Friday, May 29, 2015

Circumcision – a cultural norm or a religious duty?

Some stories leave one with a sense of anxiety. And for me, this was one such story. I got up uneasy after reading it, not really wanting to discuss it, but the writer in me just had to pick up a pen and paper.

Should a four-year-old boy be circumcised if the parents have a different opinion on it?

recent case in Boca Raton, Florida, opened the debate on this matter. It makes an interesting case and raises the fundamental question about the rights of parents, and their prerogative to raise their children in their religious traditions. Parents have a right to either accept or reject circumcision on matters of faith. But if one parent refuses to follow the religious traditions of the other, the child may bear the consequences, and therein is the dilemma.

This case raised multiple issues pertaining to the rights of children, parents, interfaith marriages, and social customs and traditions. Needless to say, this issue impacts people belonging to Islam and Judaism. If the mother, belonging to a different faith, refuses to allow the circumcision of a male child, would it cause a rift within the marriage? In that case, such an issue needs to be documented in a pre-nuptial agreement. In marriages, interfaith or otherwise, children follow, hence it would be prudent to decide on them prior to the birth of the child so as to avoid making the child a pawn piece in a marriage, not to mention the all-important issue of raising a child.

Muslims, for the most part, consider this practice mandatory. It is a practice that was introduced at the time of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and has continued since. But is it really mandatory?

On a closer look at the sacred writings of Islam, I realised that the issue of circumcision, and it being a mandatory practice as most Muslims believe it to be, is as controversial as the zabiha issue.

There is a divide between learned scholars of Islam on this issue. And the question – is circumcision an age-old tradition or a compulsory practice in Islam? Is it a cultural norm or a religious idea?

Since I’m no scholar on Islam, my knowledge on this issue, like most other controversial Islamic issues, is hazy. Hence I turned to Dr Aslam Abdullah for his insight into the issue. According to him,

“The Holy Quran does not mention of circumcision. It makes no request for circumcision of men or women. In numerous verses of the Holy Quran, Allah (SWT) tells us that he has created everything, including human beings, in the most perfect form. In Chapter 95 (The Fig), the Holy Quran explicitly states with regards to the human creation that man is most certainly made in best stature.

In Chapter 27 (The Ants), it is clearly said that Allah (SWT) perfected all things. On various other occasions, the Holy Quran clearly states that Allah (SWT) perfected man from clay, and one such mention is in Chapter 32 (The Prostration).

Hence the only place where circumcision is mentioned is the Hadith. Circumcision, according to many scholars, is a matter of personal choice. It is not compulsory in Islam, it is only mentioned in the Hadith and is mentioned in the same context as cutting ones hair or nails.”

I talked to Dr Nudrat Nauman, a prominent paediatrician practicing medicine for over a decade, on the issue of circumcision.

“The American Academy of Paediatrics clearly states that new scientific evidence shows the health benefits of new-born male circumcision outweigh the risks of the procedure.”

In an article titled New Evidence Points to Greater Benefits of Infant Circumcision, But Final Say is Still Up to Parents published on AAP’s website states,

“Since the last policy was published, scientific research shows clearer health benefits to the procedure than had previously been demonstrated. According to a systematic and critical review of the scientific literature, the health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.”

Like any other decision-making regarding a minor, the decision to make a male new-born undergo circumcision is a parental decision, but is it ultimately the right thing to do if the child has matured to an age where fears have set in?

I know what my answer is; do you know what is yours?

from The Express Tribune Blog

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