Cultural/religious reasons : A guide to Circumcision

For most people circumcision is performed as an essential part of their religion. Judaism and Islam both view circumcision as a duty to God or a way of confirming one’s dedication to their faith.

Circumcision is also undertaken for cultural reasons. This is not an issue within the West but there are communities within Africa and Asia who continue to practise circumcision. In their eyes this defines the moment when a boy passes into manhood.

Judaism and circumcision

This ancient practice has been undertaken for more than 3,000 years.

Baby boys are circumcised as a statement of Jewish identity and an act of faith. This ceremony or ‘bris’ is performed by a man (a mohel) who is specially trained in this procedure. This is carried out on the eighth day following birth unless there is a serious risk to the health of the baby.

It is performed at the baby’s home or a synagogue and on the Sabbath or holy day.

It is seen as mandatory for Jewish born babies and men who later covert to Judaism.

Islam and circumcision

Islam views circumcision as an act of submission and one that should be carried out in a boy’s childhood. However, some argue that it is a matter of personal choice.

It can also be viewed as an act of cleanliness. This is an important issue for Muslims who believe that the body must be clean and free from any secretions (including urine) before prayer.

They argue that the removal of the foreskin during circumcision means that it will be easier to keep the penis clean. Plus it also means that the body will be free from the risk of disease and infection.

As with Judaism, circumcision is a statement of identity, of belonging to a group or in this case, a religion.

Circumcision is usually performed in a clinic or hospital by a trained practitioner.

It is encouraged but remains a matter of choice for both boys and men. This equally applies to adult converts to Islam.

Christianity and circumcision

Many people are familiar with the notion of circumcision and Judaism but less so with other religions such as Christianity.

The Old Testament part of the bible argues that circumcision is an essential part of Christianity and an agreement with God. But this is not a requirement in the New Testament.

Christians do not have to be circumcised as part of their religion and this remains a matter of personal choice.

Cultural reasons for circumcision

Apart from the religious aspect there are many cultural reasons for circumcision.

There are tribes within Africa who still practise circumcision as a way of defining a boy’s journey from childhood to manhood. It is seen as a statement of masculinity and a throwing away of any ‘feminine’aspects.

Circumcision is also performed amongst the Australian aborigines and the peoples of the Fuji islands, Samoa and Tonga.

This is also performed as a rite of passage and an act of hygiene.

Female circumcision or female genital mutilation is still performed in these communities, often as a form of hygiene or a means of preserving a girl’s virginity before her wedding night.

This is discussed further in our female circumcision section.

Circumcision which is performed for religious or cultural reasons is known as ‘non-therapeutic’ or ritual circumcision.


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