Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BBC and the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation

His Grace was somewhat irked yesterday when he read a BBC Online article which referred to the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation which some communities believe 'is a necessary part of becoming a woman'. It seemed a gratuitous swipe at Christianity for the sake of some politically-correct parity with Islam, just to ensure even-handedness to neutralise potential allegations of Islamophobia.

So irked, in fact, was His Grace that he decided to complain directly to the BBC. (He doesn't usually do this, principally on account of it being a complete waste of time: the last time he did so he received a dismissive response which was only heeded when an MP complained to make the same points, establishing irrefutably that some licence-payers are more equal than others).

Notwithstanding, His Grace completed the online complain form, thus:
You wrongly equate FGM in Islam with Christianity. You state:

"Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage."

One can always find some outlying cultic theological belief or cultural practice to corroborate a particular bias, but this article completely fails to distinguish between Islam - in which FGM is widespread across both Sunni and Shia traditions - and Christianity, in which absolutely no mainstream church or denomination would support such barbarism. You fail to specify that some Islamic theologians claim to find support for the practice in the Qur'an ('sunna' circumcision), but no Christian theologian claims biblical provenance. You equate 'Muslim cultures' with 'Christian cultures' in Africa and the Middle East, but fail to mention the number of adherents, or how widespread their influence. If FGM is practised by any Christian communities, it is undoubtedly obscure and heretical. That is plainly not the case within Islam, which alone in the West is advocating the practice. Your article is misleading and biased in its presentation of Christianity.
Three hours later (which is very good indeed), His Grace received the following response - not from some spotty complaint clerk, but from the author of the article herself:
Dear Mr Cranmer,

Thanks for your email.

I have just dealt with a similar email to yours which complains that I have said that Muslims circumcise females as part of religion and points out that nowhere in the teachings of Islam does it say to circumcise females. I responded that my piece does not say that it is formal Moslem teaching that leads to female genital mutilation but that as I understand it the practice is carried out by some communities who adhere to Islam.

The information that I have says that the same is true of Christian communities who carry out this form of ritual mutilation. It seems to be a cultural act which has become entwined with the religious practices of some communities, both Christian and Moslem.

There are large numbers of both Christian and Moslem adherents in some of the countries where this is carried out for example Nigeria, obviously other countries where it happens, for example Egypt are mainly Muslim.

Best wishes,
To which His Grace replied:
Dear Ms Burns,

Thank you for this.

Unfortunately, it fails to address the issue of misinformation bias, which was the very specific complaint. And you appear to be adducing the fact that you have received a similar complaint from a professing Muslim as evidence of your impartiality. This complaint is nothing to do with the (ab)use of scriptures.

You state:

Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage.

Your very next sentence says:

Sometimes girls are sent abroad to have it done. Sometimes it is done in the UK.

Which communities from Africa or the Middle East from the Christian tradition send their girls abroad to have the procedure carried out? Which Christian communities send them to the UK?

You give no indication, as requested, of the relative number of Muslim or Christian of adherents of this practice: you leave the reader with the impression of socio-political parity. Neither do you specify which source you used. What was this? What authority or methodological validity does it claim?

Your assistance with these questions would be appreciated.

Many thanks.
Thomas Cranmer (Dr)
Ms Burns responded within 7 minutes:
Hello again,

I have not got time to do this kind of research for you. However there is a lot of information on our website on this if you follow some of the links from the page.

However here are a couple of stats for you to think about.

Google for example a country like Eritrea and you will come up with this

There are two major religions in Eritrea, Christianity and Islam, however, the number of adherents is subject to debate. Eritrea: Religious Distribution (2002) indicates that Christianity makes up 63% of the population with Islam making up 37%.

Compare this figures with the numbers at the bottom of our piece which show that female genital mutilation of 35 to 39 year olds is 92.6% and of 15-19 year olds is 78.3%.

Do the maths!

Personally I conclude that fgm has little to do with classic religious teaching in either Islam or Christianity and a lot to do with underlying culture.

But this is beyond the remit of my piece,

Best wishes
By now, His Grace was clearly on first-name terms with Judith, who was showing herself most helpful by disclosing both her source (Wikipedia) and her methodology ('do the maths'). His Grace decided to let the matter rest there. Basically, taking the BBC's figures for Eritrea, their assertion is purely quantitative: that because the country is 63% Christian and 37% Muslim, and because 92.6% of 35-39 year-olds and 78.3% of 15-19 year-olds undergo the procedure, that even if the 7.4% of 35-39 year-olds who had not been cut were all Christian, it still means that more than 50% of the Eritrean women who undergo female genital mutilation are professing Christians.

This is, of course, a culturally-syncretised practice; it is not 'mainstream' Christian tradition. But very many Muslims would say the same about FGM in their religion.

The fact remains, however, that by describing the practice as a part of 'Christian tradition', the BBC lazily gives the impression that it could be supported theologically rather than established sociologically. The fact that very many Roman Catholics in the UK practise contraception methods other than the rhythm method does not render the use of condoms or the pill part of a 'Catholic tradition'. On the other hand, it is certainly true (paralleling the article) that 'some communities in the UK, from both Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions, practise contraception'.

So perhaps Judith can be given some latitude: there is nothing inaccurate per se about the article, but the wording is poor. It conveys the impression that FGM is encouraged by the religious teachings of Christianity as taught in some parts of Africa and the Middle East. His Grace must visit the Asmara Pentecostal Community and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church to tell them that Mary was never genitally mutilated.


Blogger Richard Watterson said...

How do you know she wasn't?

25 June 2013 at 10:03  
Blogger Andrew Brown said...

For what it's worth, I think that Judith Burns has you bang to rights here. Leaving wikipedia aside, it's quite clear from the WHO that FGM is widespread in Christian as well as Muslim parts of Africa. We simply don't know the religions of those who practice it in this country. And while it is obvious that no mainstream Christian organisation in Europe would have any truck with it, it's a bit of a stretch to assume that local African Christians don't suppose it's mandated by their religion . We really don't have evidence either way. Obviously, you (and I) would prefer to believe that this was something no Christian could contemplate. But just as obviously, we're wrong and we don't even know how wrong and in what ways. So " the impression that FGM is encouraged by the religious teachings of Christianity as taught in some parts of Africa and the Middle East." is very probably justified.

