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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. Rolph Eczema

    Jews and Muslims can only agree on . . . foreskins?

    A "human rights" lawyer who calls himself "The Muslim Guy" ignores the humans and protects religious superstition.

    Religion is a cesspool of ignorance, nothing but conformism to weird ancient superstitions, a freak show.

    Sick, sick, sick.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Actually they also agree to get rid of p o r n channels in hotel rooms too.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Rolph Eczema

      So if the subject is being incredible hung-up and inhibited on anything even remotely related to sex, Jews and Muslims are going to agree?

      July 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  2. Mr.Howdydoody

    Though to the author, I guess Right and Left Wing Europeans are different than in the US. Banning religous practices is definately a Left Wing tactic in the US.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Dave

      Actually, left wingers are the only ones who LIVE the precepts of their religions. Right wingers want to starve the poor and keep them from receiving Health Care. Rightwingers ARE Caesar.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Kmint

      wait what? oppression of religious freedom is left wing tactic? are you kidding me? Politicians in general bring up god in every speech. And conservative politics use the ideas of christianity to reinforce their right wing politics. COME ON MAN. Left wingers are more open about this stuff than the right wing.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  3. Walt

    To the author........ You are a victim of your own ignorance. Ariticle 18 gives rights to the unborn as well. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... which might be keeping your body in tact the way it was given to you without religious mutilation.

    You should stop writing until you can understand what you read.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  4. tenman

    Actually it's about a medical procedure. Period.

    If it was about religious freedopm, it would be about the child's religious freedom, NOT the parents'.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  5. Becir S

    This is ridiculous, are we sure Hitler is not back from the dead. Only 120k Jews in Germany left and they can't leave them alone. I think they're trying to kill two birds with one stone, but actually this could bring the two religions closer together against a common cause. All Germans are Nazis you can say whatever you want they hate everybody and everything.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Rob

      someone sure is mad

      July 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  6. James

    So long as Jews and Muslims are going to unite in connection with a cause, it would be nice if were an intelligent one, and not this prehistoric nonsense. The Masada story and Al Qaeda both involve the use of suicide warriors. I hope we will not unite on that either.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  7. Mr.Howdydoody

    So let me get this straight. They're OK with killing the child as long as it's in the womb, but all of a sudden they care about it when it's born?
    What happened to your freedom to do what you want mentality??? Oh that's right, you're MENTALLY ILL.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  8. REASON AND TRUTH

    I'm so glad Germany decided to do this.

    YES, this is mutilation and it should be stopped.

    Evolution dictates that we have a foreskin, why chop it off?

    The whole cleanliness argument is BULL.

    If and when I do have a son, he will surely retain his foreskin.

    Don't you dare push your stupidity and ignorance on me, Americans, Jews, and Muslims!

    Also, we must abolish religion if we ever hope to evolve and grow as a species.

    I'd like to see a moralistic movement take the place of religion, but I am all too afraid that it would lead to corruption anyway.

    Ah, so is life. But, yeah, hands off my foreskin you crazy b*stards!

    July 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      Evolution also dictates that we have long hair, long finger and toe nails, and an appendix. Just because we evolved a certain way, doesn't make it good or Right.

      Just sayin'

      July 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • David L.

      It's ironic that a person with the handle "Reason and Truth" can reasonably think that we can 'abolish religion.' I am an atheist, and as such, I believe in natural selection through evolution, as it appears you do with your comments. Do you not realize that religion is also a product of evolution? That as a coping mechanism for pain and grief, and to help an intelligent species cope with their mortality, the brain evolved to look for, and worship, a higher power?

      You pick and choose which aspects of evolution we should keep, and which we should abolish.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • REASON AND TRUTH

      Such things are advantageous.

      Long hair keeps our heads warm and nails would be whittled down by daily use.

      Modern science does not have a great understanding of what the appendix actually does, but I'm sure if we no longer use it then it will disappear.... Due to evolution. (Yes, I know that scientists claim that it was for breaking things down such as fur and bone.) But, ANYWAY, anything done in the name of ancient, primitive bronze age beliefs is just plain STUPID. Grow up people, for real! What is wrong with people?!

      July 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • REASON AND TRUTH

      Unfortunately I do not think that we can abolish religion... it is a part of us and emanates from within us....
      Also unfortunate is that we cannot just keep the "good" aspects of religion and get rid of things like extremism and fanatacism, etc.... But, the truth remains that religion IS a bane of humanity, and that foreskins should NOT be cut off. Grow up, people!

