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Female Mutilation: We Don’t Know Why We Do It, but Religion Tells Us To


Sheelan, second from right and age 7, thinks her mother’s giving her a party. But she’s about to get cut.

Here’s the religious bone-chiller of the day, from the Washington Post:

For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual

The Widespread Practice of Female Circumcision in Iraq’s North Highlights The Plight of Women in a Region Often Seen as More Socially Progressive

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 29, 2008; Page A09


Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor’s house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. “I do this in the name of Allah!” she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan’s genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan’s mother smiled with pride.

“This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember,” said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. “We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it.”

Then, of course, it turns out Islam doesn’t require it, according to several Muslim scholars.

We know why they do it; to remind girls and women that they are sexually scarred for life.

Muslim men are also circumcised, but it’s supposedly a lot less harrowing a procedure. And of course Jewish boys are circumised too, just a few days after birth. The family gets together to have a party, because circumcision means this boy is now a Jew!

In what sort of religion does the God who made the human body require that part of it be mutilated?

Practices like this guarantee the increased secularization of society, as more and more people decide that religion is not a force for good, but a force for evil.

If you want to make that case, citing examples is like picking fruit off my cherry trees on the 4th of July: just reach out and start grabbing.

It has grieved my heart for decades that so many Gay and Lesbian people who were raised Christian reject the faith I find so incredibly nurturing and affirming.

I know why they do; because of all the anti-Gay blowhard preachers on TV. They say, “Well, if that’s Christianity, it’s not for me.”

They’re making the smart choice—except it isn’t Christianity the blowhards are selling.

What they want is political power and money. Christianity doesn’t have anything to do with those. Christianity is about bringing in the outcasts and caring for the poor.

But I’m not on TV to counter what Falwell and Dobson and Robertson, Rick Warren and all their ilk are selling. No Episcopalian’s on TV enough to do that. (One of my deepest laments of all time.)

Meanwhile my friend the writer-artist Dirk Vanden, to whom I’ve given two very favorable and deserved book reviews, is a committed atheist who just loves to send me anti-religious rants. Well, who can blame him, when a Kurdish mother promises her 7-year-old a party, then takes her to get razored instead?

The child’s screams could be heard all over the neighborhood.

“We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it.”

(We don’t give a damn what you think, you friggin’ infidels. We will never stop.)

There is no arguing with such irrationality. It’s a waste of breath.

Meanwhile The Episcopal Church, which has tons of Lesbian and Gay priests, is going through quite a painful shedding of anti-Gay dioceses and parishes. I’m no longer sorry for this, but it isn’t fun to watch. At the same time I’m growing closer and closer to the One I perceive as God—the gentle, meek and mild one—every week.

It’s a time of great joy in my life. But I wonder, How do I see what others don’t?

Aggressive atheists, like Dirk but he’s hardly the worst, think I’m fooling myself, praying to the Great Caucasian in the Sky. They get so pissed off at the God of the Old Testament that they just wash their hands of him; and I can’t blame them, although I love the Old Testament, which has been very badly taught by Fundamentalist preachers.

The Hebrew Scriptures have so many layers to them that you can never get deep enough. I had an insight a couple of years ago about the Sacrifice of Isaac that helped me see why Abraham is the father of three great religions. The scripture message is oblique, but he banned human sacrifice as a way to appease an angry, vengeful God.

So now we just cut girls and boys instead. It’s an improvement if you think about it.

I bear this same mark in my own body, but you better believe I thank God for Abraham! Six thousand years later and I lost a piece of myself to this guy.

It’s still vicious, violent and patriarchal, but human progress is s-l-o-w.

Most of the world, including Kurdistan, is still tribal. “We don’t know why we do it but we’ll never stop.”

“We hate those people over there for all these 10,000 reasons.” (And those people over there hate the Kurds for 10,001 reasons.)

I don’t have a solution except to say this: Stop cutting on babies. Sexuality isn’t something to be feared and controlled by the state, the religion and the wealthy.

And this: I believe the God of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples.

I believe Paul, even when he was wrong—and he was. I’ve been wrong; am I not going to forgive him for being wrong? That slavery talk was way too glib, dude. You should see how much injustice you stirred up!

I believe the Bible contains a number of loving passages directed specifically at Gay and Lesbian people. The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is a favorite of mine. It also includes tons of stuff about justice and outcasts; I identify.

And because I do I end up in a relationship that’s frankly the most important of my life.

Nothing the TV preachers can say, nothing the Pope can say, nothing The Episcopal Church can say can make me break relationship with the Holy Spirit.

God is love; John the Beloved Disciple told us so 2000 years ago. Others said it before and millions have said it since, in part because John had a unique claim: “the one Jesus loved.” Didn’t he love them all? Of course he did, but there was one…

It was to that one that the Holy Spirit gave the fullest insight of all: God is love.

What does that tell you, Gay men? Anything?

What it tells me is everything. One was a little bit smarter, a little more open, a little more vulnerable—a little bit braver. And a lot more creative.

Recognize yourself? How about your buddies?

Even that Kurdish mother is going to be forced to give up female genital mutilation someday; God invented the internet to force her out of it. We’ll all be forced to give up our backward practices, because publicity about them will be instantaneous and worldwide.

Meanwhile I leave you with a picture of Jesus and the one he loved. True religion takes what is hidden and reveals it. If you have eyes to see, take a look.++


3 Responses

  1. great post. doctors in our country are actually now declining to circumcise patients because there is really no purpose – hygienic or otherwise.

  2. Thank you for using this icon….I wrote it almost ten years ago, as a going away present for a colleague. One of my favorites. It came up in Google Images when we were looking for Maundy Thursday images 🙂 Peace, Paige

  3. Paige, I’m glad to learn it’s yours. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that before. But now I’ve added your name to that .jpg, so if we ever use it again we’ll give you credit. It’s a lovely thing!



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