A religious oriented approach to addressing fgm c among the somali community living in kenya
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A Religious-Oriented Approach to Addressing FGM/C Among the Somali Community Living in Kenya Maryam Sheikh Abdi Ibrahim Lethome Asmani Presentation Overview The situation among the Somali in Kenya Two-pronged response Clarify the non-Islamic basis for FGM/C Positive messages

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A religious oriented approach to addressing fgm c among the somali community living in kenya l.jpg

A Religious-Oriented Approach to Addressing FGM/C Among the Somali Community Living in Kenya

Maryam Sheikh Abdi

Ibrahim Lethome Asmani


Presentation overview l.jpg
Presentation Overview Somali Community Living in Kenya

  • The situation among the Somali in Kenya

  • Two-pronged response

  • Clarify the non-Islamic basis for FGM/C

  • Positive messages

  • Lessons learned

  • Next steps


Situation in north eastern province nep l.jpg
Situation in North Eastern Province (NEP) Somali Community Living in Kenya

  • High mortality

    • Infant mortality: 91/1,000

    • Maternal mortality: 1,000 – 1,300 per 100,000 live births

  • Poor access and use of safe motherhood services:

    • 8% deliver in health facilities (41% countrywide)

  • Universal practice of FGM/C

  • Infibulation / type III most commonly practised


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Reasons for the practice of FGM/C: Findings from a baseline study

  • Two major reasons given:

    • It is an Islamic religious requirement (63%)

    • It is a Somali custom and tradition (76%)

  • Other reasons given:

    • it prevents immorality (17%);

    • it limits a woman’s sexual desire (15%);

    • it ensures a woman’s cleanliness (12%);

    • it preserves virginity (8%)


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Two-pronged response developed study

Strengthen health system capacity to manage complications

Develop / offer training to:

Strengthen ANC, delivery and postpartum care

Manage health complications associated with FGM/C

Encourage health staff to advocate against practice

Initiate community-based activities to encourage abandonment of FGM/C

Diagnostic study to understand practice

Engagement with religious leaders

Community mobilization with range of social groups


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Initiating community-based activities to encourage abandonment

  • Removing religious support would greatly reduce the practice:

    • “One who is not circumcised is not a Muslim, and even her parents are seen as not being in the religion, that is how we see it as Somalis”, (Married men, Wajir, 2005)

    • “People before us like Prophet Adam (PBUH) and Eve have been doing it, so whether good or bad we will continue with it” (Married women, Wajir, 2005)


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Addressing religious aspect seen as most critical and likely to influence change

  • Health and rights based arguments on their own are unlikely to be influential:

    • “…there is nobody who does not get a tear, only the severity matters…No, it is not because of circumcision, it is God’s will and it can happen to any one” (Circumcisers, Wajir, 2005).


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Addressing religious aspect seen as most critical and likely to influence change

  • “ We will follow our religion…we will not stop sunnah but anything more than what is mentioned in the Quran we can stop. We are ready to discuss with sheikhs but we will not stop because the radio or the government has said…we are governed by our religion and we don’t care about other laws” (Married men, Wajir, 2005)


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Strategy to engage with religious scholars to influence change

  • Identify influential and knowledgeable religious scholars and leaders to form team of resource persons; mainly non-Somali to avoid any cultural prejudice

  • Hold discussions for 10-15 Wajir-based scholars for objectivity


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Strategy to engage with religious scholars to influence change

  • Critically examine basis for FGM/C in Islam: Is it an Islamic practice?

  • Develop arguments from Islamic teachings that are contradicted by the practice in order to question rationale for the practice

  • Compile materials that discuss Islamic position on FGM/C


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Misconceptions about Islamic guidance and FGM/C to influence change

  • That it was one of the practices of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) “Peace Be Upon Him”

  • That it is supported by the traditions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) - hence a sunnah

  • It ensures chastity by controlling the sexual desires of women (contains the burning fire in the women…ghilma)

  • Arguments based on the views of different schools of thought


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When is an act considered Islamic? to influence change

  • A practice or an act can only be referred to as Islamic if based on evidence from the following sources:

    • Quran –the word of God

    • Sunnah – practice of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)

