Estimated reading time: 21 minute(s)
by Fudia Muhammad
The definition for a medical circumcision is – “Surgery that removes the foreskin (the loose tissue) covering the glans of the penis.”According to the Scriptures, the history of circumcisions predate Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. ‘To circumcise’ was a directive from God to Abraham – a physical sacrifice that was to be made, in order to secure a covenant with God for Abraham and all generations after him.
Genesis 17: 9-10 reads, “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (KJV).
The three predominate monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all claim Abraham as the Father of their faith traditions. So it is no coincidence that the practice of circumcising has continued by those who consider themselves to be true followers. However, today it is practiced considerably less by those who consider themselves Christians; but still very prevalent among Jews; and most Muslims are overwhelming strict in obedience to this rite for all males. The latter is notable since there is no mention of circumcision in the Holy Qur’an. However, the Qur’an does clearly command Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to “Follow the faith of Abraham, the upright one.” Hence, it is reported that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that circumcision was a “law for men.” According to many sections from the Hadith (a collection of the reported words and actions of The Prophet), Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practiced and suggested male circumcisions. However, Islamic scholars continue to debate as to whether it is obligatory for Muslims to continue the practice today.
The Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) or Torah, is one of the Jewish Holy Books. Here is where we find the Book of Genesis and those clear directives from God to Abraham; so in Judaism, there is not much debate at all about the observance of this rite. In the Jewish tradition, circumcisions arefar more ritualistic and rigid; involving many rules and customs that are simply not performed in either Christianity or Islam.
It is true that in accordance with Mosaic Law, Jesus was in-fact circumcised (Luke 2:21). However; present-day Christians have veered from the practice principally because of the words of Paul in the New Testament. He states, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker”(Romans 2: 25-27, NIV). In other words, it’s going to take a lot more than being circumcised to claim righteousness – our deeds far outweigh our physical appearance.
Circumcision is not compulsory in Islam, but it is strongly recommended. The primary reason for circumcision in Islam is for “tahara,” – purification or cleanliness. Yes, one must be physically clean in order to make salāt (prayers), pilgrimage or even to handle the Holy Qur’an. But going much further than that, cleanliness and exceptional hygiene supports good health. Removing the foreskin allows for the male instrument to be easily cleaned, keeping it free of bacteria buildup. This greatly reduces the risk of a urinary tract infection whereby severe cases can lead to kidney trouble. Circumcised males also have a lower risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and herpes. The risk of penile cancer is considerably lower than for uncircumcised males. It is also less common for the female partner of a circumcised male to have cervical cancer. Other health benefits include: prevention of penile problems like phimosis (inability to retract the foreskin); paraphimosis (inability to return the foreskin to its original location); balanitis (inflammation of the glans); and balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and foreskin).
There are considerations on the other side as well. Though local anesthesia is used, a circumcision is a painful surgical procedure. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete; and a week to heal. But circumcisions are no exception to the reality that all surgical procedures have risks: bleeding and infection could occur; irritation of the glans; the foreskin might be cut too short or long; there is risk of injury; failure to heal; the remaining foreskin may reattach to the end; and there is an increased risk of meatitis (inflammation at the opening). Parents who are considering circumcision must carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks in advance. If a decision is made to proceed; the credentials, experience and success rate of the physician performing the procedure should be thoroughly scrutinized.
While Jews circumcise by the eight day of birth; for Christians and Muslims, the age for a circumcision does not seem to be clearly established. Many do choose to circumcise their newborns, just days after birth; not only for Biblical reasons, but alsobecause healing tends to be faster and an infant cannot disturb the affected region, which could lengthen recovery time. However, others believe, it is barbaric to strap down a newborn and cut them. Ultimately it is a parental choice. If the choice is made to circumcise when the child is older, he should be much older – old enough to know better than to agitate that region of the body while healing. So circumcising toddlers is not recommended.
We conclude with words from The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan on this subject. His words bear witness to a universal truth: For every physical law, there is a spiritual counterpart. The Minister said, “–And Paul comes back so beautifully, saying the Jew is not the Jew outwardly by the circumcision of the flesh, the Jew is the Jew inwardly by the circumcision of the heart. Now what is needed to perform the circumcision of the heart? It takes a sharp instrument to cut away the foreskin of the male instrument. Why do you want the male instrument circumcised? Because, as that skin, folds over the head of the penis, it becomes a depository for bacteria. You know I have to stop, you know and give praises to God – [very tearful and pausing] because see when you hear it, you know it’s the truth. The Word starts cutting away the flesh of the heart. Because the heart, the core of your thinking, is where all the issues of man and woman is hidden.” All praise is due to Allah (God)!
NOTE: This article intentionally dealt only with male circumcision. The Nation of Islam does not perform nor do we agree with the practice of female circumcisions or “female genital cutting” (FGC). This practice takes place in many parts of the world. It has nothing to do with religion, spirituality or cleanliness – it is primarily cultural [a subject for another time].
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)