Muslim paediatricians hit back at academic for advocating female circumcision

Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland updates statement condemning FGM three times

Speaking on RTE's Prime Time Dr Ali Selim says female circumcision should be carried out if advised by a medical doctor. Video: RTE


Dr Ali Selim, a senior Muslim figure in Ireland, has said his recent comments about female circumcision have been unfairly equated with female genital mutilation.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Monday night, Dr Selim said: “I clearly condemn female genital mutilation. For me circumcision means something else, for me I use the word circumcision instead of using the word labiaplasty.”

He added: “I use this term to refer to labiaplasty, which is done for women for a number of reasons, and it is usually done by doctors.”

Labiaplasty is a medical procedure where the inner labia are surgically altered or reduced, in some cases due to discomfort experienced by the woman, sometimes following childbirth.

Dr Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh, was widely criticised after stating he supported the practice of female circumcision on RTÉ’s Prime Time last week.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) means the total or partial distortion of female genitals for non-medical reasons, I am 100 per cent against that . . . I condemn it in the strongest terms,” he said on Monday night.

“I am not a native speaker of the language, I am not a medical doctor,” he said, adding that medical experts who criticised him should have sought clarification on what he meant by female circumcision.

“I blame the Irish media for distorting what I said . . . I was talking about something completely different” he said.

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FGM, which is often referred to as female circumcision, is illegal under the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012. It is estimated that 5,790 girls and women living in Ireland have experienced FGM and some 2,700 girls here may be at risk of being subjected to it.

Prof Farhana Sharif, a consultant paediatrician at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar, said there is absolutely no health benefit to FGM which causes “long-term physical, emotional and psychological consequences”.

Prof Sharif, who is originally from Pakistan but has lived in Ireland for 27 years, described FGM as a “mutilating procedure” with “no medical justification to it”.

“It’s not acceptable and as a medical professional I would not see any doctor recommend this procedure. It is banned in Ireland and is absolutely unacceptable to promote or advocate for this practice.”

Dr Rizwan Khan, a consultant paediatrician at University Maternity Hospital Limerick, said there is no difference between female circumcision and FGM and warned that the affects of the practice could negatively impact on a woman’s entire life.

“We always talk about it as a medical issue but we’re also talking about a young female who may become a wife and a mother in the future. It can cause prolonged bleeding but also leads to severe psychological and mental trauma, reduced self-esteem and problems in any future relationship.”

A statement from Trinity College where Dr Selim teaches Arabic language classes also condemned the practice. Trinity professor of obstetrics Dr Deirdre Murphy described FGM and female circumcision as “synonymous terms” and said “any doctor who suggests female circumcision is medically indicated is deluding themselves.”

‘Barbaric practice’

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, where Dr Selim works, released a statement on Friday condemning FGM as “a crime” and “a barbaric practice”. However, it has emerged that the centre has changed its statement a number of times in recent days. The initial statement said female circumcision “must be recommended and defined by a professional medical doctor and only be carried out when prescribed.”

It added that “cosmetic surgeries, if needed, should not be confused with female genital mutilation”.

An updated Facebook post over the weekend wrote that FGM is “a crime and a violation to women’s rights” and “a barbaric practice” but redacted the reference to female circumcision.

“It is a practice carried out based on cultural religious and non-religious convictions, with no association with religion whatsoever,” it went on.

“We should carry on raising awareness until we bring it to zero practice all over the world, an accomplishment, which we believe we will rejoice soon.”

On Monday a third statement was posted on the centre’s website calling on all people to “uphold the law of the land”.

“Female genital mutilation is a crime and any perpetrator of this heinous act should and will be judged in accordance with the law,” it wrote, adding that the practice comes from a “tribal pre-Islamic era”. The initial two statements have been removed from the ICCI Facebook page.