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Circumcision Ban Ignites German Debate

Published: 17/07/2012 04:18:24 PM GMT
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CAIRO - As the debate on religious circumcision is raging in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the country could become a “laughing stock” if it fails to overturn that ban that enraged both Muslims and Jews.

CAIRO - As the debate on religious circumcision is raging in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the country could become a “laughing stock” if it fails to overturn that ban that enraged both Muslims and Jews.

"I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practice their rites," Merkel was quoted as saying by Deutsch Welle on Tuesday, July 17.

"Otherwise we would make ourselves a laughing stock."

Last month, a regional court in Cologne in Western Germany ruled that circumcision for religious reasons amounted to harm and thus a crime.

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The ruling followed the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy by a German doctor on his parents' wishes.

But the verdict sparked outrage among Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, who denounced the ruling as a serious intrusion on religious freedom.

“I think that the ruling is very disappointing,” Aaron Tobian, assistant professor of pathology, medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said.

"There are risks and benefits to all the choices we make as parents.

“When we decide whether our kids should be vaccinated, whether our kids should undergo certain medical procedures like orthodontic treatment, there is always some risk to be considered … And we try to do what's in their best interest."

The German government has pledged to enact a new law to protect the right to circumcise male infants.

Joerg van Essen, parliamentary floor leader of Merkel's junior coalition partner the Free Democrats, told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper that the new law would be introduced in the autumn.

The German court ruling applies only to the city of Cologne and its environs - home to a large Muslim minority - but Jewish and Muslim groups fear it could set a precedent and the ban could spread to other parts of Germany.

Circumcision is a confirmed Sunnah in Islam as an act pertaining to fitrah (pure human nature).

The practice is also mandatory for Jewish males according to biblical texts Jews circumcise male infants eight days after birth to recall their covenant with God.

The time for Muslim circumcision varies according to family, region and country.

Others use the practice for hygiene purposes, generally among infant boys.


Medical experts have defended male circumcision at young age, challenging the court ruling to wait till adulthood.

"There are multiple advantages of neonatal male circumcision compared to adult circumcision," Tobian told Deutsche Welle.

"As a neonate there's a tenfold reduction in urinary tract infections. Infants also have reduced penile inflammatory disorders."

The German assistant professor warned that it was counterproductive to wait until after the age of consent.

"By waiting for male circumcision until you're an adult, you're not affording that same protection during that period of highest risk sexual activity," he said.

Professor Tobian stressed that circumcision has emerged as a new tool in the battle against AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infections in men by approximately 60 percent.

A research conducted in South Africa by France's National Agency for research on AIDS has found that circumcision reduced infection by 60 percent.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) found that it reduced infection by 48 - 53 percent.

"The WHO has advocated male circumcision to reduce HIV in countries with epidemics," said Dr Tobian.

"Male circumcision has been shown … to also reduce genital herpes by about 30 percent, to reduce genital ulcer disease by 47 percent, and also reduce high-risk HPV (Human Papillomavirus - that causes penile cancer) by 35 percent."In addition to those benefits for males," he continued, "male circumcision has been shown to reduce high-risk HPV for female partners by 28 percent, so these women have a reduced risk of cervical cancer."

Reproduced with permission from