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. Anon

    Only wish this could've happened where I live long before I was born. Having something removed that doesn't grow back as a young child as part of a social, cultural or religious ideal is wrong and barbaric. I will and have been affected negatively my entire life because this horrid surgery was performed on me as a child.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Badda Bang

      hahahahahahaha LOL!!!!

      You are "suffering" because your weiner cleaner?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Your not funny Badda Bang

      July 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • chris

      seriously ??? in what way has this affected you negatively? unless reducing your chance of getting HIV and other STDS significantly is a negative side effect.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Must have a pretty extreme body image sensitivity issue or something.....
      Some people do.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  2. lemery214

    I'm all for religious freedom, but it doesn't extent to genital mutilation of children which cannot give consent.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Arnold

      I agree, the only thing we should be cutting off are these pre civilization barbaric blood sacrafices. The mere fact that people still hold on to them and then shroud themeselves with the cloak of religious freedom is outrageous. Children are being mutalated!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  3. puckles

    I say cut the weenie. Boys need to suffer at some point in their lives. Woman and girls suffer atrocities EVERYDAY WORLDWIDE at the hands of men. Yes, CUT THE WEENIE!!!!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • ggargoyle

      I guess you feel the need to punish the wee ones for their so called 'original sin'.... I say keep them original.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Has to b e a troll....

      July 17, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  4. Reality

    Christianity in the 21st Century- (via a prayer)

    ONLY for the new members of this blog:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Answer

    "We've always hacked off the tip. It's a right and we refuse to stop sucking the baby c-o-c-k."

    Bunch of c-o-c-k suckers that want their c-o-c-k so bad.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  6. EasyTiger

    Since this debate is taking place in English, I'm guessing there aren't many German citizens on this board? So I really don't know how Germans feel about this really or what kind of impact this really has. If you consider that in America today the majority of little boys (50%-60%) and in Europe that figure is more like 10% it is likely that this may not have the same impact on your average German citizen. As an American, it is my belief that it is my right and responsibility to raise my children the way my husband and I deem best. I am affronted at the idea of any government intruding on personal or family affairs. I respect those of you who believe that circ is tantamount to mutilation and child abuse but given the hygienic benefit to the procedure and its long-standing safety, I think it is only reasonable for you to concede that it is not at all in the same ballpark as child abuse.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Actually, I'm not prepared to concede that at all. There are relatively common side effects of this procedure that can result in complications. And besides, the hygentic benefits are GROSSLY over stated. The benefits are exactly the same as properly washing your childs genitals.

      But, I guess if you're a lazy parent who can't be bothered to actually clean your children, it's easier just to cut their genitals right?

      Besides, this isn't a religious freedom issue. The baby didn't say what it wants, so we can't presume either way.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • ChrisCintheD

      For those of you that think cleaning normal male anatomy is so difficult:

      Would you mutilate your daughter's g.enitals if that made her easier to clean? After all, girls have way more folds and crevices down there than males. Would that be ok if a parent decided cleaning up little Suzie was just too time consuming?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Arbiter

      "I am affronted at the idea of any government intruding on personal or family affairs"

      So would you be against intervantion in cases of child abuse or domestic violence?

      Additionally, there is no hygenic benefit unless you're a family of dirty hobos. If the only argument you have for it is that it can be performed relatively safely, is that really a good enough reason to irreparably mutilate your child?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • EasyTiger

      Ok – I respect your opinion. I do know little boys who have had big problems with being un-circ'd as they get older because for some reason those lazy parents don't feel right about washing their 8 year old's penis – but your views are understandable. What you are saying is that you think a medical procedure is exactly the same as me beating my child? That this physical abuse is going to jeopardize my son's ability to live a fulfilling and functional life? Just making sure we're clear. And you are ok with the government telling you how to raise your children? Since it's a legal practice in the United States, it doesn't really matter to any of us because we can make the choice we want to make. You think it's barbaric – fine, don't do it. That's your right. I'm just not willing to say that I would want any government making those choices for me and my family. I think the Muslim/Jewish citizens in Germany have every right to feel discriminated against as a result of this ruling.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Jimothy Jenkis

    You're an idiot Starscream

    July 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Reality

    Judaism in the 21st Century:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."


