Khitan (circumcision)

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Khitan (Arabic: ختان‎‎) or Khatna (Arabic: ختنة‎‎) is the term for male circumcision[1][2] carried out as an Islamic rite by Muslims. Male circumcision is widespread in Islam and accepted as established practice by all Islamic schools of jurisprudence.[3] It is considered a sign of belonging to the wider Islamic community.[4] Views on female circumcision[5] are very disparate and significantly fewer Muslim schools regard it as a religious requirement. Khitan, in some of parts of the world, including Indonesia and Malaysia, may also refer to the female genital mutilation (properly khafḍ).[3][6]

Islamic male circumcision is analogous but not identical to Jewish circumcision. Islam is currently the largest single religious group in which the practice is widespread,[4] and although circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur'an itself but is mentioned in a hadith[7] and the sunnah. Whether or not it should be carried out after converting to Islam is debated among Islamic scholars.[8][9][10][11]

Religious sources[edit]

Circumcision being performed in central Asia (probably Turkestan), c. 1865–1872. Restored albumen print.

The Qur'an itself does not mention circumcision explicitly in any verse. In the time of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, circumcision of men was carried out by most pagan Arabian tribes and female circumcision by some, and male circumcision by Jews for religious reasons.[12] This has also been attested by Al-Jahiz,[13] as well as by Josephus.[14]

According to some traditions, Muhammad was born without a foreskin (aposthetic), while others maintain that his grandfather Abd-al-Muttalib circumcised him when he was seven days old.[15][16] Many of his early disciples were circumcised to symbolize their inclusion within the emerging Islamic community.[17] Some accounts report that Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium, had referred to Muhammad as the "leader of the circumcised people".[18]

Some hadith mentions circumcision in a list of practices known as fitra (acts considered to be of a refined person). Abu Hurayra, a companion of Muhammad, was quoted saying, "Five things are fitra: circumcision, shaving pubic hair with a razor, trimming the mustache, paring one's nails and plucking the hair from one's armpits" (reported in the hadiths of Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim). So, despite its absence from the Qur'an, it has been a religious custom from the beginning of Islam. However, there are other hadiths which do not name circumcision as part of the characteristics of fitra[19] and yet another hadith which names ten characteristics, again without naming circumcision; in Sahih Muslim, Aisha is quoted "The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Ten are the acts according to fitra: clipping the mustache, letting the beard grow, using toothpicks, snuffing water in the nose, cutting the nails, washing the finger joints, plucking the hair under the armpits, shaving pubic hair and cleaning one's private parts with water. The narrator said: I have forgotten the tenth, but it may have been rinsing the mouth."[20] Hence, the different hadiths do not correspond on whether circumcision is part of fitra or not.

Muhammad's wife Aisha supposedly quotes Muhammad as saying that "ablution becomes necessary if the two circumcised members touch".[21][22] Furthermore, Muhammad is reported to have once advised a female circumciser not to cut off the entire clitoris during female circumcision.[23]

According to some hadith, Muhammad supposedly circumcised his grandsons, Hasan and Husayn, on the seventh day after their birth.[24] Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim also quote from Muhammad that Prophet Abraham performed his own circumcision at the age of eighty.[25] It is also reported by Abu Dawud and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal that Muhammad stated that circumcision was a "law for men and a preservation of honor for women".[26]

Circumcision was introduced to many lands for the first time through Islam itself following the Muslim conquests under the Rashidun, who were the companions and contemporaries of Muhammad. An example are the Persians who did not practice circumcision before the advent of Islam.[27] Post-Islamic converts such as Afshin were found guilty in trials of remaining uncircumcised;[28] this further indicates that the practice was deemed compulsory by the early Muslims.

Sunni Islam[edit]

Amongst Ulema (Muslim legal scholars), there are differing opinions about the compulsion of circumcision in Sharia (Islamic law). Imams Abū Ḥanīfa, founder of the Hanafi school of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Malik ibn Anas, maintain that circumcision is a Sunnah Mu'akkadah—not obligatory but highly recommended. The Shafi`i and Hanbali schools see it as binding on all Muslims.[29]

Shia Islam[edit]

