The second in a four part series from students of Dubai Women's College. Illustration by Kate Forrester www.kateforrester.co.uk
The second in a four part series from students of Dubai Women's College. Illustration by Kate Forrester www.kateforrester.co.uk

Fatal traditions: Female circumcision in the UAE



This is the second in a weekly series of four essays by students at Dubai Women's College in Al Qusais that have been published in Desert Dawn, the biannual student magazine. Most of the people quoted in this essay have been granted anonymity, and their names have been changed.

"I was 8 years old when my mother took me and my sisters to the hospital. I was really terrified because I didn't know what was going on. I entered a white room and was told by the nurse to lie on the bed. A few minutes later, I felt severe pain and then everything ended," Asma Obaid, 21, says about the day her mother took her, together with her five sisters, for "a quick trip".

Female circumcision is a controversial topic in UAE society since people still argue about whether it is recommended Islamically or simply practised because of tribal traditions. A significant number of UAE nationals follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents without questioning the practice.

If Islam encourages female circumcision, why do experts consider the practice medically and psychologically harmful to women? Is there any religious text people should refer to? What is the medical point of view? Are there benefits to this practice? Many questions need answers.

Female circumcision originated in Egypt in 100BC, when pharaonic circumcision was established. It is based on the mutilation of the sensitive female genital area, which leaves only a small aperture for the passage of urine and menstruation. This type of female circumcision is still popular in some Arab countries such as Egypt and Sudan. In the Gulf countries, and specifically in the UAE, female circumcision is to some still a tribal tradition and to others a religious tradition. Although it has been banned in Government hospitals, it is still performed secretly in the country. The common type of circumcision in the UAE is the one in which a small portion of the female genitalia is removed.

Opinions on female circumcision vary because of cultural sensitivity and different levels of education. In a Desert Dawn survey of 200 Emiratis of both sexes on the subject, 34 per cent of female respondents said they were circumcised because of customs and tradition. Forty per cent of circumcised female participants were in favour of female circumcision and said they would circumcise their daughters. Eighty-two per cent of female respondents opposed the practice, as did 99 per cent of male participants.

Mariam Humaid, a 21-year-old university student, was 7 when she was taken to the house of her grandmother, who was known for her medical knowledge in the tribe.

"I was feeling every needle prick as I was circumcised without any painkillers," Humaid says. She says that female circumcision is a "must" in her tribe; those who are circumcised will be respected and appreciated while those who are not will be looked down on. "Of course, I will circumcise my daughters and if my husband doesn't like the idea, I will do whatever it takes to persuade him."

Humaid tells the story of her friend, Alia Saeed, 22, who was circumcised against her will when a man proposed to her and made the circumcision a condition of marriage.

"I researched the topic and discovered that if it was done in the correct way, it is all right," Saeed says. So she agreed and married him.

Sara Ali, a 23-year-old university student, was circumcised at the age of 9 with her six sisters at a Government hospital before the ban. One of her sisters was not circumcised after the authorities banned the practice.

"My father didn't like the idea of female circumcision," Ali says, "but the pressure from my grandmother and aunts was greater than his wish." Ali believes female circumcision violates women's rights.

Fatma Essa, a 22-year-old bank employee, is the only circumcised girl in her family, even though she is the youngest. Her mother took her with the mother's friend and daughter to get both daughters circumcised.

"I don't know the reasons behind the circumcision and I don't know whether I am for or against it," she says. "But I'm sure that my mother won't do anything that will cause me harm." She says every mother wants the best for her daughter and so if circumcision were harmful, her mother would not do it.

Mona Ahmed, a 22-year-old student and mother of two boys, says she will circumcise her daughter if she has one. She will do as her mother did to her when she was only two days old.

"In case my husband refused to circumcise our daughter," she says, "I won't object to him because my only objective for circumcising her is to follow the sunnah of the Prophet." She says, however, that if she circumcises her daughter, it will be in the girl's early days and not when she grows up.

On the other hand, Um Reem, a circumcised mother of two girls, did not circumcise her daughters because she believes the practice does not offer any benefits.

"When I know that the damage caused by girls' circumcision is much bigger than its benefits, what's the point of endangering the lives of our daughters?" she asks.