      July 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  9. LordEarlGray

    This is a barbaric practice and should be outlawed everywhere. You must be an adult in order to make a decision to mutilate your body in some way such as piercings or tattoo marking. It is unconscionable to do this to a baby who cannot speak for himself.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  10. Mark

    With all that is going on in this country, I could just care less about this issue! Give me a break!

    July 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • LinCA

      Yet you took the time to navigate to the article and comment on it.....

      July 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      which country,Germany?

      July 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • David L.

      If you don't care, don't contribute. Why do you feel like the rest of us care whether or not you care?

      July 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Bob

    Your religious rights apply to you and what you do with your own body. Nobody has a "religious right" to mutilate another person, just like Mormon's have no right to enslave young girls and force them to become mothers at 13. It's disgusting.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • sam

      Uh huh...because snipping a foreskin is tantmount to pedophelia. Nice hysteria there, Bob.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • LinCA

      @sam

      You said, "Uh huh...because snipping a foreskin is tantmount to pedophelia. Nice hysteria there, Bob."
      No, but both infringe upon the rights of others.

      In some cases, the ritual circumcision does amount to sexual assault. See the article from a while ago about some of the more despicable forms:
      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/07/circumcision-ritual-under-fire-in-new-york-due-to-risk-of-herpes-infection/

      July 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  12. HeavenSent

    Those who oppose the will of God will burn for all eternity including the Muslims and Jews. All true believers go to saladandchips.com to pray.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  13. clubschadenfreude

    It's hilarious and more than a little ridiculous that people think that their magical imaginary god friend wants foreskins. Piles and piles of them from what the silly myths say. That people have to do somethign so ignorant and primitive is only evidence that religion poisons everything.

    I wonder, if it's wrong to cut at women's genitals, why is it someone's "right" to mutilate their male children? Shouldn't they get the choice to be put in some bondage with this god when they can make the decision, not when their fearful and greedy parents want to?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  14. true athiest

    Mutilating infants in the name of religion is wrong. In fact, all religious indoctrination of minors is criminal child abuse.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Fred

      But mutilating infants in the womb is perfectly acceptable in today's culture.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • rich

      relax, self procalimed athiests. you sound as righteous and vitriolic and religious wackos...

      July 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • not Athiest

      @Fred, an infant does not inhabit a womb. A fetus inhabits a womb. A fetus is not a person.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  15. Frank

    But chicks dig the helmut look.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. jkINC

    Butt out government.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  17. Love4USA

    I was snipped as a baby and glad of it. Keeping clean and healthy is as easy as a quick shower. No having to "fool around down there" to remove nasty stuff.

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

      Sounds like you've cleaned a foreskin before. Oh wait...

      July 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Ukes

      With that justification, we should also remove toes, ears, and armpits. They are too much work to clean and saves so much of my time in the shower!
      You should learn a few things about hygiene. It takes just as much time to clean as it does as any other body part.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  18. Paul

    In the states we snip the ole foreskin for cleanliness reasons. I grew up with a kid in the 70's whos parents didn't care enough to snip it when he was born. Well, he had to get it snipped when he was 12 due to recurring infections (something like that). I bet he cried quite a bit then. I am sure I cried when I was an infant when it was done but I got over it... Also, whats the difference between punching a hole in your ear versus having some extra skin snipped off.....

    July 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • jp

      @Paul – you are wrong, stop lying:

      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 3:59 pm |
    • Edy

      because u chose to punch a hole in your ear, the baby can not choose. (no, i wont have my daughters ears pierced, if she wants to, she can do it, as i did...)

      July 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      It is not "extra" skin ... it contains thousands of nerve endings and blood vessels that are crucial to having a fully-functioning penis.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  19. JusDav

    WOMEN unite!!!
    you want longer male members? quit cutting them off!

    just my opinion.
    Male, cut, short. 🙂 I would have about 8 if not cut, now I am only 7. sigh... oh, well. At least I am proficient with what I have left...... ladies email me at HungLikeHorse @ StopTheMadness Dot COMMMMMMM.

    no, not serious comment, but how do you make a serious comment on "I want to remove part of you before you can make sense of sunshine?"

    JusDav

    July 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  20. JonnyCant

    I put forth: the Jews and Muslims are too careful. Do it right and go a little closer and solve a few other problems.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:54 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.