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. Mike

    The religious freedom: to chop a body part off your child.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  2. Jay

    Three words suffice: Male Genital Mutilation.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  3. Nick

    @SouthernCelt – this is incorrect. This was adopted in the last 60 years following WWII when the Jewish doctors migrated to the US and started making it routine. This was not the case 100 years ago. During WWII one of the ways they could tell if you were Jewish is if you were cut.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  4. HeavenSent

    See pics of me and my dog, Foreskin, at saladandchips.com.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  5. Andrew

    Why can't these religious nuts wait until their child is grown up? Then they can ask "can we mutilate you now please?" They might get lucky.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  6. AnneSD

    If it is such an important part of the religion, and appropriate to all those men that are devout in their religion, why not make it part of their personal dedication - that is, when they are adults, they can decide whether they feel strongly enough to undergo the sacrifice?

    I have seen comments on how painful it is later in life, but what good is a sacrifice if it is easy? What kind of sacrifice or show of dedication is it if performed on an infant that has no knowledge or decision in this? If you truly believe this is an important part of showing your faith, you should have no problem standing up and doing this as an informed and adult man. Doing this to an infant is not a show of the child's dedication to any religious law, it is just showing that as parents, you are forcing an irreversible physical change on your child without his consent.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  7. Muzzie

    Some pre-Columbian civilizations practiced human sacrifice. Germany, please do not make that illegal, it is still in vogue in mexico.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Dan

    Ear piercing, tattooing and cutting off body parts should be delayed until the child can consent. If there is no medical emergency, there is no reason to scar a child's body.

    My friend did not want to pierce her ears as a child. Her mom sat on her and had her siblings hold her down while she pierced my friend's ears. My friend should have been protected.

    Parents should not be allowed to pierce, tattoo or cut their child's body because of passing fads, religious affiliation, familial association with gangs or any other non-medical reason. Other children should not go through what my friend went through.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  9. Cindy

    I think it is unfair becasue you really cannot control what kind of child's gender you will get. I would personally go against it. I think that if they are that religion then they can just ban it. I dont think they should make it a big deaal for everyone.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  10. Jessyka

    What about the religious freedom of the child? Also, I second K-switch.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  11. Gudrun Schnitzelchopper

    I really HATE the fact that Germany wants to take away my choice of whether I get to take away my son's choice on whether he wants his penis cut up.

    It's just HORRIBLE that Germany wants the child to choose for himself!

    July 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  12. Rightster

    Maybe the dudes like the "tight" look and the women should get the excess labia snipped?

    July 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • ME II

      Women are free to do what they want. However, unlike male circu.mcision, there is no medical benefit to what you are suggesting.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  13. Nick

    Should be banned.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  14. Muzzie

    Muslims making trouble everywhere they go. Do not like the ban, Pakistan will welcome you back.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  15. LogJam

    The Jews got over not burning birds in the temple, they will get over not mutilating their sons' genitals.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Answer

      It's a practice – nothing more. What you practice one day can be just as easily changed to a new better practice.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  16. Evan

    Pierced ears heal and close up. You can't regrow a foreskin. Terribel comparison in the article.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Dan

      My friend didn't want her ears pierced. Her mom sat on her and had her siblings hold her down while her mom pierced her ears.

      Parents should not have the right to tattoo, pierce or cut their children's bodies merely because they want to.
      Pierced ears, tattooing kids or cutting off their body parts should be delayed.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  17. Bob

    Cutting off part of a baby boys penis is barbaric. Imagine if some people wanted to cut off baby girls labia at birth for "religious reasons". Should that be allowed too?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Bob

      They ban that, because it's barbaric, and terrible. But it's ok if you mutilate guys.

      Also, Bob is an awesome name.

      July 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      It has been a Health standard in the U.S for at least the last century. There are sound health as well as religious reasons behind it.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine circu.mcision for newborn males stating the evidence was not significant enough to prove the operation's benefit. The procedure may be recommended in older boys and men to treat phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin) or to treat an infection of the penis.

      From WebMD

      July 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • K-switch

      Some cultures do that, but they usually wait until they are a teenager so they feel and remember the pain.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Why did some god create an imperfect body, in need of improvement by man?

      July 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • ME II

      AAP also said:
      " In circu[.]mstances in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child."

      I think what they are saying is that the AAP will not recommend that every male get cut because there are both benefits and risks. They are not however saying that they recommend that no one get cut for the same reason and therefore leave it to the parents.

      Because essentially there are some benefits:
      "Lack of male circu[.]mcision has also been as[.]sociated with se[.]xually transmitted genital ulcer disease and chlamydia, infant urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and cervical cancer in female partners of uncircu[.]mcised men [1]. "

      But also risks:
      "The most common complications in the United States are minor bleeding and local infection. In the recently completed African trials of adult circu[.]mcision, the rates of adverse events possibly, probably, or definitely attributable to circu[.]mcision ranged from 2% to 8%. The most commonly reported complications were pain or mild bleeding."

      July 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Jen

      FGM is still in practice in parts of the world.. i think mutilation of all sorts is a crime, shame shame shame...

      July 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • ME II

      Agreed, FGM should be banned because there is no medical benefit. (and actually no reason for it other than cultural.)

      July 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "SoutherCelt "...There are sound health as well as religious reasons behind it..."

      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.

      Religious custom is no excuse at all. Any “custom” (religious or otherwise), that physically mutilates a child should be banned. When the child reaches adulthood, they should be able to make that choice for themselves.

      July 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  18. GaPeach

    Sorry about your pleasure K-Switch but not being ciruumsized is "nasty"

    July 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      Should we do mandatory breast implants for little girls? I mean, it's all about aesthetics right?

      July 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • just sayin

      Procedure after they turn 18. We should push for funding that would give them this option.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Ukes

      Sorry about your pleasure GaPeach, but having a labia is nasty.
      See what I did there..

      July 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • just_a_man

      People like GaPeach should not be allowed to make posts on this topic, it is obvious she is a 14 yr old girl who has never seen the subject matter before, nor experienced it. If given the choice to self mutilate, one is able to know the lack of feeling after having experienced the sensation of having it. However, that being decided for the male thusly strips away the choice. Is it right what various african soliders across the continent are doing to women removing parts of their reproductive organs? No. Furthermore, if someone wants to claim that right, the right to augment someone else's body in an irreversible way, then they are truly ignorant. That practice was implemented in a time when SANITATION DID NOT EXIST in the same presence it does now. For gods sakes people, its not about cleanlyness, now its just about the "right to do" what people want to do based on their inability to adapt to a changing society.

      I have said my peace.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • K-switch

      So, hot uncut guy who showers, or ugly cut guy who doesn't?

      July 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • just sayin

      I am glad they cut me. Can't imagine have something like an uncut one.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Sandy

    What times does my train leave for Auschwtiz? do they have clean towels when i get into the showers?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      How's that slope? Slippery enough for you?

      July 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  20. K-switch

    What is it with religion and supressing se x ual pleasure?

    July 17, 2012 at 4:47 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.