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Published on February 19th, 2014 | by Lawrence Thompson
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Religion’s role in FGM

Is there such a thing as a Muslim baby? Is there such a thing as a Christian baby?

Richard Dawkins wrote in to The Times to share his opinion: “Babies and toddlers are too young to know what they think about origins, moral philosophy or the meaning of life: too young to know whether they have a religion at all… [Why] do we confer on religion a quasi-genetic status, as though it were inherited like skin colour?

Some may respond to this statement with the argument that religion is akin to national identity; just as you are born British, French or German; the thinking goes that you inherit a position in a community which is based around common beliefs and common practices. Hence a commitment to the religion is presumed.

This is utter nonsense of course. Beliefs are formed not endowed; or at least they should be. If belief is compelled, consciously or unconsciously, then it is no such belief at all. It is, quite simply, pretence. Perhaps through the years, beliefs are formed and you commit to a particular religious ideal; I think the idea of a Christian confirmation is a gesture towards this line of thought. However, this isn’t enough. The inaccurate language, presupposing a faith which a small child is incapable of holding freely, lends legitimacy to certain practices which otherwise would not be considered acceptable.

The very notion that a child is bound by their parents’ religion is problematic for many reasons but a particularly egregious example is in the case of Female Genital Mutilation. The former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati made the argument that: “This mutilation has no foundation in any religion, philosophy, culture or sociology. It is a serious and violent abuse of a female. It cannot be justified in any way.” Many Muslims similarly argue it has no basis in the Quran although this is disputed. What is not disputed is that young women all around the world are experiencing extreme harm because of dangerous beliefs about the female body; beliefs which are, wrongly or rightly, interpreted as the legitimate expression of Islamic teachings.

There are hadiths that support female circumcision but I am no theological expert. FGM is against the law in the UK but it is widely considered to not be enforced; ‘cultural sensitivities’ becomes an euphemism for ignoring the brutal assault on female sexuality which FGM represents. In the UK over 66,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM, consequences which can range from infertility to death. Why? Why is it in a liberal democracy like ours there can be such a high number of sufferers?

To that question, I don’t have the answer but in part I believe it represents the logical conclusion of the error initially outlined: a small child does not have a religion and therefore should not be mutilated in pursuance of one.

This is the troubling nature of the problem as I see it; if you take the premise that a child inherits their parents’ religion, to borrow Dawkins’ phrase, in a “quasi-genetic” manner, then it is only logical that the child must conform to that religions’ practice regardless of how barbaric it may be. There is no room for explicit consent in this account and presumed consent is no consent at all. It is through this prism which defenders of female circumcision must make their argument; by what right is consent given? There is no such thing as a Christian baby, there is also no such thing as a Muslim baby; the only religious beliefs endorsed by such labels are the parents’, not the child. If you disagree, if you defend the notion of the religious baby, it might be worth exploring what other propositions you commit yourself to in the process.


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

From the West Midlands, currently studying Philosophy and Politics at the University of Leeds. This blog will concern itself with International Politics and issues facing young people. My main interests are in Middle Eastern and Pacific Asian politics.

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