Female circumcision is arguably a debatable topic today. However, it is very clear that the classical scholars of Islam have agreed that it is an Islamic practice. They differed only as to whether it is to be considered wâjib (obligatory) or mukarramah (recommended).
It is very disheartening to note that some modern Islamic scholars have claimed that female circumcision is “unislamic.” This claim has been made without giving due consideration to the ahadith about it or to what is actually involved in the proper procedure of female circumcision as prescribed by Islam. Rather, that modern claim has been made based on the mistaken belief that Islamic female circumcision is identical with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as practiced in certain backward societies where a female’s clitoris is removed —the purpose of which is to curb women’s sexual sensation. We are certainly agreed that FGM of this kind is truly “unislamic.”
However, Islamic Female Circumcision (IFC) is distinct from FGM. IFC involves the removal of only the prepuce, meaning the fold of skin covering the clitoris, so as to improve genital hygiene and to enhance sexual pleasure in women by exposing the clitoris to more direct access. This outcome, as we shall see below, has been proven in numerous studies, which is why even modern American women, Muslim or not, are increasingly choosing to undergo FC as a minor surgical procedure, going by the name of ‘hoodectomy.’
Female Circumcision is Islamic
There are a number of ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) that speak of female circumcision. These various ahadith concerning female circumcision back up one another and suggest it is indeed a fully Islamic practice, contrary to what is being claimed these days by those who have not adequately investigated the Hadith evidence.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
خَمْسٌ مِنَ الْفِطْرَةِ: الْخِتَانُ، وَالِاسْتِحْدَادُ، وَتَقْلِيمُ الْأَظْفَارِ، وَنَتْفُ الْإِبْطِ، وَقَصُّ الشَّارِبِ
“Five things are connected to the natural disposition (fiṭrah): Circumcision, shaving the pubic hairs, clipping the nails, plucking the armpit hairs and trimming the moustache” (Saḥîḥ Al-Bukhâri Book 72 Hadith 779. Grade: Saḥίḥ)
The shariCah [‘Islamic Law’] term Fiṭrah (innate nature) refers to the inherent and natural qualities and ways of a human being. The laws of the ShariCah are equally applicable to men and women:
الرِّجَالِ شَقَائِقُ النِّسَاءُ إِنَّمَا [i]
innamâ – al-nisââ – shuqâ’iq-u – al-rijâl-i
“verily – (the) women – are the likes/counterparts – of (the) men”
(Musnad Ahmad 25663. Grade: Saḥίḥ)
This equality of application is the case except where we know that women are exempted. The normative practices associated by the Prophet ﷺ with fiṭrah, as mentioned in the hadith above are general and relate to both male and female, since there is no evidence, here, indicating that circumcision is restricted to males only. Circumcision is recognised by the Prophet ﷺ as being in accord with fiṭrah; as such it should apply equally to males and females. For instance, does shaving of pubic hair or paring of nails apply only to males? Certainly not, they apply to both sexes, and the same can go for circumcision.
In fact, female circumcision was the norm and custom of Arab women before Islam and was then endorsed by the Prophet ﷺ. Consider the following Ahadith of the Prophet ﷺ:
إِذَا جَاوَزَ الْخِتَانُ الْخِتَانَ وَجَبَ الْغُسْلُ (الترمذي)
“When the circumcised (part) meets the circumcised (part) then ghusl is required” (Jami` Al-Tirmidhi 108. Grade: Saḥίḥ)
إِذَا جَلَسَ بَيْنَ شُعَبِهَا الأَرْبَعِ وَمَسَّ الْخِتَانُ الْخِتَانَ فَقَدْ وَجَبَ الْغُسْلُ (مسلم)
“When a man sits amidst the four parts (arms and legs of his wife) and the circumcised parts touch each other, a bath (ghusl) becomes obligatory” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 349. Grade: Saḥίḥ))
These ahadith —which deal with the obligation of post-coital bath (ghusl) without which no prayer is valid— refer to the two circumcised parts (one of the male and one of the female), equating sexual intercourse with the meeting of the two circumcised parts, and clearly presupposing it as an obligation of both the partners of the act.
