As a doctor from Egypt, let me share my first-hand experience with Islamic female genital mutilation.
Academic darling Reza Aslan has once again veered from scholarship into advocacy on behalf of his once-renounced, now reaffirmed religion of Islam. Responding to Bill Maher’s recent comments on Islam, Aslan has engaged in his trademark distortion of statistics and reality to make the claim that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not a Muslim problem, but rather simply a “central African” problem.
He goes further, claiming that Muslim-dominated nations have records on women’s rights and empowerment that are barely shy of the most liberal of western Democracies. What Mr. Aslan fails to acknowledge, (willfully, I would say) is that Islamic law and tradition itself puts the lie to his nonsensical claims for Islamic women’s lib.
Mohammed wasn’t one to leave much to chance. Islam is a system of total control over the conduct of all aspects of daily life. From hygiene to sex, there is an instruction from Mohammed on the proper Allah-approved method of accomplishing these functions, and unfortunately for Mr. Aslan’s version of a free-spirited female paradise sort of Islam, the strictures outlined by the Prophet are quite often somewhat more restrictive than, say…prison.
The primary argument behind all of Aslan's mewling apologia is that Islam doesn't dictate behavior to its adherents - an assertion that is laughable at best. He cites the fact that millions of Muslims do not wear the hijab or burqa, or practice the orthodoxy of Koranic Islam. Not following the rules, however, is not the same as there being no rules at all. For Aslan's argument to be correct, then the source of these behaviors would have to have originated outside of Islam – norms and traditions imposed upon them, or adopted by them as a cultural thing.
Aslan’s example of FGM among other groups than Muslims fails to convince when you look a bit deeper into the origin of these traditions. Many of the more recent adoptees of the practice did so after living in proximity to Muslim practitioners who repeatedly described their Muslim women as more virtuous than all other women because of their “circumcision.”
Over many centuries, non-Muslim women were described as and treated as “whores,” leading to a gradual adoption of the practice of FGM by neighboring peoples as a means of elevating their women in the eyes of the dominant Muslim culture of the time. FGM spread because it was a Muslim practice, promoted by Muslim behavior, not due to some spontaneous occurrence of local origin.
Islam has a long and tortured history of treating women as a tool of men, or perhaps more telling, as a means of production. "Your wives are as a tilth [soil] unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…" – Quran 2:223. In Islam, women are a place to plant seed. Period.
Aslan’s fellow traveler, Palestinian activist Rula Jebreal, made the point in spite of herself when she described her own departure from the typical path of a Muslim woman. Jebreal wrote “As a woman, you don’t have really much freedom of choice in the Middle East—very often, by the time they are 13 or 14, girls get married.” This comes from the daughter of the Imam of the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
After her mother committed suicide, Jebreal's father sent her (along with her sister) at the age of 5 to live in an orphanage. Her big break came when the Italian government gave her a scholarship as part of a program to save girls from the orphanage. Ironically, considering her present hectoring of the West, after being ditched by her parents, it took a predominantly Catholic Western Democracy to enable her path to achievement. What a Palestinian success story.
Concerning Aslan’s assertions that FGM specifically, and the mistreatment of women more generally, are not outlined in the Koran, therefore aren’t Islamic, is yet another example of his penchant for distorting reality, to present a circus mirror view of his religion.
Perhaps Mr. Aslan should have spent some time with me in the hospital in Cairo when I treated hundreds of these mutilated women every year for the often dangerous side effects of what Mr. Aslan describes as a “central Africa” thing. As an OB-GYN in the most prestigious hospital in Egypt, I can attest to the fact that FGM is most certainly a commonplace practice in Islam.
While I treated people from all walks of life, my hospital catered to the elite of Egyptian society, the leaders of government and industry, well-educated and cosmopolitan people who practiced FGM at the same rate as the lower classes of Cairo.
There are four major forms of FGM that are common in Islam. One involves sewing a woman’s vagina shut entirely. Of course the woman’s husband will have the vagina opened from time to time, to facilitate impregnation and childbirth, after which the highly liberated and entirely free woman is immediately returned to her surgically chaste state.
Seriously Mr. Aslan… can you think of more damning proof that Islam indeed views its women in much the same way a farmer views his land? Tilth indeed.
Just because the Koran doesn’t spell it out doesn’t mean it isn’t part of Islam. For example, the Koran makes no mention of the hijab, (aside from Mohammed forcing his wives to wear it because their “exposure” was creating jealousy in him) but no sane person would argue that the hijab is not part of Islam.
The particular behaviors Aslan disclaims, such as FGM or similar subjugation of women, are in fact deeply rooted in Islam, in that they are directives from the Prophet himself.
"If anyone has intercourse with his wife when she is menstruating, or has intercourse with his wife through her anus, he has nothing to do with what has been sent down to Muhammad." — Narrated by Abu Hurairah, Book of Divination and Omens, Sunan Abu Dawood, 3895
"Allah is not shy to tell you the truth: do not have intercourse with your wives in the anus." —Narrated by Ahmad, 5/213
"If you find someone doing the deed of the people of Lot, [sodomy] then execute the doer and the one to whom it was done." – reported by Ibn Abbas, Book of Legal Punishment, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Book 17, Hadith 40 [Number 1456], Hasan
Islam is a carefully crafted mechanism of control, dictating not only behavior, but responses to behaviors as well. While the Western world has long condemned the practice of keeping harems of concubines as being sexist and exploitative, Islam still teaches that men may keep as many concubines as they wish.
There is no explicit concept of rape within marriage in Sharia; a wife is deemed to have accepted conjugal relations as part of the marriage contract. She can only refuse when she is fasting, menstruating, undergoing post-natal discharge, or while on Hajj or Umrah. So why the big deal about sex at “that time of the month?”
“It is an illness; therefore keep aloof from the women during the menstrual discharge and do not go near them until they have become clean; then when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you; surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.”
This isn’t an outlier teaching. This isn’t something you only find at the Islamic equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church; this is mainstream Islamic doctrine, taught in mosques all around the world.
Don't miss Dr. Mark Christian discuss "Reza Aslan’s Lies About Islamic Female Genital Mutilation" on The Glazov Gang:
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