Educating Quanta Ahmed About the Importance of The Sunna and The Hadith, and Their Relevance to FGM/C

During a recent appearance (4/18/2014) with Frank Gaffney on Secure Freedom Radio, Quanta Ahmed maintained she was unfamiliar with a canonical hadith sanctioning female genital mutilation/circumcision (FGM/C), before negating altogether the importance of the hadith as a source of Islamic law, Sharia.

Hadith, which means “story” (“narrative”), refers to any report of what the Muslim prophet Muhammad said or did, or his tacit assent to something said or done in his presence. [1] (Hadith is also used as the technical term for the “science” of such “Traditions.”) As a result of a lengthy process that continued for centuries after Muhammad’s death (in 632), the hadith emerged for Muslims as second in authority to the Koran itself. [2]

Sunna, which means “path,” refers to a normative custom of Muhammad or of the early Islamic community. [3] The hadith “justify and confirm” the Sunna. [4]

Henri Lammens, the great early 20th century Islamologist highlighted the importance of the Sunna (and, by extension, the hadith) [5]:

As early as the first century A.H. [the seventh century] the following aphorism was pronounced: “The Sunna can dispense with the Qur’an, but not the Qur’an with the Sunna.” Proceeding to still further lengths, some Muslims assert that “in controversial matters, the Sunna overrules the authority of the Qur’an, but not vice versa” . . . all admit the Sunna completes and explains it [the Koran].

Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (d. 1981), was a prolific Shi’ite writer whose influential Koranic studies, and philosophical works, remain widely read. Tabatabai’s monumental twenty volume Al-Mizān fi Tafsir al-Qur’an (“The measure of balance in the interpretation of the Quran”), is generally regarded as the most important 20th century Shi’ite Koranic commentary. [6] Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaei University, named in honor of this celebrated Shi’ite authority and “theosopher,” is the largest specialized state social sciences university in Iran and the Middle East, with 17000 students and 500 full-time faculty members. [7] Affirming his continued lofty stature, and relevance, an Iranian national conference was held on May 3, 2012, in Qom, dedicated to “recognizing the interpretative methods and principles used by Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaee [Tabatabai] in [his] Al-Mizan exegesis.” [8] Allamah Tabatabai’s Al-Mizan acknowledged that the hadith remained an authoritative source of Islamic Law, inseparable from the Koran itself [9]:

tradition is the companion of the Koran and they are not separate from each other in being authoritative sources of the law.

Finally, a contemporary report, “The hadith is the second type of revelation,” confirmed the ongoing importance of the hadith from a modern Islamic perspective, stating [10]:

Adherence to the Sunnah is an obligation. So there must be a means by which Muslims could fulfill their obligation. The only way to completely do so is to know exactly what the Prophet said and did. This cannot be fulfilled by following or reading the Koran alone, therefore we must turn to the reports and record of the Prophet’s words and deeds, meaning the hadith. The hadith is the second type of revelation from Allah the Almighty. From the hadith do we derive the sunnah of the Prophet.

The following canonical hadith sanctions FGM/C [11]:

Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah said: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: “Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.”

A footnote by the hadith collection’s English translator, Professor Ahmad Hasan, adds the following clear, succinct, and accurate observations [12]:

Some Shafii scholars hold that circumcision of girls is obligatory, but others think that it is recommended. Ahmad b. Hanbal and some Maliki jurists hold that it is obligatory. Abu Hanifah maintains that it is recommended and not obligatory. Malik holds that it is recommended and not obligatory.

The great Muslim theologian and polymath al-Jahiz (d. 869), citing the canonical tradition of Muhammad, noted that female circumcision was specifically employed as a means to reduce female “concupiscence,” unbridled lust—or mere sexual pleasure, derived from a fully intact clitoris: [13]

A woman with a clitoris has more pleasure than a woman without a clitoris. The pleasure depends on the quantity which was cut from the clitoris. Muhammad said, “If you cut, cut the slightest part and do not exaggerate because it makes the face more beautiful and it is more pleasing for the husband.” It seems Muhammad wanted to reduce the concupiscence of the women to moderate it. If concupiscence is reduced, the pleasure is also reduced…The love of the husband is an impediment against debauchery. Judge Janab Al-Khaskhash contends that he counted in one village the number of women who were circumcised and those who were not, and he found that the circumcised were chaste and the majority of the debauched were uncircumcised. Indian, Byzantine, and Persian women often commit adultery and run after men because their concupiscence towards men is greater. For this reason, India created brothels. This happened because of the massive presence of their clitorises and their hoods.

