Syahiera Atika, a 19-year-old Malaysian girl has happily embraced western-style capitalism but in contrast strictly follows the local interpretation of Islam as she informed the Vice of her circumcision.
Female circumcision involves the surgical removal of all or part of a woman’s clitoris. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classed this procedure as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
WHO also defines it as an operation that “involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Syahiera however, rejects the notion that it is inhumane and says that “I’m circumcised because it is required by Islam.” She refers to it as ‘wajib’, which means any religious duty commanded by Allah.
“I don’t think the way we do it here is harmful,” she said, adding that “it protects young girls from pre-marital sex as it is supposed to lower their sex drive. But I am not sure it always works.”
According to a 2012 study conducted by Dr Maznah Dahlui, over 93 per cent of Muslim women surveyed had been circumcised. This made Syahiera among the majority of Muslim women in Malaysia.
Dr Dahlui also noted that the procedure was increasingly performed by trained medical professionals in private clinics, instead of by traditional circumcision practitioners.
Shocking to Western sensibilities, Dr Maznah insisted that Malaysia’s version of the procedure in less invasive than in other parts of the world.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Mighilia of the Global Ikhwan private clinic located in Rawang, north of Kuala Lumpur, admitted that she performs a more drastic version with a needle or scissors. “I just take a needle and slit off the top of the clitoris, but it is very little,” she said. “Just one millimetre.”
WHO has declared FGM to provide no medical benefits whatsoever. It simply reflects the deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. For this reason, the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 unanimously passed a resolution calling it a “human rights violation” and urged states to ban the practice.
Some Malaysian medical practitioners also defend the practice by passing judgment onto other countries. “We are very much against what is going on in other countries like Sudan,”says Dr Ariza Mohamed, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at KPJ Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
“That is very different from what we practice in Malaysia,” she said adding “and there is a big difference between circumcision and female genital mutilation.”
All Malaysians however, do not support the practice. Syarifatul Adibah, who is the Senior Programme Officer at Sisters in Islam, a local women’s rights group, insists that female circumcision isn’t once mentioned in the Quran.
Instead she points to its popularity as a stemming from an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam. “Previously it was a cultural practice but now because of Islamisation, people just relate everything to Islam. And when you link something to religion, people here follow it blindly, they don’t enquire,” she explained.
The practice is not banned in Malaysia, although public hospitals are prevented from performing the surgery. More concerning however is that in 2009 the Fatwa Committee of Malaysia’s National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs ruled that female circumcision was obligatory for all Muslim women, unless it was harmful.
Correction: In an earlier version, FGM was incorrectly mentioned as FMG. The mistake is regretted.