DARE TO ASK: The practice of female circumcision

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

I understand female circumcision is mandatory in many Middle East countries. Is it practiced in the United States and other non-Muslim countries?

Jerry, 63, Catholic, Marco Island

Replies

"Female circumcision" is actually genital mutilation. It is not common in Western countries. It leaves the woman virtually unable to enjoy sexual intercourse and usually makes it a painful and frightening experience.

J. McLain, 46, Christian male, Middleburg

Islam frowns very much upon this practice. In the Koran where sexual relations between husband and wife are discussed, it is made clear that a man must make it his priority to (completely) satisfy his wife before he himself is satisfied. This clearly would go against any such butchering of the female body that would prevent her from attaining intimate release.

Jen H., 19, Muslim, Clark, N.J.

I'm an OB-GYN, so I've seen a fair bit of this. It is done here but not too commonly, and in secret. Most people have it done to their daughters before moving to the United States, or on trips home.

Deborah, 37, Fairfield, Calif.

No one in my family has received a female circumcision. In some African tribes, this is a ritual, but nowhere in Islam does it mention this topic.

Mariam, Muslim, Arlington, Va.

This is a cultural practice attributed to Islam to provide religious justification for its continuation.

Glenn, 48, Christian, Turkey

Experts say

Female Genital Cutting, or FGC (many women who've undergone it dislike the term Female Genital Mutilation) may have its roots in ancient Egypt. Nowadays it's mostly performed in 28 African and a few Middle Eastern countries, on up to 2 million girls a year between ages 4 and 12, according to the World Health Organization. It's not mandated and is illegal in many of these places, but some governments look the other way.

The stated reasons for it? It's a "good tradition;" a "cultural norm;" a "rite of passage;" it "qualifies" a woman for wifehood; "enhances male sexuality;" "curbs female sexual desire;" "preserves virginity."

You'll notice "it's a Muslim thing" isn't listed; there's nothing in the sacred text of any major religion that prescribes FGC. But it's been a cultural practice for so long in some parts of the world that some Muslims and Christians mistakenly believe it's a religious requirement, says Laura Katzive, deputy director of the International Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York.

"The major leaders in the Muslim community have even said it's not called for by Islam."

Because of immigration from other countries, the Centers for Disease Control says up to 160,000 girls in the U.S. are at risk for the procedure. There's a federal law against it, and 17 states, including Georgia, have banned it. Florida is not among them.

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information.