    • Ijma – consensus by scholars

    • Qiyas – making a comparison (for example, between FGM/C and male circumcision)


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Counter arguments: FGM/C is not an Islamic practice to influence change

  • The verse (Quran: 4: 125)is only applicable to male circumcision

  • Nothing in the sunnah

    • No authentic or applicable ahadith

    • Nothing from the deeds of the Prophet


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Counter arguments: FGM/C is not an Islamic practice to influence change

  • There is no consensus (ijma) on FGM/C from scholars

  • Qiyas (analogy) is not applicable between female and male:

    • male circumcision is a religious requirement

    • Difference in what is cut: in males it is the foreskin, in females it is a functional organ


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Positive messages from Islam to influence change

  • Islam emphasizes the importance of taking expert advice e.g. from medical doctors (Quran: 16: 43)

  • Cutting healthy organs and causing any physical harm is unlawful (Quran: 2: 195).

  • Allah condemns those who change His creation (Quran: 4: 119)

  • Women have a right to a healthy body and enjoyment of matrimonial sexual relations


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Positive messages from Islam to influence change

  • Islam lays emphasis on good upbringing (tarbiya) and moral teachings to ensure chastity

  • Nobody should be punished for fear that they could potentially indulge in unlawful sex


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Positive messages from Islam to influence change

  • Nothing should be done to the body that would prevent purity for the purposes of worship (Infibulation makes genital hygiene impossible)

  • Islam condemns harmful cultural practices e.g. female infanticide (Quran: 81: 8-9)

  • One should not succumb to community pressure at the expense of disobeying Allah

  • Mubaah (allowed) acts are prohibited if they result in harm


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Positive messages from Islam to influence change

  • A harm cannot be too old (old practices cannot be justified if they are harmful)

  • Trust in God does not mean you do nothing; entails doing what is humanly possible (Quran: 13: 11)

  • Every Muslim, and especially those in positions of authority, have an obligation to correct bad practices (Quran: 3: 110)


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Un-answered questions by proponents of FGM/C to influence change

  • What exactly is the extent of the so-called sunnah circumcision?

  • What is the status of a Muslim who does not practice FGM/C?

  • Has FGM/C, achieved the ‘alleged’ benefit, i.e. control of women’s sexual desires?


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Challenges to working with the religious scholars to influence change

  • Scholars reluctant to publicly declare FGM/C non-Islamic through fear of losing credibility and respect

  • Fear of an Un-Islamic agenda underlying FGM/C activities

  • FGM/C not considered a priority problem


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Challenges to working with the religious scholars to influence change

  • Poor understanding of Arabic terms leads to gross misinterpretations of religious texts

  • Scholars’ insistence on gradual shift from pharaonic to sunnah to no cut

  • Negative attitude toward discussing FGM/C because seen as a woman’s issue


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Lessons learned to influence change

  • FGM/C is deeply rooted and its abandonment requires sustained efforts

  • The practice is wrongly perceived to be an Islamic requirement

  • Many scholars are convinced that FGM/C has no basis in Islam, but are unable to go public due to community pressure


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Lessons learned to influence change

  • There is consensus that type III is un-Islamic, but support of the so-called ‘sunnah circumcision’ exists

  • There is no agreed definition of the ‘sunnah circumcision’

  • It is dangerous to refer to the practice as mubaah; proponents can use this as an Islamic justification for its continuation

  • Scholars blame women and vice versa


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Next steps for Progress to influence change

  • Sustained community education using appropriate strategies that can help them question rationale for the practice

  • Consensus building among religious leaders so they can become change makers

  • Work with other community groups, drawing support from religious leaders, health workers, government officials


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Next steps for Progress to influence change

  • Lobby for enforcement of existing anti-FGM/C laws

  • Include FGM/C in curriculum for schools and colleges

  • Address practical as well as strategic needs of the community, especially for women and children

  • Mainstream FGM/C into other gender-based programs


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Next steps for Progress to influence change

  • More research into:

    • FGM/C and sexual functioning of women

    • Men’s knowledge and perceptions of FGM/C and their role in the abandonment of the practice

    • Social, cultural and psychological dynamics that make Somali women support and sustain the practice

    • Trends in FGM/C practice among different age groups


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THANK YOU to influence change


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