Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 22:58 PM EDT, 13 July 2012
COLOGNE, Germany – On 29 June 2012 a doctor in Cologne circumcised a 4-year old Muslim boy at the behest of his parents. His family is part of a community of 120,000 Muslims who inhabit the region and practice Khitan, the Islamic rite of circumcision.
A few days later the boy was taken to the hospital because he was still bleeding which resulted in the doctor who performed the procedure being charged with causing the boy grievous bodily harm.
Male circumcision is a 3,800-year old practice that is the bedrock of Judaism and Islam, and within these two faiths it is a physical demonstration of an individual’s covenant with God.
Jewish boys must be circumcised on the eighth day following their births, and many Muslims boys must also be circumcised though the age at which the procedure occurs varies according to family, country and branch of Islam.
The Cologne Regional Court’s ruling prohibiting non-medical circumcision has subsequently raised a furor among German Jews, Muslims, and some Christians. Leaders of all three faiths are outraged by the government’s interference in religious practices, and it is seen by many as the first step in the erosion of the separation between church and state.
Many believe that these challenges to religious and cultural practices are being instigated by anti-immigrant sympathizers. In April 2011 France banned the Muslim practice of full-face covering headscarves, and on 6 July 2012 the French MP urged the government to ban Muslim headscarves for female soccer players despite the fact that the International Football Association Board (IFAB) ruled that hijabs could be worn.
While many may disagree with the practice, if circumcision is outlawed, it will not eradicate the practice and most likely will increase the number of injuries suffered by young boys because the procedures would then be performed in secret by unskilled practitioners in unsanitary conditions.
The Cologne court’s ruling is reminiscent of the criminalization of abortion in the United States. Prior to 1973 many women died because it was illegal in most states for them to receive an abortion in clean and sterile environments by trained medical personnel. This didn’t change until 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion is legal because it falls under the right to privacy.
According to Reuters, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that “Everyone in the government is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany. If circumcision is carried out in a responsible manner it must be allowed in this country without punishment.”
In an era where there is increasing hostility between Muslims and Jews, this ruling has resulted in European rabbis and Muslim clerics banding together to vociferously denounce this decision. Europe is increasingly secular and these continued assaults on religious freedoms have become the catalysts for unlikely alliances as former adversaries adopt the stance of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’
- Circumcision ban is the ‘worst attack on Jews since Holocaust’ (independent.co.uk)
- German government looking for quick fix on circumcision ban (timesofisrael.com)
- Jews, Muslims unite to condemn German circumcision ruling (dailystar.com.lb)