MALDIVES: Cleric calls for FGM on Islamic grounds

by - 12th March 2014

CUTTING OFF a piece of a young girl’s flesh might at last be getting the recognition it deserves in the West as a human rights violation, but in the Maldives it is making a return as a ‘religious obligation’.

A fatwa has been issued by an influential Islamic scholar here, citing specific hadith or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

FGM is one of the five things that are part of fitrah, or nature, says the fatwa by Dr. Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, Vice President of the Fiqh Academy of the Maldives, posted on www.mvislamqa.com, a website which seeks to ‘convey the true message of Islam.’

The other four things are: ‘shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs,’ writes Latheef, who is also a candidate of the Adhaalath Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, for the upcoming parliamentary elections in the South Asian archipelago.

Latheef quotes a hadith of the collection by Prophet Mohammed’s wife, Aisha, as saying, ‘A bath becomes obligatory if one sleeps with your wife and the circumcised parts touch each other.’

The cleric concludes: ‘The word circumcision has been applied to both men and women here. The hadith demonstrates that women must be circumcised as well.’

FGM, also known as female circumcision, is now the subject of fierce campaigns spear-headed often by Somalis in Britain and the US, who claim it is not Islamic but African.

All four schools of Sunni jurisprudence however regard it as either ‘obligatory’ or ‘preferable’, though some scholars notably at al-Azhar University in Cairo have taken a unilateral stance against it.

Yet in the Maldives, destination of the recent younger royals the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it is the ‘symbol that differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims,’ says Latheef, in his fatwa published in translationby the local Minivan News.

Latheef warns that only specialised doctors must be allowed to perform FGM, lest the cut is too severe. ‘In a woman, the small sliver of muscle and the surrounding skin above the urinary tract is cut during circumcision,’ he explains.

Jurisprudence

The cleric’s fatwa carries weight because the Fiqh Academy he represents was established by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to advise the government on Islamic jurisprudence.

All the 330,000 citizens of the Maldives are Sunni Muslim, according to the state. The country’s constitution says no non-Muslim can be a citizen.

In December 2009, reports of FGM’s resurgence surfaced, and the then Attorney General Husnu Suood raised concern about it.

‘According to my information, the circumcising of girls has started and is going on with a new spirit,’ Minivan quoted him as saying.

Latheef’s fatwa points to the increasing influence of Saudi Arabia. The cleric uses the Saudi Arabian Fatwa Committee’s concern over the decline of female circumcision in Muslim countries as a stamp of approval for the practice for all Muslims.

The Maldivian Islamic Affairs Ministry recently signed an agreement with the Saudi Arabian Muslim Scholars Association to receive a grant of MVR1.6 million, or 62,426 GBP, for the ‘mutual goal of developing and improving the study of the Quran and religion’.

Radical Muslims have been gaining ground since former autocratic President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began to woo them to oppose the more liberal anglophile Mohamed Nasheed, who succeeded him in the 2008 presidential election after three decades of unchallenged rule, but resigned two years ago.

The World Health Organization says the procedure involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

The objective is to reduce a woman’s libido and discourage ‘illicit’ sexual intercourse.  It is carried out on young girls some time between infancy and age 15.

The WHO says FGM can lead to immediate complications including severe pain, shock, bleeding, tetanus or bacterial infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue. Its long-term consequences include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

The practice was made illegal in 1985 in the UK following migration of people from countries where it was practised, yet there have been no prosecutions.

In 1993 the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights classified the practice as a form of violence against women.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated, according to UNICEF.

It is believed that FGM was practised only until the 1990s in the Maldives when it died out.

But this once matriarchal society is coming under the thumb of a new kind of radical Islam. ‘The perceptions some of [the radicals] have of women are not familiar to many Maldivians,’ Nasheed told the Herald.