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Analysis of Hadiths that are used to argue for Female Circumcision
Hadith & Sunnah
Dr Farhad Shafti

This article is in response to an inquiry about the issue of female circumcision. The person who asked the question referred me to a youtube video where a scholar was using a Hadith to argue that female circumcision was Sunnah. While I appreciate that many experts consider female circumcision to be harmful and causing permanent damage to the person (and therefore not allowed by Islam), I write this article disregard of the above and wholly on the basis of analysis of the religious evidence for this practice.

Within the scope of the established Sunnah, as defined in this website, female circumcision is not included. This is simply because, unlike male circumcision, we do not see this practice coming to us, even as a non-obligatory recommended act, through the perpetual practice or consensus of the whole ummah, generation by generation. When we look at the source of information for this practice, we find that instead of the established Sunnah, the source is ahad (single narrated) Hadiths.

As far as I am concerned, the above is all that needs to be said about the subject. However for more detailed information to see why we cannot equate established Sunnah with information that is derived from single narrated Hadiths, I will look at the Hadiths that are often referred to with this regard:

There are in principle three Hadith that are normally used to argue for female circumcision as a religious act. I look at these Hadiths in turn


Hadith No. 1

الْخِتَانُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ، مَكْرُمَةٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ

Circumcision is a Sunnah (obligation) for men; honour for women.

This Hadith is not reported in the more reliable books of Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim and is not even included in Mu’atta’ of Imam Malik. It is narrated in less reliable books like Musnad of Ahmad (no. 20719), al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir (no. 7112-3, 11590, 12009, 12828), al-Sunan al-Kubra (17565-8) and Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah (no. 26468). None of these and other sources that I looked at has narrated this Hadith with a trustworthy chain of narrators:

To start with, all these chains of narrators include Hajjaj ibn Artah. While there are scholars of rijal (science of narrators) who praise him, there are also those who have condemned him. Yahya ibn Sa‘id says he has left out Hajjaj intentionally and does not write his Hadith at all. Abdullah ibn Mubarak says he used to do tadlis (ie. claiming that he directly narrates from person X while in reality he is narrating from person Y who narrates from person X). Al-Nasa’i says that he is not strong (in narration). Abu Ahmad ibn ‘Adi says people criticized him for his tadlis of al-Zuhri and others, and that sometimes he would make mistakes in some narrations. Yaqub ibn Shaybah says he is honest but his Hadith is untrue (واهی) and there are many weaknesses (اضطراب) in it. (al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-kamal, entry 1112).

The presence of Hajjaj ibn Artah is one of the reasons why al-Albani also lists this hadith among the weak ones in his collection of weak Hadiths (al-Albani, Silsilah al-ahadith al-da‘ifah, entry no. 1935).

Apart from the above general issue, in the variety of chains of narrators that are reported for this particular Hadith there are a number of problematic and weak narrators, including al-Walid ibn Walid (included in the chain of narrators reported in al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, Musnad al-Shamiyyin and al-Sunan al-Kubra), Muhammad ibn al-Fudayl (included in the chain of narrators reported in Tarikh Dimashq), ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad (included in the chain of narrators reported in al-Sunan al-Kubra) and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Masisi (included in the chain of narrators reported in al-Mu‘jam al-kubra).


Also it is worth noticing that the Hadith is in fact implying the opposite of what the pro female circumcision argues for. It makes it clear that while circumcision is Sunnah for men, it is not Sunnah for women. It should be noted that the word Sunnah in the Hadith cannot refer to the same technical meaning as in Hanafite school of thought. Therefore one cannot argue that the Hadith means circumcision is obligation for men but recommended for women. The word Sunnah, in the terminology of the Prophet (sws) and the companions, simply means a prescribed religious task. Therefore the above Hadith, while not being authentic, simply implies that female circumcision is not a prescribed religious act. 

The above Hadith is therefore not reliable nor relevant enough to be used as evidence.


Hadith No. 2

إِذَا مَسَّ الْخِتَانُ الْخِتَانَ فَقَدْ وَجَبَ الْغُسْلُ

When the circumcised (part in a male) meets the circumcised [part in a female] then ghusl< [ritual bath] will become obligatory.


With its different versions, the Hadith is reported in a wide number of collections of Hadith, including Muslim (no. 531), Mu’atta’ of Imam Malik (no. 71, 76, 125, 143), Jami‘ of Tirmidhi (no. 109), Sunan of Ibn Majah (no. 600, 603), Sahih of Ibn Hibban (no. 1205), Musnad of Ahmad (no. 24206), Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzaq (no. 936, 955) and al-Sunan al-kubra (no. 779).

When looking at the chains of narrators of this Hadith in different sources, a not very promising image comes about. Narrators like Muslim ibn Abi Karimah, al-Rabi‘ ibn Habib, ‘Ubaydullah ibn Abi Zyad, Yahya ibn Sa‘id, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Ata’, Salih ibn Muhammad, etc. are not reliable narrators and their names can be found among many of the reported chains of this Hadith.

