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. MC-JM

    So just 70 years ago Germans murdered our children but now they want to protect their foreskin????? Yeah, im going lean towards anti-semitism on this one. They wanted to get us out of their country then and they want the same now...why not just call a spade a spade.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      what do you have against spades? anti-spadite

      July 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Mr Marmite

      one thing has nothing to do with the other. Religion is a dying disease in Europe. The child's welfare is more important than bronze age myths

      July 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The godless will learn the truth in the end and will burn for eternity. Seek Jesus's truth and avoid this.


      July 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • MC-JM

      Your missing my point. Germans have never had any regard for Jews and the only people affected by this ban are Jewish children....Why didn't they save our kids from the gas chamber if they were so concerned for their well being???

      July 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      if that is not a prejudiced statement.
      WHatabout the jewish germans...pretty sure they had pretty high regard for themselves.
      Not all germans were nazis
      And not all nazis wanted to be nazis

      July 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • MC-JM

      So you truely believe that the people who passed this ban really care about Jewish children and are not just passing this to further make the point that religious people are not welcome in Germany??? There really concerned about our babies???? I don't buy it

      July 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      I do not know what motivated the german legislature to put this forward. and you are only speculating. I was just pointing out your prejudicial remarks re: the germans. I am sure that there are people on both sides of the debate. You are not giving proper credit to the german people who fought against the nazi regime, nor who ran the underground railroad to save as many persecuted people as they could. You use blanket terms that are inaccurate, which takes away from the point you are attempting to make.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • MC-JM

      Who invited me?
      Every German in Germany at the time of the holocaust deserves blame for what happened and that includes the Jews. All stood idly by and watched or complied as "legislature" was passed forcing Jews to wear stars that identified them as outsiders; "legislature" was passed that forced Jews from their homes and into ghetto's.... Now we have this ridicules piece of legislature meant to once again identify Jews as outsiders with different values then "true" Germans and ban them from performing a ritual that has been a part of their culture for 1,000's of years.... Everyone is responsible and I say anyone who doesn't stand up against this type of blatant anti-Semitism is no better than the nazi's.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Wow, nice tirade. I could blurt out that you're no better than a Zionist ass, but that would be about as substantiated as you saying I'm no better than a Nazi.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • MC-JM

      So you deny that you are systematically trying to eradicate my people by making it illegal to practice their faith on the basis of your set of values? Admit it, you wish that there was no religion in this world...nazi

      July 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      I'm fine if a person wants to practice their religion or culture, but once it affects a newborn that doesn't know what's going on, then I could care less what your religious beliefs are. Why would I even want to eliminate Jewish people? I thought Christians had a bad persecution complex, but you're just making them look like amateurs in comparison.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  2. HeavenSent

    That baby is practicing to be Rabbi!

    July 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  3. Reason

    Why does Allah and God care how much skin there is on their boys' d-i-c-k?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  4. The Bottom Line

    It is always easy to see the idiocies and failures and impossibility of other religions, but people refuse to see the same idiocies and failures and impossibility of their own religion.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Kevin H

      Especially when the religion involves worshipping themselves..

      July 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  5. timothyclee

    Its time to end this barbaric practice of mutilating children in the name of religion. 500 BCE called, they want their culture back.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  6. Reason

    F(U)C(K) Judaism & Islam!!!!!!

    July 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • DasWasser

      Exactly! 100% spot on!

      July 17, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  7. jnail7

    Here's an idea: Remove the ban, but allow people to sue their parents/legal guardians and the "professional" who did the deed. The "damages" should cover the cost of any reconstructive surgery and compensation for recovery. This way people can still practice their religious rituals and adults who feel they were violated through the process can get it corrected.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • jeanyesjeannot

      Great idea!

      July 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • DasWasser

      Not bad, but think of the enormity of the burden of having to feel violated up to the age of 18. Especially if you are not a semite. Oh, come on, you know the story: When an intactivist breaks up with the wife and the shissh er hits the fan what does she (it) do? Ans: Get back at the intactivist by chopping up any male underage child! AND YOU ARE SAYING THAT SHOULD BE LEGAL??????

      July 17, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  8. J.M.Arouet

    @Watchmavin – This NOTHING to do with Aryan stuff, but with cruelty against babies. When they are grown up, they can decide for themselves – this way, or the other.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  9. J.M.Arouet

    You what this is all about? Have a look ... http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8212662920114237112
    Be prepared to see some hard stuff.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  10. Watchmavin

    So, we're back to the Aryan thing in Germany. Seventy years after the Holocaust they choose to forget history' bitter lesson. What's next?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Mr Marmite

      the two things are totally unrelated. If that's the best you've got...then you've got nothing

      July 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  11. heavydpj

    If the case involved a little girl, we wouldn't even be talking about this. Why is it acceptable to mutilate a male infant's genitals, but not a female's?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  12. edinatlanta

    My head hurts just thinking about this.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. NickZadick

    I am uncut and would not have it any other way! There is no need to mutilate young boys for idiotic fairy tale reasons... I wonder what would happen if it would be suggested that all infant girls get a labiaplasty for cleanliness reasons?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  14. Edy

    watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXVFFI76ff0
    the boy is crying out of pain though anesthesia! parents will recognize, that this i a cry out of pain.
    i cant understand how a mother can stand besides and watch a stranger harming her little baby.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • msuwebmanager

      Drama + Ignorance = Edy

      July 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  15. DCTA

    Arabs are also "Semites".

    July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  16. Yodelling Bob

    God: He's got it all, but he just can't get enough of those foreskins!

    If religious people would stop repeating their indoctrination for just a bit and just consider what God could possibly want from foreskins, which he gave you only to demand you remove, then you will realize how ridiculous parts of your belief system are.

    If God felt there was a health issue, he never would have given them to you in the first place. What kind of God would even care, much less demand millions of foreskins? What kind of God won't let you into heaven if you still have your foreskin?

    This is a leftover of the dark ages of sacrificing to a god.

    Religion just does not hold up to critical thought.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • sb

      Couldn't agree more. We say, when a baby is born "Aren't they perfect?" Well, yes, they are. No surgery, thank you.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  17. James

    The ban is just and will hopefully spread. A child should NOT be mutilated. The decision should be left to him to make once he's an adult, not forced on him when he has no say in the matter.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jez

      The fascination of adults with altering the genitalia of infants (male and female) is sick. The child was born perfect. Adults need to curb their freaky predilections.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  18. Eastender

    We chose not to mutilate our son 15 years ago. I was saddened when the nurse kept coming back to me trying to convince me to c's our son. This was a personal decision, and every parent has the right to make that decision. However, I was pleased that my son wasn't wailing in torture along with the rest of the male babies in the ward. Yes, we are from European descent, and in our family, men do not get c'sd. Again – personal decsions IMHO.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • K-switch

      Hospital's make a lot of money on that procedure.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • sb

      Two sons, both left as they were at birth. But the nurses kept coming by to take the baby away for this procedure, but when I said "No, we're not doing that." they said "GOOD FOR YOU!" and meant it.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  19. Wally Lind

    What is this 1942?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Yodelling Bob

      Religious people want it to be 1942 BC.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  20. K-switch

    So are we also still protecting the rite of Rabbis to orally copulate the infant after the procedure spreading herpes, or is there NO line we can draw on religious freedom?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:25 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.