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Rate of male circumcision by country[1]

Circumcision is an operation in which the foreskin is removed. In common speech, someone who has been circumcised is described as cut while someone who is not is described as uncut. For example, one teenaged boy might ask another teenaged boy, "Are you cut?" While this is slang English, it is not a swearing word or a bad word to use. It is just shorter.

Circumcision can be done by a doctor with a knife. It can be done with a plastic tool called a plastibell device. It can be done with a laser. If the doctor uses a laser there is almost no bleeding.[2]

Circumcision can be a religious ritual, a custom in certain tribes or countries, or a medical practice. There are five kinds of reasons for doing a circumcision:

  1. Religious reasons: Most Jewish and Muslim males must be circumcised. Jewish boys are circumcised when they are 1 week old. Muslim boys are usually circumcised at any time from soon after birth all the way up to puberty depending on family, region, and country.
  2. In some tribes, especially in Africa, a teenage boy must be circumcised. Otherwise, his family and the people in his village will not treat him as a man. He will not be able to marry.
  3. Circumcision can cure certain medical problems at any age. A man should pull back his foreskin before washing the end of the penis. If a man cannot do this, a doctor should do a circumcision.
  4. In Western culture, parents circumcise their sons because it is easier to keep the penis clean and it is more popular.
  5. Many men and teenage boys in Western countries ask for circumcision simply because they like how it looks.
Circumcision surgery with hemostats and scissors
Before (left) and after (right) an adult circumcision

Benefits and criticisms[change | change source]

People disagree about whether circumcision is a good for health and sexual pleasure. Those who believe that the foreskin is important for sexual pleasure are against circumcision. Others do not like circumcision because they believe it has no medical advantage, or that it is easy to clean under the foreskin, or that circumcision harms the penis or the mind. People who do not like circumcision of baby boys say doctors and parents should not make this decision. They say that the owner should choose when he is old enough to decide for himself. (However, it will hurt more if done at a later age.)

Those who think circumcision is a good idea may point to health reasons. Circumcision reduces sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and HPV, prevents certain kinds of cancer, and gets rid of infections and unpleasant smells under the foreskin. If circumcision is done soon after birth, it makes it less common for baby boys to get urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. Many people think a penis looks better if it is circumcised. A study done in the United States found that the women prefer a circumcised penis, to look at and in sexual activity, especially if they are going to put their mouth on the penis.[3] Those who prefer circumcision often believe that the foreskin does not matter for sexual pleasure. In countries where most boys are circumcised as babies, parents sometimes think that uncircumcised boys will be teased. Some boys are mean to a boy if his penis looks different. Bullying was a bigger problem in the past when boys had to take showers together at school after gym class or before swimming.

There are 5 large groups of circumcised men:

A report in 2007 said that 75% of men in the United States are circumcised.[4] The percent of boy babies circumcised in the United States is different in different states. It depends whether the state government pays the cost for people on Medicaid. (Medicaid is government health coverage for poorer people.) Many, but not all, private health insurance plans pay for circumcision. It also depends on the opinions and culture of parents. A study of 96,457 male babies in the state of Maryland found that 75% of new baby boys were circumcised before they left the hospital. More were circumcised in a religious ceremony or in a doctor's office later. With those boys included, 82% of baby boys in Maryland got circumcised. It was less common for Asian and Hispanic babies than for non-Asian and non-Hispanic babies.[5]

Traditions[change | change source]

Boys in Turkey wearing traditional circumcision costumes

In Islam and Judaism, male circumcision is commonly done for religious reasons.

Judaism[change | change source]

In Judaism, religious law orders that baby boys be circumcised on the 8th day after their birth. This is required even if the 8th day after birth is Shabbat (Saturday). In the Jewish faith, circumcision is an important tradition because it represents the newly born baby being included in the covenant (or agreement) which God made with the prophet Abraham.

