Published February 21, 2018
The debate about the controversial circumcision ban has by now expanded beyond national territories, and while the Jewish population has certainly expressed their concerns, much less space has been given to the opinions of local Muslims.
Circumcision is a practice essential to both religions: banning it would therefore influence both religious groups in very similar manners. Mansoor Ahmad Malik, Imam and National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Iceland, recently wrote us an open letter in the hopes of clarifying some points about the procedure and the reasons behind it, from an Islamic perspective.
Hygiene and prevention
According to the Imam, it’s clear when reading the bill that it’s been drafted with very little knowledge of the procedure. Islam requires children to be circumcised in the same way that it requires men to groom their beard, cut nails, brush teeth and shave pubic hair: that is, for purely hygienic reasons. To assume even for a second that there are any other (evil) intentions involved in this practice, he says, would be a mistake.
Like many before him, Mansoor also criticised the fact that the bill describes circumcision as a procedure that causes immense shock to the child, adding that as a circumcised individual he does not remember anything about it—not where or when it happened, nor how painful it was. Instead, Mansoor explains, the benefits of being circumcised far outweigh the risks, as the procedure has been said to decrease the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or various infections such as UTI.
The question of consent
Considering that the bill is meant to protect children’s health, Mansoor finds this argument particularly hypocritical. “Agreed, the medical procedure of circumcision, if not dealt with properly, may cause infection. The question remains however, which medical procedure is exempt from this?,” the Imam asks, further criticising the idea that circumcision neglects the rights of a child to consent to or decline the procedure.
“Isn’t it common practice in Iceland to take children to the doctor to remove their tonsils—a decision parents make without the consent of the child?,” he adds. “As parents, we make dozens of decisions for our children every day, not once asking our kids for their opinion, preference or liking.”
From a medical point of view
Despite the suggestion that circumcision can be helpful in preventing infections, almost 500 Icelandic doctors have recently denied said claims, signing a declaration that supports the ban on circumcision, Visir.is reports.
Many of these doctors have spent part of their careers working abroad and have often had to take care of children with post-circumcision complications such as infections, bleeding and even necrosis. Others have described seeing the immense pain newborns suffered from circumcision practiced without anesthesia. Others have refused taking part in the practice altogether based on conscience.
The declaration states the circumcision of children has in fact no significant health or preventive effect, but is in fact a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, as well as being at odds with the Hippocratic Oath that states “Primum non nocere”—above all, do no harm.
A bigger risk
According to Mansoor, however, what the government really needs to keep in mind is that banning circumcision could actually be more harmful to children than one would expect. The Imam always encourages parents to circumcise their children in an appropriate environment and with the help of a professional. However, “imposing a ban on such a religious injunction will put many Muslims and adherents of other faiths, who practice circumcision, in great distress,” he writes. “This may lead to people carrying out such procedures by themselves in an inappropriate environment, perhaps causing harm to the child. Therefore, I would urge not to impose a ban on such a religious injunction, but to find ways to make the procedure safer and more comfortable.”