Statistical Correlation Between Identification as Muslim and Female Genital Cutting in Africa

I posted the following comment to What’s the relationship between Islam and Female Genital Mutilation? Answer: rs=.54 by Oliver Scott Curry

One possible explanation for the statistical correlation between identification as Muslim and practice of female genital cutting is the history of conversion to Islam and Christianity in Africa.

In general, Muslims did not object to female genital cutting and did not try to change the practice among people who converted to Islam. European Christian missionaries tended to insist that African converts adopt European Christian cultural practices like monogamy and abandon practices like genital cutting. This general observation was most famously made by the African-American 19th century missionary Edward Blyden.

If this is true, then it could also be true that peoples who practiced female genital cutting, when choosing between Islam and Christianity, would tend to choose Islam.

Note that I’m not justifying the practice. I’m just echoing what others have already posted, namely that historical studies would be more explanatory than the statistical correlations.

For example, are there peoples who did not practice female genital cutting who began to practice it after converting to Islam?

Stepping back from the issue of causation, if a person’s goal is to reduce the number of girls suffering from female genital cutting and its impacts, then it is counterproductive to claim that the practice is endorsed by or mandated by religion. In fact, the most successful anti-genital cutting campaigns have furthered the idea that religion mandates avoidance of harm and then educated people to the harms of the practice.

Some additional notes:

Regarding Ethiopia and Eritrea, my understanding was that there are large Muslim minority populations in both countries. Their Christianity, like that in Egypt, predates European missionary activity. I think that comments about the relationship of religion to genital cutting without knowing the history of genital cutting in a specific region are problematic.

Many Muslims talk about different kinds of genital cutting and claim that Islam permits its milder forms and forbids its more severe forms, even though some of these severe forms are practiced by Muslims in Muslim-majority nations like Somalia. Is it helpful to support people who are successfully changing female genital cutting to a less harmful form?

My worst fear is that Muslim cultural entrepreneurs (i.e. identity charlatans) will use Islamophobic condemnations of Muslims as blanket female genital cutters as fuel to urge Muslims to adopt the practice in opposition to Islamophobes.


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