Is female genital mutilation (FGM) – internal and external skin to be fully removed – a Sunnah?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

To answer it directly, no, this is not Sunnah when it is explained like that. However, a lot of people are given the idea that any kind of female circumcision is mutilation and therefore wrong. This is incorrect. As Muslims, we will not agree with this because it contradicts Hadith.

A person may call female circumcision Sunnah, in a general sense, meaning it is encouraged in the Sunnah. However, from a Fiqh perspective, it is considered Mustahab (recommended) and not Sunnah. This means it does not have the same emphasis as compared to male circumcision, which is Sunnah Muakkadah (strongly encouraged), whereas circumcision is Mustahab (recommended). Therefore it is never sinful to refrain from it.

There are a number of Hadith, generally weak, which encourage female circumcision. It should be borne in mind that, weak Hadith can be used for something which is Mustahab (recommended), but not to establish an obligation. However multiple weak Hadith can strengthen each other.

عَنْ أَبِي الْمَلِيحِ بْنِ أُسَامَةَ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: ” الْخِتَانُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ، مَكْرُمَةٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ

On the authority of Abi al-Maleeh ibn Usama, from his father that the Prophet ﷺ said ‘Circumcision is Sunnah for men and a noble deed for women.’ (Ahmad 20719, Weak).

In a narration in Abi Dawood, the Prophet ﷺ explained that female circumcision should not be excessive.

عَنْ أُمِّ عَطِيَّةَ الْأَنْصَارِيَّةِ، أَنَّ امْرَأَةً كَانَتْ تَخْتِنُ بِالْمَدِينَةِ فَقَالَ لَهَا النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ:«لَا تَنْهِكِي فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَحْظَى لِلْمَرْأَةِ، وَأَحَبُّ إِلَى الْبَعْلِ»

Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah  narrated that a woman used to perform circumcision in Medina, and the Prophet ﷺ said to her, ‘Do not go too far, because that is better for the woman and it is better for her husband.’ (Abu Dawood 5271, Weak).

قَالَ أَبُو دَاوُدَ: رُوِيَ عَنْ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، عَنْ عَبْدِ الْمَلِكِ، بِمَعْنَاهُ وَإِسْنَادِهِ – قَالَ أَبُو دَاوُدَ: «لَيْسَ هُوَ بِالْقَوِيِّ وَقَدْ رُوِيَ مُرْسَلًا » قَالَ أَبُو دَاوُدَ: وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَسَّانَ مَجْهُولٌ وَهَذَا الْحَدِيثُ ضَعِيفٌ

Abu Dawud said, it has also been narrated by Ubaid Allah bin Amr from Abd al-Malik with the same meaning (although the words are slightly different). Abu Dawud said, it is not a strong narration. It has been transmitted in Mursal form (missing the Sahabi). Abu Dawud said, Muhammad bin Hasan is unknown (Majhool), and this narration is weak.

The words ‘La Tunheki’ have been understood to mean not going too far, as has been explained by Mula Ali al-Qari and numerous other commentators.

لَا تُبَالِغِي فِي قَطْعِ مَوْضِعِ الْخِتَانِ، بَلِ اتْرُكِي بَعْضَ ذَلِكَ الْمَوْضِعِ، وَفِي شَرْحِ السُّنَّةِ: وَيُرْوَى: أَشِمِّي وَلَا تُنْهِكِي، فَقَوْلُهُ: لَا تُنْهِكِي تَفْسِيرٌ لِقَوْلِهِ: أَشِمِّي أَيْ لَا تَسْتَقْصِي

Do not exaggerate in the cutting of the circumcision area, but rather leave some of it. In Sharh al-Sunnah it has been narrated; Cut a part of it and do not go too far. His words do not go too far, is an explanation of his words cut a part of it, meaning do not cut all of it. (Mirqaat al-Mafaateeh).

The Hadith narrations make it clear that one should not go too far with female circumcision. Therefore we will consult upright Muslim doctors to seek clarification. If they advise that cutting in a particular manner is fine but doing it in a different manner is harmful, then we will heed such advice, as it is in line with the Hadith.

However, if any Muslim or non-Muslim doctor says that any kind of female circumcision is harmful, irrespective of how much is cut, then we will reject this since it contradicts the Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ.

Many authoritative Hanafi books have mentioned the legal ruling for female circumcision, amongst them, al-Bahr of Imam Ibn Nujaym:

وَقَدَّمْنَا فِي أَوَّلِ الطَّهَارَةِ أَنَّهُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ مَكْرَمَةٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ

And we already mentioned at the beginning of the section of Taharah that it (circumcision) is Sunnah for men and a noble deed for women. (al-Bahr al-Raiq).

And Allah (Most High) knows best.

– Answered by Shaykh Noor ud-deen (04.01.2021)

See also:

Weak Hadith are used for supererogatory (Nafl) actions