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93% of Muslim women in Malaysia have suffered genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation “is a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.” — Reza Aslan

Oops. Wrong again, and not just about Eritrea and Ethiopia being in Central Africa.

This Al Jazeera article calls FGM a “cultural” practice, but actually it is sanctioned by Islamic law: “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 bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khufaadh ‘female circumcision’]).” — ‘Umdat al-Salik e4.3, translated by Mark Durie, The Third Choice, p. 64

“Female genital cutting in Thailand’s south,” by Gabrielle Paluch, Al Jazeera, April 2, 2015:

Yala, Thailand – “Just a little,” Dr Patimoh Umasa says, pinching the tip of her finger showing how she cuts the clitorises of small girls.

Dr Umasa runs a small clinic on Yala’s main drag, just down the street from a bombed-out building, near the edge of the Muslim quarter.

As one of the few female doctors in the city, she is the one everyone goes to for sunat – the practice of female circumcision, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies as female genital mutilation (FGM).

“Just an incision to leak some blood, no excision of flesh,” Dr Umasa says, using her grey cat, asleep at the clinic reception, to demonstrate the way she holds the girls still before she cuts them.

“It takes three people, see? The mother holds the baby up here for comfort, and an assistant holds the legs open like this,” she says, spreading the cat’s legs apart and pinning them down to the counter.

She adds: “And then with my left hand I spread the labia, and with my right hand I pull back the clitoral hood, and slice.”

Umasa uses a sterile size-11 surgical blade, and performs the procedure for free, because she says its a religious procedure.

“The babies cry,” she says, “but not much. They don’t have any lasting health complications.”

Like others, Dr Umasa believes that the procedure, if done by a doctor, should not be considered mutilation.

“If it’s done by a trained doctor, they are using the right technique, then never mind!”

In the past, traditional birth attendants performed sunat on the newborn baby girls a few days after birth.

Wamae Tahe is a 65-year-old retired midwife who says in the 23 years she worked in Yala, she performed sunat on almost all female babies whose births she attended.

“But now babies are born in the hospital, so I no longer do cutting, because mothers are afraid to have it done at home,” she says.

“It’s important to be careful and not hurt the baby’s vagina! But I wasn’t concerned that I was harming the baby. They cried a little, but it must be done.”

She says on two occasions she performed the procedure on girls over the age of 18, which she said made her very nervous.

Off the radar

Dr Umasa says she performs anywhere between 10 and 20 procedures a month, and the figure is rising as women increasingly give birth in hospitals.

The practice of female genital cutting in southern Thailand is virtually undocumented, and the prevalence is unknown as there is no reliable data available. But Dr Umasa believes it is universally prevalent.

Dr Sudarat Teeraworn is a maternal health supervisor for the department of public health in Yala province, and she says the issue of female genital mutilation is completely off the Thai Health Ministry’s radar.

Adding to this, Dr Teeraworn says, it’s just simply not a topic of discussion: many women do not even know if they are “cut” since most of the procedures are performed during infancy.

“There are no laws or regulations surrounding the practice, and the Health Ministry doesn’t say anything about it or study it because it’s not harmful – it’s a cultural phenomenon. If it’s cultural and not harmful, then what can we do about it?”

Dr Teeraworn says there have been no prevalence studies done in Thailand, but believes the prevalence in border provinces is probably similar to the FGM’s prevalence in Malaysia.

An unpublished study conducted in 2011 by the University of Malaya’s department of preventive medicine in Malaysia found that 93 percent of Muslim women in Malaysia have undergone the procedure.

Though not comprehensive, the numbers for Kelantan state, which borders Thailand, are similar….

Imam Abdullah Abu-Bakr of the Committee of Islamic Council of Yala says Muslims in the south are more observant than their co-religionists in Bangkok, because there are more foreign-educated imams and fewer distractions, such as the entertainment hub of Bangkok.

He himself was educated in Syria and Malaysia.


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