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. TruStyles

    If people say that it is their religous custom to perform this religous custom and it has no physical or psycological trauma to the child why are others so quick to call them barbaric and child abusers?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • arma7us

      because it a) traumatizes and b) just because these religious people say it doesnt i have to belief it ^^? doctors have been arguing much longer on the ethical and biological consequences and they refrain from doing it because of it. belief it because the religious say so 😀 so rofl

      July 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • mjcjrfl77

      "No physical trauma" ?? I'd call a piece of ones penis being there one minute, and hacked off the next, a pretty viable example of physical trauma. Sure, the penis still works, but then again, your ear still works after cutting off the lobe – doesn't make it ok.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Hot Carl

      It's useless skin, that's all. Has nothing to do with sensation. If anything, it'll help some of you teenage "minute-men" last a little longer because it won't be "going off" at the slightest touch.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • eolague

      Hot Carl: Regardless of your opinion (or the facts for that matter), your statement makes no sense.

      You say "Nothing to do with sensation" in one sentence and in the next you proclaim that it will help "teenage minutemen" last longer. Those two statements are incompatible. You clearly did not think that out correctly.

      Also, useless is up for debate. Others might like it, others might not. It's not up to you to decide.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Ticktockman0

      Uh, because it IS barbaric and child abuse.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  2. adsf

    Iftikhar is an idiot and I wish someone creates a religion where cutting his whole penis is a religious rite.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  3. Hot Carl

    But breast implants are okay, right?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      Yes, because you're not putting breast implants on an infant.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Serious

      well if i read this right only if the person is over 18 until that point the parents and the children cannot alter anything and so should wait till 18.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Rob

    In non-related news, the Kibble n Bits dog food company is shutting down its manufacturing plant in Germany.....

    July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  5. Dawn in Canada

    My religion requires me to lop off the p e n i s e s and t e s t i c l e s of human males once they've sired 2 children. Would the Jewish and Muslim religions be OK with me doing so?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  6. Don

    Stop the male and female mutilation. This is another example of religion controlling weak minds.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • matt

      I bet you have never been laid before!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Don

      Does my right hand count?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  7. DC

    Hey Europe, how's that nanny state workin' out for ya?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Rob

      I can't believe people still use Sarah Palin's "catch phrases". What about "I read newspapers", why don't you try using that in normal conversation? Oh wait, if you're a Sarah Palin fan then there's no such thing as "Normal conversation" for you, just screaming at the other person until they submit to your belief system or tire of your screams.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  8. akka69

    I wonder which part of the act was teh base of this ruling:
    – The mere act of "mutilation". Then why not condemn esthetic surgery?
    – The fact that it's imposed on a child. then why not wait he grows up and then make him decide around 18 years old what he wants?
    – Then if this is to be allowed, where is the limit? Is lttle girls ear-piercing right? Why not tatoo children while they are babies?

    Some things need not to be made into laws, but rather tolarated (or not).

    July 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  9. Hot Carl

    I'm glad I got clipped. Who wants to look like an ant eater?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • drc239

      Hahahahaha! Hot Carl, thanks for the laugh!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Sunflower

      Touche!!! No offense to all the ant eaters out, there.... but YUCK!!!! They turn me off COMPLETELY!!! And ALL of my women friends feels the same way...

      July 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Merry Prankster

      Turkey neck and giblets ; )

      July 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Boytjie

      Who wants a permanent "ring around the collar"?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • JREV

      Ant-eater? Dude, sounds like you have other problems. I'm glad my boy didn't suffer through that pain.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • beachboy

      @Hot Carl – Wow, your argument is so stupid that it's laughable.

      @Sunflower – one would have to be totally desperate to mutilate their body just so he can get laid with someone like you.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Cleavland Steamer

      as long as it works, what diff does it make

      July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Pittsburgh Platter

      Let's discuss this over dinner!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  10. Abraham

    7th century practises must be banned including Halal and Kosher and mutilation of babies genitals.
    I am of Jewish heritage. People grow up.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • beachboy


      July 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  11. dangercat

    How can people say this is not the same as genital mutilation of girls and women? It is exactly the same, it just has wide spread acceptance in some of the western world. It is infant mutilation and torture for no good reason. All sorts of things are sanctioned and dictated by religions, and let's face it, some of them are just holdovers from tribal customs and some of those are flat wrong and should be stopped.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Serious

      IT is not the same because the little man still functions all the same and is not ruined.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Bill

      As someone who has been through infant mutiliation and torture, I can say that it doesn't hurt nor leave psychological trauma behind. Thank you for your concern.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  12. Serious

    pretty soon if you want to bring your child to church with you at three and they say no you will be infringing on their rights. and after that if you want to send your kid to school or bring them to the grocery store and they say no you will be infringing on their rights....where does it stop?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • mjcjrfl77

      Where does it stop??? I don't know – probably somewhere AFTER taking your child to the grocery store, and BEFORE mutilating him.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  13. ab

    I have scars and desensitization from it. It wasn't my choice and my family isn't even religious. They just did it because it was common practice. I absolutely agree that this is little more than genital mutilation in the name of religion. I don't buy the hygiene argument one bit for anyone that doesn't live in a third world country. And even then you'd have a hard time convincing me that hacking off part of the penis is good for hygiene. Hello... It's called soap...

    July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  14. Serious

    I would have to say mutilation is an extreme word here. I think the point of piercing ones ears is also mutilation than with permanent holes. So this arguement should easily be carried to that and girls of all ages will have to wait until 18 to get their ears pierced.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Ryan

      Are you SERIOUS? Piercing your ears, first of all, IS YOUR CHOICE. Having your FORESKIN completely removed as an infant is horrendous, disgusting and extremely painful. It serves no purpose and is irreversible. If anybody really wants that done to themselves for religious reasons, allow them to make that choice on their own as an adult, rather than allowing the parents to make it for them. There are no Christian, Muslim, Jewish babies – only babies belonging to Christian, Muslim or Jewish parents. Let them decide when they're older.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  15. reality check

    This is merely Germany's reprisal for civilized society's denouncing of the persecution of Jews.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Dawn in Canada
      July 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  16. beachboy

    No religion show require a mutilation of one's body! And please don't give me the "health reasons" crap!

    July 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Liz in Seattle

      I agree– if people want to mutilate their own bodies in the name of God, so be it. But this is mutilation of tiny children who can't even give consent. It's mind-boggling to me.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Ralf

      "beachboy" – agree with you 100%
      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 7:47 pm |
  17. amos j soma

    Whether you agree or disagree with the practice isn't important. What's important is that it is none of the Government's business. This is what happens when the socialists and liberals get control of things. They want to run every facet of your life.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Dawn in Canada

      Then it's none of the government's/society's business if I come and lop off your p e n i s? Awesome! I'll be right over with my sewing sci ss ors!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  18. CutoffMyPenis

    They cut off mine when I was a baby and I'm still mad about it. What right did they have to mutilate my body?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Hot Carl

      Quit whining, Mary. Do you REALLY want to look like an ant eater?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  19. Rumpledforeskin

    Is my name....LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!

    July 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  20. .


    July 17, 2012 at 12:37 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.