Q. As I read in one of your other statements, you are well aware of the fact that modern research shows no benefit for the circumcision of boys whilst it does cause severe pain for them. Do Muslim parents still have to circumcise their children or is there a valid excuse? If the boys should still be circumcised, how and when is best?

A. The traditional circumcision is not based on any issue of health or medical benefits, and as such, while modern research may focus on this, it is of little benefit to the religious authorities. Islam, like Judaism, traces its origins to Abrahamic beliefs. In the Torah, one of the covenant articles (indeed among the first) is that the male children of Abraham be circumcised. It is from this belief that even the pre-Islamic Arabs circumcised their children. The Qur'an does NOT say anything about abrogating the practice, and so Muslims have continued to do it, in line with "shar'iat man qablanaa" -- the law of those before us that has specifically NOT been abrogated by any Qur'anic edict.

Many modern Muslims try to circumcise their children within the first month -- from seven days and older. Others, depending on cultural mores, may delay it to become something of a puberty rite (as in Somalia). For those who do not wish to circumcise, there is a simple excuse: not ALL jurists see it as obligatory, and deem it rather a "sunna" (a practice that, if omitted, does not in and of itself make the person blameworthy). As for the manner of circumcision, medical advances are always the best, and the techniques of the American Medical Association, accepted too by (Jewish) mohels, are all acceptable.

There is also a difference of opinion regarding adults who convert to Islam. There is no requirement for such a ritual, although some point out that Abraham was given this order for himself and his children while he was advanced in age, and that there is therefore no age limit. However, this is rather rare. While I have NOT found this reason in the Muslim texts, one of the philosophical ideas behind circumcision seems to be that when a man looks at it, he will supposedly remember that the organ should be only used for intercourse with those that the Shari'ah / Halakhah allows. No survey, to the best of my knowledge, has been taken to see if this philosophy has worked.

Webmaster's note: There is a myth in some Muslim quarters that the Prophet Muhammad was born circumcised, an alleged miracle. We searched the five popular hadith collections plus the Hadith Qudsi, and found a total of eight references to circumcision. While the ahadith talk about the procedure being recommended and presumably was practiced during the Prophet's time, there was not a single reference that we could find of the alleged miracle, or of circumcision actually being performed either on the Prophet or any of his companions.

Posted November 23, 2005