    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  9. Reality

    Islam "demythed"

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    July 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  10. Merry Prankster

    Religion is and will always be imposed upon ones children, the Amish, the Jews, the Muslims, Etc. Etc. Etc. I myself am glad I don't have a fungal petri dish on the end of my willy.....Thanks Mom and Dad!

    July 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I am quite happily circ.umcised as well (not done for religious purposes). However, I am relieved that I had daughters and got to dodge that decision. I'm personally OK with it but objectively cannot really support it. Religion has no bearing on my feelings about it. It was such a cultural default in much of this country(U.S.) for so long that I did not even know what an uncut one looked like until I'm not even sure how old I was.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  11. ChrisCintheD

    To those that support infant g.enital mutilation:

    Putting a tiny hole in the ear, which will close up over time if earrings are not longer worn, is in no way comparable to removing a functional part of normal male anatomy which can never be replaced. Faith doesn't give one the right to mutilate children.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Dliodoir

      Faith does give them the right. It's a perfectly legal procedure.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Which can be changed by law. Then what?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • ChrisCintheD

      Mutilating your children's private parts should not be legal. Doesn't matter if your holy book says it or if you are too lazy to clean your child properly or if you don't like the way normal male anatomy looks; it is wrong.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  12. Nathan

    "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"?"

    Earlobes heal if left unfilled for a while. Genitals don't.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  13. Belarus Marek

    Make it optional. In the US, they ask before they snip.

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

      They ask the parents, not the baby getting the end of his penis cut off.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Ask who? The baby?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  14. Sy2502

    Anyone who keeps invoking "freedom of religion" in this issue has zero understanding of what "freedom of religion" means. So let me educate. Religious freedom applies ONLY to the individual and does NOT apply to what your religion tells you to do to OTHERS. To the dismay of these people, I am sorry to inform them that their children are not their property, and they don't have the right to do what they want to others by using the religious excuse. If my religion requires me to punch a woman in the face to enter that church, I am sorry to inform you that I am not protected by "freedom of religion".
    Moreover, by cutting their children, they are irreversibly imposing their religion on these children before they have any say in the matter. This is completely unacceptable. Imposing religion by force (in this case a knife, for god's sake!) is barbaric and disgusting. If your kid, at age 18 decides to join your religion, he can then decide to have any medical procedure required to become part of that religion. But of course, these people know that no mentally sound adult would undergo THAT, so they have to do it when the kid can't say anything on the matter. That's as cowardly as it comes.
    Once again, nature and the parenting instinct would make us risk our very life to protect our children, but trust religion to mangle and deform something so basic and turn it into a REQUIREMENT to HURT our children to appease their psychopathic god. And then people wonder why I think religion is the most disgusting of human inventions.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • ELRod

      I would strongly assume one has to be an adult before they can claim religious freedom. Otherwise its the parents religious freedom we are talking about. The right of a parent to abuse thier child in thier own way in the name of the invisable one.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Great post. Notice how this article doesn't even talk about the possible negative medical consequences?

      The baby be damned! We have a right to do whatever we want to our children in the name of our religion!

      Sorry, but this is one person who lacks a faith that won't support child abuse, and shame on this author for doing so.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • TC


      July 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Michael Hunt Esq.

      Well said.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Arnold

      Well said...

      July 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  15. Unbelievable

    Apparently 7 day old babies are not human (yet) and thus have no human rights to concern this human rights lawyer. I am unaware of any codicil in international law that allows for the abuse of children, systematic or otherwise.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  16. Yowcha Dathurts

    YAY! The hoodie is back!
    Wrong story?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  17. Michael

    I think this should be something that women should decide on or not....after all, they're the ones who will have to deal with it later..... 😉

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

    "Waah waah...you're taking away my religious freedom." Sorry, pal, not buying it. Of course you have the right to believe in gods, angels, and magical demons if you want...no one's taking that away. But religious freedom doesn't cover the right to hack off part of someone's c0ck.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  19. Wally

    Many people do not practice the faith into which they were born and raised. It is unfortunate that many, myself included, must literally carry the scar of a choice that was made for them, and that they did not make themselves...

    July 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Benjamin

    We should indeed fight islamaphobia and anti-semitism, but neverto defend paleolithic rites that physically maim a defenseless child. It's not hateful to protect a child until he is of age to make his own choices.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:51 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.