In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.
Dear Community of Dar Al-Hijrah,
I write to you in the hope of clarifying the statements I made on May 19, 2017 during a weeknight class for women at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. During the session, I made comments which were captured on video and subsequently edited heavily by MEMRI, an Islamophobic group, after which they were broadcast via their distribution channels. While Dar Al-Hijrah published brief statements by the board and myself in the immediate aftermath of the MEMRI dissemination, I have yet to be able to directly address the issue with the clarity and detail that it deserves.
First and foremost, I would like to reiterate my unequivocal position – which has never changed – that female genital mutilation (FGM), including clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and all other forms of harmful procedures involving the clitoris, is Islamically forbidden. FGM in all its forms is categorically un-Islamic because it is extremely harmful, dangerous, and has a very serious, detrimental, and life-long impact on its victims. As such, it has no basis in Islamic jurisprudence. My statements were never intended to endorse or condone the practice of FGM.
Second, in my attempt to describe the Islamically approved procedure, which, according to my research, is called Hoodectomy, I mistakenly and wrongly described circumcision of the “tip” (of the clitoris) when I intended to refer to the Prepuce (the excess skin on the covering of the clitoris), a limited procedure which is medically referred to as “hoodectomy.” This procedure only involves the removal of the uppermost excess skin covering the clitoral node. Medical practitioners describe the removal of this skin, also known as the clitoral prepuce, as analogous to the removal of the prepuce (foreskin) of the penile glans during male circumcision. This procedure is medically referred to as a clitoral hoodectomy, female circumcision, or clitoridotomy (as distinct from a clitoridectomy, which removes the clitoris itself and is Islamically prohibited).
Mainstream Islamic jurisprudence has long acknowledged this limited procedure as part of the Islamic tradition, according to the four Sunni schools of Islamic law, although they disagree as to whether it is merely recommended or obligatory. To be clear, this is a very limited procedure, and it is this procedure to which I was referring in my lecture. I fully acknowledge that I should have been much more careful about my articulation and description of this procedure. For those who deny the Islamic basis of this procedure (hoodectomy) on the basis that there is no reference to it in the Qu’ran, I never stated that the Qu’ran addresses this topic. But this procedure is supported by authentic hadiths and the views of the major Islamic schools of thought. I should also emphasize that I never recommended, suggested, or endorsed the idea that parents should perform or seek this procedure. Federal law prohibits female circumcision of minors, and I never suggested that anyone should violate that clear prohibition. In fact, my direction to the audience to consult with a Muslim gynecologist was meant to guide the audience to the fact that it is illegal to perform this procedure on children in the United States. My lecture was focused only on Islamic jurisprudence and nothing else.
Third, in the course of my statements on May 19, I made a remark about the impact of not performing this limited form of circumcision (clitoral hood reduction) causing “hyper-sexuality.” I have since withdrawn that statement and apologized for that comment publicly in a written statement, and contrary to allegations subsequently made, I have never recanted, nor do I intend to recant my sincere apology.
Fourth, as an imam of a mosque and a spiritual leader, I have an obligation to my congregation to freely address every aspect of Islam, no matter how controversial. My views on the very limited form of female circumcision (hoodectomy) are fully consistent with all the major schools of Islamic thought and are supported by multiple authentic hadith narrations. This procedure is performed in the U.S. as a cosmetic surgery, albeit for adult women only. As a religious leader, I have the right – and the obligation – to explain Islamic jurisprudence truthfully and accurately to my congregants, whether or not it comports with the views of others. Others are free to disagree with my views and correct me if I err. I have a right to speak freely on religious matters, and occasionally to make mistakes. To censor every controversial view expressed by a religious leader, whether by threats or otherwise, is dangerous, un-Islamic, un-American, and antithetical to the principles of religious integrity, religious freedom, and freedom of expression.
Finally, I wish to convey my disappointment over the degree of vitriol and hate that have been expressed and which have risen to the point of personal attacks and even death threats. Some have unfortunately used this as an opportunity to launch a campaign of character assassination. Others have capitalized on it to further attack Islam. Many of those who have rushed to issue public condemnations and demands for my termination did not even offer the courtesy of a phone call to express their concerns privately or to seek clarification. I understand and appreciate that this topic is very sensitive and emotionally charged. I also understand why someone who believes that I endorse the harmful practice of FGM would be deeply offended and hurt. But nothing justifies the sheer vindictiveness and animus that have tainted an otherwise teachable, even if difficult, moment for all involved. I hope and pray that cooler heads will prevail and that we can negotiate our differences without resorting to personal attacks, character assassination, and threats.
I have been a proud member of the Dar Al-Hijrah community for over two decades and its imam for over twelve years. During that time, I have regularly preached the importance of community outreach, civic engagement, women’s rights in Islam, and how to raise peaceful and happy families. I am honored by the trust that this community places in me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I have no doubt that our community can and, God willing, will come out of this trying and difficult time stronger and more united. The bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood between us must outlast any disagreement we may have. I pray that our community remains united in its pursuit of all that is good, both for the Muslim community and for the larger community that Dar Al-Hijrah proudly and tirelessly serves.
Imam Shaker Elsayed