25 June 2013 at 10:05  
Blogger Naomi King said...

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

The Devil was THE liar from the beginning.

25 June 2013 at 10:06  
Blogger Irene's Daughter said...

“Now the BBC - oops sorry! - serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made."!!!

25 June 2013 at 10:07  
Blogger Annie Carter said...

Thank you, your Grace, for taking the time to address this blatant bias. You are most skilled in gracefully and intelligently putting forward your views (and thus speaking on behalf of many of us who agree with you).

25 June 2013 at 10:24  
Blogger Gary said...

Wake up! BBC news is now completely worthless being nothing more than propaganda for whatever politically correct cause they are pushing this week. It's pointless to expect to receive unbiased or accurate information in their TV and radio broadcasts, or on their web pages.

25 June 2013 at 10:27  
Blogger Seashell said...

FGM is cultural not religous and she is right. Jews in Ethiopia also practice FGM. The archbishop is wrong.

25 June 2013 at 10:37  
Blogger Jonathan James | Associate Solicitor said...

It's very simple really - the issue of FGM is geographical/cultural and not in any way religious. Given its apparent prevalence in Eritrea, the key defining characteristic is whether or not the subject is Eritrean, not whether or not they are Christian or Muslim. So the alarm bells should be triggered not by religion or belief but by geographical origin or culture.

It's so blindingly obvious on the BBC's own use or misuse of statistics that the mention of religion does become sinister. As for doing your research for you, you were merely asking that the BBC disclose its own research! Cheeky whatsit!

25 June 2013 at 10:45  
Blogger George R said...

For information:

"Crimes of the Community"

By J. Brandon and S. Hafez

Chapter 5, 'Female Genital Mutilation' pp 65-77.

[Centre for Social Cohesion.
A 'Civitas' Project, 2008.]


25 June 2013 at 10:52  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Yep, Jonathan James has it: the most reasonable system of classification would be geographical, not religious.

An East African and Middle Eastern practice.

Suppose Andrew Brown is right (though he adduces no evidence except his own ignorance on the matter): that it is understood as intrinsic to Christianity: it can only be understood as being intrinsic to Eritrean Christianity. Or, Kenyan Christianity - except that there, it was the Christian missionaries who opposed it so imperialistically. Poor Mau Maus.

Going with Ms. Burns' methodology, if we wanted to say it was "Christian" we should have to take all the Christians around the world and see how many advocate FGM. Then do the same for Islam.

25 June 2013 at 11:01  
Blogger Nick said...

A very good example of why the BBC is no longer reliable for news. It seems that in this age of ignorance about religion, more and more "professionals" are relying on good old wikipaodia...


The fact that the BBC bases its reports on a publicy-available website, which itself is not authoritative as a source of information, is a sign of how low the BBC has sunk. Mix this kind of lazy reporting with a culture of church-bashing and you have the sorted of distorted nonsense YG refers to.

I don't mind the BBC being a dumbded-down broadcaster, I just object to paying for it, especially as I don't watch it anyway.

25 June 2013 at 11:42  
Blogger George R said...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali suffered genital mutilation at the age of five.

She has spoken, written* and campaigned against FSM
for some considerable time.

*"... Hirsi Ali says FGM is a symptom of
the 'whole virginity obsession'” within
largely but not exclusively Muslim communities abroad,
and sometimes here."

* 'London Evening Standard' 14 March, 2013.

25 June 2013 at 11:47  
Blogger Naomi King said...

Just as ancient Greece and Rome vainly struggled with inner moral decay so we too are condemned to fall, unless by a supreme recovery of moral courage and spiritual vigour we arise again and take our stand for freedom and truth tempered with a healthy Fear of God.

25 June 2013 at 11:51  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

Without doubt Cranmer has the BBC bang to rights in taking them to task.

The Corporation is a bastion of political correctness and fount of multicultural propaganda. It bends credibility to avoid publishing anything that Muslims will find offensive which doesn't leave much; as it aids and abets the restructuring and meanings of the of the English Language.

It was indeed gratuitously PC of them to include Christianity as the moral equivalent 'balance' factor to Islam, as there is no 'tradition' of such a practise at all in the Western version. As is always the way with dominant conquering religions, local 'compromise accommodations' are made and become rightly or wrongly, synonymous with the religion over time.

Anthropologists record that primitive cultures have ritually forced circumcision children for thousands of years and Islam in particular, purposely built it in under a cloud of ambiguity to include the tortuous female equivalent.

What the BBC has done is to totally ignore the essential element of the historical record and present demographics and call it 'balance'.

25 June 2013 at 11:54  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

25 June 2013 at 12:02  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Right, it took a little bit more work than a straight Google search, but the question of whether Christianity differs in its approach to FGM has been asked at least once by the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal with regards to Egypt (to see the document itself, click on the three lines of text icon in the top right hand corner). It's a review piece rather than peer-reviewed research, but it's also publically accessible.

By the way, it is fascinating to note that the standard response of the authorities to not outlawing FGM is that people will go and do it anyway, but just do it in unsanitary conditions. Funny how these arguments get around.

Anyway, it's very difficult to penetrate through what is obviously the stock response of "this is practiced across religions". Well yes it is, but it is a bit more important to know why, and how much those religions have to do with its promulgation against tradition (which is nigh-universally acknowledged as being the pre-eminent justification, so two points to Jonathan James).

Read through the response to the first three questions, and you will see that there was cross-religious support for the (now deposed) government's initiatives to prevent FGM - but pretty much every instance of opposition from a religious leader came from within Islam. So it would be fair to say that Islam appears to be more vociferously divided on the issue.

