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

    It's interesting that the same folks who are up in arms about a decision between the parents of a male child have no problem slamming folks who express their opinion on what a mother should do with her unwanted unborn child. It's amazing to me that you can get so worked up over a boy getting his foreskin cut off but don't think twice about a fetus being sucked out of the womb at Planned Parenthood. Are personal freedoms only OK if they mesh with the way you see the world?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Kevin

      Funny, I was thinking the same thing about the religious folks who want to go to extraordinary lengths to protect something that is a couple of cells but then once a baby is born, they don't give a crap about it and as early as a few minutes after birth they want to let parents start cutting away pieces of him that they don't want.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      No, they are reserved for "persons"

      July 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Mark

      The opposite also applies – why would a woman not have a choice about a lump of cells in her own body, but is free to have her new born boy's penis mangled for life?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Marcus

      Personal freedoms apply to persons only. I kill million of cells everyday... not every single one of my sperm becomes a baby, so you could say I'm practicing genocide by letting it all go to waste.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Think Harder


      Your generalizing is tantamount to wickedness.

      I am pro-life and anti-genital-mutilaiton.
      Do you have anything to say to me?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  2. MYOB

    mind your own buiness turtle necks

    July 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Think Harder

      Keep your doctor's razor off of your child's business? Mind YOUR own business.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  3. yeahalright

    Yeah the tip of the penis has the exact same sensitivity as an earlobe. Clearly.

    How do you write that with a straight face?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Why does everyone go on about the "tip". The foreskin is NOT the tip.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  4. Jack

    I don't remember a thing about mine. I just know it doesn't look like a sausage link.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Tell me

      The vast majority of women I know prefer clean. I'm sorry to say most men are not all that fastidious about intricate cleaning.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  5. yeahalright

    What is it with you religious freaks and your obsessions with s.ex and genita.ls?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Jack

      Lets all just have some dirty love

      July 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Think Harder


      Dirty Love, the way God intended.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Jack

      @ Think harder...It was a joke and it was a Frank Zappa song, maybe you need to think harder and get off your high horse. I'll bet you're boring as all get out

      July 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  6. Marcus

    I think we should wait until the kids turn 18, and then ask him if he wants to have a piece of his penis cut off. I'm sure it'll be a very popular thing.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  7. mk045

    From article: 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"?

    OK, that's not removing anything; ear piercings do heal. What a laughable comparison. If this we're to remove the left thumb, we would not be having the discussion at all. So why does the article focus on phobias? It's not that people are afraid of foreskins...

    July 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  8. Tell me

    I'm undecided on this. I do understand the side of the folks who consider it "mutilation", and doing it for religious ritual is insane, but who wants to be burdened for life with a smelly germ receptacle when it's not necessary?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Perhaps you should research the subject : hygene....bathing is good...try it.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Tell me, why if you don't chop the tip off of a baby's penis – because that's what we're talking about here – the kid can't do it when he grows up if he finds it to be a smelly germ receptical.

      I'm sure your breath would be a lot better if your tongue was chopped out at birth too. What a rationale.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Kevin

      Don't you know how to practice good hygiene? I think we need to remove people's eyelids because you can get dirt and mucous and all sorts of nasty stuff built-up under there and it would be better for your eyes to dry out and be "clean" than to be moist, protected, and maintain their sensitivity and full functionality.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Think Harder

      The women should want foreskin. The s3x is better with it. Only women who have s3x with a cut penis ask themselves, "Is it over yet?"