It is narrated in numerous books of Ahadith that a Saḥabiyyah by the name of Umm CAtiyyah (رضي الله عنها) used to circumcise females at the time of the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told Umm CAtiyyah (رضي الله عنها):
فقال لها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: “يا أم عطية: اخفضي ولا تُنهِكيِ، فإنه أنضر للوجه، وأحظى عند الزوج
“Oh Umm CAtiyyah! Circumcise [remove the prepuce of the clitoris], but don’t cut too much [don’t harm the clitoris], for that will be brighter for [her] face [i.e. satisfying] and more pleasing to the husband” (Sunan al-Kubra, Baihaqi 18053. Grade unknown)
In another Hadith the Prophet ﷺ advises the women of the Ansâr in general regarding circumcision:
يا نســاء الأنصــار اختضـبن عمســاً ، واختفـضن ولا تنـهـكن ؛ فإنه أحظـى لإناثكن عند أزواجهن
“Oh women of the Ansâr! Apply henna and circumcise! But do not exaggerate [i.e.remove the prepuce around the clitoris, but don’t harm the clitoris] for it is more pleasing for your women folks when they are with their husbands.” (Mukhtassar Zawa’id Musnad Al -Bazzar of Ibn Hajar Item 1227, I, 669. Grade unknown)
The aforementioned ahâdith, and others, indicate that not only was circumcision prominent amongst Muslim women but that its action was also affirmed and endorsed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, to be carried out in the way that he specified.
There is still more evidence for this practice. Imam Bukhari is best known for the compilation of the book Saḥîḥ Al-Bukhâri. But he also compiled another detailed book of ahadith on Good Manners. It was called Adab Al-Mufrad. In this work, Imam Bukhâri records two very important incidents in the days of the Saḥabah which demonstrates that the blessed Companions of our beloved Prophet ﷺ regarded circumcision as normative practice for women.
Umm Al-Muhajir says: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. [Caliph] Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.” (Adab Al-Mufrad of Al-Bukhari, Book 1, Hadith 1245, Graded: Saḥίḥ)
Umm Al-Qamah says that when the nieces of CAisha’s brother were circumcised, CAisha was asked: “Shall we call someone to amuse them [during their recovery period]?” “Yes” she replied. (Adab Al-Mufrad of Al-Bukhari Book 1, Hadith 1247 Graded: Saḥίḥ)
Now, it may be asked why Hazrat CAisha approved when her brother had his nieces circumcised and why Caliph Uthman ordered women who had embraced Islam to be purified in connection with circumcision. The fact that they did, suggests that the blessed Companions of our Prophet ﷺ regarded female circumcision as an Islamically acceptable norm.
In later times, some madhhab‘s came to regard FC as wâjib (obligatory), like the ShafiCis and a good part of the Hanbalis, like Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah. Others, like the Malikis, regarded it as recommended and the Hanafis viewed it as merely a good thing for a Muslim wife to do as a courtesy to her husband. Thus disagreements surfaced as to whether female circumcision was obligatory or not; furthermore, the reluctance of male scholars to deal with a women’s issue, and the general lack of awareness among women of later generations— these further factors added to the first, leading to its decline in certain parts of the world, as in Turkey, Central Asia and India, where the Hanafi Madhhab dominated. Since it was thought of as only recommended, the women in these areas conveniently neglected it.
However, let it be stressed that some of the greatest jurists of Islam, including Imam ShafiCi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah, and Shaikh Al Azhar Jaddul Haqq, were agreed on the obligation of female circumcision.
How Female Circumcision Must be Done Islamically
So now to the all-important question: What must be done in circumcising the female according to Islamic protocol? Very simple really. All that is required is to remove the bit of wrinkled protective skin covering over her clitoris, which is prone to harboring the lubricating secretion, ‘smegma.’ When smegma is not regularly removed from under the covering, it breeds germs and gives out bad smells. This skin of the female is very similar to the foreskin of boys that is taken off at male circumcision. This is why the clitoral prepuce has been described as the ‘female foreskin.’ All the early jurists of Islam were agreed in one voice with regard to how the circumcision of the female was to be done: all that was needed to be removed was the prepuce of the clitoris, the fold of skin covering the clitoris. No more, no less.
1) Imam Ibn Hajar Asqalani says in his renowned work Fath Al-Bari that it involves the removal of “the skin covering the cock’s-comb-like structure, and not the flesh.”
2) Imam Ibn Taymiyya says in his scholarly work MajmûC Al-Fatawa: “Her circumcision consists of cutting the prepuce which is like the cock’s-comb.” He also says that it is the prepuce (qalfa) of the clitoris that is removed in the procedure.