This could be a reporting bias, of course: the issue is more thorny in rural areas, and there don't seem to have been many attempts to gather the views of rural pastors in the way that rural imams have been canvassed.

Q4 onwards (p15+) deals specifically with Christianity. There's little coverage besides Christian opposition to FGM - which isn't conclusive, but it suggestive. If a Christian movement in favour of FGM existed, one would expect at least some coverage of it. That's supported in Q5 by some peer-reviewed research that FGM has declined more sharply in Christian communities since the 1980s. One nice quote:

"The missions and activities of these and other Christian organizations arguably reflect a wider trend within the Christian social service community to adopt an integrated vision of women’s public and private empowerment as a marker of religious identity" (cited on p18)

Data from the 1990s shows a 'small but significant' reduction of FGM in Christian communities in the north of Egypt, with the most extreme forms of FGM restricted almost exclusively to Islamic groups (this latter point seems to be true in all the case studies I've perused: Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Kenya). Notably, "The study found that Christian mothers who have higher education have a significantly lower likelihood of submitting their daughters to FGM, but that this is not the case among Muslim mothers with higher education" (p18, my emphasis). There are extended quotes regarding the methodology on pp18-19.

The crux is this: in Egypt, where FGM "is almost universal among women of reproductive age", Christianity is more likely to have an ameliorating effect, inasmuch as it represents a means by which the most effective measures of reducing FGM - namely, via education - will take hold. Islam, on the other hand, can demonstrate a similar concern amongst its leaders, but struggles to make this opposition effective on the ground.

That doesn't make much of a case for "Christian FGM" in Egypt.

25 June 2013 at 12:03  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

I don't mind the BBC being a dumbded-down broadcaster...

This is a 'totally' dumbed-down position and exemplary of a failing education system where spelling doesn't count. No doubt there's a job waiting for you at the BBC Nick.

25 June 2013 at 12:06  
Blogger Nick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

25 June 2013 at 12:14  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

The TLDR version:

Unadjusted, daughters in Christian families in Egypt are 6 times less likely to be intended for FGM than those in Muslim families; adjusted for the social disparity, the figure is still 4.5 times less likely (2002 peer reviewed research, pp26-27).

It's ubiquitous in both communities (and also across ethnic communities) owing to the extent of the tradition - but you're better off being a Christian if you want to avoid it.

25 June 2013 at 12:20  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...

Eritrea a predominantly Christian country? I can see Judith Burns' point on the evidence she's presented, but in the shallowness of her research she maybe unaware of the bitter irony if her article was read in the inhuman conditions of the steel containers in which Christians are put by the Eritrean government.


and Open Doors are the same:


and Amnesty International have covered the situation


Maybe that government approved denomination lacks the Bibles they need to be able to understand this issue, much as Judith's journalism fails to get to grips with cause and effect. What would happen if the Eritrean government fell? what would replace it? How would that affect FGM? It's like a kid's comprehension test.

Oh well, we're here to help, much like those culturally insensitive missionaries of yesteryear who were so pilloried for ruining cultural traditions.

Your Grace is right to flag this - the article makes the BBC look like it's more interested in something other than exposing the causes of FGM. Maybe that's not the fault of the journalist.

25 June 2013 at 12:33  
Blogger Nick said...


It was a typo. Did you bother reading the WHOLE comment? I'm as opposed to the BBCs attitude as everyone else here.

If you'e going to be insulting to others, at least take the trouble to read their posts first

25 June 2013 at 12:37  
Blogger Bob said...

If we live fully in the present moment with mindfulness and compassion, the perceived errors or snubs of others shouldn't bother us. As the Buddha said, "people with opinions just go around bothering each other."

The sun is shining and it's a beautiful day outside. Relax and let it go... you'll feel so much better.



25 June 2013 at 12:40  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Gary has it about right. The BBC is totally unreliable, useless in fact, as a source of news. It is invariably skewed to a PC, leftist world view regardless of the facts or troublesome reality. It is basically anti-Christian and anti-British.

25 June 2013 at 12:49  
Blogger LEN said...

Well... the old newspaper adage obviously applies to the BBC.

'Never let the truth get in the way of a 'good' story.'

'Good' in the case of the BBC is anything anti Christian.

25 June 2013 at 13:05  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...


Did you bother reading the WHOLE comment?

Yes I did - did you? I still think it's a dumb position you hold - even if you don't watch or listen to it. It radio and internet broadcasts all over the world and was once regarded by many as being a truthful representative of accurate British journalism; unencumbered by sponsorship loyalties or influenced by State sponsored propaganda.

Sadly it has become a bloated, money sucking monolith and a sloppy convenience of the NUJ, because it's easy to ignore, by simply switching off and doing nothing - as you say you have done.

25 June 2013 at 13:49  
Blogger Steve said...

FGM is best considered a Labour party tradition, since the majority of these immigramts vote Labour.

25 June 2013 at 14:06  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Section e4.3 of the book of Islamic law Reliance of the Traveller translates as:

‘Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the clitoris (this is called khufaaḍ).’

The book’s translator, NHM Keller, adds a note saying that only the prepuce of the clitoris is removed. Keller being an American convert to Islam, the note may have been added with Western sensibilities in mind. Keller’s translation is on this PDF.

Contrary to the email Judith Burns received from a Muslim, circumcision is mentioned in the hadith collections, for example:

Dawud, Book 41, Number 5251. Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansarriyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (PBUH) said to her: ‘Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.’

25 June 2013 at 14:11  
Blogger Nick said...


So you are saying that by continuing to watch the BBC and paying my licence fee I will help to make it better? Now that sounds a bit dumb to me.

The BBC needs replacing, not repairing. It is a fossilised relic embracing everything that is currently naff about this country. It has had its day. As you say, it was once respected worldwide, and maybe it still is in some places. But it has become an organ of the "State" and when it has to rely on Wikipedia for its news sources then we know it has lost the plot.

