In rural areas and more remote areas of Indonesia, particularly the island of Java, female circumcision is still a widespread traditional practice. Although it is not a rule set in a rigid manner by the precepts of Islam, it resists in the most populous Muslim country in the world thanks to the favorable opinion of a large part of society, due to the more extreme and integral fringe. Over the years, activists and politicians have launched campaigns and appeals in an attempt to eradicate the popular custom, which puts the physical health of girls at risk. However, efforts to stem the “tetesan” – as it is called in the country – have so far been a vain war fought on “two different fronts”, at a governmental level and on a purely religious level.
Renowned experts of Islamic law in Indonesia, interviewed by AsiaNews, stigmatize the practice of female circumcision as “damaging”, even if it continues the comparison – which in many cases results in open clashes – between the fuqaha extremists and moderate Muslims leaders. With the first in favor of mutilation, while the latter engaged in campaigns to put an end to the phenomenon.
The the Muslim intellectual Sumanto Al Qurtuby says the faction that supports tetesan is linked to the Salafi and Wahhabi community, which together with other fundamentalist groups are concentrated in Bandung and Aceh. They believe that circumcision is “morally” encouraged by Sharia, or Islamic law, and reiterated in the hadith, in anecdotes related to the life of the Prophet Muhammad. However, the expert adds, while the practice is “suggested” it is not “mandatory” and there are no moral foundations of Islamic law that state it should be perpetrated. There are in fact six different drafts of the hadith – better known as “Kutub as-Sittah” – and only one of these “calls for” the spread of female circumcision.
Together with the moral issue, there is also a health and a pyscological aspect. The practice of FGM, in fact, results in the loss of sexual pleasure and is often practiced in contexts far from sterile, in which there is a clear risk of infection or post-operative consequences. This is why human rights activists, citizens and a large part of civil society have fought for and end to this practice – especially in rural areas. An act, they describe as “dangerous” and “contrary to the health care.”
The author of this article in his youth, when he was about eight years old, witnessed firsthand circumcision practiced on a young girl, forced by her parents (Muslims) to submit to the “Islamic ritual.” Rather than doing it in a private and appropriately sterilized room – as I recall – the act of female circumcision was carried out in the open air, her feet on the ground, while the genital organ was removed with a razor blade. The little girl began to scream in pain, as a stream of blood oozed from the wound. At the end of the rite, I remember that the family offered a kind of celebration of the “thank you” to neighbors, for taking part in the “Islamic ritual.”
An opinion poll carried out by the government in 2003 confirmed that the practice of female genital mutilation is still widespread in rural areas. In 2006, the Ministry of Health tried to intervene to stem the tide, without any substantive results regarding what is defined by a number of fronts, especially among female movements as, “an example of domestic violence.” Throughout Indonesia at least 400 non-governmental organizations have arisen that are fighting against the practice. The movements in unison, recall that Jakarta is one of the signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Convention) and is called to make every effort to reduce the social impact of this practice.