The sacred self: Reflections on female circumcision by a Singaporean Malay

on 6 FEBRUARY, 2016. Republished here with permission.)

Country: Singapore

Community: Malay

By Nurul Fadiah Johari

I have a memory of my little sister going through circumcision. It is all vague to me now. I was 4, and she was a baby. I only remember being brought over to the house of an old masseuse who provided my mother with post-natal care. I remember hearing my sister, who was 8 months old at the time, wailing loudly and then something was buried in a pot of soil outside my home. I had naively thought that my sister was born with a penis and had to be circumcised, just like male babies. Later, I learnt that this was not the case.

In The Hidden Face of Eve, El Saadawi documents the gory and painful practices of FGM in the Arab world. This can be compared to findings from the Malay world. Though the practices here are slightly different, it is still done with the oft-quoted intent of controlling female sexuality, or the presumption that it is a religious obligation. This is ironic, given that the term sunat, in Islamic textual traditions, actually means “something that is not obligatory”.

In Islam, the body is sacred. It is neither a source of temptation nor sin. It is an amanah, or trusteeship from God. It simply just means that as souls, we humans have been entrusted to honour and beautify the body. It means that any form of harm contravenes Islamic principles. Muslims celebrate beauty of creation by preserving and protecting it. Hence, as a Muslim woman, I believe that my body is sacred and thus I honour it by exercising my full agency as a human being.

There are too many taboos and misunderstandings which have been perpetuated within an increasingly conservative Muslim community. Nonetheless, I choose to remain optimistic through the work I do and the voices of young Muslims (especially women) that I hear from many parts of the world. Social media has made it easier to hear the voices of women, which has traditionally been silenced. We are living in the 21st century after all. It is the age of youth and where the disempowered demand their voices be heard. One day, our collective prayers will be heard. And for that, I am thankful that changes will happen, one step at a time.

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