At what age are Muslims circumcised?


A judgment as a bad signal

The Cologne circumcision judgment triggers enormous disappointment and uncertainty. A double interview with the commissioner for Islam, Rafael Nicodemus, and for Judaism, Dr. Volker Haarmann.

Carmen Dietrich and Gregor Merten created this "Angel of Cultures" in 2008. It was shown at the Ruhr Capital of Culture 2010 - the concern for a good coexistence of religions continues to apply. The Cologne circumcision judgment, on the other hand, is irritating.

What do you think, Mr. Nicodemus: Will the Cologne district court ruling on the subject of circumcision lead to Muslim boys in the future being circumcised in back rooms and in a medically and hygienically risky manner?

NICODEMUS Yes, it can be safely assumed. This judgment creates a great deal of legal uncertainty. The President of the German Medical Association, for example, criticized the judgment, but warned doctors to continue the practice of circumcision in this situation of legal uncertainty. But that means that what has been done professionally by doctors in Germany will be organized differently. Because the religious tradition of circumcising Muslim boys continues. One possibility is to avoid circumcisions, who more or less unprofessionally perform the circumcision in the unlawful space in the back rooms.

Legal uncertainty needs to be clarified: Rafael Nicodemus

Or is it more likely that you will switch to other countries?

NICODEMUS It is already foreseeable that both will occur. The displacement into the medical backyards as well as increasing circumcision tourism in our neighboring countries and in the respective home countries, which are not even familiar with such a discussion and legal situation. It has already been the case so far that many Muslim families, especially from Turkey, combine the circumcision of a son with home leave in Turkey. That will increase, as will the shift to our neighboring countries.

It is therefore absolutely urgent that the legal situation in Germany is now comprehensively clarified. The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany has already announced that it will take precedent to the Federal Constitutional Court. But that can take time.

Distorted image: Volker Haarmann

Mr. Haarmann, without speculating too much, do you fear that Jewish communities will be pushed abroad or become quackers?

HAIRMAN Of course, I share the same fears that Rafael Nicodemus expressed about the Muslim communities. And apparently there are already many parents who are now going to Austria, for example, to have their son circumcised. But of course that is a completely unacceptable situation that we have got into here in Germany. The legislature is now called upon to restore legal certainty for Jewish and Muslim circumcision practices. Mr. Graumann, the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has also called for such a clarification, and in fact there is no alternative to it.

We as the Rhenish Church have spoken of the danger of criminalizing Muslim and Jewish life - what (other) concrete consequences and dangers of the judgment do you fear?

HAIRMAN The judgment does not establish a new legal situation in our country. First of all, it is only a judgment in a specific case. However, as the lawyers say, it will certainly have a strong signaling effect. And these signals are indeed devastating to Jewish and Muslim life in Germany. Because as a consequence, the judgment would make Jewish and Muslim life in our country impossible at a central point. An impossible idea!

In my opinion, circumcision, as it is carried out on boys in Jewish and Muslim tradition, must be clearly distinguished from “bodily harm”, which punishes “inappropriate and bad treatment”. It is devastating when the discussion often speaks in one breath of inhumane practices such as genital mutilation and of Jewish and Muslim circumcision, as the circumcision of boys is medically called. The one has nothing to do with the other. Failure to make such fundamental differences clear in the discussion will distort the image of Judaism and Islam that many people are now getting.

How dramatic is the judgment, which is final but not binding on other courts, for the mosque and religious communities?

NICODEMUS The judgment in itself is one thing, the other is the enormous effect it has on the many Muslims and Jews in our country who are once again pilloried. The disappointment that you are not welcome here with your own religious tradition - and this is how it is felt by people - is enormous. It is a slap in the face of all integration efforts because it is perceived as fundamental exclusion. The signal says: "It's nice that you are here, but you'd better go to Turkey to practice your religion."

Mr. Haarmann, where does the circumcision of Jewish boys come from?

