By Dr Hassan Hathout
1. Female circumcision is a habit practised long before Islam. Its map of distribution does not coincide with the Islamic map, and includes parts of Russia, some Asian (including some Arab) tribes, parts of South America and the Nile valley (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia). Female circumcision is still being practised by both Non-Muslims and Muslims in these countries. However, at present in Egypt and Sudan only Muslims practice it, (a minority in Egypt and more in Sudan).
2. Female circumcision is not an Islamic requirement. There is a hadith "circumcision is sunnah (obligatory) for men and charity (good deeds) for women", but various sources do not consider it authentic. In another hadith, the Prophet (s.a.w.) instructed Omm Atiya, a woman practitioner of circumcision, "Take the minimum, Omm Atiya, and don't exceed it, for this would be more pleasurable for the husband and protective of chastity by satisfying the wife's desire" (narrated by Ibn Majjah). This is taken to refer exclusively to the tribes of that time who would insist on the procedure, since Islam did not recommend or forbid female circumcision (same stand in Christianity and Judaism: both knew it).
3. Female circumcision is not practised in Islamic countries other than Egypt and Sudan and possibly exists in few others. Women of Mecca, Medina, Najd, the Persian Gulf, Iran, North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, etc. are not circumcised. This is established fact as well as firsthand knowledge - I am a gynecologist and I have dealt with all those nationalities.
4. Female circumcision does not diminish sexual desire, for this depends mainly on psycho hormonal factors. All circumcision does it to make the woman less able to get satisfaction, and this is certainly a frequent cause of marital disharmony and problems. The major factor of chastity before marriage and fidelity within it remains to be the conscience and proper Islamic upbringing. There is no evidence whatsoever that moral standards in Islamic countries that do not have circumcision are lower than in Islamic countries that have it.
5. In view of this, it seems that there is no Islamic basis of making circumcision a requirement for women/Muslim converts or, for that matter, non-converts.
Regarding the question on circumcision versus female genital mutilation; they are technically one and the same. The degree is quite variable. In its most minor form it is trimming of labia minora. A higher degree is to add amputating part of the clitoris. The severest form, the one still practiced in Sudan and called "infibulation", is wide removal of both labia minor and clitoris and sticking both sides together leaving only a small opening for the egress of urine and menstruation, and the entry of the penis at intercourse (sometimes against great difficulty necessitating surgery).
Medical complications are possible, including hemorrhage, sepsis, scarring, difficulty at childbirth which has to be tackled surgically, apart from the psychological aftermath.
Male circumcision is a different story. It is definitely a Sunnah (although not compulsory, fardh) and it takes after the covenant of Prophet Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham). It is clearly meant for males only and scriptural reference to it is the Torah, none in the Quran, but of course in the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). The Torah says, "And Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all that were born at his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the self-same day as God had said unto him" Genesis 17:22, see also Genesis 17:12.
The fact that Christians (unlike Jews and Muslims) ceased to circumcise their boys, was not a decree of Christianity proclaimed by Jesus (a.s.). It was Paul who later exempted Christians from circumcision and permitted them to eat pig's meat. Jesus was circumcised and he did not eat pig's meat. Conclusion: Female circumcision is not required by Islam.