This argument is repeatedly invoked by classical Muslim jurists, and remains at present the most commonly cited rationale for circumcision of Muslim women. For example, here are two opinions from respected Al-Azhar clerics/“Professors,” Al Azhar University and its mosque representing the pinnacle of Sunni Islamic religious education, the de facto Vatican of Sunni Islam. The first observation was by the late Jad al-Haq (d. 1996) who served as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and as such was a Sunni Muslim Papal equivalent.

Al-Haq insisted the present era makes female circumcision requisite, [14]

because of mixing of the sexes at public gatherings. If the girl is not circumcised, she subjects herself to multiple causes of excitation leading her to vice and perdition.]

Abd al-Rahman Al-Adawi, al-Azhar Professor, writing in 1989, noted that female circumcision is makrumah—a meritorious action. He further claimed the procedure helped the woman, [15]

remain shy and virtuous. In the Orient, where the climate is hot, a girl gets easily aroused if she is not circumcised. It makes her shameless and prey to her sexual instincts except those to whom Allah shows compassion.

The classical Iraqi jurist Ibn Mawdud al-Musili (d. 1284), in his major Islamic law treatise declared, [16]

If a region stops, of common agreement, to practice male and female circumcision, the chief of the state declares war [jihad] against that region because circumcision is a part of the rituals of Islam and its specificities

Former Al-Azhar Grand Imam Jad al-Haq also insisted repeatedly (twice in a 1981 fatwa, and three times in a fatwa published during 1994; that the attempt to prevent female (or male) circumcision was grounds for waging jihad against those renouncing and abrogating the procedures. [17] The October 1994 issue of the magazine Al-Azhar included a booklet distributed as a free appendix. The booklet contained Grand Imam al-Haq’s fatwa whose main elements had already been published in 1981. In this “updated” 1994 fatwa, al-Haq affirmed the call for jihad thrice, reiterating verbatim the opinion of the 13th century jurist al-Musili, and adding his own gloss about the obligatory nature of female and male circumcision, [18]

If a region stops, of common agreement, to practice male and female circumcision, the chief of the state declares war [jihad] against that region because circumcision is a part of the rituals of Islam and its specificities. This means that male and female circumcisions are obligatory.

Given such authoritative and adamant Islamic endorsement, it is unsurprising that the FGM/C rate in Egypt—the world’s most populous Arab Muslim nation—persisted at 91%, as reported in a July, 2013 UNICEF analysis. [19]


1) J. Robson, “Hadith,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, eds. P. Bearman, Thomas Biaqnquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 2006); J. Robson, “Tradition, the Second Foundation of Islam,” Muslim World 41 (1951): 22, 24.

2) Robson, “Hadith”; “Tradition,” pp. 22, 23

3) Robson, “Hadith”; “Tradition,” p. 24.

4) H. Lammens, Islam: Beliefs and Institutions, New Delhi: 2002, p. 69.

5) Ibid., p. 65.

6) Jane Dammen McCauliffe, “Christians in the Quran and Tafsir”, in Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions—A Historical Survey, New York, 1999, edited by Jacques Waardenburg, pp. 107-108.; Elsewhere, in Jane Dammen McCauliffe, Qur’anic Christians—An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegetes, 1991, Cambridge, U.K., p. 85, after dubbing the Sunni Sheikh, Rashid Rida (d. 1935), one of the “preeminent exegetes of this [the 20th] century,” McCauliffe maintains, “Rashid Rida’s counterpart for 20th century Shi’i commentary is undoubtedly Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai.”

7) “Introduction: Allameh Tabatabai University”

8) “Allameh Tabatabaei’s Interpretive Methods and Principles Nat’l Congress to be Held,”, May 1, 2012

9) Al-Mizan fe Tafsir al-Quran, translated by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, 2001, Vol. 10, p. 21.

10) The Gulf Times, Thursday October 23, 2008,

11) Sunan Abu Dawud, Chapter 1888, “Circumcision of Girls”, Number 5251, from Sunan Abu Dawud, one of the six canonical hadith collections, English translation with Explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan, 2007, Volume III, p. 1451; this hadith is also available online here, as Book 41, Number 5251]

12) Ibid. p. 1451, note 4527

13) Al-Jahiz, Kitab al-hayawan, Vol. 7, pp. 27-29, translated here

14) Jad al-Haq, 1983, Khitan al-banat, in: Al-fatawi al-islamiyyah min dar al-ifta al-masriyyah, Vol. 9, p. 3124, translated here

15) From Al-khitan, ra’y al-din wal-‘ilm fi khitan al-awlad wal-banat, 1989, pp 81-2, translated here]

16) Al-ikhtiyar, vol. 4, p. 167, translated here

17) Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, Male and Female Circumcision—Religious, medical, social, and legal debate, 2012, p. 173.

18) Ibid., translation, p. 347

19) “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change.”

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism ” (Prometheus, November, 2008)

You can contact Dr. Bostom at

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