3) Imam Nawawi in his book Sharh Al-Muhazzab says that that the part that has to be removed in female circumcision is “the skin of the structure which is like the cock’s-comb above the urethral opening.” He also says in his commentary Sharh Muslim that it involves the removal of “a little bit of skin in the upper private parts.”
4) Sheikh Abu Nasr Ibn al-Sabbaagh says in Kitab Ash-Shaamil: “In the case of a woman, it means cutting the skin that looks like the ‘comb’ of a rooster at the top of the vagina, between the two labia.”
(The above are taken directly from https://sailanmuslim.com/sailan-muslimah/female-circumcision-an-islamic-perspective/ “The Islamic Procedure,” paragraph 1)
These classical scholars of Islam did not arbitrarily decide how female circumcision should be done. Rather they based it on a saying of the Prophet ﷺ where he is reported to have told Umm CAtiyyah Al Ansariya, a female Companion who circumcised girls and women in Medina:
“When you circumcise, cut lightly (in a shallow manner) and do not root it out, for this [brings] beauty to [her] face and is desirable for the husband” (Sunan al-Kubra, Baihaqi 18053. Grade unknown)
(ibid, “The Islamic Procedure,” paragraph 2 “)
The specific Arabic wording used in this hadith, “idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li-l wajh wa ahza Cind al-zawj” tells us precisely what is to be done in circumcising females:
ashimmi – wa – la – tanhaki
“Cut lightly from, not extirpating [it] – and – do not – cut deeply” [ii]
This phrasing (ashimmi) must be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not removing the clitoris itself. The word ashimmi used here in fact derives from the root word sh – m, which literally means ‘to take a whiff,’ thus implying here a delicate stroke of surgical steel (over the clitoris to remove its skin). La tanhaki specifies ‘do not cut deeply’, ‘do not uproot’ —which is a prohibition against doing harm to the clitoris. Thus it is very clear that the Prophet ﷺ commanded that those who perform Islamic female circumcision were to remove only the clitoral prepuce and forbade them from harming the clitoris itself.
Furthermore, the expression “this [brings] beauty (more literally, ‘brightnes’s or ‘radiance’) to the face” (ashraq li-l-wajh) may be taken as further evidence of this as it must be understood to mean a face suffused with pleasure; to put it in other words, it refers to the joyous countenance of a woman arising after being sexually gratified by her husband. Another version of the hadith puts it rather more directly. Instead of ashraq li’l wajh (radiance to the face) it gives ahwa li’l mar’a (more pleasure to the woman).
When the Prophet ﷺ said that the procedure was more desirable for the husband, what he obviously meant was that the husband would be pleased that his wife too would had attained orgasm at about the same time as he had and that he would not need to exert himself more to ensure she was fully satisfied. The idea here of course is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be easily achieved. (ibid, “The Islamic Procedure,” paragraph 3)
The idea here is that a circumcised clitoris is more likely to be satisfyingly stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than is an uncircumcised clitoris whose prepuce is often an obstacle to direct stimulation. Circumcision, as honored and defined by the Prophet (ﷺ), accordingly tends to lead to a more satisfactory sex life among women within the beautiful confines of marriage.
…To be continued in Part 2
[i] Found in E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (1863/1984) Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge (UK), p. 1577, third column under sh – q – q: shiqqun, “the half”: “Women are the likes of men in natural disposition; as though they were cloven from them; or because Eve was created from Adam.” (Taj Al-‘Arûs).
[ii] Found in E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (1863/1984) Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge (UK), p. 1593, second column under sh – m: 4. , “make to perceive by the nose”; “take a small portion of the prepuce, not extirpating it” (Qamûs and Taj Al-‘Arûs).
AhamedMarch 29, 2021 - - 1:39 pm
Thank you very much for the article ‘Circumcision for the Muslim Woman’. It shows how many good things we have been conveniently ignoring due to the propaganda of interested groups who want to wean us away from the noble path of Islam. At least now, let us hope our Muslim sisters will know better and practice this beautiful Islamic duty. Please share this far and wide.
