Date: Mon, 9 Oct 1995 07:51:53 -0700
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <>
From: Frank Conlon <>
Subject: H-ASIA: Female Circumcision query

Query on female circumcision in Asia

Dialog on H-Asia list. October, 1995

Date: Mon, 9 Oct 1995 07:51:53 -0700
From: richard gehrmann <>

This question might seem a little unusual, but I was wondering if anyone out there could help? An undergraduate student came to me asking about Female Circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in South and Southeast Asia, in relation to a term paper she was writing.

Apart from brief references to symbolic circumcision, in Koentjaraningrat's _Javanese Culture_ (1985), I don't know of this practice taking place in Indonesia or Malaysia. Koentjaraningrat seems to imply this is a dying custom - can any readers advise if this is the case, and if any research has been published on this issue? It's well covered in regard to the Middle East and Africa, but from my preliminary search there isn't much of this depressing practice in Southeast Asia. Am I correct?

Any information / references appreciated.

Richard Gehrmann
Asian Studies
University of Southern Queensland
Toowoomba Australia

Ed. note: The book noted above is:

Author: Koentjaraningrat, 1923-.
Title: Javanese culture
Pub. Info.: Singapore ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1985.
Phy Descript: xiv, 550 p. : ill., map ; 23 cm.
Notes: "Issued under the auspices of the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Singapore.".
ISBN: 019582542X (U.S.).
LCCN: 85940947.


1) Subj: RE: H-ASIA: Female Circumcision query
From: Judith Henchy <>

Female circumcision was practiced in Malaysia when I was living in Singapore 10 years ago. I am surprised that nothing has been written on it. (I will look in our collection if I have time). I have no evidence as to the extent of the practice, but am reminded of a British expat colleague with a Singaporean Malay wife who felt compelled to submit to her wish to subject their daughters to the traditional practice, since it would have been unthinkable for her to do otherwise. It could be that Singaporean Malays have a stronger interest in upholding these "traditions," as their language and culture are under pressure from the majority Chinese government. It would be interesting to know how this practice is regarded by the "fundamentalist" islamic party in Malaysia which is challenging the coalition government to impose some of the more radical religious practices associated with the Middle East.


Judith Henchy
Head, Southeast Asia Section
Seattle, WA 98195

Telephone: (206) 543 3986
Fax: (206) 685 8049

2) From: IN%""
Subj: RE: Female Circumcision query

In response to Richard Gehrmann's query on female circumcision (khitan), I am afraid I can only offer anecdotal evidence, but a lecturer of mine once mentioned a conversation with his Indonesian chauffeur when he resided there (in the 80s). The chauffeur believed that circumcision was necessary for his girls to be raised as good Muslims. This surprised me, because I too was under the impression that such practices were not generally carried out in Southeast Asia. However, as the veil seems to be becoming more popular, perhaps there has been an increasing tendency for female genital mutilation to be practiced due to the influence of some sheikhs at Al-Azhar university in Cairo - the premier Islamic university for Malaysian and Indonesian students in Egypt.

A recent article in the Indonesian periodical "Gatra" (3 June 1995, pge 104), ran a story about a group of Egyptian feminists taking Al-Azhar's premier cleric (Ali Gadel Haq) to court, claiming that he had violated human rights. Ali Gadel Haq had recently issued a fatwa (legal pronouncement) proclaiming that "female circumcision is a part of Islamic law, and its enactment in accordance with the prophet's directions". He based this fatwa on a prophetic tradition (hadith) attributed to Umm 'Atiyah, and not on the Qur'an, in which female circumcision is not specifically mentioned.

The various Islamic juridical schools (madhhab) differ on the subject. Whereas circumcision is not obligatory for women or men according to the Hanafi and Maliki madhhab, and only for men as far as Hanafi is concerned, Imam Shafi'i declares circumcision incumbent on both men and women. The Shafi'i madhhab is the dominant school in Egypt and (as far as I know) Indonesia, and although the practice was already in existence in Egypt prior to Islam, it was incorporated in the new religion.

Although female circumcision is declared obligatory by Imam Shafii, I still doubt that it is generally practiced in Indonesia, but I suspect that it may be increasing, rather than dying out, as a part of the current Islamic revival in the region. Of course, not being an expert, I could be wrong, and would appreciate any corrections or pointers to studies on such issues. It would also be interesting to see if the Indonesian government has formulated any position on the issue.



Michael Laffan
Australian National University Library
ph: 249 3515

Date: October 12, 1995
1)Subj: female circumcision in Malaysia

I'm afraid I can only add anecdotal information as well. I well remember how a fellow graduate student, a (Malay) Malaysian woman, was depressed one day--because she had just received word from home that her new-born niece had been circumcised. I didn't feel comfortable asking too many details, but I got the impression that the practice was fairly widespread--even among middle-class families who send their daughters off for Ph.D.s in the U.S. What surprised me in this particular case was that the grandmother of the circumcised baby girl was a convert to Islam, having Portuguese-Malay ethnic origins (whether the conversion was upon marriage or was more distant than that, I don't know).

(I'd like to leave my name off of this posting because I feel that this conversation with my Malaysian friend was spoken in confidence, and I don't wish anyone to associate my name with hers.)

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