Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Issue of FGM in Oman

Published January 1, 2013 - Muscat Daily

A year and a half ago I wrote a column titled ‘Woman with an incense burner’ where I tried as delicately as possible to highlight the issues concerning female genital mutilation (FGM) in Oman, and Dhofar in particular where the practice is still very common.

The feedback I received from readers and acquaintances was overwhelming. Most of them expressed how horrified they were to learn this tradition was still going strong in Dhofar. Some advised me to tread carefully, whereas others told me to keep spreading awareness.

Naturally, I also received plenty of negative feedback from relatives and colleagues claiming I was hanging Dhofar’s dirty washing for the world to see and criticising a practice that they believe is purely Islamic. I paid little attention to these criticisms because I know the practice is harmful and primitive.

It was my intention to write today's column in February to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. However, a little over a week ago the United Nations General Assembly passed a historic resolution calling for an FGM ban in all countries. What does this resolution mean for Oman?

Although FGM is banned in hospitals in Oman, in Salalah for example the woman with the incense burner still roams the halls of the maternity ward at Sultan Qaboos Hospital chopping up newborn girls' genitals at their mothers' request. The nurses and doctors know she exists, yet they turn a blind eye. Other women take their newborns to older women in the tribe who perform it quietly then pierce the baby's ears at the same time to make sure people think the baby's howling is caused by ear pain

Should the government pass a legislation immediately banning the practice in Oman? Not necessarily. Introducing a new law before spreading awareness is a recipe for failure. The subject is still very taboo and is not even discussed in private, let alone in public. The first step is to bring it out into the open. In such a conservative society, this can prove to be quite a challenge.

One must also take into consideration the fact that women have been carrying out this tradition for hundreds of years. I mention women specifically because it is my understanding that most men are kept in the dark about this practice. In fact, several men who were willing to discuss it with me explained how horrified they were to discover their daughters had been circumcised. In the north of Oman I believe it's more of a paper cut. In the south, the practice is more brutal and involves chopping off part of or the entire clitoris.

Although locals wholeheartedly believe the practice is healthy and obligatory in Islam, our religion neither encourages the practice nor condemns it. Information explaining why it's harmful to the child is not readily available to mothers. I blame the Ministry of Health mainly for this. I have spent enough time in maternity wards to know that the ministry is doing next to nothing to spread awareness. Women are terrified of what will happen if they do not circumcise their daughters, and by keeping silent the ministry is feeding the belief that the practice is healthy. Perhaps they think that by ignoring it the practice will go away?

It is worth noting that the MOH five-year 2006-2010 health plan included the need for studying the prevalence of FGM in Oman with plans to design awareness programs. To date, none of these plans have come to light, and goodness knows whether combating FGM is on the current agenda. The ministry's website is either very outdated or the current five-year plan has yet to materialise.

Assuming I were the Minister of Logic, I would encourage the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Education to collaborate in launching a nationwide campaign to spread awareness among Omanis.

The walls of maternity wards across Oman should be plastered with awareness posters explaining the dangers of FGM. Mothers of newborn girls should receive an awareness kit including a booklet about FGM with a message from the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs confirming it is not obligatory in Islam. There should be health officials visiting maternity wards in the country to talk to mothers of newborn girls.

Continuing to ignore the practice will not look good for Oman. Our country has already made headlines in the international human rights arena too many times than is good for us in the past couple of years since the Arab Spring protests in 2011. Our reputation when it comes to freedom of speech and assembly is already tainted. Do we need to see more embarrassing reports concerning Oman's unwillingness to address the issues concerning violence against women (i e FGM)? With the new UN resolution, people will be watching Oman carefully. I say it's time for some action. What do you think?