HAIRMAN The circumcision of Jewish boys is the implementation of a commandment from the Torah, from the five books of Moses. In Genesis 17 God said to his people: "All that are male among you must be circumcised ..." The Brit Mila, as it is called in Hebrew, is to take place on the eighth day of life. Even if the eighth day is a Shabbat when no work is to be done, circumcision should have priority. Only if the child is not doing well should the time be postponed. As with all commandments in Judaism, the protection of life and thus the well-being of the child are paramount.

The whole thing is often celebrated with a party with family and friends. I was once able to experience such a festival in Israel. It's a happy and joyous celebration. God seals his covenant with his people Israel through this sign. The oldest Jewish tradition is the visible sign of this.

Mr. Nicodemus, the same question for you: Is circumcision anchored in the Koran?

NICODEMUS No, interestingly enough, circumcision is not mentioned as a religious duty in the Koran. In addition to the Koran, however, there are the so-called hadiths, which are binding prophetic traditions, and which describe the circumcision of boys as a common practice of the early Islamic communities. The great figures of Islamic salvation history are circumcised, for example Abraham was circumcised according to this Muslim tradition at the old age of 80.

However, in Islamic tradition there is no specific age for circumcision. It varies regionally from the seventh day after birth to the age of 14. That is why circumcision is celebrated very differently, but it is almost always a big family festival through which the Muslim boy is visibly accepted into the ummah, the Muslim community.

You too have already been able to experience such a festival.

NICODEMUS I know circumcision festivals from the Turkish context. It was like a wedding, an elaborate party, also very expensive. The boy to be circumcised was festively dressed - like a prince - and received many presents. And he was very proud.

Is the subject of circumcision comparable to Christian baptism?

HAIRMAN Yes and no. Of course, many things are comparable. But circumcision is not, as is the case with baptism, about acceptance into a denominational congregation. Rather, it is about the fulfillment of a first fundamental commandment and the visible sign of belonging to the people of Israel. You are born a Jew if you have a Jewish mother. Circumcision seals this belonging. Even more clearly than when we were baptized, this sign is about identity and history. Baptism is the act of acceptance into the congregation, with which one becomes a Christian in the first place. As with Judaism, baptism also seals the love of God, which is valid even before this decision and to which we respond.

NICODEMUS The same applies to Islam: yes and no. Circumcision is and is not like baptism. In Islam there is no rite of acceptance into the Muslim community that is comparable to baptism. Every baby born to Muslim parents grows up as a Muslim, which is why pious Muslims breathe the Muslim creed into the baby's ear as the first thing after the birth. As an adult, one becomes a Muslim by professing the Muslim creed among witnesses. And yet with circumcision this membership of the Islamic community becomes visible and concrete. Depending on the age, it is also a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

How do theological physical integrity, the upbringing rights of parents, religious freedom of parents and children relate to one another?

HAIRMAN If one does not want to slide into religious fundamentalism, then it must be clear that the child's well-being is a higher good than the freedom of religion and the right to bring up parents can be. In my opinion, as I said, circumcision is not against the best interests of the child. On the contrary. The passing on of the religious socialization of the parents to their children is expressly in the best interests of the child. As with many other decisions, the parents must first make decisions on behalf of their children. It's like learning a language. The child does not choose his mother tongue himself, but grows up with the language of the parents and learns it. This does not incapacitate our children, but on the contrary makes them able to find and justify their own point of view.

NICODEMUS I agree. We experience again and again that fundamental rights can be in tension with one another. And the protection of the dignity of the individual and the best interests of the child have absolute priority. Only, and Mr. Haarmann is absolutely right, circumcision does not contradict the child's best interests.

Church council pastor Rafael Nicodemus is responsible for the Christian-Muslim dialogue, regional pastor Dr. Volker Haarmann for the Christian-Jewish dialogue. / new / 07/12/2012


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