Most Shia traditions regard the practice as obligatory. They rely on sayings that come from classical Shia authors.[30] In one narration Muhammad was asked if an uncircumcised man could go to pilgrimage. He answered "not as long as he is not circumcised". They quote Ali as saying: "If a man becomes Muslim, he must submit to circumcision even if he is 80 years old".[31] Another narration from Al-Sadiq says: "Circumcise your sons when they are seven days old as it is cleaner (athar) and the flesh grows faster and because the earth hates the urine of the uncircumcised".[32] It is also believed that the urine of the uncircumcised is impure, while if one prays with unclean genitals their prayer may not be considered as acceptable, even of those who have been circumcised, meaning that it may have to be repeated again at a time when the believer has purified themselves and removed the impurity. Another hadith of Muhammad states: "the earth cries out to God in anguish because of the urine of the uncircumcised", and that "the earth becomes defiled from the urine of the uncircumcised for forty days".[33]

Male and female circumcision among Dawoodi Bohra Fatimid Shias[edit]

Like male circumcision, female circumcision[2][7] is considered as a religious requirement of the Dawoodi Bohras. Both male and female circumcision (Arabic khatna and khafd respectively)[2][7] find mention in books of jurisprudence written in the 10th century, including in Daim al-Islam,[34] the principal book of Ismaili Fatimid jurisprudence written by Al-Qadi al-Nu'man (died 974 CE/ 363 AH). The book traces the custom for both genders to the sayings of Prophet Muhammad and his successor (according to the Shia) Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Religious Origins: Female circumcision is carried out on the prepuce, the foreskin over the clitoris. This is analogous to male circumcision, which is also done on the foreskin; the difference being that whilst in male circumcision the entire foreskin is removed, in female circumcision, the procedure is less invasive. It ranges from a symbolic touch to a tiny excision. Another difference is that whilst boys can be circumcised at any age, including in infancy, girls can only be circumcised after the age of seven.[35][36][37] It is forbidden to undertake a procedure on any other part of the female genitalia – the clitoris itself is untouched. This form of female circumcision is also commonly practiced by Sunni Muslims of the Shafi’i school of thought in Indonesia, Malaysia, Kurdistan and Egypt.[38] Both male and female circumcisions are done to enhance religious purity, a practice that traces its roots to Abrahamic traditions, which the Jews and Christians share. Claims that female circumcision is designed to curb the woman’s sexuality and is patriarchal in nature have no foundation in the religious books of the Dawoodi Bohras, which if anything, appear to indicate that an enhancement of sexual sensitivity is amongst the advantages of female circumcision.[36][39] Given the prevalence of clitoral unhooding in the West, where the prepuce is substantially reduced to enhance sexual pleasure,[40] some consider that this assertion is not unreasonable.

Female Circumcision and FGM: The World Health Organization (WHO) defines any procedure to the prepuce, however minor, as Type 1a or Type 4 mutilation, the former covering excision and the latter a nick, a prick or a cut.[41] This definition therefore puts the female circumcision practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras into the ambit of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). There have been several calls from medical professionals and sociologists for minor procedures to be declared safe and be removed from WHO’s definition of FGM.[42][43]

Prosecution and Reduction: Dawoodi Bohras have been subject to pressures by anti-FGM lobbyists to cease the practice of female circumcision. While the procedure is among the least invasive of the procedures labelled FGM, the Dawoodi Bohras have significant internal dissension[citation needed] over continuing the practice, and draw international attention by perpetuating female circumcision in Western countries where it is less socially acceptable.[citation needed]

In Australia, the first successful prosecution under the New South Wales laws specific to FGM was of a Dawoodi Bohra mother and Dawoodi Bohra circumciser, for having carried out the circumcision on two girls. Despite expert medical examinations, views conflicted on whether the two girls had been physically harmed, though they both described a painful experience.[44][45] The conviction took place in November 2015, which prompted Dawoodi Bohra congregations all over the world[46][47] to pass resolutions strictly instructing their members not to undertake female circumcision where it was illegal.[48][49][50] Many Dawoodi Bohras maintain that this was a heavy price to pay for a practice they considered unfairly and unnecessarily included in the FGM definition, though others within the community hope to see it ended altogether.[51]

This conditional ban only goes so far, however. There is another case pending in Michigan which appears to be playing out similarly to the case in New South Wales. A doctor named Jumana Nagarwala was arrested April 12th, 2017 for performing FGM on at least two young girls between 6 and 8 years old.[52] Her defense currently maintains that she merely wiped the children's mucus membrane, but medical examination has shown scar tissue and lacerations.[52] This is the first case being prosecuted under a 1996 federal law against FGM in the United States of America.[53] Anecdotal evidence [51] indicates that this is far from the only case, however.