Fatma Al Marzouqi, a 25-year-old in Abu Dhabi, opposes female circumcision, saying it is a violation of women's rights.

"Most people who circumcise their daughters are people who cling to tribal traditions and customs that have nothing to do with religion or medicine," she says.

Agreeing with Al Marzouqi, Maitha Mohammed, a 22-year-old student, encourages the Government to act.

"The authorities must play a better advocacy role," she says. "We are suffering today from the lack of resources and information regarding the circumcision of girls, which prevents individuals from gaining the knowledge about such procedures, especially if it was carried out by unqualified doctors or individuals."

According to the Desert Dawn survey, the vast majority of UAE men agree there is no point to female circumcision, rejecting the idea because of its many disadvantages, especially if it is performed improperly.

Mohammed Ahmed, a 28-year-old bank employee, opposes the practice because, he says, it leads to physical and psychological problems. "Many who circumcise their daughters have misunderstood Islam and most of them perform it due to cultural reasons which do not have anything to do with religion," he says.

Majed Ahmed, a 19-year-old university student, agrees. "The real reasons behind female circumcision are the traditions and customs without referring to the advice of experts," he says. He believes the practice of circumcision is unjust to females.

"Many people are afraid their daughters will misbehave, so they circumcise them," Ahmed says. "Good manners and sticking to real Islamic practices will guide the girls to proper behaviour. Circumcising them won't make them better behaved."

With reference to the origin of female circumcision in Islam, Dr Ahmed Al Haddad, Grand Mufti of the UAE and director of Ifta Department, notes that, historically, Arabs always knew about female circumcision, but only "medicine women" performed the procedure. He quotes the Prophet Mohammed as saying to a woman whom he saw circumcising a girl: "Cut off only the foreskin but don't cut deeply, for this is brighter for the face [of the girl] and more favourable with the husband."

While circumcision is performed on men and women, there is no evidence from the Quran or sunnah requiring female circumcision, says the Grand Mufti. The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence in Islam have slightly different interpretations. The Al Shafi'i school views circumcision as obligatory for both men and women, but on a small scale for women. The Hanbali and Hanafi schools believe female circumcision is desirable, and the Maliki school thinks it is an honour for the girl.

Dr Ahmed Al Qubaisi, former president of the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Baghdad, and recently at the UAE University, agrees with Al Haddad that circumcision is a personal, not religious, choice. To him, many Muslims do it without any clear evidence from the Quran or sunnah. He cites the significance of the statement released by the United Nations two years ago that prohibits female circumcision and the harm it causes.

"Even if the simplest female circumcision is beneficial to men," Al Qubaisi says, "we should not forget that it may harm the girl physically and psychologically and in Islam we are not allowed to favour one party over the other."

Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi, an Islamic scholar noted for his study on women's issues in Islam, writing on his website (www.qaradawi.net), rejects the notion that people, including doctors and scholars, support female circumcision to prevent females from committing sins: "Many Muslim countries do not circumcise their women and we do not notice increased levels of females' sinful acts there."

Al Haddad argues that if female circumcision is to be performed, it should be done at birth and not later, which is forbidden in Islam. "It will harm the girl and reveal her private area," he says. Men, however, can be circumcised at any age for hygienic reasons.

Medically speaking, and according to one female doctor who asked not to be identified, male circumcision is a must because it prevents serious infections that could cause diseases such as cancer. She argues, however, that female circumcision is medically unacceptable since there is no benefit to the practice other than reducing the female's sexual desire. Pharaonic circumcision, in fact, can be deadly as it may cause bleeding and infections during intercourse or while giving birth.

The role of the Government in putting an end to this fatal tradition is being questioned and a clarification is needed on the legality of female circumcision in the country. If it is banned in Government hospitals, why is it performed in other health facilities? Many health officials refused to talk about female circumcision, preferring to keep silent. But how effective is that?

Wafa Al Marzouqi, 22, earned a bachelor's degree in applied communication from Dubai Women's College in 2010. Her story here was recognised by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and was awarded second place in Habib Media Innovations 2011. She works as a research analyst in the International Relations department of the Emirates Competitiveness Council, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.

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Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Coffee: black death or elixir of life?

It is among the greatest health debates of our time; splashed across newspapers with contradicting headlines - is coffee good for you or not?