A mohel is someone who circumcises Jewish baby boys eight days after they are born in accordance with Jewish law. A knife is traditionally used for this, but a clamp is now sometimes used instead. Mohels are traditionally male, but most types of non-orthodox (not fully traditional) types of Judaism allow women to be mohels without restriction.

Islam[change | change source]

In the Quran, no sura or ayat mention male or female circumcision. However, there are some injunctions of the prophet Muhammad that explain and command only male circumcision, as a continuation of Abrahamic/Hebraic tradition. For example, the prophet Muhammad said in a hadith that "Five are the acts which are part of fitrah:[a] Circumcision, clipping or shaving the pubic hair, cutting the nails, plucking or shaving the hair under the armpits and clipping (or shaving) the moustache".[b]

Also, according to the Qur'an, Allah ordered Muhammad to follow the religion of Ibrahim (the Hebrew Abraham): "Then We inspired you: 'Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith'." —(Qur'an 16:123)

Many Islamic scholars say that is an important ritual and a symbolic step of purification along the lines of Abrahamic tradition.[6] Most Shafi Islamic Jurists (judges) say that circumcision is required for men. It is an accepted tradition in almost all Islamic sects and among most Islamic scholars and theologians.[7] Circumcision is also important within Islam because Islam claims to be the 'truth' and the 'continuation' of the old and true message of Ibrahim/Abraham. According to Islam, God's covenant with Abraham was passed on to Muhammad, whose mission was to continue the covenant. The covenant is continued, according to Islam, through several steps, including male circumcision.[6] The Quran discusses this covenant in detail in several places, including sura 14 (Ibrahim – Abraham).

Age of men illustration[change | change source]

There are two hadiths which are linked to the acceptance of male circumcision in Islam. They also show how circumcision may have been used to keep track of dates in tribal Arabia:

Ibn Jubayr Sa'id reported: "Ibn `Abbas was asked the following question: 'How was it with you, [when] the Prophet, peace be upon him, died?,' he said, 'I was circumcised at that particular time because the men were usually only circumcised when they became sexually mature.'" [Sahih al-Bukhari No. 6299]

And further, Ibn `Abbas reported: "When the Prophet, peace be upon him died, I was circumcised at that particular time." [Sahih al-Bukhari No. 6300]

Along with being an important rite of passage, circumcision may have helped people keep track of dates and place events into the correct time and place.

Notes[change | change source]

a. ^ An Arabic word, literally meaning 'nature' or 'natural' – here it signifies doing the right thing or natural thing.
b. ^ Reported in both hadith collections of al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim.

References[change | change source]

  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named WHO_2007_GTDPSA3. ().
  2. "Male circumcision". Retrieved 19 March 2017. We use the laser because there is minimal or no bleeding and less tissue trauma 
  3. Williamson, Marvel L.; Williamson, Paul S.. "Women’s Preferences for Penile Circumcision in Sexual Partners". Journal of Sex Education and Therapy (Journal of Sex Education and Therapy). 
  4. "Male circumcision: Global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2007. 
  5. Cheng, D; Hurt L, L; Horon, IL (December 4, 2008). "Neonatal circumcision in Maryland: a comparison of hospital discharge and maternal postpartum survey data". J Pediatr Urol 4 (6): 448-51. doi:10.1016/j.jpurol.2008.06.007. Retrieved 18 March 2017. "Hospital discharge data showed that 75.3% of male infants were circumcised, and survey data showed that 82.3% of male infants were circumcised. The circumcision rate among infants weighing <1500 g at birth was 38.9% using hospital discharge data and 74.5% using maternal survey data. Both sources revealed lower circumcision rates among Asian and Hispanic infants than among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black infants.". 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Nasrallah, M. Islam and Mankind: Muslim Practices in the Light of the Holy Quran, Islami Qutubkhana Press, Lahore and Karachi, 1995, p. 102, 105-106; This volume is a referential handbook for Muslim students approved by both the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam
  7. Urdu: Fiqah al Islami, Aam Taauruf [An Introduction to Islamic Doctrine], Islamic Welfare Association Press, Lahore, 1976