Home > Culture, Religion > Is the Cultural Practice of Male Circumcision Justifiable?

Is the Cultural Practice of Male Circumcision Justifiable?

While male circumcision has been practiced for over 4000 years, right from the time of Abraham when God asked Abraham to circumcise himself and members of his household as a sign of a covenant between himself and his descendants and God ( Genesis 17:10), the practice has been going on ever since in different parts of the world and among different cultures.
This however has not dispelled controversy around the practice and there have been a lot of studies in modern times to determine its advantages and disadvantages in order to ascertain whether the practice is justifiable.
The word circumcision derives from the Latin word, circum which means around or about; Circumcision means cutting around and in the newborn male it involves the removal of the foreskin around the penis.
In Ghana, male circumcision is an acceptable practice which has never been questioned. Male children are usually circumcised in infancy, especially on the seventh day after birth when the traditional naming ceremony normally takes place.
According to Saibu Dawuda Wanzam, a Trade Unionist and circumciser, male circumcision is a cultural practice among the people of Dagbon and most ethnic groups in the northern parts of Ghana. “I come from a family of wanzams (circumcisers) and my father was the Chief Wanzam of our village, which is Gbullung in the Tolon Kumbungu District. Because my father was the chief of the wanzams, all my brothers and myself grew up in that profession. We shave, barber and circumcise.”
“Male circumcision is a cultural practice because we all came to meet it. It was practiced by our grandfathers in the olden days before the advent of Islam and Christianity in Dagbon”, says Mr Dauda Wamzam.
He however agreed that there are no given reasons for the practice: “I don’t have much detail as to why it is practiced. In our tradition, it is customary to shave the hair of the newborn baby on the seventh day; we believe that we shave off the old hair with which the baby was born which is the dirty hair to allow the new hair to grow. If it is a male child, we go ahead and circumcise it.”
Mr Dauda Wanzam was of the view that one of the major reasons for circumcision is cosmetic; “There is a difference in the appearance of the circumcised and uncircumcised penis with the former being more beautiful than the latter.”
Another reason is hygiene: “it is easier for dirt to gather under the foreskin of the uncircumcised penis. This leads to an odor in adult life so I believe one of the reasons for circumcision is to avoid germs gathering under the foreskin”, Mr Dauda Wamzam says.
A third reason is sexual. “The penetration of the uncircumcised penis during intercourse is different from the circumcised one because of the foreskin that usually covers the mouth of the penis. This I believe is the main reason behind the practice of circumcision”. He said.
Mr Dauda Wamzam also said it is easier to detect venereal infections in the circumcised penis than in the uncircumcised one. “If there is a sore or cuts on the penis, the foreskin of the uncircumcised penis covers it so is not easy to detect. This might delay treatment and lead to complications”.
Explaining how circumcision is carried out, he said it is normally the father of the newborn baby who officially invites the wamzam to the child’s naming ceremony to perform the duties required of him. If the baby is seen to be healthy and of normal birth weight, the wanzam circumcises it but if it is found to be sickly and underweight, the wamzam postpones the circumcision until when the child has gained enough weight. “We can even circumcise a child before the seventh day provided it is healthy enough”. Mr Dauda Wamzam says.
The major challenge facing wamzams during circumcision is when they cut across certain veins under the penis which leads to profuse bleeding.” When this happens, the wamzam has to hold the newly circumcised penis and blow some air into it to stop the bleeding. If this does not stop the bleeding, a local herb is applied on a bandage after smearing it with melted sheabutter and the wound is bandaged. Before the bandage is removed, melted sheabutter is once again applied on the bandage to soften it before it can be removed”, Mr Dauda Wanzam explains.
For all circumcisions, melted sheabutter is applied to the wound which heals within three to four days. “It is important that the mother or whoever is taking care of the baby applies melted sheabutter to the wound every 30 minutes to one hour to hasten its healing. The wounds of babies who are circumcised during the hammattan period are always bandaged to prevent pain and bleeding when the baby kicks it due to the dryness of the weather”, he said.
The main instrument for circumcision is the knife, which is sterilized after usage but due to the upsurge of diseases, most wanzams now use a new razor blade for each child or surgical blades provided by the Ministry of Health.
The social cost of being uncircumsized is great. “Most men do not respect men who are not circumcised while women would shy away from marrying such a man”, Mr. Dauda Wanzam said.
Whereas Mr Dauda Wamzam believes that male circumcision is a cultural practice rooted in the culture of Dagbon since time immemorial, Alhaji Dr Hussein Zakaria Hazik, a Moslem cleric and General Secretary of the Regional Chief Imam does not agree with that assertion; “Male circumcision has a cultural as well as Islamic perspective. Even though it is basically Islamic, the culture dictates how it is practiced in Dagbon.”
According to Alhaji Dr Hussein, historically, it was the Hausas who introduced circumcision into the Dagbon culture during the era of the trans-Saharan slave trade which brought Hausas and Wangaras into contact with the people of Dagbon. “It was through slow Islamisation that the idea of circumcision caught up with the Dagbon culture”.
