Female Genital Mutilation|
"Al-Azhar University declaration against FGM is an important step forward"
On 6 February, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), IPU President Pier Ferdinando Casini called on legislators to step up action to combat female genital mutilation, particularly in regions where the procedure is widely performed. "Legislation should be not only enacted but also enforced in all the countries concerned. But punishment is not sufficient. It is important to change mentalities and work for better development. In that respect, the declaration issued in November 2006 by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most authoritative source on religion in the Islamic world, is an important step forward in the fight against female genital mutilation". For Dr. Gamal Serour, Director of the University's International Islamic Centre for Population Studies and Research, this declaration will have a huge impact. Interview..
"Many women go out of their way to please their husbands"
Q: Dr. Gamal Serour, Al-Azhar University, the most authoritative voice on religion in the Islamic world, has recently issued a declaration against female genital mutilation. Why is this important?
Dr. Gamal Serour:
Female genital mutilation has no religious basis in either the Koran or the authentic Hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. Science has shown that it results in complications to children's health and lowers the quality of their lives. It is therefore forbidden and should not be practised by either traditional practitioners or paramedical staff. This declaration was included in the book we published in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and was made by the rector of Al-Azhar University and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar.
Q: What impact will the declaration have?
It will have a huge impact everywhere, and in the Islamic world in particular. Al-Azhar University enjoys great respect among Muslims all over the world, and a declaration coming from it has special significance for all Muslims. It made its position known during the conference organized in 2005, in Senegal, by the African Parliamentary Union and the National Assembly of Senegal, in cooperation with the IPU and UNICEF. That position was very well received by all the participants. The International Islamic Centre, Al- Azhar University and the United Nations Population Fund have issued another document on female genital mutilation in collaboration with the Eastern Mediterranean Office of the World Health Organization. The document contains a critical analysis of female genital mutilation and concludes that as there is no authoritative reference to the practice in Islamic law and it is harmful to girls, it should not be performed.
Q: How long do you think it will take to eradicate this practice?
It will take decades, because the practice is deeply ingrained in the culture of certain nations, particularly in Africa and Asia. We have to convince all the people that this traditional practice has no benefits whatsoever. This is why it is very important to work closely with religious and traditional leaders, and with the chairpersons of the ethics committees of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). FIGO has published its recommendations, which are addressed to professional and religious leaders, and to members of parliaments.
Q: It seems that after the Dakar Conference things are moving in the right direction. What do you expect from legislators?
I would expect them to keep working on the issue, particularly in regions where female genital mutilation is widely performed, and I would recommend that they enact legislation and ensure it is respected.
Q: Is it more difficult to convince men or women to abandon female genital mutilation?
We have to work with both, because in developing countries women suffer from prejudice and suppression. Many go out of their way to please their husbands. Unless their husbands are also convinced that it is a harmful practice, women will unfortunately continue to have the procedure performed, even though they know it is harmful and is of no benefit to them. But because women want to satisfy their partners, to be able to get married and become accepted members of society, they will continue submitting themselves to harmful practices. Unless we are able to convince both men and women of the dangers of this practice, I do not think that we will succeed in our fight against female genital mutilation.