Israel: Islam, culture and FGM

Israel: Islam, culture and FGM

A new study by Israeli doctors discovers that FGM is disappearing as a cultural phenomenon among the Bedouin tribes in the country.

The shocking conclusion? Religion and culture are not a constant.

A few months ago I wrote about a similar report from Norway:

Lidén says that boys from those communities prefer marrying a girl who isn't circumcised, and when it isn't a religious commandment the practice doesn't continue. Girls who aren't circumcised don't feel stigmatized, rather it's the circumcised girls who feel stigmatized. This shows a cultural tradition can change.

I think that the big difference between the Israeli study and the European situation is that in Europe the immigrants are not on their home turf and therefore feel the need to preserve customs they otherwise wouldn't. In many ways, the Muslim immigrant community in Europe is a 'cultural reservation', where old-time practices are still upkept despite being phased out in the 'home country'.


Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been reported in many cultures around the world. It is variously called female circumcision or female genital cutting and comes in varying degrees of severity. While it is often described in Muslim culture, it is not specifically associated with Islam. Roots of the phenomenon are difficult to define and may vary from culture to culture. In recent years the World Health Organization has mounted major efforts to reduce the prevalence of this phenomenon which can lead to genital infection, psychological trauma, and reduced sexual function in women

Ethical and legal problems have arisen as families from countries where the practice is widespread reach countries where the practice is against the law. Therefore, it is of great interest to define processes or situations that can lead to a reduction in the incidence of this phenomenon in cultures where it is practiced.


One hundred and thirty two women were examined. No cases of any scarring of the kind reported in the previous study were found on physical examination. Table 1 presents the data. Eight women reported that they had heard that FGM is still going on but only by word of mouth and we could not identify a single case that we could be referred to.


What are the causes of this change? There has been no concerted program in Israel to stop FGM, although it has been discussed on television and is viewed with disapproval by the majority of the population, both Jewish and Arab. The disappearance of FGM in this population has taken place in spite of the fact that in the 1995 study, a large number of women said that they planned to continue this custom and would perform it on their daughters. This is consistent with other findings in social psychiatry showing that people do not always do as they say. Demographic data show that the health variables in this population such as infant mortality, mean birth weight, etc., and educational variables such as percent attending school, number of school years completed, and literacy have continued to improve over the last 15 years and these may be associated with the decline in FGM.

Source: InterScience (English)

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