A RETHINK: THE MANDINGO, FULA AND JOLA COMMUNITY ON FEMALE CIRCUMCISION, by Suntou Touray
The nature of this short discussion is very sensitive and has the potential of tinkling on some raw nerves. But like any subject, discussions open doors to tangible solutions and the fostering of mutual understanding.
The topic under discussion is pertaining to the practice and culture of female circumcision which is inherently an over-killed subject. With regards to mentioning the above tribes, the fact that mustering the courage and will to ignite a mature discussion on such a grave sensitive issue – the practice of female circumcision; underlying the very fundamental settings of our Gambian society (our culture), contextual to religion (Islam) is worth engaging in this 21st Century that our generation seems to be reliving.
The practice of male circumcision is rooted in the two Abarahamanic religions of Islam and Judaism. Religious commentators narrated the religious reason why male circumcision was authorised by God and also some health benefits are cited to further give much needed impetus to the practice. Those of us who underwent the practice felt pain but overall, the gains are much more than the pain.
The practice for female circumcision is however less rooted in any religion, it is basically cultural. That claim may raise some controversy especially those who use statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammad’s advice to a female practitioner conducting the surgery. The claim is that, the Prophet (SAW) came across a woman who practices circumcision and he told her “when you do it, don’t cut too deep”. This means, he did not condemn or ban her from doing the surgery but tolerated her to carry on but on condition that she avoid denying the women the right to experience pleasure. Islamic scholars use two terminologies for describing female circumcision. One being kihifaadh- this is the tolerated version of circumcision where a bit is taken off the genitalia, whilst kihtan is the pharaohnic practice of taking off nearly all the clitoris. The argument is that, female circumcision is accepted by Islam although not a requirement in measuring anyone’s spirituality.
In the scholarly circles, there are supporters and campaigners against the practice on both sides. Each tries to use some evidence to back their claims. But the reality is that, female circumcision was not initiated by Islam. It was more or less practice by many cultures in the pre-Islamic era. Islam tolerating it doesn’t mean there is any religious significance to the practice. It is not a sin whether a woman is circumcised or not. However, the voices against the practice in Islam stood on a more solid ground. Islam today is attack by lolly Polly critic for allowing female circumcision to go on. They also argued that women are harmed and denied the God-given right to enjoy full sexual life unobstructed like men.
The Mandingo, Fula and Jola tribes practice the act, dating back to centuries. The onslaught of campaigners against female circumcision has taken momentum due the persistence and rational argument injected in the debate. On my little part, I detest to the languages use by the anti-female circumcision campaigners. They need to realise that changing an old age tradition, is like dealing with a cancerous tumour; hence scores of years went by to build up malignancy. Thus wining the hearts and minds of people is relevant with regards to the ways and manners of communicating with the various tribes involved on such a sensitive issue. Choice of words becomes a crucial asset in addressing the impact it has on society.
Use of obscene languages, undervaluing their intelligence, level of ignorance and blunt statements only increase the resolve of the communities practising it. They will continue to do it out of defiance even when the government outlawed it, for that’s how deep rooted it is in them. The anti-female circumcision campaigners should engage in dialogue with the Mandingos, Fulas and Jolas with the initiative of promoting the good cultural practices, value their opinions and encourage those who took positive steps towards its elimination.
The ounce is on them to put their case forward and argue it whilst maintaining an open mind to the counter arguments. There are many uncircumcised women who are religious and hold the sanctity of their moral ethics high. Thus female circumcision doesn’t seem to have any effect on the “life style” of our sisters. Their morality and spirituality by way of virtue is defined by access to education, good parenting, loving and caring environment and the overall opportunity society accorded them. Circumcise or not, when one is incline to indulge in immoral activities, she will find ways and means to do it.
The society in general determines the kind of men and women that it breeds. A decent, educated, religious, respectful and law abiding society makes good citizens and decent human beings. Circumcising the females will count little if the overall moral ethics of the men and women in a given society is at low ebb. Males as well as females hold equal stakes in abstaining from promiscuity and the decaying of high held cultural morals, norms and values. Women alone cannot be single out as the key figures in making our society moral and decent.
The fundamental goal attainment by Gambian tribes (those specifically mentioned above) that practice female circumcision is to lessen the highly sensual nature of un-circumcised woman. The accusation is that un-circumcised women are highly sensual; less inhibited, may indulge more in promiscuous activity and will do anything to get a man. The misconception here is that it takes two to tangle; men are willing and capable players in all heterosexual encounters.
It’s interesting to note the extreme length, our grandmothers and aunties are so much deep into this tradition; they will circumcise relative’s children without actually telling them only to know of it at the latter part of the ceremony. In some instances a young mother is being pressured to such an extent that, she succumbs to the monumental weight of old customs irrelevant to her daughter’s well-being to avoid societal negation as being the odd one out.
The call is for the Mandingo, Fula and Jola tribes to rethink about the practice, open up to new ideas, have a dialogue with their own daughters specifically those who has attain formal education and has undergone the practice; it impact, how has it reshape their lives, their marriages, what is their cry, what would have been an option if they were given one. The words and methods used by the anti-FGM campaigners shouldn’t be a reason to close doors and refuse to engage in dialogue.
FGM is considered as an extreme method of circumcising young females, this is by using instruments that are inappropriate and result in the removal of good part of the clitoris. Whilst circumcision is where the tip of the clitoris is taken off. So when the anti-circumcision campaigners use mutilation, it sends a wrong signal to the local community, for they know, what they are doing is not mutilation but circumcision which is model to that of the males.
Furthermore, every advance society hopes to accomplish something better and relevant than, hanging onto traditions that are counterproductive in the future happiness of siblings. Most women in our respective community are aware of the burden some cultural practices have on them, therefore, all stakeholders should do their bit moving away from practices such as female circumcision.
Thus complementary to the practice of female circumcision such as teaching the young females to be respectful specially to elders, good manners, moral ethics, religious and virtues of hard work that will prepare them for the tough challenges of life can be maintain and included in the wider parenting network. These and many more in totality are viable and less stressful methods that can be device to impact such traditions.
It is not a betrayal to our ancestry, good cultures and traditions that we talk about this issues and try to do away with what our ancient societies practice. A proud Mandingo I am, but being blind to irrelevant cultural practices is dangerous and backward. I hope we the young generation can advance beyond this practice and find tangible ways to maintain manners and good ethics in our communities, enactment of laws against the practice will do a little in its elimination. It is conducted such that, law enforcement officers will not be aware of it occurrence, so it us that can unite against it.
Part two to come later. That will deal with the cultural significance and the religious undertone attributed to the practice. May God guide our actions. Ameen.