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Outrage as Iceland plans to ban male circumcision

Plans by Iceland to ban male circumcision has drawn backlash from religious groups about the ritual practiced in both Judaism and Islam.

In a legislation being debated by Iceland’s Parliament would impose a six-year jail term on anyone who “removes part or all of [a child’s] sexual organs” for nonmedical reasons.

If the law passes, Iceland could become the first country in Europe to ban the practice.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a lawmaker from the center-right Progressive Party, said she proposed the measure after realizing the country’s ban on female genital mutilation had no equivalent to prevent male circumcision.

“It’s an attack on freedom of religion,” Ahmad Seddeeq, the Egyptian-born imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, told local reporters on Monday.

Iceland outlawed female genital mutilation in 2005, in line with other nations, to prevent procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for nonmedical reasons.


“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” Ms Gunnarsdóttir, said when she introduced the bill in early February.

“Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.”

About 336,000 people live in Iceland, including 250 Jews and 1,500 Muslims, according to government statistics and Seddeeq.

This Nordic island nation is known for progressive legislation on gender equality. Last month, the government made it illegal for companies to pay women less than men — another world first.

The religious ritual of male circumcision, or removing the foreskin from the penis, generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as a rite of passage.

Jews and Muslims typically circumcise their sons to confirm or mark their relationship with God.

While the practice is often associated with Judaism, a 2007 report by the World Health Organization said Muslims are the largest religious group to perform male circumcision.


An estimated 30 percent of all males globally are circumcised, and about two-thirds of them are Muslim, the organization said.

Milah U.K., a British group that protects the Jewish community’s right carry out religious circumcision, said, “For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy, to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Salman Tamimi, quoted in the Independent and president of a Muslim organisation in Iceland has reacted to this, calling it an ‘attack on religion’.

He also comments that he was particularly concerned about the potential impact of the bill on the small Icelandic Jewish community and any prejudices towards them.

Seddeeq pointed out that native-born Icelanders do not get circumcised, and he is not aware of any medical specialists in the country trained to perform the procedure.

He took his own 3-year-old son to Egypt to have it done.

“What’s the point in banning something that doesn’t really exist?” he asked.