      The men should want foreskin. The s3x is better with it.
      The men should want foreskin. The foreskin protects the penis when not erect.
      The men should want foreskin. The foreskin causes the skin on the head to remain thin and receptive to full sensitivity.
      The men should want foreskin. The foreskin's absence causes the skin on the head to callous and thicken, thus reducing receptiveness to full sensitivity.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  9. benfranklin

    This author sure love to talk about freedom of religion – what about the child's right to choose? In NYC, Jews aren't allowed to sacrifice chickens. You can't force marriage on a child. Are we 'anti-semites' and anti-islam'? No! We are born with self-evident rights, amongst them is freedom of belief. WE have those rights for OURSELF, we do NOT have a right to FORCE belief on others, or permanently mark their bodies because of our individual belief.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Aradan

      Spot on.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Mike


      July 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  10. christianbrother

    Noone is saying you can't mutilate your own or your children's genitals. You are just going to have to wait till they are adults and able to give consent which sounds pretty reasonable considering you are chopping off part of their manhood.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  11. james - St. Paul, MN

    The argument that this is about freedom of religion is not relevant and distorts the point, unless the author is arguing that a 1 week old child is sufficiently wise and thoughtful to make life decisions. No baby male or female should have his/her body mutilated without consent.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  12. Genold

    Arsalan Iftikhar has clearly failed in making his case. When the Declaration of Human Rights was written the first five articles were considered the bedrock of the Declaration. Article 3 states that; " Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Thus children are not property where a religious zealot can simply mutilate a child's genitals merely because of religious preference. When the author of the article pontificates about Article 18 he should consider that exercise of the Article cannot be held in higher consideration then Article 3.

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

      Yes!!! Brilliantly stated. Thank you Genold! -Kurt (my comment is below yours)

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  13. Kurt

    Clearly this man sees the interests of the group as being more important than the rights of the individual; which is dangerous thinking. He is absulutely wrong. He proclaims to support international human rights and even cites Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights claiming that religious communities have the right to permanently alter the bodies of their young by using knife to cut off the protective layer of a boy's genitals? How about the right of those young boys to determine their own destinies; which includes the right to their bodies as they are born in their natural state? Once they become an adult, they can then be free to choose to do whatever they want with their own bodies. Unbelievable!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  14. Kevin

    Religions and cultures that involve cutting the genitals of a baby girl have been denied that right by Western societies and laws. How is cutting the genitals of a baby boy for religious or cultural reasons any different? Because there are more people who practice it so it isn't as easy to convince people to ban? Either we, as a society, support protecting the genitals of infants and children from being cut or we want to allow it, there is no middle ground. The author of this article makes me sick!

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

      Aside from the fact that I do not actually support circ.umcision, there is a huge amount of middle ground between what is done to boys and what is done to girls. Make a complete list of the lasting effects of both and then tell me they are the same.....

      July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  15. Dirk_Gently

    There is no proven medical benefit, except to those that have a need. There is no hygiene benefit, except to those who cannot clean themselves. The only reason to do this is religious. Evolved society postulates that religion cannot ever take precedence over fundamental human rights and freedoms. We do not condone honor killings in the name of religion. We do not permit killing adulterers in the name of religion. We will not stand for any atrocity in the name of religion.

    This is only marginally different from female genital mutilation, which almost everyone agrees is horrible. The only reason it's still going on is tradition. Traditions that do harm and serve no beneficial purpose need to be phased out. People claim aesthetics, but norms change over time. People claim health benefits, but there are none unless you have a specific need.

    Other inhumane practices we've weeded out over time include slavery and denying women the right to equal treatment. These things still exist in pockets, and society as a whole is working to rectify that and abolish it. I imagine it's only a matter of time before this particular topic also becomes moot and something people think is terrible. Just give it a couple more generations with basic education filling in the gaps left behind by religion and people will walk away from these things without a look back.

    Some people will always refuse to evolve and must be drug, kicking and screaming, into the present.

