Female Genital Mutilation – Is It an Islamic Problem?

| by Malhar Mali |

I recently got into a discussion with a friend who commented on my piece about Islam and the discourse around it.

He affirmed Reza Aslan’s statement of:

“Female Genital Mutilation is not an Islamic problem, it’s a Central African problem,”

by linking to this Politifacts research piece which rated Aslan’s statement as “MOSTLY TRUE.”

So, I decided to take an in-depth look. Right off the bat, I’ll openly say that I’m using David Pakman’s video as the skeleton for this short piece – so don’t think of this as an original, but, rather, a complementary addendum to go along with his video.

While the Politifacts reporter does a good job at disecting Central Africa, writing:

“Seven of the top eight countries with very high rates of female circumcision are majority Muslim, including the “almost universal” levels in Somalia, Egypt, Guinea and Djibouti. But Eritrea, as Aslan said, is №5 among countries with high prevalence at 89 percent, and it is home to more Christians than Muslims, according to Pew Research’s Religion and Public Life Project.

Ethiopia, which is 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, has a moderately high rate of 74 percent, making it №11 on the list.

So the countries in which female genital cutting is a practice are mostly Muslim, but they are not exclusively Muslim. Of the 29 countries tracked by UNICEF, 14 are home to more Christians than Muslims.

The two Middle Eastern, and predominantly Muslim, countries, Yemen and Iraq, have much lower rates of 23 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Other majority-Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not listed,”

she fails to reach the accurate conclusion with the information provided, or rather, importantly, NOT provided.

Meaning, while FGM might not be isolated simply in Muslim majority countries in Central Africa, there are many countries and communities in the Middle East and Southeast Asia which the UNICEF Report does not provide numbers on.

Reza Aslan says:

“No where else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is Female Genital Mutilation a problem (other than Central Africa)”

He makes this statement at the 2:06 mark

This is a blatant lie – whether told out of ignorance or with the intent of deception is another issue to cover.

Female Genital Mutilation is something found almost exclusively in Muslim majority countries and Muslim communities outside of Africa.

I’ll use eight examples to solidify my point.

  1. Iraqi Kurdistan: A vast majority of women in Iraqi-Kurdistan have undergone FGM with some regions reaching a top ratio of more than 80%
  2. Malaysia: ~93% of Muslim women surveyed were circumcised
  3. Pakistan: in the Bohra community
  4. Indonesia: despite it being banned, communities seem to be continuing the practice
  5. Kuwait: A study found 38% of women surveyed had been mutilated
  6. United Arab Emirates: where ~34% of women are mutilated
  7. Qatar: the practice persists
  8. Oman: Up to ~78% of women could face Female Genital Mutilation

These are only eight instances. Pakman’s video lists much more.

An issue is that many Middle Eastern countries are not open to being surveyed about these private, cultural, and often religious practices. As a result, the numbers are often not accurate representations of reality, being suppressed due to the taboo of talking about closed sexual practices etc.

You could perhaps say that Female Genital Mutilation is not strictly limited to Islamic countries and cite Central Africa – that statement would be true.

You could also say that this is not something from solely Islam but an Abrahamic religious tradition as observed by its occurrence in Christian and Jewish communities – but then you would have to concede the fact that the majority of countries and communities where Female Genital Mutilation still occurs are practicing Muslim.

Perhaps an explanation is that when Islam swallowed large swaths of land through colonialism in North and Central Africa (this will come as a surprise to some readers: whites are not the only ones who colonized and did barbarous things in the past) the practice was not eradicated, which is why it continues today – but then you would also have to consider why these practices are still happening around the world where it wasn’t always a cultural tradition.

So, yes, while saying “Female Genital Mutilation is solely an Islamic problem” is not true due to the Christian majority countries in Central Africa that still practice it, it would be a mistake to characterize it as something that is not found exceedingly in Islamic countries and communities.

The problem with good sophists like Reza Aslan (I’ll give him that much) is that they often skirt around the truth; mixing in fallacious statements with slices of objective facts; dancing quickly with light words, and endearing with grins which enable those who are clutching at strands to hold tight onto their particular view of the world – and not take a critical look at what exactly is being said.

Tl;dr: Yes, to a degree, Female Genital Mutilation is an Islamic problem – in that it is, for the most part, only still practiced in Islamic countries and communities.


Malhar Mali likes to write about how and why people think they way they do; secularism, human rights, politics, and culture. You can connect with him on twitter here.


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