25 June 2013 at 14:20  
Blogger Simba Hosting said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

25 June 2013 at 14:43  
Blogger David Anderson said...

By the same warped logic that Andrew Brown and Judith Burns use, you could prove that FGM is encourage by a) being African b) living in the sun c) being from a country beginning with the letter E, d) having two legs, etc. etc. This is an exercise from the sophomore class in logic.

Lazy, irresponsible "journalism".

I lived in East Africa for 5 years. There, FGM is a cultural relic that Christians are purging the non-Islamic communities of. Those things take time. The fact that in the interim some overlap occurs proves no more that Christianity approves of FGM than it proves any of the above ludicrous assertions.

25 June 2013 at 14:44  
Blogger Albert said...

Andrew Brown,

Cranmer is plainly right on this. Just because Christians do X it does not follow that X is part of Christian tradition. Some members of the BBC raped children. Does it follow that we can speak of a BBC tradition of raping children?

25 June 2013 at 14:51  
Blogger Albert said...

Well said David Anderson, it was indeed lazy and illogical reporting.

Why did they not say the "African tradition" of FGM? We all know - that would be racist, and racism is unacceptable in the BBC. But knocking religion is entirely acceptable. Equality and fairness do not seem to be part of the remit of the BBC.

25 June 2013 at 14:54  
Blogger Nick said...

"Some members of the BBC raped children. Does it follow that we can speak of a BBC tradition of raping children?"

Well said Albert

it seems the BBC also now has a tradition of sourcing its information from non-authoritat ive websites. Presumably this saves them money which they can use to help compensate Mr Savilles victims

25 June 2013 at 15:44  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

One would have preferred African Christian tradition, but it could have been worse. Christian Faith, for example.

Africans do things differently, as do Protestants from Catholics. Take for example the line “Christian Marian Tradition”. This fellow can think of some vociferous objections to that from dearly beloved commentators of this site. (…By the way Len, the Inspector forgives you. You obviously know not what you do, and one sincerely hopes our Creator takes this into account when he comes to sentence you. Or maybe ‘judge’ if you want to call it that…)

Anyway, how long does a cultural practice need to occur before it too becomes a tradition. The fact that FGM is an odious piece of primitivism does not prevent it from being a tradition. Neither should the fact that although a local culture may profess Christianity, they remain the unpleasant people they always were. And of course, closer to home, we have Christian homosexuals, some in holy orders, who bugger each other. Could that last point not result in the line ‘Christian tradition of sodomy ?’

25 June 2013 at 17:07  
Blogger Peter D said...

A well balanced post, Thomas Cranmer (Dr).

The article was misleading - whatever the math in one part of the world.

The Christian Church clearly needs to address the cultural tradition of this barbaric act. It needs to ensure it is clearly understood it is objectionable and immoral and has no place in the Christian faith.

25 June 2013 at 19:12  
Blogger Drastic Plastic said...

Well said. This was a straight bit of Christian-bashing; an attempt to tar Christians with the behaviour of those who (a) don't believe what they believe or (b) are under the cultural influence of a.

I see today that the BBC calls some Moslem sheikh a "cleric"; the latter being a Christian term for one in religious orders.


It is good that this hideous bias is challenged; but what is needed is to clean these bigots out of the state-funded BBC altogether.

25 June 2013 at 19:50  
Blogger Nick said...

Drastic Plastic

"I see today that the BBC calls some Moslem sheikh a "cleric"; the latter being a Christian term for one in religious orders. "

Perhaps the BBC "researched" that report on Wikipedia too. The BBC's ignorance about religion is sometimes astounding

It is very telling too that while highlighting this brutal practice in Africa, and trying to tar Christianity with it, the BBC completely ignores the state-sponsored butchery of 200,000 unborn children in this country each year. Oh I forgot why the BBC doesn't mention that: it's not CHRISTIANS doing the abortions.

25 June 2013 at 22:05  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

Birmingham Hospital manages recovery of 640 victims of FGM but doesn't say how many Christians.


25 June 2013 at 22:53  
Blogger Berserker said...

Would George Orwell have got a job in today's BBC?

After all, even in those enlightened days (1941) he only stuck it for a couple of years and then left because he was sick of being a propaganda poodle!

25 June 2013 at 23:15  
Blogger Contre-chant le blog de Mireille Vallette said...

This inquiry gives some important indications about the number of muslims concerned by FGM and the liars by omission of UN:


("FGM slowing down ? The UN asserts it, the Indonesian case contradicts it")

Mireille Vallette, journalist

26 June 2013 at 08:17  
Blogger Harry-ca-Nab said...

Check this out.


After 2 decades of turning a blind eye to organised grooming and gang rapes we have a similar situation of FGM.

All in the cause of "diversity" and a fear of causing offence.

It seems that some people are more equal than others in our multicultural society.

26 June 2013 at 10:39  
Blogger Shlomo said...

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, your Grace. It should not surprise anyone that in our country, the media, not to mention every public institution, is riven with cultural and moral relativism. Indeed, so infected with PC and the phony mantras of equality and diversity are our institutions that the humanist prerogative to condemn any objectively bad practice must now be weighed against the hypothetical (and wholly irrational) notion that it might 'offend' someone.

Let us take this article on the new NSPCC FGM helpline by Judith Burns. She starts off quite boldly (and impartially for the BBC) by making it clear that the practice is confined to 'some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities'. If we were being pedantic, we might wonder why the quantifier 'some' is attached to 'African' when the latest research makes it quite clear that it is very common in just about every African country north of the equator.

She then goes on to quote Lisa Harker of the NSPCC, who says that victims 'are hidden behind a wall of silence'. And that's it. There's no probing follow-up question or even a supposition as to 'who' is doing the 'hiding' and what the 'wall of silence' constitutes. The interested reader is left singularly uninformed.

We then get to the most egregious part of the article: "Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage."

