My Take: Jews and Muslims should unite against Germany circumcision ban
Arsalan Iftikhar says the debate on circumcision is really about religious freedom.
July 17th, 2012
07:41 AM ET

My Take: Jews and Muslims should unite against Germany circumcision ban

Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of the book "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era."

By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN

(CNN)–According to recent reports, a German court's ban on circumcising baby boys has provoked a rare show of unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians who see it as a threat to religious freedom, while doctors warn it could increase health risks by forcing the practice underground. This recent ruling has global media commentators on all sides of the political aisle debating whether this issue is an affront to religious freedom or a victory to protect the foreskins of young male babies around the world.

Several prominent writers, including Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, rightfully challenged this recent legal decision by a local German court in Cologne, which would effectively criminalize ritual circumcision for infant males as an exercise of religious freedom for minority religious communities in the country.

Gerson and others have been highlighting this most recent issue vis-à-vis Europe’s infamous history of anti-Semitism, which has long been a sociopolitical stain of xenophobia across European lands.

However, it is quite interesting to note that most of these same commentators are not even adequately addressing the fact that the German case in question actually involved a Muslim family, not a Jewish one.

Basically, many of these commentators are citing a legal ruling against a Muslim family in Germany to fashion entire columns devoted to prejudice vis-a-vis the Jewish community, with barely a reference to the original case involving Muslims or rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe, which exists alongside anti-Semitism on the spectrum of xenophobia and must be eradicated.

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Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel ignored the Muslim origins of this controversy when she recently told her party members that Germany risked becoming a "laughingstock" and that her country should not be "the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practice their [religious] rites".

This entire meta-narrative is even more perplexing since most estimates find that Germany is home to approximately 120,000 Jews and more than 4 million Muslims.

On the other side of the Germany circumcision debate, noted journalist Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about the topic and asked, "[Can] parents permanently mutilate a child's genitals to pursue their own religious goals?"

Although Sullivan clearly states that he "veers on the side of permissiveness" in this case in Germany, he does anchor his position on the belief that the religious practice of infant circumcision is tantamount to male genital mutilation. "At some point, one can only hope this barbarism disappears," writes Sullivan. "And it will have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or Islamophobia; it will be about defending the religious liberty of Jewish and Muslim male [babies] to choose their religion, and not have it permanently marked as scar tissue on their [genitals]."

Although I usually agree with much of his writing on most subjects, I would be curious to see if  Sullivan would also consider parents who pierce the ears of their baby daughters to be committing "earlobe mutilation"?

Probably not.

Having said that, this is yet another instance of a "teachable moment" where Jews, Muslims and people of all faiths (or no faith) can unite to promote religious freedom for all people around the world. Since we tend to live in tribalistic circles where Muslim people tend to focus only on Islamophobia and Jewish people tend to focus only on anti-Semitism, we need to instill a new culture where Jewish people speak against Islamophobia and Muslim people speak against anti-Semitism across the globe.

Similarly, as an international human rights lawyer, it would behoove me to highlight the importance for the global community to protect the legal and political rights of all religious minorities in every part of the world.

In the case of the German circumcision ban, people of conscience should stand with both Muslim and Jewish communities in Germany to help ensure that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally challenged, especially since we are seeing right-wing xenophobic political parties continue to rise to prominence in many part of the European Union.

Similarly, we should also speak up for disenfranchised religious minorities in other parts of the world, whether it is Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Baha'i community in Iran, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma (now known as Myanmar) or the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan.

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Even though we do not yet live in a world where many Jewish and Muslim people agree on many geopolitical matters, the concept of  religious freedom should be something that people of all faiths (or no faith) should be able to agree upon wholesale.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Basically, at a time where the world seems to become even more polarized on a daily basis, this latest Germany circumcision debate should be used by Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to stand in solidarity and unite in an essence of true Abrahamic camaraderie, regardless of whether we are circumcised or not.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Germany • Islam • Judaism

soundoff (1,235 Responses)
  1. Degrin

    I still have my Foreskin and I am glad that removal wasn't forced upon me at a young age. Protecting people FROM religion is just as important as protecting religion itself.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      Its a health thing, not a religious thing...

