PRESS STATEMENT: Somaliland Religious Affairs Fatwa on Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting – NOT TO BE MISLED

Recently in Somaliland, coinciding with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a fatwa (religious ban) was issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs stating as follows:

‘It’s forbidden to perform any circumcision that is contrary to the religion which involves cutting and sewing up, like the pharaoh circumcision, the ministry’s fatwa. Any girl who suffers from pharaoh circumcision will be eligible for compensation depending on the extent of the wound, and the violation caused. Anyone proven to be performing the practice will receive punishment depending on the extent of the violation”.

The Horn of Africa has the highest prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in its most severe forms. Types I and II generally account for 80-85% while more than 90% of girls aged 4-11 go through of all forms of genital mutilation across the Somali region. One of the most overriding challenges to eradicating FGM is the over-arching control over women’s sexuality where virginity is viewed as a pre-requisite for marriage and is equated to females honoring their heritage and communities. FGM is defended in this context as it is assumed to reduce a woman’s sexual desire and lessen temptations to extramarital sex, thereby preserving a girl’s virginity.Now as SIHA, we clearly see two (2) major problems with the Somaliland Religious Affairs’ Fatwa:

  1. The core problem is the fact that the Religious Affairs assumes that FGM is a religious matter, which is completely against all facts related to Islamic religious doctrines in the Islam Holy text or the various aspects of  Islamic jurisprudence.  Female Genital Mutilation has nothing to do with the Islamic faith. FGM is practiced across the African Sahel region from Somalia to the Atlantic by both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The rise of political Islam relying on the repression of women has included FGM happily to their long lists of regulating women bodies and public presence and social interaction.
  2. The Fatwa of the religious affairs ministry is misleading as it is not banning FGM from an Islamic religious view.  On the contrary, it is allowing and legitimizing the type 1 of FGM from an Islamic angle which is still the most commonly practiced type of FGM at the moment. FGM-type 1 is about amputating the female clitoris and retractable fold of the skin. While the Fatwa is banning FGM type 2 and 3 which are traditionally called pharaoh, referring to ancient times of Nubian pharaohs, the ministry of religious affairs claiming FGM type 1 as “[1]Sunna” and therefore legitimizing it, this could lead to a setback on FGM activism in the Somali region and the Horn of Africa.
As SIHA, we are strong of the view that Female Genital Mutilation is an ancient tradition pre-Islam. There is no evidence from religious sources that prove that it is either an obligation or a Sunna.
According to the Regional Director of SIHA Network – Ms. Hala Al-Karib, the persistence of FGM is directly linked to the rise of women’s subordination as a result of the spread of extreme repressive political Islam which continues to gain its legitimacy across traditional communities through monopolizing women bodies and women engaged in the public sphere.As SIHA, we call on FGM activists not to be misled by such calls and to continue fighting for a society that is  Free of FGM.
SIHA urges the Somaliland government to adopt and integrate the Sexual Offences Bill (Anti-Rape law)  into an effective civil law. These steps taken will empower women and largely contribute to ending all forms of FGM. Furthermore, we urge the Somaliland government to take steps towards criminalizing all forms of violence against women and girls and invest in empowering women at the grassroots.

[1]   The traditional type of FGM, known as Sunna Circumcision consists of the removal of the retractable fold of the skin and the tip of the clitoris. It is promoted by religious clergies as a practice of profit Mohamed times in the 7th century.