Is this correct? Well, technically, yes. Presumably, she is using the noun 'traditions' as a synonym for that favoured word in PC-vernacular 'communities'. However, 'traditions' when partnered with the adjectives Muslim and Christian does rather suggest to the reader that FGM is a customary, or theological prescription amongst these self-same 'communities'. And it is here where Burns decides to 'add balance' in BBC Newspeak, lest we get the idea from the inclusion of 'Middle East' that this is either a predominantly Muslim phenomenon or, even, that it has anything to do with Islam at all.

26 June 2013 at 12:55  
Blogger Shlomo said...

Let us examine FGM's place within the Muslim 'tradition'. It is in researching this that the uninformed author (and non-Arabic speaker) can easily be hoodwinked by not only the easily available information, but also, sadly and unbelieveably, by the very charities that purport to tackle this practice.

Thanks to the internet, it is relatively easy to discern the Islamic position on FGM. As a rule of thumb, the Arabic version of Wikipedia provides articles related to Islam which are extremely well sourced and provide a significant amount of information unavailable in English. Moreover, articles on Islam do not suffer from any of the sanitisation and disinformation campaigns that plague the English version. Arabic Wikipedia is, almost unanimously, refereshingly open about Islamic issues that are deemed problematic when written about in English with any degree of candour.

At the Wikipedia entry for 'khitan al-inath' [female circumcision], we find a whole section, fully referenced, devoted to the prescription of the practice within Islam. According to the 4 Sunni schools of jurisprudence, what we understand as FGM is a practice that is permissible Islamically-speaking. According to the Hanafi school it is an 'honourable' act (makruma); it is 'recommended' (mandub) act for Malikis; 'obligatory' (wajib) for Shafa'is; and either 'honourable' (makruma) or 'obligatory' (wajib) for Hanbalis. For Shi'ites, according to the Ja'afari school of jurisprudence, FGM is also considered an 'honourable' practice. Perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of the Islamic legal position has been undertaken by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. In his pamphlet 'al-hukm al-shara'i fi khitan al-inath' (The Islamic Ruling on Female Circumcision), he works his way through every Islamic proof text from the Qur'an and hadith, before examining the other prescribed Sunni sources of legal reasoning: scholarly consensus and analogical reasoning. Rather surprisingly, he concludes that he does not recommend it in this day and age, but, nonetheless, it should not be forbidden.

Furthermore, if we now look at a map of FGM incidence and compare this with a similar map of the distribution of Islamic schools of jurisprudence, there seems to be a significant correlation between legal school opinion and the incidence of FGM. For instance, according to the Shafa'i and Hanbali schools, FGM is 'obligatory' (wajib) in Islam and we notice that those countries where either of these two schools tends to predominate tend to have a particularly high incidence of FGM.

The links that the BBC/Judith Burns have kindly provided us at the bottom of her article are a mixed bag: The NSPCC information is surprisingly informative, though the BBC unhelpfully only give the link to the NSPCC home page. There is no mention of religion, but the geographic origin of 'communities' where girls are likely to be at risk is given as in the BBC article.

26 June 2013 at 12:56  
Blogger Shlomo said...

The second BBC link is to the Home Office website. Again, the link does not provide the reader with a direct link to information on FGM, so this must be sought out. Helpfully, the Home Office have provided a 'Statement opposing female genital mutilation' which is alluded to, though not linked to, in their press release highlighting the launch of the NSPCC helpline. Again, there is no mention of religion in the Home Office 'statement', but the onus on the fact that this is a problem in largely (or perhaps even exclusively) Muslim communities in the UK is revealed on page 3 of the 'statement' where, in answer to the rhetorical question 'what is FGM?', it is stated that "FGM is the mutilation of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is also sometimes known as female circumcision or 'sunna'". This use of the term 'sunna', an Arabic word often used in various languages to refer to Muhammad's example of meritworthy conduct and hence also an Islamic legal term used to denote praiseworthy and recommended conduct, suggests that the Home Office are fully aware of the religious, as opposed to cultural, prescriptions followed by some 'communities' that ensure FGM's increased incidence in the UK.

26 June 2013 at 12:57  
Blogger Shlomo said...

The third BBC link is to the specifically anti-FGM charity, Daughters of Eve (DoE). Surprisingly, it is here where we find the most obfuscation. The charity has an information page on FGM where, under the heading 'Religion and belief', they declare that 'Some people practice FGM as part of their religion...However FGM is not recommended by any religion or in any religious texts. It is not religious but might have become symbolic in some communities as a demonstration of faith. In fact it is not a condition of belonging to any faith group. Christianity, Judaism and Islam unanimously agree that your body is a temple of God. The practice of FGM is a harmful custom that is not advocated in any holy script." Now, although DoE admit that 'some people' advocate FGM based on religious teachings, they then go on to proclaim a falsehood: namely, that no religion 'recommends' FGM and that it is not 'advocated' in 'any holy script'. What's more, below this unhelpful explanation, they direct readers to 'hear what religious leaders from different faith groups have to say about FGM' on another page. Here, the views of 3 Muslims are presented based on their appearances at the 'Faith aginst FGM' conference held in 2011. Although all 3 speakers ostensibly condemn FGM, it was interesting that the Somali Sheikh, Mohamoud Dalmar, observant enough to redden his beard with henna, alluded to the practice of khitan (the generic Arabic term for circumcision) in Medina and contrasted this with the practices of observant Muslim families in Africa. I infer from his speech that he accepts female circumcision as an Islamically prescribed practice, so long as it is done according to the practice ('sunna') of Muhammad and his companions. Ironically, or perhaps deliberately if he is aware of the specific legal prescriptions for FGM in Islam, he quotes a verse from the Qur'an (17:70) as proof that Allah 'honours' all mankind regardless of creed or colour and then proceeds to expand on the root meaning of the verb 'karam-na' which begins the verse. He says that 'karam-na' comes from 'karama' meaning 'to honour'. What he doesn't say is that the legal term used by two of the Islamic schools of jurisprudence to appraise the practice of FGM is 'makruma' (as in an 'honoured' or 'noble' deed) which comes from the same root.

