There is plenty I share on this blog, likewise there is plenty I withhold. The decision to circumcise our son was not one I went into depth about: it was a decision we made based on both religious and health grounds and one which we will inshallah repeat with our second son.
We chose to circumcise M at two days old and will repeat with his brother, foregoing the elaborate circumcision ceremony common for boys at the age of 4/5/6: It wasn’t a cultural event or a symbolic gesture to show his ‘coming of age’, but a considered choice made for our sons based on a belief that it is sunnah, is more hygienic and yes, is also the culturally accepted practise of the nationality they will grow up predominantly as. Circumcision as a newborn not only reduced the pain level of the operation significantly, but also kept it a private act (she says, blogging to the world at large..) for him to share the fact of, or not, as he so chooses.
Circumcision was just the first decision we made for M on behalf of him in light of the path we hope he will follow. He, and his brother, will be raised as Muslims in a home with two practising parents. Every aspect of our lives, from the foot shoes are slipped onto first (right) to the foods we eat and times we sleep are to some level influenced by this overruling path we’ve chosen to guide our family upon and as parents, we will base all future decisions – big ones such as schooling and lesser ones such as holiday destinations – according to the same principles and guidance. According to a ruling by a German court yesterday, the decision to circumcise my son – taken after as much soul-searching and internal debate as a mother can take – signing the consent form makes me a criminal; a mother guilty of aiding in the infliction of actual bodily harm to her child. While I take great offence at the wording from the court which deemed circumcision tantamount to mutilation, despite it flying in the face of our decision, I am not totally against the German courts ruling principally.
I was probably around ten when I first started begging my Mum to allow me to pierce my ears and it took three years of nagging before she finally gave in. Though I went on to have numerous other piercings, including a self-enlarged African hoop and anti-establishment lip-ring, none hurt as much as I remember that first piercing doing. Routinely, for no purpose other than vanity’s sake, babies and young children are accompanied by their consent giving parents to have holes made in their ears by someone who is unlikely to have seen medical school. Now if you want to pierce your baby’s ears, that’s none of my business, but surely, if we’re going to start legislating against parents abiding by religious practises which may be beneficial to children’s health; surely we then need to legislate against parents inflicting bodily harm – anything which causes holes in the body and inflicts pain must fall under this, right? – for beauty alone?
Obviously there is a difference between ear-piercing and circumcision – piercings can after all, always be taken out (though six years after removing my lip piercing, and three after removing belly bar, both holes are still open and can easily be self-pierced when I wish) – whereas circumcision is, as the German court stated, a “permanent and irreparable” act and it is for this reason that I understand the court’s decision and don’t see it as necessarily an attack on religious freedom.
Raising my children as Muslim means I condition them to do certain things, just as any parent conditions their child to an extent purposefully or not. Many of the day-to-day actions M learns from me now are putting him on the path of a muslim life and whether he chooses to practise Islam when he is grown, many of these practises will stay with him, ingrained in his normal from birth. Much of the sunnah path is not in the Qu’ran. You can find many Sunni Muslims who keep their faith only to the guidance written in Allah’s book. To be Muslim, the Qu’ran obliges us to commit to five promises; circumcision is not one of these. Being an uncircumcised seventeen year old would not in any way make my son less of a Muslim; it would however leave him free to take the next step himself – to enter a sunnah path should he choose – similar in part to being Confirmed as an adult after Baptism as a child.
Circumcision is not the norm in the UK and so when considering whether to go with my husbands’ (unspoken) wishes or to refuse to circumcise our sons, I had to start from first base. I approached research into circumcision with no preconceived notion of the benefits or pitfalls of the procedure. I can honestly say that, despite there being many a fear-mongering website out there, the medical research didn’t make me run away from the idea. What it did however, was make me aware of the risks of the procedure, and more knowledgeable about how best to reduce these risks. The highest risk of circumcision – as with ear-piercing – is infection; after this it is excess blood loss from the wound 48hours post-procedure. Both risks can be countered, and minimised so as to be almost insignificant, if the doctor and parent is informed: Just as with vaccines, the onus is on parents to be informed.
It wouldn’t surprise me were the German courts ruling challenged at the ECHR, nor would it surprise me were the ruling upheld and the prohibition of circumcision without consent becoming a Europe-wide law; just as certain vaccines are illegal to withhold from your child. Though like I said I don’t see this as a violation of my rights as a Muslim – though it’s undoubtedly as antagonistic as the French banning of the burka and hijab searches – I can’t help wondering whether making circumcision education compulsory before parents finalize their decision wouldn’t be a more productive step to take to regulate this. All that happens when something is prohibited is unruly people make lots of haram money supplying the service or product underground. When abortion was illegal, hundreds of women died of botch jobs; when alcohol is illegal, homebrew kills and maims hundreds too. If circumcision of children is deemed to be illegal, I see a risk of unregistered ‘surgeons’ performing the procedure in unhygienic settings; of children truly suffering for their parents fear to take them to hospital in case of infection and of surgeries gone wrong where no one can ever be held to account. You run a risk of asking people to choose between their religion and the law, putting barriers where they should be broken down.
For centuries, Jews and Muslims and none-religious parents alike have circumcised their children for reasons which made sense to them. At the end of the day, whatever we do as a parent, if our child is healthy, happy and protected, the decisions we’ve made for them are between us and these children and Allah. My children may well turn around and tell me that they wish we hadn’t circumcised them; likewise they may ask why we vaccinated or didn’t home school or or didn’t always feed them only organic meat. All I can do is balance the scales in the way I feel is best, and as my sons Mum, I am more qualified to do that, to their interests according to our lives than a high court judge who’ll never meet those affected by such rulings.