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.

CNN's Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the big stories

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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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. Lincoln

    Arsalan Iftikhar you are beyond ignorant. Everyone who shares your opinion that this is right and ok is a backwards fool and has no place making policy in the present day. It is genital mutilation, it is permanent, it is not better for hygiene since the creation of soap. You do not slice skin off a babies penis, leave them in their natural form, it's up to them when they are old enough to decide what is right!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  2. DC

    The most priceless statement in this article begins as:
    "Even though we do not yet live in a world where many Jewish and Muslim people agree on many geopolitical matters..."

    Some Jews wish to live in a lawful sovereign nation (Israel), and most Muslims don't agree that this nation ought to exist. Minor disagreement really. 🙂

    July 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Matt

    More like, rational people everywhere should unite to stop demented people from mutilating their children. Germany has done it, and now the rest of the world needs to follow suit.

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


      July 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Texas0101

    Personally I think that it should be banned for what it is...mutilation. We wouldn't have any problem banning it if Muslims and Jews were doing this to females in developed nations. I also do *not* believe that religious freedom extends to the body of another living human being who has no say in the matter. Jews and Muslims need to enter the 21st century when it comes to genital mutilation. They each ignore large parts of their scriptures that are inconvenient in the modern world, so why not this?

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

      Exactly right!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  5. AtheistHuman

    Finally... A fight agains barbarianism. Go Germany! Why don't the muslims and the jews cut off their noses instead, that is hygienic too. : )

    July 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  6. aaron

    circ is not about religion, circ reduces the risk of certain deseases, and its clean too...im not jewish nor muslim i was circ when i was a baby, i thank my parents for that...if you are uncirc you are going to be the odd guy with a burrito looking weiner you are going to be laughted at and most girls like them circ because its cleaner, i have some college friends that have been rejected by women bc they are uncirc.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Kevin

      Once again proving that women are the root of all evil

      July 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Babak from LA

      I agree with you and had no idea so many people were against it .... I don't think anyone can agrue with it being cleaner but just read some of these postes.....

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

      That's nonsense. If they were rejected by women because of it, then they can be thankful for the screening process of someone shallow enough to reject a man for that reason.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  7. Dejvid

    It should be banned for children ... once they're 18 years old, it's up to them. Otherwise, Jews can go to Israel and Muslims can go to Islamic lands to perform their barbarism. It should NOT be allowed in the West, period. And any Jew or Muslim who goes abroad to perform it, should be immediately arrested and charged if they return. This nonsense has been allowed too long in the West. Enough is enough!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  8. Babak from LA

    I had no idea so many people were against it. In my family it is not a religious thing, it is a hygene issue and the family doctor recomended it for our boys as well.... And some are comparing it to mutilation? Give me a break....

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

      Maybe you should teach your children to clean themselves properly rather than putting them under the knife to remove a sensitive part of their genitals

      July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Perhaps your doctor is recommending it to you and your family because he knows you have bad hygene....
      and it is mutilation, by definition.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Graybush

      Weird, but of the four people that I have known of who have not had this horrible mutilation when they were 1 day old. All four of them have had health issues in that area repeatedly and three of them had to have it done while in their late teens or twenties and it was a miserable experience for them. I really don't care what you think about me. I would make the same decision again and again. For my kids. By the way, none of them have gotten mad at me for it. My 18 year old hasn't went and revolted about it.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "graybush":
      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 8:06 pm |
  9. Unbelievable

    I'd like him to put his %% where his mouth is.

    I won't deny him his religious freedom, he can cut his member again for all I care.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  10. VinoBianco

    i don't think it should be done for religious purposes, that's just silly. but perhaps for hygenic purposes...

    July 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • pensimmon

      if you wash properly there is absolutely no need to do this cruel thing to newborns. Poor little mites.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  11. bufkus

    Genital mutilation should be banned in all shape and form. Religion should never be used as an excuse to justify genital mutilation. This article is terrible and the author should be ashamed of himself.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • whatsupdoc

      you didn't include the medical benifits...as it is a medical procedure and not mutilation.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Kevin

      It is a COSMETIC medical procedure

      July 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  12. hasan

    ban that sh1t, it messed up

    July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      You need to be BANNED from posting anything on CNN with that little brain of yours.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • achepotler

      Hasan is right, child abuser.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  13. Bernie

    Mutilation? You mean like -abortion? Do they permit abortion in Germany?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  14. Biff

    A man should be able to decide for himself if he wants his peaner skin removed.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  15. MYOB

    I say BAN it, this way only the elite will have it done since they will pay the fine and or go somewhere where it is legal.. DO IT!..

    July 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • MYOB

      Do boys still get picked on in the locker room for not having it done like back in the day?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  16. Josef Bleaux

    It's ritual mutilation of babies. It SHOULD be banned.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Neeq79

      I disagree....it is good hygiene and it does not compromise the function nor pleasure during intercourse, This is a very male dominated world, if there was a true issue with it, men would have banned this centuries ago....Focus on more important issues...

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

      Its not. Its a medical decision like vaccinations. Up to the parent and what they believe is best for their child with the support of the medical community.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Kevin

      The most sensitive parts of male genitals are removed by the procedure, do your research!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Greg B.

      An 'international human rights' lawyer is arguing in support of genital mutilation, because it is an affront to the religious freedoms of the parents? Guess what? Your child is NOT yours to indoctrinate. I am sick of that argument being accepted as gospel.

      What about the rights of the child to be free from completely unnecessary, and permanent, surgical mutilation for a religion the child will likely reject anyway? If they choose to go along with such barbarity, let them make that decision for themselves once they are capable.

      Good for Germany. I hope other civilized nations follow suit.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  17. Glorifundel

    "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"?"

    So you as a lawyer are comparing piercing an ear, (which does in most cases heal completely if you choose to remove that peircing) with cutting off a body part that NEVER comes back? Regardless of where you stand on the issue, that is one of the stupidest comparisons I've ever read. It is even worse when I consider that this is coming from a lawyer, who's job in many respects is to use proper language to express complex scenarios as they relate to complicated laws.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  18. JDub

    It's interesting that he ends the article with "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." Yet these baby boys aren't given the right to decide whether they keep their foreskin or not. You can change which religion you'd like to follow as an adult, the child cannot get their foreskin back when they're an adult.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  19. Rob

    I can't believe this is even an issue... Only a person who thinks they know the mind of a god (let alone that said god exists) would see a beautiful newborn and think that the best thing they could do for it was to cut it. This insanity MUST STOP!!!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • IrishInNJ

      Well said and I agree...what "God" would condone the mutilation of a defenseless child?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Neeq79

      Take religion out of it...it is good hygiene....

      July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  20. ambrosialea

    I think people who pierce baby girls ears are in the wrong. My parents thought that too. But calling it "earlobe mutilation"? Well, considering if you dont wear an earring for a while the holes close up, I think it would be harsh wording for it. Maybe if they put plugs in the baby's ears so that they stretched out the skin so it couldnt grow back...

    July 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      the hole closes up...but leaves a scar....what now?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • IrishInNJ

      The author ruined the article by comparing ear piercing to the irreparable and barbaric act of genital mutilation to satisfy a dumb religious or health myth perpetuated by dumb parents. There is only one comparison and that is the equally barbaric act of female genital mutilation in Africa for equally dumb religious myths.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
About this blog

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.