26 June 2013 at 12:57  
Blogger Shlomo said...

Fortunately, there is a comprehensive and up-to-date map provided on the DoE website that shows the prevalence of FGM across the world. What this map demonstrates is that the prevalence of FGM is very high across what is un-PC'ly termed by the politically correct as 'the Muslim World'. In fact, despite what Judith Burns would have us believe, the high prevalence of FGM almost exactly mirrors the concentration of Muslim populations across the world; populations that, aside from a shared belief in Islam, have very little in common. Take, for instance, Mauretania, Oman and Indonesia. Three very different countries linguistically, culturally and ethnically, but not religiously. What else, apart from the spread of Islam to the Indonesian archipelago, could explain FGM's occurrence there but nowhere else East of Bangladesh?

The fourth BBC link takes us to the Equality Now website. They provide some excellent information without mentioning religion or ethnicity specifically on their main information page.

If one searches Google for 'FGM in Islam', the top two results are for Forward, an exclusively anti-FGM charity, and the Wikipedia article on FGM. Forward deliberately obscures the link between Islam and FGM, which is rather predictable given that their frankly amateurish 'myth-exploding' information pamphlet was written in conjunction with the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque. In amongst all the imprecise language and allusions to a vague 'inauthentic' hadith (a popular methodological canard whenever 'inconvenient' practices are pointed out in Islam), FGM is said to 'pre-date' Islam and have 'no link' to it.

The Wiki article is no better: 'FGM/C has been practiced in a range of communities with different religions: Christian, Muslim and animist. Muslim communities often have the false belief that FGM/C is related to teachings of the Islamic law.' One has to venture to a separate article (almost certainly no coincidence) for 'religious views on FGM' where, amongst a great deal of untruths and misinformation, there are a few lines of acknowledgement that this is an Islamic practice.

26 June 2013 at 12:58  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Great stuff Shlomo.

As per usual, the BBC creed of balance results in asinine and lazy journalism.

26 June 2013 at 13:06  
Blogger John Thomas said...

The point is BBC bias. It has nothing to do with
IF Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc., practise FGM, or IF it's a religious as opposed to cultural practice, or IF some communities in Britain send their daughters to Africa for FGM. BBC bias against Christianity is a totally undeniable and very-well established fact. The mandatory licence fees is scandalous.

26 June 2013 at 16:08  
Blogger Humourme said...


For those who think this is just an Islamic problem page 10 shows that this is not true. Christians in some African countries are more enthusiastic than Muslims.

But His Grace is quite right, there is clerical support in Islam. And unfortunately for those who would like to claim it is primarily a cultural story - there is the reality that if we move away from Africa, we find that there is a high correlation with Islam in a wider swathe of territory, such as the near and middle east and in countries such as Indonesia.

26 June 2013 at 16:50  
Blogger Humourme said...


For those who think this is just an Islamic problem page 10 shows that this is not true. Christians in some African countries are more enthusiastic than Muslims.

But His Grace is quite right, there is clerical support in Islam. And unfortunately for those who would like to claim it is primarily a cultural story - there is the reality that if we move away from Africa, we find that there is a high correlation with Islam in a wider swathe of territory, such as the near and middle east and in countries such as Indonesia.

26 June 2013 at 16:50  
Blogger Albert said...


Thank you for the link. It makes troubling reading. However, one sentence jumps out:

When asked what they believed to be the main reason justifying the continuation of FGM/C, the majority of women cite ‘custom and tradition’ or that it is a ‘good tradition’ as a reason for their support.

In other words, religion is less important as a reason - other reasons given include some culture idea that circumcision is necessary for a girl to get married etc.

In other words again, although practised by Christians, this is a local custom. Given that it is absent from Christian scripture and teaching, it cannot be called a Christian tradition - even if Christians do it. Indeed, it is not surprising to hear that Christians are trying to stop the custom.

If the BBC were interested in truth and fairness - in fact, if they were interested in knowing the cause and purpose of the behaviour, so as to know the better to stop it, they would not be calling it a Christian custom, but a local custom.

26 June 2013 at 17:44  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

The other big difference is how the religions respond to attempts to reduce FGM.

When something is ubiquitous, it is rare that the impetus to remove it comes from within that culture. FGM is ubiquitous in areas of Africa - some of which are primarily Christian, there is no doubt. Very often, women themselves defend the practice. I'm not making that as a defence, and more than I regard the argument of "we'd do it anyway" persuasive on abortion - but the point is it's analagous to a kind of background noise.

In the cases studies, and peer-reviewed research that I've looked at in the last couple of days, Christian areas tend to respond very well to attempts to curb FGM. In a sense - their Christianity does not seem to enhance their attachment to the culture of FGM.

This is contra the case with Islam, which seems to be far less positive in its impact on the effect of campaigns to reduce FGM. Likewise, the most severe forms of FGM (Types III and IV), seem to be largely restricted to certain Islamic schools. Obviously it's a bad idea to conflate a particular school with all of Islam - but there isn't an equivalent rogue denomination in Christianity.

So yes, Christian areas practice FGM - as do Islamic ones - but the picture is considerably less balanced than that blithe statement suggests; and whereas it is possible to quite legitimately talk about "Islamic FGM" with appropriate caveats, I haven't yet seen any evidence for "Christian FGM". But for the avoidance of doubt - my position would be the same as my opening one: FGM as a phenomena (all types) is best understood as a geographical issue, and more specifically an African issue.

26 June 2013 at 18:01  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...

While the knee-jerk response to the quote below might be 'that's not FGM', or 'it's referring to the legalism of the Judaizers', I still think it's entirely relevant, and probably not within BBC journalists' knowledge.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obliged to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

The one clear thrust of this passage is that Paul isn't positive about circumcision, and wants to rip it out at the roots as a 'Christian Tradition'. He says that attaching significance to it renders people the enemy of the Gospel, and accursed.

