ISSN 2330-717X

Criminalizing Jewish And Muslim Rites – OpEd


Approximately 500 Icelandic physicians have backed a bill in Iceland’s parliament that would ban circumcision for non-medical (i.e. religious) reasons.

The draft law would impose a very harsh six-year prison term on anyone guilty of “removing part or all of the [child’s] sexual organs”; arguing the practice violates the child’s rights.

If the anti-circumcision bill passes Iceland would be the first European country to ban the procedure since it was first banned in the communist Soviet Union.

MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party, who introduced the bill in early February, said: “We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe”

She also said. “The bill is not put forward against religion. It is put forward to protect children and their right. Banning circumcision of boys does not go against the religious right of their parents.”

Religious Jewish and Muslim parents would strongly disagree with her. But she is not alone in this self-righteous view.

In Denmark, a petition featured on the parliament’s website proposing to ban non-medical (i.e. religious) circumcision of boys, has received 20,000 signatures out of the 50,000 needed to come up for a parliamentary vote as draft resolution. The petition, posted on Feb. 1, will remain active for 180 days.

Iceland passed a law in 2005 banning female genital mutilation, and supporters of this move have compared it to that law. However, FGM is not circumcision: it is female genital mutilation, and comparing it to circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism. It is important that Muslims and Jews make this distinction clear to the general public.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day. However, Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance.

But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children.

Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have forbidden ritual circumcision of males. These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.

This is part of a larger dilemma facing left-wing parties in Europe, which often struggle to balance their stated commitment to minority rights, with a pushy, self-righteous, secularist agenda that is perceived as intolerant by most members of minority religious groups.

It is totally false to compare the custom of female genital mutilation to the religious practice of male circumcision.

First, while there are great medical benefits from removal of the foreskin of a male, especially in reducing the spread of HIV and other sexually spread diseases; there is no medical benefit at all to a female from the removal of her clitoris and labia.

In Africa, Jewish and Muslim men have much lower rates of AIDS than uncircumcised Christian men. A recent discovery is that uncircumcised men harbor more bacteria around the head of the penis than do circumcised men, and the mix of microbial species is decidedly different in the two groups. These changes in microbial numbers and diversity may explain why circumcised men are less likely to get infected with HIV.

The report, which appeared April 16, 2013 in mBio, finds that when the foreskin is removed from the head of the penis, resident microbes become exposed to oxygen and many bacteria flee the scene. The scientists suggest that high amounts of bacteria, and the presence of poorly understood anaerobic microbes in uncircumcised men, might contribute to inflammation, which would facilitate infection by HIV lodged in the foreskin.

Second, there is no evidence that female genital mutilation promotes chastity and preserves a woman’s virtue. Having a considerate, loving and faithful husband does much more to promote a woman’s virtue than female genital mutilation.

Third, male circumcision is a religious requirement; female genital mutilation is only a tribal custom, originating in sub Sahara Africa; which is now being spread by Muslim religious extremists to Asia and the West as part of a reaction against the rising rate of girls going to high school and woman going to work outside the home.

Finally, and most important of all, male circumcision is derived from the God inspired practice of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Muhammad.

God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7): “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

(8-12) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17: 7-12a)

And Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah said (Qur’an 16:123)  “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.

Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: “Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)

Abraham’s first born son Ishmael, was a young boy when he was circumcised, so Muslims do not have to circumcise their son’s on an exact date. A Hadith states: When Ibn Abbas was asked “How old were you when the Prophet Muhammad died?” He replied, “At that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not circumcise boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh).” (Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day.” (Related in al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)

Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for all future generations.

For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham which is also celebrated each year during the annual Hajj ceremonies.

For both Muslims and Jews circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons pain and suffering always lead eventually to great spiritual benefits.

Female genital mutilation is the exact opposite of circumcision both medically and religiously.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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