He said the name wanzam is not a Dagbani word but Hausa and derives from the Hausa word Wanzami ; “the Hausa Wanzamis did not only circumcise but also served as doctors and provided some medical services, using the horn of a ram to siphon blood from affected parts of the body which used to be of great service to older people. They also gave tribal marks. The Hausas came in as traders but they also Islamized and made a lot of cultural contributions to the Dagbon culture.”
Alhaji Dr Hussein said Circumcision itself has a long tradition with regards to religion and Islam did not introduce circumcision into the world. “Islam sees itself as a recipient of the tradition of the old prophets before Mohammed who were circumcised. These include Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael who were circumcised as part of their religious tradition. Islam sees itself as linked to this tradition. That is why we talk of the three Abrahamic traditions which are Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”
“What makes circumcision very strong amongst Moslems is the believe that the Holy Prophet Mohammed was born already circumcised and saw himself as carrying the banner of the prophets who preached about God. He also preached that his followers should practice the tradition of his grandfather Abraham by being circumcised”, he says.
“Hence, it is through the Sunnah, which is the tradition and practices of the prophets, that we have received references on circumcision or hatan but with direct reference to the Quran, much has not been said about circumcision. However, the Sunnah and the Quran together form the foundation of Islamic law”, he explained.
He said the inculturation of Hausa Islamic culture into the culture of Dagbon, including circumcision occurred in the 1700’s, long enough for people to assume that it has always being a traditional practice. Hence, someone who has grown up in his village a hundred years ago may not know that it was introduced. When Islam was introduced, all believers were required to be circumcised and even chiefs who accepted the religion were circumcised by the Hausa wanzamis.
Alhaji Hussein said the hygienic advantage of circumcision is often stressed as a cultural practice but as an Islamic practice, it is an expression of one’s faith. “It is not just a matter of believe now but it has a practical application in our everyday lives. This means we should put more emphasis on circumcision at birth”.
In some western countries where circumcision is not widespread, it is the recommended treatment for certain ailments that afflict uncircumcised boys and men. This includes phimosis, which is the inability to retract a fully differentiated foreskin. Circumcision is also used to treat another medical condition known as paraphimosis, which is the inability of the foreskin to return to its original position once retracted, which leads to severe swelling and pain.
Balanitis, the inflammation of the glans and posthitis, the inflammation of the foreskin, normally occur together as balanoposthitis in the uncircumcised male and these are also treated by circumcision. The only malady that seems to afflict circumcised boys more than the uncircumcised is meatitis, which is the inflammation of the meatus or opening of the penis. The medical explanation for this is that the urethral meatus is more exposed in circumcised males and thus more likely to be chaffed. This ailment however does not lead to any serious problems.
Studies have revealed that urinary tract infections are more common in uncircumcised infants than in circumcised infants with 95 percent of all infections occurring in uncircumcised infants. The risk of urinary tract infection in the uncircumcised infant has been found to be greatest in infants less than one year old which makes infant circumcision a reasonable choice. Studies reveal that uncircumcised infants have a tenfold risk of contracting urinary tract infection than circumcised infants.
Just as Mr Dauda Wanzam revealed at the beginning of this article, circumcision does help prevent the growth of germs under the foreskin which protects those who practice it from urinary tract infections. More serious ailments such as bacterial infection of the bloodstream (bacteremia) and infection of the covering of the brain (meningitis) usually accompany the high incidence of urinary tract infections in uncircumcised men.
In addition uncircumcised men have a higher risk of contracting venereal diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex virus type 2, chancroid, human papillomovirus as well as inflammation of the urethra.
Three significant studies carried out in Africa have also shown that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract the AIDS virus than their circumcised counterparts. The protective effect of circumcision is however not limited to sexually transmitted diseases. In the United States, one out of every 600 uncircumcised men has a lifetime risk of developing cancer of the penis, which has a mortality rate of 25 percent. Research indicates that this kind of cancer occurs exclusively in uncircumcised men since five major studies carried out in the United States showed that no man who has been circumcised as an infant has ever developed the disease.

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  1. August 5, 2011 at 6:38 am

    …. There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective by Miriam Pollack
    http://www.noharmm.org/pollack.htm

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1 ……….

  2. May 27, 2012 at 12:21 am

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    • May 27, 2012 at 8:34 am

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  1. January 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

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