Male Circumcision / Genital Mutilation or cutting in Iran (MGM/C)

Genital Mutilation or cutting in Iran

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Male Circumcision / Genital Mutilation or cutting in Iran (MGM/C)

Kameel Ahmady[1]

Practiced worldwide despite many modern anti-circumcision movements at global level, male circumcision remains widely practiced among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the United States (at currently 60% of new-borns). It also survives among certain tribes in Africa, natives in Australia, parts of Europe and, since the 19th century, in the US.[1] Circumcision is thought to facilitate male genital hygiene and reduce lust for females.

Male Circumcision

Performed with or without anaesthesia or with a mild topical analgesic, without suturing and at times with unsterilized instruments, removal of the sheath or prepuce of the penis defines male circumcision, overtly intended to increase cleanliness and to reduce infections. To witness the event, relatives and guests are invited to celebrate (locally called Khatena Soran). The boy is held in a seated position with both legs apart and a probe, i.e. a utensil made from wood and a razor are used to excise the foreskin. Ash establishes haemostasis (staunches bleeding), and other substances, including ghee, dung and urine, may also be applied. Nowadays, however, some new-borns are cut at the hospital and special clinics.

Because Islam is the official religion in Iran, males consider circumcision a vital obligation. Sharia commands cutting off the skin covering the male genital. Besides Muslims, Jews also circumcise their boys.  In fact, Jews were the first to adopt the practice. However, it has a long history in the ancient Middle East and was closely related to rituals dedicated to ancient fertility gods and goddesses. For Jews, the religious imperative is clear; they associate the practice with a covenant made between God and Abraham.[2] Historically, pre-Islamic Arabs and African societies are also known to have practiced it in early times. Africans often consider it the passage from childhood to adulthood.

Now, whereas the Jewish commandment is clear, Islamic motivation remains mysterious. For Jews, according to the Torah, circumcision is the distinguishing mark of ethnicity. Muslims, in contrast, won’t find it in the Quran and yet, associated with the Prophet, it is considered obligatory.

Like the Quran, reports in hadith literature, sometimes contradictory, reveal little information concerning the reason for male circumcision among Muslims. For instance, reports point to circumcision as a sign of one’s status as a Muslim, a practitioner of the faith of Allah. Other traditions teach that certain Islamic practices require participants to be circumcised Muslims. This requirement applies to conversion, the pilgrimage to Mecca, inheritance, and even prayer.  Shiite traditions regard the practice as obligatory and tend to lean toward the extreme side on this issue.

Genital Mutilation or cutting in Iran

It was believed that circumcision reduces the incidence of HIV, herpes, simplex virus type 2, and human papilloma virus.[3] But regardless of its health benefits, hazards associate with male circumcision. A study conducted in Iran shows that early and late complications may occur,[4] but harmful sequelae are rare when trained and experienced providers do the cutting with adequate supplies in hygienic conditions. However, urgently needed are comprehensive, on-going programmes for physicians and non-medically trained providers, covering all aspects of the procedure and after-care to avoid unnecessary morbidity currently associated with the procedure in many settings.

Along with the historical record that has made male circumcision, aka male genital mutilation (MGM), appear a simple, common sense event, groups of experts, students and lay citizens have begun questioning its benefits. Some believe that MGM/C does indeed affect men’s sexual desire but negatively, by increasing the velocity of orgasm and leaving partners behind. This creates unsatisfactory and unhealthy sexual liaison among couples. There have been a few scholarly discussions on disadvantages of Male Genital Mutilation and its interference in healthy sexual relationships. According to these articles, circumcision inevitably decreases coital duration so that action stops short and induces dissatisfaction in female partners. Discussing MGM in academic settings and related conferences, some activists in virtual networks have begun positing Genital Mutilation as a malfunction for males as it is for females. It has been said that some parents among the younger generation, especially in more populous Iranian cities, are reluctant to circumcise their boys, leaving it to the children to decide on their own once they reach age 18. If an enlightened academy and social atmosphere increase in readiness to objectively address this cultural-scientific issue, we will face a considerable research take to investigate the topic.

[1] Wood, Julia. Gendered lives. Nelson Education, 2012.

[2] According to the Torah, God commanded Abraham to “circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, as a sign of the covenant between me and you. At the age of eight days, you shall circumcise every male child born to you throughout the generations”. To this day the Jewish people renew the covenant each time a baby boy is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. The eighth day is chosen because the first seven days represent the creation of the physical world. On the eighth day the baby is said to have transcended the physical world and is ready to enter the covenant made between man and God.

[3] Wood, Julia. Gendered lives. Nelson Education, 2012.

[4] Yegane, RA., Kheirollahi, AR., Salehi, NA. et al. Ped Surgery Int (2006) 22: 442

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