Here’s what a new study says about female genital cutting in Malaysia

By Zahra Qaiyumi

Female genital cutting (FGC) is prevalent among Muslim women in rural Malaysia, and many of them believe the practice is a religious obligation. Ironically, several religious leaders in the country insist that female genital cutting is not an Islamic requirement at all.

two women in white hijab veils
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

These are some of the major findings of a new research study on FGC in Malaysia, conducted by Abdul Rashid and Yufu Iguchi in 2018.

The study was conducted in two rural majority Muslim areas of Kedah and Penang in the Northern region of Peninsular Malaysia. The study consisted of survey data collected from 605 participants, focus groups held with a smaller subset of the participants, and interviews with 8 traditional practitioners who perform or performed FGC. Additionally, 2 interviews were conducted with Muftis, who are religious scholars or jurists qualified to issue Islamic legal opinions in Malaysia.

The major findings of the study are below.

Prevalence and type of FGC:

    1. Almost all participants (99.3%) had undergone FGC at an early age and wanted FGC to continue.
    2. The predominant form of FGC practiced in Malaysia is type IV. The paper defines this as the tip of the clitoris being nicked using a pen-knife or razor.

Age at which FGC was conducted:

    1. The median age of the participants at the time of FGC was 6 years old, which is also the median age the participants felt was the suitable age FGC should be performed. However, the authors suggest that children as young as 2 months old undergo FGC in Malaysia.

Medicalization of the practice:

    1. In general, older participants had FGC performed on them by traditional practitioners as compared with younger participants.
    2. Younger participants were of the opinion that doctors should conduct FGC as compared with older participants who preferred traditional practitioners.
    3. More participants from the younger group would permit doctors to perform FGC on their children as compared with the older group.
    4. More of the practice is being conducted in clinics by physicians because of the scarcity of traditional practitioners.

Reasons for the practice and its continuation:

    1. The most common reasons for FGC among the participants surveyed are hygiene (25.0%), health (24.0%) and religious obligation (23.0%).
    2. A majority of the participants believe FGC is a requirement in religion (wajib), whereas the traditional practitioners and Mufti’s who are responsible for issuing edicts related to religious matters say it is not a religious requirement.

Future directions:

It is encouraging that traditional practitioners and Mufti’s believe FGC is not a religious requirement. Perhaps this can be used as a tool to better educate the community about the practice of FGC and ultimately bring an end to the practice.

Read the complete study on FGC in Malaysia here.

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