The Koran against circumcision, like the Book of Deuteronomy

The Koran against excision and circumcision1,

like the Book of Deuteronomy

(français : Le Coran contre la circoncision (et l'excision)

Two verses of the Koran categorically oppose excision and circumcision. The first one through affirmation, the second questions:

“… no alteration in the creation of God; this is the religion in its righteousness…” 30: 30

Have you seen the gifts God has given you? You hold some lawful and others unlawful. Has God allowed you that?” 10: 59

Those verses are limpid. The only things forbidden by the Koran are carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol. Verse 10: 59 can only concern things that men forbid to themselves. But what things do men forbid to themselves without the Koran having ordered it if not the clitoris and the foreskin? Indeed, none of the of the Arabian terms naming sexual mutilation: khitan, khatna, tahara, and tohhor (cut, purification) appears in the book and the latter does not order to mutilate the human body anywhere. At last, the refusal of Muhammad, like Moses, to use the word circumcision reveals a deep dislike of the cruel torture.

But upholders of circumcision, Boubakeur notably in his French translation of the Koran2 state that the Arabian term “rizq” (gifts), though very general, would concern food. They try to cut the ground under the feet of the rare Muslims defenders of the right of the child to physical integrity. But by suppressing what would not be food, their affirmation modifies the Koran and violates the following verse:

No one may change his words.” 6: 115

Some manipulators go as far as adding that the neighbouring verses also would concern food. That is misleading; those deal with generalities about the divine person and have nothing to do with food. That verse and both preceding ones imply that man has no right to condemn what God does not condemn, very particularly the organs of the human body he created.

Verse 6: 115 is complementary of verse 6: 38:

We haven't omitted anything in the book.”

Since everything is written in the Koran, men cannot be permit themselves a practice of the importance of circumcision without violating verse 6: 115. The Koran seems to be inspired by the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses, who forbade it his whole life long (cf. the Book of Joshua), similarly wrote:

Observe everything I command you, without adding anything to it...” 13: 1

Muhammad certainly knew those two books.

Dating back to thousands of years, circumcision was a custom of the polytheist that Muhammad fought. In harems, it was the logical complement to the eviration of guards and excision. Not to clash head-on with the practitioners of sexual mutilation, the Koran only implicitly disapproves of it. But it does not prescribe it, and it is possible to become a Muslim without being circumcised or excised. The pure and authentic source of Islam bans altering the creation of God. Therefore, it also forbids tattoos.

Islamic law does not prescribe circumcision either. Only certain passages of the Sunna (custom, of debated authenticity, reporting the prophet’s current discourse, his thoughts as an ordinary man) do it. But we quote in fine several excerpts from the Sunna and hadiths against circumcision. In any case, those are not Archangel Gabriel’s whisper into his ear and the Sunna and hadiths cannot supersede the Koran. Now, the Koran’s implicit condemnations of feminine and masculine sexual mutilation are so numerous that we are forced to think that the words ascribed to Muhammad about them in the Sunna are either not authentic or purely circumstantial. When the book insistently proves, reported words are unconvincing. Notably those about excision:

It is reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said to 'Umm' Atiya ', a woman who practised female circumcision in Medina:' O Umm 'Atiya, cut lightly and do not exaggerate because it is more pleasant for the wife and better for the husband.”

- This hadith was reported by Al-Hakim, Bayhaqi and Abu Daoud with similar versions and with a weak chain, as indicated by Al-Hafidh Zen Al-Din Al-'Iraqi in his analysis of 'The enlivening of the Sciences of Religion' written by Al-Ghazali (148/1),

- Abu Daoud commented the same hadith in his collection with a version different from the previous one: that hadith was reported by Abdallah Bin 'Amru of Abdoul-Malik with the same content and the same chain of transmission, but that hadith is not authentic, it is ‘mursal’ (the chain of guarantors is not reliable), and its reporter Muhamed Bin Hassaan Al-Koufi is not known, therefore that hadith is weak,...”

Dr. Mohamed Salim Al-Awwa, Secretary-General of the Muslim Ulemas

Assuming that hadith authentic, we must think that, knowing he was speaking to a professional exciser unable to renounce her source of income, Muhammad was pragmatic; he settled for limiting the damage without reminding the principles of the Koran.

The Koran makes several allusions condemning circumcision. One of the most important is direct:

When the Lord tested Abraham by certain words

and the latter had accomplished them,

God said:

I shall make you a guide for men.’

Abraham said:

And my descendants?’

The Lord said:

My alliance does not concern the unjust.’” 2: 124

On the one hand, Muhammad read the book of Joshua and knows that the Hebrews escaped sexual mutilation thanks to Moses who banned his his whole life long.

