BEIJING - A German court has triggered uproar by ruling that circumcision for religious reasons amounts to a crime, sparking religious outrage in the European country.
"I feel the decision is discriminatory and counters efforts to promote integration," Ali Demir, the chairman of the Islamic Religious Community, said in a statement cited by the German daily The Local on Wednesday, July 28.
A regional court in Cologne in western Germany ruled Tuesday that circumcision for religious reasons amounted to bodily harm and thus a crime.
"The fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents," the court said in its ruling.
"The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised."
The ruling followed the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy by a German doctor on his parents' wishes.
But the boy was brought to hospital days after being circumcised as he was bleeding heavily.
The doctor was charged with grievous bodily harm, but he was acquitted by a lower court.
The court ruled that the judge had acted within the law in circumcising the child as the parents had given their consent.
But on appeal, the regional court upheld the bodily harm charge against the doctor, but ruled that he was innocent as there was confusion about the legal situation around circumcision.
The court came down firmly against parents' right to circumcise their young children.
"The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said.
"This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."
But the court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.
Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.
Muslim and Jewish leaders have defended the measure to circumcise boys.
"This is a harmless procedure that has thousands of years of tradition and a high symbolic value," Demir said.
He argued that circumcision helps in reducing the transfer of diseases, stressing that the court ruling would not stop the practice.
"We'll end up with circumcision tourism in neighbouring countries," he said.
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.
Others use the practice for hygiene purposes, generally among infant boys.
The ruling is "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination," Dieter Graumann, the head of the Central Committee of Jews, said.
Graumann stressed that the verdict violates their basic religious teachings.
The judgment is an "outrageous and insensitive act," he said.
"Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries.
"This religious right is respected in every country in the world."
The World Health Organization has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised.
In the United States, circumcision is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants.Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities.