Digest of terms

circumcision

excision of the foreskin of the penis, known historically in many civilisations and sometimes practised today on medical hygiene grounds (the incidence of cancer is less common amongst Muslims in S.Asia than it is amongst Hindus, and in western nations the more specific incidence of cervical cancer is found less amongst women with circumcised partners). As an initiation rite it is prominent in both Judaism and Islam. For Jews male circumcision is a fundamental sign of the covenant relationship between the male child and God. It is performed on the eighth day after birth, usually by a trained 'mohel'. There is no equivalent for girls. In recent decades there has been some opposition on the part of a relatively small number of Jews to its practice as an unjustifiable form of mutilation and child abuse. Exceptionally, however, not least out of sensitivity to the horrors of anti-semitism, the right of male circumcision is guaranteed in international law. For Muslims male circumcision is also obligatory, though its performance varies between earliest days and puberty.

The practice of female circumcision - infibulation or clitoridectomy - is widespread in certain Muslim countries, e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and the Yemen. However, it is non-Qur'anic and by many regarded as a pre-Islamic cultural tradition, also found amongst some Christians in these same countries, as well as among some adherents of African tradition religions. It is the subject of major opposition campaigns from many Muslim groups as well as more widely based aid organisations and representations to the United Nations. While it is illegal in the United Kingdom, it continues to be practised, being so deeply rooted in some minority cultures.

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