On the other hand, speaking of unjusts, Muhammad certainly alludes to the fallacious interpretation of verse 20: 5 (Second Commandment) of the Book of the Exodus. Indeed, the rabbis claim that that verse would condemn children for the crimes of fathers, which would be grossly unjust, whereas it prosecutes “the crime of fathers upon children”, that is to say sexual mutilation.

Moreover, if God had wanted circumcision, he would have decreed the terrible punishment that the Bible imposes on the uncircumcised: exclusion from the people. On the contrary, the Koran affirms the unjust nature of exclusion on the grounds of a small organ more or less.

Finally, it ignores the idea of general circumcision; it states that circumcision was a trial” imposed on Abraham alone. Generalizing it would be unjust. The Koran rejects both sides of the diktat imposed on Abraham.

Professor Aldeeb3 points out that some exegetes found that verse “equivocal” and, on the contrary, interpreted it as a reminder of circumcision, as if, unlike the God of Abraham, the God of Muhammad would not have been able to clearly order circumcision if he had wanted to.

That verse 2: 124 alludes to chapter 17 of the Book of Genesis:

Abram bowed down and God told him so: ‘Yes, I am dealing with you: you will be the father of many nations… And I will give you and your offspring the land of your peregrinations, the whole land of Canaan… Here is the covenant that you shall keep, which is between me and you till your last seed... You will remove the flesh of your outgrowth, and it will be a symbol of covenant between me and you... And the uncircumcised male, who will not have cut the flesh of his outgrowth off, will himself be cut off from his people for having broken my covenant.’”

Muhammad could not imagine that the God of Abraham was a pharaoh eager to imprint a mark of possession upon his subjects (cf. our little book The birth of Judaism, between exegesis and Egyptology: Bertaux-Navoiseau, Michel Hervé: 9781070252629: Books). However, the Koran does not give any credence to the writers of the Bible. Respecting the logic of a monotheism that it bowdlerizes from any pagan tradition, it brings the text back to the essential and, contrary to Genesis 17, affirms that being just is the sole condition of the pact with God. For the Koran, circumcision was a trial inflicted on Abraham alone. Nowhere does it state that God would have imposed it and, parting from the rabbis, deems it unjust.

When, a little further (2: 135) and in various other places, the Koran praises Abraham's religion, it is solely to endorse monotheism. But it goes much further in verse 4: 118 that makes a new allusion to circumcision. By ascribing the words heard by Abraham to the devil rather than to God, it ranks it among polytheistic customs and casts the blame upon the Synagogue in a radical way:

“… Cursed be he (the devil) who said: ‘I shall take a certain part of your servants”

That verse condemns the fact to ‘take a certain part” of the human body and one does not see what other parts of the human body than the foreskin and the clitoris it might be.

Verse 4: 119 goes on alluding to circumcision:

I shall lead them astray, I shall make them empty promises, I shall order them to cut the ears of cattle and alter God’s creation.’ Whoever takes Satan for a master, rather than God, is doomed to a certain loss.”

Literally, the Koran’s position against cruelty against animals is surprisingly modern. It foreruns the struggle of animal protection societies. By forbidding the marking of cattle, he a fortiori excludes that of the human body. We feel that it wants to go further than verse 19: 28 of the Book of Leviticus:

Do not cut your flesh because of a dead person and do not print any tattoo on yourself: I am the Eternal.” Leviticus 19: 28

Below the surface, the Koran speaks in an oriental way, using colourful and veiled images. It considers anew its interpretation of chapter 17 of the Book of Genesis (cf. verse 2: 124 here above):

comparing man to animal, it condemns treating one’s children like “servants” (slaves) or worse like “cattle”,

it condemns the “vain promises” made by the devil to Abraham: the gift of Canaan,

it again condemns circumcision by equating the expressions: “cut(ting) the ears of cattle” and “altering the creation of God”; if mutilating animals is forbidden, it can only be the same for humans,

That accumulation of hints to Genesis 17 leaves no doubt that the Koran condemns circumcision as diabolical.

The Koran is sprinkled with assertions of the divine perfection and Muhammad certainly knew verse 2: 27 of the Book of Genesis:

God created man in his image.”

Professor Aldeeb listed them: 3: 6, 3: 190-91, 13: 8, 23: 115, 25: 1-2, 30: 30, 32: 6-7, 38: 27, 40: 64, 54: 49, 64: 3, 82: 6-8 and 95: 4:

He moulds you in your mother's womb as he pleases.” 3: 6

Oh you, man! How thus have you been cheated about your noble Lord who created you then shaped you and constituted you harmoniously – for he composed you in the shape that he wanted?82: 6-8

Yes, we created man in the most perfect form.” 95: 4

Actually, there are in the creation of heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day, certain signs for gifted with intelligence men,

who, sit, standing or in bed, remember God, meditating on the creation of heavens and earth (saying): ‘Lord, you did not create this in vain! Glory to you! Preserve us from the torture of fire!’” 3: 190-91

Circumcision is a burning torture.