Cutting of the flesh has to do with amendments to a nature that the Bible regards as dead. In the Galatian context, circumcision was cosmetic surgery to gain acceptance with a culture that was opposed to, and misunderstood Christ's sacrifice. Paul was emphatic that he didn't wanted that deadening influence to be capable of spreading.

I'm not aware of the ancient history of female circumcision, but surely the same principles apply - mutilation of the flesh as either as a false protection against sin, for acceptance with a culture (however great that culture may have been) or adding to Christ's sacrifice.

Just thought I'd flag those fairly clear words in case Aaqil Ahmed needed some assistance in understanding a Christian view of FGM to the extent that it parallels male circumcision. That is assuming he or Judith Burns are interested.

Maybe they use Google Alerts as well as Wikipedia.

27 June 2013 at 11:22  
Blogger Albert said...

Rasher Bacon,

Much as it would be nice to think that that passage deals with the problem, I'm not sure if it does. Paul remember, circumcises Timothy (Acts 16). Paul's issue with circumcision is that it represents the OT Law. There's nothing wrong with it in principle, according to Paul.

27 June 2013 at 15:37  
Blogger Mr Grumpy said...

We mustn't judge the BBC on the basis of Judith Burns' research methods:-


No doubt Andrew Brown will be able to produce an instance of a Christian cleric expressing similarly repellent views.

Would this be a fair executive summary? FGM is of pre-Christian origin in NE Africa and is still most prevalent there, so that any association with either Christianity or Islam is in a sense a historical accident. However, it does have an explicit religious status in Islam, based on Hadith and other sources, albeit one which has been contested in recent times. It has NO parallel status in Christianity and there is no evidence that it ever has. Its spread to other parts of Africa and Asia - and now to the West - is overwhelmingly associated with the spread of Islam.

Meanwhile, we await the first prosecution for FGM in the UK. It's only been illegal for 28 years.

27 June 2013 at 17:27  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

The bottom line is that it is sexual abuse of infants and children and of both sexes.

Screw the 'traditions' and 'religious' requirements and jail the bastards who carry it out. If an individual wants it it's up to them to arrange it when they are adult.

27 June 2013 at 19:50  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...


I was aware of Acts 16, but wouldn't put that against the point I was trying to make from Galatians. I wasn't claiming that this passage covered the whole subject of FGM, as it doesn't. Neither was Paul saying male Jews should never be circumcised - as you point out, it was done for Timothy, the son of a Jewess. In the OT it is an covenant (though private) sign of a people, and not , as Dreadnaught says, a form of sexual abuse.

However, I was trying to make the point that it is nothing to do with justification of a Christian or life after being made right with God, as Paul strenuously affirms- a particularly Christian position. Paul is so strong in this passage that he says people who add this tradition (or any work or mark, or clothing or harsh treatment of the body) sever themselves from Christ.

In terms of the differences to FGM, there are many- sexual function is not diminished, it doesn't affect the urinary function and is sometimes done for medical purposes. All those further undermine the practice and reasons given for FGM.

I agree with you that it represents OT law - wasn't that what I said? To put it very simply, Christians are not under law, but under grace, and to go back to legal practices strikes at the very root of our salvation and risen life. OT law was and is not wrong - I am. I have died to it in Christ (if I was ever under it), so to put myself back under its principles is to reject Christ's sacrifice. To use an irritating phrase in its right sense - that's not very Christian is it?

For me, these words are clear enough - "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." It's a subject I'd love to explore with my RC friends but let's leave it that circumcision of any kind is not a Christian doctrine, a point forcefully made by Paul.

27 June 2013 at 23:12  
Blogger david kavanagh said...

I was wondering how long it would be before FGM and male circumcision got confused and became one issue.

For me as an observant Jew, male circumcision follows directly from the Torah and our covenant with G-d, so for me my sons are all circumcised as I have been and as the Jewish faith has done for 4,000 years. Note that is male circumcision, so there is no Jewish requirement for females to be 'circumcised' (logically of course, as women do not have a penis).

If no-one wants to listen to the religious arguments about male circumcision, that is fine, but I think people will find that there are a great deal of health benefits to male circumcision (for example in 2007 the WHO suggested circumcision as a way of combating aids).

By contrast, there are no health benefits in FGM and the fact that stands for 'female genital mutilation', rather gives the game away.

In fact I think FGM makes sex very painful for women, whereas male circumcision (apparently) makes sex more pleasurable for both men and women.

So for me there is a religious imperative behind male circumcision as well as a secular reasoning in respect of health benefits. Female ‘circumcision’ comes with neither holy writ or any decent secular reasoning. Therefore I can see why male circumcision is legal in this country and FGM is not.

But what of the matter of religious liberty ? I would argue that in Christianity, as Rasher Bacon has noted, there is no religious requirement for any kind of circumcision, let alone ‘female circumcision’ (although I do understand that quite a few Christians circumcise their baby boys). So there is no breach of religious liberty for Christians. As for Islam, it seems that there is no definitive answer on FGM, but as noted by others here there does appear to be a cultural link there. However, on balance I would say that given that it appears there is no specific law or dogma , FGM is not a matter of religious liberty for Islam either. Besides which I think that in the UK there is a sense of historical culture (‘Judeo –Christian’) which is clearly different from that of Africa/The Islamic world. FGM is an alien cultural concept here and I don’t think it is something we want to encourage or support.

28 June 2013 at 14:00  
Blogger david kavanagh said...


Interesting idea of chucking people into prison due to their religious adherence to male circumcision.

If you can, I suggest you find a copy of "Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust" by holocaust historian Yaffa Eliach, which is compilation of first hand accounts of the holocaust and concentration camps, as told by the survivors, this bit I think is quite moving :

'One of the forced laborers in the camps relates that one day he heard frightening cries of anguish the likes of which he had never heard before. Later he learned that on that very day a selection had been made – of infants to be sent to the ovens. We continued working, tears rolling down our faces, and suddenly I hear the voice of a Jewish woman: "Give me a knife."