Having said that, the scholars generally approve the authenticity of the Hadith, mainly on the basis of the versions that are narrated in the book of Muslim and the Mu’atta’ of Malik. These versions have stronger chains of narrators.1

The important point to notice however is that the Hadith does not imply in any way that female circumcision is Sunnah. It is only referring to the female private part as one of the circumcised. This seems to be a case of using the method of mujanasah in Arabic language where two associated items are referred to by using a feature that is related to the more familiar one or the one that is easier to refer to. Arab would say qamarayn (the two moons), referring to Sun and Moon. They would say ‘isha‘ayn, meaning the two ‘isha, referring to maghrib and ‘isha prayers, just as zuhrayn refers to zuhr and ‘asr prayers. Abawayn, two fathers, refers to father and mother, ‘Umarayn, refers to Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta).

Let us assume that one denies the application of mujanasah in this Hadith. It should be noted that the practice was already in place in the Arab society (like some other societies) before the advent of Islam. The Hadith is therefore simply referring to parts of the body with the use of a word that Arab would associate with those parts. In other words, the Hadith is not instructing about circumcision, rather, it is instructing about when to do ghusl.

Accordingly, whether the argument of mujanasah is accepted or not, unless one has already decided that female circumcision is Sunnah, it is not legally possible to use this Hadith in order to prove female circumcision as a Sunnah.

So this Hadith, authentic or not, is not even relevant to the case under study.


Hadith No. 3

أَنَّ امْرَأَةً كَانَتْ تَخْتِنُ بِالْمَدِينَةِ، فَقَالَ لَهَا النَّبِيُّ: " لَا تُنْهِكِي، فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَحْظَی لِلْمَرْأَةِ وَأَحَبُّ إِلَي الْبَعْلِ

A woman used to do circumcision in Madinah; so the prophet told her: “Do not overstrain, [this way] it will be more pleasant for the woman and more liked for the husband.”

This Hadith is reported in a number of collections of Hadith, including Sunan of Abu Da’ud (no. 4589), al-Sunan al-Kubra (no. 16136, 16137) and Shu‘ab al-iman of al-Bayhaqi (no. 8125).

None of the chains of narrators of this Hadith are without defect. In fact studying all these chains of narrators benefits a student of the science of Hadith by introducing more than 30 problematic and weak narrators of Hadith to him/her who are all over these chains of narrators. Even Abu Da’ud himself, who has narrated this, and the Hadith is often quoted from his collection, writes that the Hadith is weak.

This should be enough to leave out the Hadith instead of attempting to use it as evidence. However, since some use this Hadith as evidence, it is worth noticing that this Hadith too, like the previous ones, in no way makes it clear that female circumcision is Sunnah. As stated before, the practice already existed among Arabs of the time (it seems like this was even more usual for slaves, in order to reduce their sexual desire). Therefore even with the false assumption that the Hadith is authentic, the Prophet (sws) has in fact shown his concern about this practice by advising the woman who circumcises to not do this in a severe way. There is no sign in the Hadith that the prophet considered this as a religious act.

Accordingly, this Hadith too is not at all good as an evidence for female circumcision as it lacks both authenticity and relevance.




So to conclude, the three main proofs that are used for female circumcision all lack relevance and at least two of them also lack authenticity, they therefore do not prove anything with regard to female circumcision.

It is important to note that the above analysis by no means leads to a rare conclusion about female circumcision. In 2010, in Mauritania, 34 scholars signed a fatwa against female circumcision. This is a place where according to reports more than 70% of girls are circumcised.2

Also well-known scholars like Ibn ‘Abidin (d. 1836), Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926), Dr. ‘Ali Jumu‘ah (d. 2013) and Dr Muhammad Sayyid Al-Ṭantawi (b. 2010) have issued a fatwa against female circumcision.3

Based on the above analysis my conclusion is that not only female circumcision is not prescribed in Islam, but it is also a serious oppression of women where, as the result of confusing a cultural practice with a religious one, their rights are taken away and they are also put at a serious health risk. Those who practice this in the name of Islam are therefore potentially guilty of two crimes: disfiguring Islam and causing permanent oppression of people.   






1. These versions do not report the Hadith from the prophet ( sws) himself. The one in Muslim is attributed to ‘A’ishah (rta). The chains of narration for the Hadith in the book of Muslim is reasonably strong, although it contains Hisham ibn Hasan and Humayd ibn Hilal for whom some scholars of Hadith have some reservations. The one in Mu’atta’ only says this is what Ibn ‘Umar (rta), ‘Umar (rta), ‘Uthman (rta) and ‘A’ishah (rta) said. Imam Ahmad questions this and says it is problematic (معلول) since a different ruling is narrated from ‘Uthman (rta), ‘Ali (rta), Zubayr (rta), Talhah (rta) and Ubayy ibn Ka‘b (rta). ‘Ali ibn Madini says the Hadith is a rare one (شاذ). (Sharh al-Zurqani, 1:196).

2. Please see: “Mauritania fatwa bans female genital mutilation” by Bob Trevelyan, BBC News, available at the time of this writing on

3. For more details on the above fatwas and more on the background of the issue and its medical considerations look at “Dissecting the claims of legitimization for the ritual of female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM)” by Muhammad Munir published in International Review of Law (2014) and “Islamic Ruling on Male and Female Circumcision” by Muhammad Lutfi al-Sabbagh published by World Health Organization (1996).

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