      ...the Germans will give into this demand quickly anyways...

      July 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • thurmanmurman567

      How a health thing? There is a higher incidence of HIV in the US than in Switzerland

      July 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "Emperor Vadik.. "...Its a health thing..."

      The often-cited excuse that it is a health benefit is overstated for the simple reason that there is a membrane between the foreskin and the head of the peni_s that prevents germs (bacteria) from collecting under the foreskin. This membrane is usually ruptured after first inter_course (or rough mastur_bation). So circu_mcision is not warranted for an infant, and is not worth the risk that ANY kind of surgery has – especially at such a tender age. When the child comes of age, then they can make the decision as to cut or not cut.

      July 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  2. bribarian

    I wish the western world would unite and kick these clowns out.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  3. jp

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/3/686.full – "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circmcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circmcision." – American Academy of Pediatrics

    July 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Trumpy

    Did you really just compare ear piercing and circu.mcision?


    July 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  5. David

    Human rights ALWAYS should outweigh religious rights. No religion should be allowed to force an unchangeable action upon a defenseless infant. This is my opinion. This does not make me pro-choice, anti-islam, anti-semitic, anti-german, or any other anti. IT just means my opinion is no child should be mutilated until they fully understand the situation and agree to the action outside the pressures of their religious leaders and parents.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Get Over It

      poor defenseless babies? It's a simple surgical procedure....we're not beating infants and pushing them out in the cold. Next thing you know, all you morons will be putting out commercials with Sarah Mclachlan music begging for 2 quarters a day so that no newborn has to undergo such hardships. The area is numb, surgery is done, get over it. I've actually seen babies smile when they get snipped as if they were thankful they didn't have to lug around the extra sleeve. Lord knows how hot that thing gets with a coat on all the time. Yeah, I get it, the baby doesn't get to decide so it's not fair....right? You know why? Cause it ain't the parent....BOOM!

      July 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  6. Paul

    Whats next, banning piercing of ears since this is "mutilation". Let the parents decide, my weewee was snipped when I was an infant, I sure don't remember it happening. Can't image having that nasty looked piece of foreskin still attached, dangling out like some type of tulip bulb....

    July 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • stop the madness

      If it isn't the will of the person being pierced then it shouldn't be allowed. Use your head.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  7. Mike

    So, the question I have is why should a child be making this decision for themselves, and I emphasis the word child. Do we not, as a people raise our children to be like us, make decisions for them everyday, and help them grow? Now, before I hear the sirens go off in your heads, I by no way shape or form condone "shaping" our children to be clones. I want children to grow up and to be able to make their own decisions. The problem is a child is impressionable. They strive to be like their parents and those around them. If you go to a religious service, do you leave your child at home so that they can make their own choice on whether or not it is something that they want to do? No. You bring them along and in turn they are shaped into that type of person. Lastly, I believe that this is more Church vs. State. If I "mutilate" myself as per my religion, does that make me a criminal? If I want my child to be raised in the same community/religion, would I not do the same? Look back at your childhood. Do you say, I was raised Catholic/Jewish/Muslim? If so, did you make that decision? I doubt it......

    July 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • LinCA


      Indoctrinating children into the delusion is child abuse, the effects of which may be more damaging than the mutilation inflicted on the baby boys.

      Just as driving a car, voting or drinking, religion isn't suitable for children.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  8. Jake

    The child should be allowed to make his own decision when he is sufficiently old enough to weigh the consequences. Just as girls' ears should only be pierced when the girl is old enough to take care of them. (Key difference, though: ear piercing is not strictly permanent) Parents should not force their religious practices on their children in this most barbaric way.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  9. Ryan

    I lost my foreskin because I was too young to say no. Wait until people are old enough before forcing religious decisions upon them.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  10. MCO

    Personally I think it's ridiculous that this procedure is allowed to be performed on a child who cannot offer his consent. If a male child wants to follow religious teachings let him make up his own mind and have the procedure performed in sterile conditions when he comes of age. Mutilating a child's genitals in the name of some ancient belief system is nothing short of barbaric no matter if it's a male child in Germany or a female child in Africa.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Get Over It

      pretty sure a child can't consent to anything until it learns language....and even at that point they make poor decisions due to lack of experience.....but yeah.....the child should consent to everything a parent offers to him.....that will raise a healthy child.