ZeynabMarch 30, 2021 - - 12:11 am
Thank you for clarifying the Islamic procedure. Women’s circumcision has been misunderstood so much because it has been mixed up with FGM, both by ignorant Muslims and by Western media. If the proper thing is done, which as you say, is the removal of the female foreskin (front portion of clitoral hood), any true Muslimah would certainly get it done for herself and her daughters. As I can see, the hadiths about it are very strong making it an obligation and even obligatory, now what remains to be done is create awareness of the proper thing to be done- Zeynab
KubraApril 16, 2021 - - 1:49 am
Dear Zeynab. Thanks so much for your kind comments. You will be glad to know Part 2 has been published giving its health and sexual benefits: https://www.aljumuah.com/circumcision-for-the-muslim-woman-part-2-of-2/. We at Muslimahs, have after clarifying the true position of FC in Islam and its benefits, received a lot of positive feedback on this matter with many of our Muslim sisters expressing an interest in getting it done for themselves and daughters. We need the support of sisters like you to pass on the message and revive this beautiful practice all over the Muslim world. This is after all, a fitra duty and cannot be ignored by our sisters. We know that in the best days of Islam (time of our beloved Prophet (Sal) and the early Khalifas) all Muslim women were circumcised, and this is the way it should be even now. Please do share.
FeizalApril 21, 2021 - - 1:49 am
Thanks for this sensitive issue mostly not debated openly. Wish to know if there is an age recommended for kids or any hint from authentic sources about it.
KubraApril 29, 2021 - - 12:13 pm
This is in response to Feizal. It can be done anytime from infancy to adulthood. In countries like Yemen, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, it is mostly done in infancy, but in Egypt and others it may be done after 7 years of age. In the West, Muslim women are getting it done as adults after reaching 18 years. In hadith literature like Adab Al Mufrad it is evident that young girls were circumcised (Ummul Moomineen Ayisha’s nieces) as well as adult women (Caliph Uthman ordering Umm Al Muhajir to be circumcised). So the answer to your question is it can be done any time. It’s never too late. But being an obligatory duty, it is best done in childhood like in the case of boys.
FoyezMay 17, 2021 - - 12:54 pm
I had misconception about female circumcisions, so I opposed sister Kubra Jawher. I am very sorry to you.
KubraMay 19, 2021 - - 8:23 am
Foyez, Islam is a continuous learning process. We at Muslimahs for Religious Freedom have had to contend with many such misconceptions, especially on this topic. As you can see, Islamic female circumcision is in no way comparable to FGM as the West makes it out. But nowadays serious Western scholarship is also questioning the WHO definition that so arrogantly places IFC under the category of FGM.
Ow avdaMay 24, 2021 - - 7:20 pm
Female circumcision is to be limited to the pearl alone to reduce the lips so too long, to be done by a person qualified on this subject?
KubraMay 30, 2021 - - 3:09 pm
Ow Avda. Islamic female circumcision means removing the foreskin (prepuce, hood) covering the clitoris and no more. This is even practiced in the West and is known as hoodectomy.
OmarJune 9, 2021 - - 9:37 pm
Please I read some texts explaining about women to be circumcised in Islam, There is no available evidence detailing the that a woman needs to be circumcised in Islam but only men, could you provide any evidence from Quran or Hadith that circumcision also applies to woman?
KubraJune 11, 2021 - - 1:06 am
Brother Omar, You have not read my article obviously. Please scroll up. All the evidence from ahadith are given, and its very compelling – that Female Circumcision is a Duty and Obligation for the Muslim Woman.
AminaJuly 31, 2021 - - 2:21 pm
i have it too
kubra jawherAugust 20, 2021 - - 3:13 pm
Salams sister Amina, good to know. We need more proudly circumcised Muslim women. Absolutely nothing to hide about an obligatory Islamic requirement. Let us be proud Muslimahs all!
Shoyoye NasiratSeptember 7, 2021 - - 5:58 am
Assalamualaikumwarahmatullahi wabarakatuh if circumcision is to be done on a girl child,it should be when she’s a baby not an adult girl child
KubraSeptember 15, 2021 - - 12:15 pm
Walaikum Salam, circumcision of the female can be done even later in life. Since it is a Wajib (Obligatory) duty, even an adult female is required to get it done (in case she is not circumcised yet). Remember Umm Al Muhajir was ordered by Caliph Uthman (Rali) to circumcise despite being an adult. Why, because it is an obligatory duty of a Muslim female.
