The literal and terminological meaning of circumcision

Literally, it means the removal of the foreskin of a male’s genital organ. In religious terminology, it means the round edge underneath the glands, i.e. the point of cutting the foreskin, and to which the religious rulings relate.

Imam Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi, and an-Nasa’i related that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “When the two points of circumcision (of the male and the female) meet, then ghusl (purification of the entire body) becomes incumbent.”


The hadiths (evidences) that prove the legitimacy of circumcision

Imam Ahmad related in his musnad that Ammar Ibn Yasir said that Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Among the practices of fitrah (innate disposition) are – rinsing one’s mouth, rinsing one’s nose, cutting the moustache, using siwak, clipping the nails, removing the hair from the armpits, shaving the pubic hair and circumcision.

Abu Hurairah related that Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Five practices are characteristics of fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, cutting the moustache, clipping the nails, and the removal of the armpit hair.


Is circumcision obligatory or Sunnah?

Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Imam Abu Hanifah, and some Hanabilites say that it is Sunnah (i.e. optional). Their proof for saying so is what Ahmad related from Shaddad Ibn Aws said that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Circumcision is a Sunnah for men, and an honour for women”, as well as the fact that Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) has combined circumcision with other Sunan such as using siwak for cleaning one’s teeth, and rinsing one’s mouth and others. So this proves that circumcision is Sunnah and not compulsory.

Also among their proofs is what Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “Many people embraced Islam with the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) blacks, whites, Romans, and Persians. The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) has not inspected any of them.”

So, if circumcision were imperative, the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) would not have accepted them until they got circumcised.

Ash-Sh‘abi, Rabi‘ah, Al- Awza‘i, Malik, Ash-Shafi‘i and Ahmad are of the opinion that circumcision is compulsory, and quoted many proof such as:

–   Imam Ahmad and Abu Dawud related that Uthaim Ibn Kulayb quoted his father, who quoted his grandfather as saying: that he came to the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and said, “I have embraced Islam.” So, the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “have your hair of disbelief cut, and get circumcised.”

–   Allah said, “Thereafter we revealed to you, (saying) ‘closely follow the creed of Ibrahim unswervingly upright.” (Surah an-Nahl, 16 : 123)

Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and his Ummah (nation) are instructed to follow Ibrahim’s creed, and circumcision is part of Ibrahim’s creed. This view is also supported by what Bukhari and Muslim related that Abu Hurairah said that Ibrahim was circumcised at the age of eighty.

–   Ahmad and Tirmidhi related that Abu Ayyub said that Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Circumcision, perfuming, Siwak, and marriage are four of the enactments of Allah’s Messengers.”

–   Al-Khattabi said, “As for circumcision, although it is mentioned among other Sunnan, it is deemed by many scholars as wajib (compulsory). It is taken as a mark that distinguishes a Muslim from a non-Muslim. So if a circumcised person was found amongst a group of uncircumcised people, the prayer of janazah should be held for him, and he should be buried in the Muslim’s graveyard.”

– The scholars who view circumcision as compulsory justify their view by saying that: the uncircumcised person is liable to spoiling his purity and prayers, as the foreskin covers the whole penis, it may get some urine trapped within, and it may not be purified (using a stone when necessary.) So, the soundness of purity and prayers is bound to circumcision. And that is why many old and contemporary scholars ban the uncircumcised person from leading the prayer. So, these proofs quoted by them show that circumcision is compulsory. They also refuted the proofs presented by those who deem it as Sunnah (optional.)


Is a female to be circumcised?

Scholars have unanimously agreed that circumcision is preferable for females, but not compulsory. Their proof is that when the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) ordained circumcision, he (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) assigned it to men, not to women.

It has not been recorded that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) ordered a woman to get circumcised, except for the above-mentioned Hadith of Shaddad – “Circumcision is Sunnah for men and an honor for women.” This Hadith shows that it is preferable, but not compulsory.


When should circumcision be performed?

Many scholars say that it is to be done at the beginning of the age of puberty, since a boy is held responsible for his deeds at this age. But it is much better for the father to have his son circumcised in the early days after his birth.

Al-Baihaqi related that Jabir said: “Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) offered ‘aqiqah for al-Hasan and al-Husayn and had them circumcised on their seventh day.”


What is the rationale for circumcision?

Circumcision has a religious rationale as well as healthy benefits which have been clarified by the scholars and outlined by physicians.


Among the most important religious reasons they mentioned are:

–  It is the essence of fitrah (innate disposition), and a mark of Islam.

–  It completes the unswerving uprightness that is ordained by Allah Who said:

“Then We revealed to you, (O Messenger), to follow the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth … ”  (Surah An-Nahl, 16 : 123)

–   It distinguishes Muslim from non-Muslim.

–   It is an acknowledgement of bondage to Allah, submission to His orders and acceptance of His Judgment.


Among the significant health benefits are:

–   It brings about cleanliness and moderates sexual desire.

–   It is a physical precaution that helps to avoid many diseases such as cancer and incontinence.


The above mentioned rules, whether related to giving glad tidings of the new born child, saying the Adhan for him, recommending Tahnfk for him, offering aqiqah, shaving his head, naming him and circumcising him, all obligate the educator with the necessity of looking after him from the time he is born, caring for him from the first moment he comes into this world and breathes the air of life.

Islam does not only care for the new-born child from the time he is born, but it also allows him to pay more attention as he understands and becomes aware of life, and grasps the essence of things around him.


Taken from the book : CHILD EDUCATION IN ISLAM




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