      July 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "Get Over It "...the child should consent to everything a parent offers to him.....that will raise a healthy child."

      The often-cited excuse that it is a health benefit is overstated for the simple reason that there is a membrane between the foreskin and the head of the peni_s that prevents germs (bacteria) from collecting under the foreskin. This membrane is usually ruptured after first inter_course (or rough mastur_bation). So circu_mcision is not warranted for an infant, and is not worth the risk that ANY kind of surgery has – especially at such a tender age. When the child comes of age, then they can make the decision as to cut or not cut.

      July 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  11. relmfoxdale

    This sounds like Germany's problem. Let Germany deal with it. The US has had its own debates and votes on this.

    On a personal note, I consider it "wrong" to do, but I also recognize religious beliefs. So while I wouldn't do it to my own child (not that I have one or will), I'm not going to rip anyone's head off (ha?) for doing it to their own children.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  12. Biff

    Leave my wiener alone!!!

    July 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  13. Al

    How about we compromise and say that there should be no hotel po rn with uncircu mcised actors.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  14. Tim


    July 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  15. Brendan

    Leave the foreskin alone.........it is natural.........religeon is not.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • pooryorick23

      Religious freedom is natural. Glad we have the 1st Amendment.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  16. anticomm

    what is about ban on beheading?

    July 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  17. richard

    So, everyone concerned about the rights of these infant boys also agrees to the rights of the unborn and therefore is against abortion?

    July 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • ME II

      Why would you think that?

      July 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Pastor $ Dollar

      Pretzel logic

      July 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "So, everyone concerned about the rights of these infant boys also agrees to the rights of the unborn and therefore is against abortion?"
      Until birth, a discussion about abortion will always be about balancing the rights of the woman and those of the embryo/fetus. Dismissing the rights of the mother in favor of a clump of cells is not a rational position. It is forcing your religious dogma on a medical discussion.

      So to answer your question, no, of course not. No reasonable person can support a ban on abortion.

      Feel free not to have an abortion if you don't want one.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • ChrisCintheD

      Does everyone that agrees with infant g.enital mutilation agree with abortion, since the kid clearly has no rights to his body?

      July 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • PM

      That makes absolutely no sense.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • PM

      to ChrisCintheD:
      Awesome response! I was saying Richard made no sense, just to clarify.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  18. Shmeckell

    Germany, home of the anteater.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  19. cdgfla

    So typical of Americans in here. You honestly think that you have the right to dictate to another sovereign nation on what they can and cannot do in the ways of social policy as benign as this? Why do you get all worked up over something you have no ability to control and where your opinions hold zero sway? Its not like Germany is implementing a "one child per family rule", or rounding up people and shipping them off to camps or anything. Oh wait, China does both those already but there is no serious pressure put on the Chinese as it would limit your ability to by cheap and crappily manufactured goods at Wal Mart. Rant and rave, rant and rave.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • ME II

      First, I think Belief Blog is intended to be a global forum, not just American.
      Second, who's dictating what the Germans can do? Many are commenting on what they think ought to be done, but no one expects Germany to comply.
      Third, freedom of religion is one of the founding principles of the US and what exactly that means is worthy of debate and discussion, hopefully civil discussion.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • pooryorick23

      I'm glad we have you to judge all Americans and decide what is or is not benign.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Pastor $ Dollar

      You make me yawn..so boring Dieter. You want to pet my monkey ?

      July 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • David L.

      So typical of non-Americans to come on a discussion board like this and preach about how the egotistical Americans are trying to control other countries, when you yourself are spouting your egotistical views about what you think we should, and should not be discussing. If you don't like the discussion, don't participate, and please don't spread your own hate about this country just because they are trying to participate in a lively discussion of a current affair.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  20. Cody

    Why is our media making a big deal about what the Germans are doing because Muslims are upset. Look at Muslim countries and discuss what type of human rights violations are going on there. Part of the Muslim ideal today is to force their way of life on all other countries across the globe and CNN is helping promote that.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.