That repetitive insistence shows Muhammad's determination against the idea of a divine order of circumcision given to Abraham. The God of Muhammad is as jealous as that of Moses; if creation is perfect, altering it is diabolical. The hadiths rightly affirm that Muhammad forbade tattoos. How could he not condemn excision and circumcision? The unanimity of hadiths against tattoos allows thinking that those in favour of sexual mutilation are not authentic. From the same perspective, the behaviour of fundamentalists who let their beards grow to remain as God made them but circumcise their sons is paradoxical.

According to Boubakeur, using an idea close to that of circumcision, verses 2: 87-88 and 4: 155 (a new clue of its loathing for the thing, the Koran again refuses to quote the word) likely refer to Moses' circumcision of the heart.

Muhammad was an exceptional man. A hadith attributes the following affirmation to him:

“No one has ever seen my foreskin.”

Born without a foreskin, he discreetly tries to save other men from circumcision. But his disability did not allow him to experience the pleasures of the possession of the divine organ. This could explain his absence of absolutely clear condemnation of sexual mutilation.

Unlike Moses, Muhammad ignored the pleasures provided by the foreskin. Informed of the murder of his two great predecessors by supporters of circumcision, he did not impose its abolition. He preferred to treat his brothers tactfully and rely on a relatively discreet disavowal. That was unsuccessful; humans need clear guidance from their leaders. In countries dominated by feudal aristocracies, the modernity of Muhammad’s message, tinged with Christianity, was carefully silenced.

Several authors of the Sunna or hadiths rose against circumcision:

Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 780-855 reports in his collection that Uthman Ibn Abu-al-As (d. 671) was invited to a circumcision. As he did not go, he was reproached for it. He replied: “In the time of Prophet Muhammad, we did not practise circumcision and we were not invited to it.”

Al-Nawawi 1233- 1277 reports that Ibn-al-Mundhir (d. 931) writes that there is no prohibition, no specific date, no Sunna to follow in the matter of circumcision and that things remain permitted. That means that we were free to circumcise or not.

Al-Tabari 838-923 says that Caliph Umar ibn Abd Al-Azīz, (d. 720) wrote to his army general Al-Jarrah Ibn Abd-Allah (d. 730) after conquering the Kharassan region: “Whoever prays in front of you towards Mecca, exempt them from paying tribute.” Then, people hurried to convert to Islam. The general was then told that people were converting in order not to pay the tribute and that he had to submit them to the trial of circumcision. The general consulted the Caliph. The latter answered: ‘God sent Muhammad to call people to Islam and not to circumcise them.’”

The prophet said: ‘The same way an animal gives birth to a perfectly constituted baby, do you see it mutilated?’” Sahih Al-Bukhari 1359

Professor Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh writes (p. 147-48) that the Egyptian Nawal Al-Saadawi and various other Muslim authors and academics speak out against circumcision. Aldeeb quotes Jamal al-Banna, the brother of Hasan Al-Banna:

The Koranic verse 95: 4: ‘Yes, we created man in the most perfect form.’ refutes the claim that circumcision corrects an imperfection in human nature because such claim contradicts the Koranic text. God wanted that men and women be in the most perfect form.’… I firmly believe that it is the right of men and women to live as God created them and that God made each organ ‘in the most perfect form’, included the sexual organs of man and woman.”

He also mentions that the retired Lybian judge Mustafa Kamal Al-Mahdawi, in his book (Al-Bayan bil-Qur’an, 2 vol., Al-dar al-gamahiriyyah, Misratah and Dar al-afaq al-gadidah, Casablanca, 1990, vol. I, pp. 348-350) states that the Koran rejects circumcision. He quotes verses 3: 191 and 86: 14 to argue that God cannot indulge in such trivialities. Accused of apostasy and threatened with a fatwa if he did not retract. Al-Madahwi was prosecuted before an Islamic court. Although he did not retract, the court of appeal of Benghazi dismissed the charge of apostasy (death penalty); his scrupulous reading of the Koran did not allow condemning him. Nevertheless, his book was banned.

The QuranicPath website goes in the same direction:

That cluster of concordant elements shows that the Koran opposes circumcision as contrary to the will of God and that Mohamed multiplied incitements to the respect of the body of the child.

1 Cf. Mohammed Louizi in "Le juste 'prix' de la 'terre promise' : réflexion autour de la circoncision" ("The fair 'price' for the 'promised land': reflexion about circumcision").

2 Le Coran. Paris: Fayard; 1972. French translation by Rector Hamza Boubakeur.

3 Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh S. Male circumcision and female circumcision. Warren center: Shangri-la publications; 2001.

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