Depending on what you read, it is either a cancer-causing, sleep-depriving, stomach ulcer-inducing black death or the secret to long life, cutting the chance of stroke, diabetes and cancer.

The latest research - a study of 8,412 people across the UK who each underwent an MRI heart scan - is intended to put to bed (caffeine allowing) conflicting reports of the pros and cons of consumption.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, contradicted previous findings that it stiffens arteries, putting pressure on the heart and increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke, leading to warnings to cut down.

Numerous studies have recognised the benefits of coffee in cutting oral and esophageal cancer, the risk of a stroke and cirrhosis of the liver. 

The benefits are often linked to biologically active compounds including caffeine, flavonoids, lignans, and other polyphenols, which benefit the body. These and othetr coffee compounds regulate genes involved in DNA repair, have anti-inflammatory properties and are associated with lower risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to type-2 diabetes.

But as doctors warn, too much of anything is inadvisable. The British Heart Foundation found the heaviest coffee drinkers in the study were most likely to be men who smoked and drank alcohol regularly.

Excessive amounts of coffee also unsettle the stomach causing or contributing to stomach ulcers. It also stains the teeth over time, hampers absorption of minerals and vitamins like zinc and iron.

It also raises blood pressure, which is largely problematic for people with existing conditions.

So the heaviest drinkers of the black stuff - some in the study had up to 25 cups per day - may want to rein it in.

Rory Reynolds

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

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SHALASH THE IRAQI

Author: Shalash
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Pages: 352
Publisher: And Other Stories

The five pillars of Islam
A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets

A Long Way Home by Peter Carey
Faber & Faber

Barbie

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Stars: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera
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Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

A little about CVRL

Founded in 1985 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) is a government diagnostic centre that provides testing and research facilities to the UAE and neighbouring countries.

One of its main goals is to provide permanent treatment solutions for veterinary related diseases. 

The taxidermy centre was established 12 years ago and is headed by Dr Ulrich Wernery. 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

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Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

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Scotland (15-1): Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Josh Strauss, James Ritchie, Ryan Wilson; Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Allan Dell

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Coach: Gregor Townsend (SCO)

Ireland (15-1): Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony; James Ryan, Quinn Roux; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy

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The specs

Engine: four-litre V6 and 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo

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Brief scores:

​​​​​​Toss: Pakhtunkhwa Zalmi, chose to field

​Environment Agency: 193-3 (20 ov)
Ikhlaq 76 not out, Khaliya 58, Ahsan 55

Pakhtunkhwa Zalmi: 194-2 (18.3 ov)
Afridi 95 not out, Sajid 55, Rizwan 36 not out

Result: Pakhtunkhwa won by 8 wickets

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Keane on …

Liverpool’s Uefa Champions League bid: “They’re great. With the attacking force they have, for me, they’re certainly one of the favourites. You look at the teams left in it - they’re capable of scoring against anybody at any given time. Defensively they’ve been good, so I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t go on and win it.”

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s instant impact at former club LA Galaxy: “Brilliant. It’s been a great start for him and for the club. They were crying out for another big name there. They were lacking that, for the prestige of LA Galaxy. And now they have one of the finest stars. I hope they can go win something this year.”

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

THE SWIMMERS

Director: Sally El-Hosaini

Stars: Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Ahmed Malek and Ali Suliman 

Rating: 4/5

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Consoles: PC, PlayStation
Rating: 2/5

Visit Abu Dhabi culinary team's top Emirati restaurants in Abu Dhabi

Yadoo’s House Restaurant+& Cafe

For the karak and Yoodo's house platter with includes eggs, balaleet, khamir and chebab bread.

Golden Dallah

For the cappuccino, luqaimat and aseeda.

Al Mrzab Restaurant

For the shrimp murabian and Kuwaiti options including Kuwaiti machboos with kebab and spicy sauce.

Al Derwaza

For the fish hubul, regag bread, biryani and special seafood soup. 

Your Guide to the Home
  • Level 1 has a valet service if you choose not to park in the basement level. This level houses all the kitchenware, including covetable brand French Bull, along with a wide array of outdoor furnishings, lamps and lighting solutions, textiles like curtains, towels, cushions and bedding, and plenty of other home accessories.
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