UK: Kluwer (Petroc) Publishers, 1994
Other articles on male circumcision on Family Medicine's website
Male circumcision: a paediatric surgeon's perspective
Male circumcision: a Jewish perspective
Male circumcision: the case against