I thought she wanted to take her own life. I said to her, "Why are you hurrying so quickly to the world of truth..."

All of a sudden the German soldier called out, "Dog, what did you say to the woman?"
"She requested a pocketknife and I explained to her that it was prohibited to commit suicide."
The woman looked at the German with inflamed eyes, and stared spellbound at his coat pocket where she saw the shape of his pocketknife. "Give it to me," she requested.

She bent down and picked up a package of old rags. Hidden among them, on a pillow as white as snow, lay a tender infant. The woman took the pocketknife, pronounced the blessing – and circumcised the child. "Master of the Universe," she cried, "You gave me a healthy child, I return him to You a worthy Jew."'

28 June 2013 at 14:11  
Blogger Albert said...


I agree with you that it represents OT law

But in that case, it has nothing to do with FGM. I think it would be perfectly possible to accept your passage and still follow FGM - not because FGM is consistent with Christianity, but just because the passage is nothing to do with FGM.

If someone claimed that FGM was necessary for justification then Paul's letter would kick in. But they don't. These are two quite different topics.

28 June 2013 at 14:49  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...


To the extent that FGM is called female circumcision by its defenders, my point is that the passage shows that circumcision is not a Christian tradition. Not because of the detail of the practice, but because of the corrupting (yeasty) principle it brings in.

The whole of the Epistle to the Galatians rams home the principle that ritualistic, legal, external actions are contrary not only to justification by faith, but also to living as a Christian by the Spirit. That's a category that FGM fits into on many counts that I've seen mentioned, but as I keep saying, there are other objections to FGM outside this passage.

As David K says, nowhere is female circumcision mentioned or recommended. The male version is totally different to the female 'version', but even supposing a cultural claim to similarity, the principle of either act, or 'work' is legalistic and anti-Christ. This passage in Galatians tries to make Christians run a mile from such ideas.

I didn't think my RC friends would be particularly comfortable with Galatians, but if the RC love of traditions and rules handed down from the fathers trumps the Bible, go and link up with the Eritrean Orthodox Church. This is their tradition, what's your particularly Christian objection to it? It can't be syncretism if Christianity isn't opposed. If you were a pastor or priest in a church where some of the flock were about to mutilate their daughters, what would you say?

Go on - having spraffed on in a mildly peeved way, I genuinely hope you may have something better, and I promise not to answer back.

28 June 2013 at 19:37  
Blogger Albert said...


I think you've probably hit the nail on the head. You are reading Galatians through Reformation spectacles. I am a Catholic and do not share your spectacles. Catholics are entirely comfortable with Galatians (obviously, if we weren't it wouldn't have been recognised as being in the canon). We are uncomfortable with the Protestant interpretations of the passage, which we do not think are well-founded in scripture, and which look to us like human traditions arising 1500 years after the event.

the principle that ritualistic, legal, external actions are contrary not only to justification by faith, but also to living as a Christian by the Spirit.

I think that's a very modern interpretation (modern from a Catholic perspective), it looks dualist to me, almost Cartesian. The opposition in Galatians is not between faith and works, but between faith and works of the Law. Works which follow upon grace are explicitly commended in Galatians. As for ritual, baptism is the form by which one puts on Christ, according to Galatians, and according elsewhere, we are given the ritual of Holy Communion. The worship of heaven in Revelation is decidedly ritualistic.

The whole point of Galatians is to say the OT requirement of circumcision is not required any longer, not because ritual and bodily elements of faith are no longer required, but because it is part of the OT Law. So either you must say that FGM is commanded in the OT Law (which it obviously isn't) or you must say that Galatians has nothing to do with it. At least, that's how it looks to me.

Certainly, cutting the flesh is unnecessary to Christian faith. But it is not thereby impossible (my reference to Paul and Timothy). Therefore, if a Christian wishes to accept FGM for some other reason (other than justification), then I don't think Galatians has anything to say to that. We need a different argument - that's all I'm saying.

As a Catholic, the absence of the practice from scripture and tradition is entirely sufficient to say it is not part of Christian tradition - although I could go further and construct a positive argument against (but I don't think I need to).

29 June 2013 at 00:24  
Blogger LEN said...

I don`t think I want to get into another theological dissection of scripture.
But.... the Faith /works thing is a stumbling block between denominations.

Circumcision was a sign of Covenant between the Jews and God.Circumcision was important to God so much so that in Exodus 4:24-26 24 'And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses' feet, and said, "Surely you are a husband of blood to me!" 26 So He let him go. Then she said, "You are a husband of blood!" -- because of the circumcision.

Given that God let Moses go after his son was circumcised, it appears that the issue was circumcision. Zipporah was very obstinate about this matter and so it is realistic to assume that Moses and Zipporah had a conflict about their son and if he should be circumcised. This is the point in time when the conflict is resolved. God threatens Moses with death, and while the issue seems to have been debated, Zipporah concedes and circumcises their son, even though she did it in protest.

Circumcision of the foreskin was a picture of the' Circumcision of the Heart' which God was to perform on all those who entered Covenant with Him through the atoning death of Jesus Christ at Calvary.

'Works' acceptable to God proceed from within the redeemed man not as a means of obtaining 'favour' with God.We cannot 'earn' salvation because if we could then Jesus`s atonement at Calvary would have been unnecessary.

30 June 2013 at 10:01  
Blogger Albert said...


I agree with everything you say except for the very last bit:

Works' acceptable to God proceed from within the redeemed man not as a means of obtaining 'favour' with God.We cannot 'earn' salvation because if we could then Jesus`s atonement at Calvary would have been unnecessary.

If the works are acceptable to God and proceed from within the redeemed man, then they are not in conflict with the Jesus' atonement at Calvary, but rather proceed from that atonement at Calvary. Not me, but Christ in me, as St Paul says.

30 June 2013 at 21:03  

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