  1. Honestly though, and this is just something I have found, giving ahadith from Ibadhi fatwa works in my Ibadhi only village (even though I am Sunni I got it backed up by the Ministry of Religious Affairs but would that work in Salalah where some people follow the most backwards of Saudi Sheikhs who base their fatwa on never having really lived with women (a society based on how the Sahaba lived which is much simliar to Muscat excepting of course the unhalal things here but men and women working and being educasted together ect). I do agree the Ministry of Health and Religion should stand up and say something but if the Grand Mufti doesn't say it, my female relatives don't care (and since the paper cut incision is halal and not haraam no matter how many times he says it is something halal but not recommended by Islam) they weon't care. If he did say though, that the kind practiced in Dhofar is totally haraam (cutting the entirue or too much of clit out) would people there care since he is not a Sunni authority anyways? None of the Shia girls I have ever known in Oman do FGM of any kind because the religious authority that they respect said it isn't required or recommended by Islam but the paper cut kind is merely a permissable part of some cultures. That is the only thing that works. People caring about their religion (and knowing it from an authority they respect I guess) over culture. Just my own experiences trying to eradicate the practice in and around Nizwa.

  2. I seriously don't understand why MOH is not being monitored .. the horrible horrible horrible Salalah Sultan Qaboos Hospital needs an extreme makeover .. the building, employees and equipment .. EVERYTHING! When you go there you only pray to get outta there alive!

    Now .. anyone with common sense and true Islamic background would know its not required to do khetan ( ختان ) for females whither you're sunni / shiaa or whatever clan you are!!

    it's Logic !! Logic!! and why in the world would someone want that inflect that unnecessary pain on their girls ??

    I wish MOH stops hitting the snooze button and wakes up!

    Thank you Susan for keeping this alive.


  3. I think that God would not create anything less than perfect. If He'd wanted us to be without certain parts of our bodies, he would have created us that way.....

  4. Thank u Susan

    It is the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life , really I can not imagine HOW could mothers do this to their own newborn babies .

    Even the young and educated mothers are still doing it.
    education and knowledge done NOTHING to their brains.

    Sometime , I believe people here are afraid to think , or act by themsleves . They have to think and act like the rest of Dhofari's.

    I - as a Dhofari woman - can not express my total refuse for this brutal act without getting alot of vocal attacks from people around me .

    But you are brave and strong . keep fighting for the sake of these helpless baby girls who are unlucky to have this terrible and painful welcoming to the world .

  5. Susan, please keep this subject at the forefront in Oman. I truly believe that if this subject is discussed more and you can get allies in the various Ministries at some point, what you suggest will come to pass. Awareness is key, and then, prohibition. This is a form of violence against girls and women. It is now the 21st century, and it must stop. I applaud your courage to speak out!

  6. It is violence against girls and women - and in my opinion, misogynistic. FGM must have significant repercussions on a child and woman's life, if not resulting on death. I find it nothing short of barbaric and an incredibly cruel thing to do. Most of all, a child, male or female cannot consent - one is changing their life irreversibly without their informed consent.

  7. Dear Susan,

    Thank you for your interesting article on FGM in Oman, it is being red internationally and we will also follow up on it and spread the news. Can I connect with you on FB? I work for an international organisations and would very much like to discuss your article.


  8. Something that is not often discussed in all of this is MGM. Why should it be so horrifying to circumcise girls and not boys? Both practices are of questionable medical value (there have been studies, but all are inconclusive). To me, as a Western Muslim, it is not sufficient that the practice be endorsed in the Hadith. The Hadith is definitely not Quran. If something is prescribed in the Quran, we must take it seriously, even if we wish to interpret it in terms of 21st century understanding - don't they say that the Quran is a book for all people and all eras? But, if it is in the Hadith, it should always be taken with caution. We have books and books in our Muslim heritage listing false ahaatith. Just because something falls within a book that names itself "Sahih" doesn't mean that everything in it is truly shahih. The men who compiled the books were, after all, men. Not God. If we can agree that the Quran is the word of the omnipotent God, we should also recognize that the books of the Sunna were compiled by men and they were recording the speech and deeds of a man - a prophet, true, but a man.