Last night, when writing about the Algerian mufti and his reaction to proposed restrictions on wife-beating, I mentioned in passing that female genital mutilation enjoys scriptural validation under Islam. In the comments, Anti-Islamist asked for a specific citation to support my assertion:
…i humbly must ask the Baron: where in the Koran or the Hadiths are these nicities imposed?
I should be very much obliged to you for giving me an exhaustiv answer. Thank you!
By then it was quite late, and I was too tired to do more than make a quick search. As a result I listed only a weak hadith from Abu Dawud about female circumcision in my response.
However, it’s important to remember that although Islamic law relies on the Koran and the hadith for its ultimate authority, there are other sources of authoritative instruction under the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The actual details of sharia are codified in the four major schools of Islamic law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, and Hanbali). The Reliance of the Traveller (’Umdat al-Salik), by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, is a Shafiite law manual, and is considered one of the best and most reliable authorities on the specifics of sharia. As the documents in the preface to Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s translation attest, his version is recognized as an officially approved statement in English of the doctrines of Islamic law, as certified by Al-Azhar University and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria.
Unfortunately, a complete Reliance of the Traveller is all but impossible to find online. So today, after a good night’s sleep, I got out my copy of ’Umdat al-Salik and looked up the relevant section on circumcision.
Let’s see what Al-Misri has to say in Book E, “Purification”, Section e4.0, “The Body”:
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e4.3 Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women. For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce (Ar. bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.)
There are four doctrinal schools of Sunni Islamic law: the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi, and the Hanbali. In this passage al-Misri names all four schools.
Does he seem to name only two of schools? A closer inspection tells us more.
This is a Shafiite manual, and it explains Shafiite rules. It makes no exception for the Malikis, so the stated rule — circumcision is obligatory — applies to both Shafi and Maliki. The first exception is for the Hanbalis, who hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory, but recommended. And finally it acknowledges that the Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.
So now what does this tell us? All of Sunni Islam says that female circumcision is a good thing. And two of those schools actually say it is mandatory.
As a side note, a contact who is a scholar of Arabic tells me that the Arabic version of this passage gives instructions to cut the whole thing out, and not just the prepuce — which confirms what most of us thought.
I hope this gives a more complete and comprehensive answer to the reader’s question.