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Will Iceland Jail Jews and Muslims For Crime of Circumcision?

Circumcision in Iceland

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Rabat – Jewish and Muslim religious groups have condemned a bill in Iceland’s parliament that would ban circumcision for non-medical (i.e. religious) reasons. Even a Bishop in Reykjavik, warned that if it passed Jewish and Muslim people would feel “unwelcome” in Iceland.

The draft law would impose a very harsh six-year prison term on anyone guilty of “removing part or all of the child’s sexual organs”, arguing the practice violates the child’s rights. If the anti-circumcision bill passes Iceland would be the first European country to ban the procedure since it was first banned in the Soviet Union.

MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party, who introduced the bill in early February, said: “We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.” 

The Icelandic bill says circumcision “involves permanent interventions in a child’s body that can cause severe pain”.

Iceland passed a law in 2005 banning female genital mutilation, and supporters of this move have compared it to that law. However, FGM is not circumcision: it is female genital mutilation, and comparing it to circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism. It is important that Muslims and Jews make this distinction clear to the general public.

Read Also: Circumcision’s Benefits Outweigh Risks, Should be Assigned like Vaccines: Study

Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day. However, Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance. 

But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children. 

Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have forbidden ritual circumcision of males. These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.

Many European secularists regard circumcision of minors by Muslims and Jews, as a cruel violation of children’s rights. A similar debate is occurring across northern Europe about the issue of ritual slaughter of animals, which devout Jews and Muslims require be performed on conscious animals.

This is part of a larger dilemma facing left-wing parties in Europe, which often struggle to balance their stated commitment to minority rights, with a pushy, self-righteous, secularist agenda that is perceived as intolerant by most members of religious groups.

Read Also: On Rites and Rituals in Morocco

It is totally false to compare the custom of female genital mutilation to the religious practice of male circumcision. 

First, while there are great medical benefits from removal of the foreskin of a male, especially in reducing the spread of HIV; there is no medical benefit to a female from the removal of her clitoris and labia.

In Africa, Jewish and Muslim men have much lower rates of AIDS than uncircumcised Christian men. 

Second, there is no evidence that female genital mutilation promotes chastity and preserves a woman’s virtue. Having a considerate, loving and faithful husband does much more to promote a woman’s virtue than female genital mutilation.

Third, male circumcision is a religious requirement; female genital mutilation is only a tribal custom, originating in sub Sahara Africa; which is now being spread by Muslim religious extremists to Asia and the West as part of a reaction against the rising rate of girls going to high school and woman going to work outside the home. 

Evidence that female genital mutilation is a only a custom comes from the fact that in rural Egypt even Coptic Christians mutilate their daughters genitals. Also female genital mutilation had been denounced by most of the major Islamic scholars in the Muslim world.

Read Also: Reversing Female Circumcision in Africa

Finally, and most important of all, male circumcision is derived from the God inspired practice of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Muhammad.

God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7): “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

(8-12) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 

“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17: 7-12a)

And Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah said (Qur’an 16:123)  “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.

Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: “Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.) 

Abraham’s first born son Ishmael, was a young boy when he was circumcised, so Muslims do not have to circumcise their son’s on an exact date. A Hadith states: When Ibn Abbas was asked “How old were you when the Prophet Muhammad died?” He replied, “At that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not circumcise boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh).” (Bukhari) 

Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day.” (Related in al-Bayhaq & Tabarani) 

Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for all future generations. 

For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham which is also celebrated each year during the annual Hajj ceremonies. 

For both Muslims and Jews circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons pain and suffering always lead eventually to great spiritual benefits. 

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: www.rabbimaller.com Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks.

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