    I'm proudly uncut as are both of my sons. None of us has health problems or hygiene issues.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm |

      And we know that men have very high standard of hygiene. They don't even wash their HANDS after using the restroom, let alone their weeners! CUT THE WEENER!!!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • christianbrother

      yeah kids get dirt behind their ears so lets cut off parts of their ear when they are infants so it is more clean

      we can also remove the fingernails of infants because they get dirt under there

      then maybe we can figure out a surgery so it is easier for kids to wipe

      we can start making super babies with just a few more cuts and snips!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Tell me


      None of those body parts are expected to be put in a woman's mouth. Say bye-bye to bjs.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Beam

      There are many health benefits for doing this...go read Johns Hopkins report on it.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Ralf

      "Dirk Gently" – I am in agreement with you on the "health" portion of your startement...
      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 7:51 pm |
  16. sybaris

    So this god purposely created foreskin in order to later tell its followers to cut it off. Right.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  17. 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 1:08 pm |
    • Henry Henryson

      Shut up and make me a pie.

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

      Yup and while your in there make me a sandwich.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Caul Murcatto

      Because if someone suffers the reasonable course of action is to make someone else suffer.

      Yeah, that sure is a fantastic idea.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jeremy from San Francisco

      We suffer by listening to women's stupid effin' problems

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  18. palintwit

    "Foreskin" wouldbe a good baby name for Sarah Palin's next one. "Foreskin Palin". Has a nice ring to it.

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

      If it's a girl she can name it "Schmegma".

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  19. Cut against will

    This barbaric practice is akin to genital mutilation in tribal rituals. That fact it is still performed in non-hospital settings is mind boggling. My body, my choice. That choice was stripped from me as chid and I am not even from either religion. Contrary to popular belief, all of these rituals can be performed at any time in a person's life. Why not give boys a choice, if not when they are 18, at least when they are 13? If ever there was a need for an elective procedure this is it. We don't let people bind children's feet, to shape their heads; why this? There are plenty of religious ritual denied the protection of religious freedom. This should definitely be one of them.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm |

      "Why this?"

      Because we want to KEEP THE WEENER CLEANER!!!!!!!!!!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • YeahItsMe72

      I'm not a huge fan of banning lots of things, but I agree this procedure should be done later in life so the person having it done has more of a say. But I'd rather encourage people to think about it this way then try to force people to agree with me.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • yeahalright

      I agree. It's completely atrocious and barbaric. Should I be able to chop off my kid's finger if I wave the "it's my religious practice" wand?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • A. dabney

      I bet every person here saying it should be done for hygiene doesn't HAVE a foreskin, thus no point of reference but the garbage excuse people give for removing the choice from their sons. People tried big time to convince me to have my son cut but the SINGLE EXAMPLE provided to me on the cleanliness front was of a 17 year old who KNEW BETTER and didn't clean himself and got an infection. Why don't we sew up baby girls' so they don't get poop in there or in folds because ITS A HYGIENE ISSUE. Seriously, it isn't that big of an issue unless you are a disgusting, filthy person. The infant thing is ridiculous anyways since the foreskin doesn't even RETRACT for years. By the time it is a problem my son will be old enough to wash himself and if he doesn't, he'll learn fast why he should when he has an unpleasant infection. On the other hand I kept my daughter impossibly clean and she's had two infections down there by 6. Funny, that... So who do I suck up to to make it legal for me to castrate my children? Because it's totally a religious belief and how dare you try to decide for me...

      July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Tell me

      b. dabney,

      You may have vastly reduced your son's chances of ever getting a bj.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Ralf

      "Cut against Will" – Excellent response.
      This procedure (for males or females) should be banned except in rare cases of medical necessity.

      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 hardly a medical concern for an infant; it can, however, be a decision for the young adult to make when they become se_xually active.

      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 7:55 pm |
  20. Badda Bang

    Keep the weener cleaner!!!! CUT CUT CUT!!!!

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

      I'm not Jewish or Muslim, but this may help those who cannot understand why some parents "FORCE" their religion on their children: both Judaism and Islam stem from a belief system where an individual is BORN into the religion. Therefore, a baby has no choice but is already a member of that religion. I think this may shed some light on the mindset of these parents.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Think Harder

      Let's be lazy about hygiene! CUT CUT CUT! [/sarcasm]

      July 17, 2012 at 1:55 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.