MohammedOctober 24, 2022 - - 1:09 pm
A lot of this is bunk. The Hadiths from Al Adab Al Mufrad are da’if and that book didn’t meet the stringent requirements of Al Jami’ Al Sahih. None of the hadiths or athar mentioning female circumcision are in the Six books and the scholars of the modern and the old are in agreement that it is only Wajib on boys and men.
KubraOctober 29, 2022 - - 12:21 pm
Please do not downgrade our ahadith. There are very many ahadith about female circumcision and they back up one another. There is nothing in the ahadith to say male circumcision has to be treated differently from female circumcision. In fact the best scholars of Islam have declared female circumcision as WAAJIB. Two Madhabs, the Shafi and Hanbali also regard it as WAAJIB. So its ISLAMIC and OBLIGATORY.
KubraNovember 3, 2022 - - 1:59 pm
There are a number of ahadith on female circumcision and these back up one another. These are found in many of the kitabs including the SAHIH-US_SITTAH. Also remember you must that it was Imam Bukhari who compiled ADAB AL MUFRAD.
PeterApril 22, 2023 - - 10:17 am
It is essential that the circumcision of women is not downgraded or confused with FGM.
I have a wife who has successfully been circumcised as part of other gyno. operations and she has very much benefitted from the experience. Like my own circumcision the result is a cleaner and healthier sex-life which has eliminated unpleasant odours and from which we have both benefitted emotionally and sexually.
Mustafa MehmetMay 4, 2023 - - 12:21 pm
Circumcision is not obligatory for women. It is only makrumah. The legal Arabic jargon uses the word khitan for male circumcision and the term khafd or khifad for female circumcision. But the everyday language uses the term khitan for both mutilations. There is no similarity between female circumcision and the removal of clitoris, the goal of which is to diminish, if not suppress sexual desire in women.
Ibn Qudamah (may Allah have mercy on him) said, in his book al-Mughni: “Circumcision is obligatory for men, and it is an honour for women, but it is not obligatory for them. This is the opinion of many scholars. (Imam) Ahmad said: For men it is more strictly required, but for women it is less strictly required.” (al-Mughni 1/70)
Circumcision of the female consists of the removal of a part of the clitoris, which is situated above the opening of the urethra. The Sunnah is not to remove all of it, but only a part. (al-Mawsu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah 19/28)
In this matter, it is wise to follow the interests of the female: if the clitoris is large, then part of it should be removed, otherwise it should be left alone. This size of the clitoris will vary from woman to woman, and there may be differences between those from hot climates and those from cold climates.
A hadith on the topic of female circumcision has been attributed to the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him), according to which he said: “Circumcision is a Sunnah for men, and an honour for women,” but there is some debate as to the authenticity of this hadith. See Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah by al-Albani, no. 1935.
How circumcision is to be performed is mentioned in the hadith narrated by Umm ‘Atiyah, may Allah be pleased with her, according to which a woman used to perform circumcisions in Madinah. The Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him) told her: “Do not abuse (i.e. do not go to extremes in circumcising); that is better for the woman and more liked by her husband.” (Reported by Abu Dawud in al-Sunan, Kitab al-Adab; he said this hadith is da‘if)
According to a classical author, Al-Mawardi, “it is limited to cutting off the skin in the shape of a kernel located above the genitalia. One must cut the protruding epidermis without performing a complete ablation”
The scholars’ opinions cited above should be sufficient explanation. And Allah knows best.
KubraMay 8, 2023 - - 2:53 pm
There are many ahadith concerning female circumcision. In fact their number which is even more than those dealing specifically with male circumcision should itself suffice to establish its Islamic obligation. These ahadiith concerning female circumcision back up one another and strengthen the view that it is indeed obligatory as held by some of our best scholars . Moreover there is absolutely nothing in the ahadith that suggests that women should be treated differently from men in the matter of circumcision. Circumcision is a fitra duty, and as such it should apply to both males and females. Does shaving of pubic hair and cutting nails apply only to males?
Why would Hazrat Ayisha have her nieces circumcised and Caliph Uthman order women who had embraced Islam to be circumcised (Adab Al Mufrad of Imam Bukhari) if it were not obligatory?
Two of the four law schools of Islamic law, in fact regard it as an obligatory duty and our best scholars like Imam Shafi, Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya and Sheikhul Azhar Jaddul Haqq all declared it to be obligatory.