Media Campaign: A media campaign and petition have been launched by a group of Bohra women who broke the taboo surrounding FGM in India, the country with the largest Bohra community. They claim to have been injured and/or traumatised by female circumcision. This campaign has targeted in April 2016, the head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, accusing him of encouraging the practice, even where it was illegal,[54] which received significant media coverage. In May 2016, Dawat-e-Hadiyah, the administration offices of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin issued a statement, which reaffirmed that both male and female circumcision were part of the religion but reiterated that the law of the land must be followed, thereby banning female circumcision wherever it was illegal.[55]


Some Quranists claim circumcision is haram, arguing that Quran 4:119 forbids altering one's body, and 95:4 says man was created perfectly.[56][57][58]

Time for circumcision[edit]

Traditional procession after circumcision of a child in Dutch East Indies, 1915–1918.

Islamic sources do not fix a particular time for circumcision. It depends on family, region and country. A majority of Ulema however take the view that parents should get their child circumcised before the age of ten.[59] The preferred age is usually seven although some Muslims are circumcised as early as on the seventh day after birth and as late as at the commencement of puberty.[4]


Whereas Jewish circumcision is closely bound by ritual timing and tradition, in Islam there is no fixed age for circumcision. The age when boys get circumcised, and the procedures used, tend to change across cultures, families, and time. In some Islamic countries, circumcision is performed on Muslim boys after they have learned to recite the whole Qur'an from start to finish.[4] In Malaysia and other regions, the boy usually undergoes the operation between the ages of ten and twelve, and is thus a puberty rite, serving to introduce him into the new status of an adult.[60] The procedure is sometimes semi-public, accompanied with music, special foods, and much festivity.[61]

There is no equivalent of a Jewish mohel in Islam. Circumcisions are usually carried out in a clinic or hospital. The circumciser is not required to be a Muslim.[4] The position of the scar is usually neither fully "low" nor fully "high", and the skin left is rather loose. However, due to a relatively secular approach to circumcision in the Muslim world, the "styles" of the Islamic circumcision vary on every individual, and change in the light on new medical knowledge.[61]


In Indonesia, after a child is circumcised, there is a feast called Perayaan Sunatan, but some ulemas in Indonesia say this is bid‘ah whereas most of them say it is not. In Turkey also widely celebrated and called "Sunnet Toreni" "Sunnet mevludu".

Female Circumcision[edit]

Khafḍ or k̲h̲ifāḍ, is the Arabic word for circumcision usually used for women rather than men.[3] It is also referred to as khitān for both sexes.[1][2] Today the word is used to mean any of the forms of female genital mutilation from Type 1a to Type 4.[62][63] In many communities of the world, khafd is a rite of passage and refers to excision of the female genitalia.[64] There are 4 types of FGM that range from the least severe incision on or partial removal of the prepuce skin over the clitoris to very severe excision and infibulation procedures.[41] Over 125 million women, primarily in Africa, Middle East and Parts of Southeast Asia and South Asia are currently known to have undergone FGM, with Egypt recording the highest number of khafd women in the world.[65]

Women who have undergone the procedure report serious problems including chronic pain, genital sores, bleeding, as well as fear of intimacy. It is reportedly often carried out in unhygienic conditions and without anesthesia, creating a risk of infection and tetanus, as well as psychological trauma.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c d Lane, Edward William (1863). Arabic-English Lexicon. London: Willams & Norgate. p. 703. ISBN 8120601076. 
  3. ^ a b c khitān Encyclopædia Britannica (2009)
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  5. ^ [1] Encyclopædia Britannica (2009)
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  7. ^ a b c Ibn Manẓūr, Muḥammad ibn Mukarram (1311). "Arabic root word ختن". Lisan Al-Arab. Qumm, Iran. p. 1102. ISBN 9953131953. ختن : ختن الغلام والجارية يختنهما ويختنهما ختنا ، والاسم الختان والختانة ، وهو مختون ... والختان : موضع الختن من الذكر ، وموضع القطع من نواة الجارية . قال أبو منصور : هو موضع القطع من الذكر والأنثى ; ومنه الحديث المروي : إذا التقى الختانان فقد وجب الغسل 
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External links[edit]

Media related to Circumcision at Wikimedia Commons