European Attacks on Circumcision Rabbi Allen S. Maller
To understand why a government should feel it has a
right to forbid parents from doing what they, and the scholars of
their historic religious community believe God has commanded them to
do, we must distinguish between custom and law.
This activity, although wide spread in limited
geographic areas, is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Muslim
scholars (ulema). It is not circumcision: it is genital multination,
and calling it circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism. A
government may legitimately forbid this custom.
Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that
circumcision was already practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered
by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day.
Christians do not believe circumcision is still a
required observance. But, even during Medieval times, Christian
governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims
living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to
force Christians to circumcise their children.
Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans,
or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have
These governments are led by people who believe that
their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level
than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not
The Torah declares: (Genesis 17:7)
establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after
you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be
God to you and to your offspring
You shall circumcise the flesh of
your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and
you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be
circumcised when he is eight days old,”
Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him) to follow the
religion of Ibrahim (peace be upon him). When Allah says (Qur'an
We inspired you: 'Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in
part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses
cited above, to practice circumcision.
was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good
example that one is never to old to do God's will. As a Hadith says:
Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: " Prophet Ibrahim circumcised
himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with
an axe." (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)
first born son Ishmael, was a young boy when he was circumcised, so
Muslims do not have to circumcise their son's on an exact date. A
Hadith states: When Ibn Abbas was asked "How old were you when
the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) died?" He replied, "At
that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not
circumcise boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh)."
Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th
day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah
Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: "The Prophet (peace be upon him)
performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets
grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day." (Related in
al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)
Thus, for Jews circumcision is a
sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael
and Isaac and their descendants for future generations. For Muslims
it is a sign or their close connection to Abraham which is also
celebrated each year at the annual Hajj ceremonies.
For both Muslims and Jews it is a
sign that one who submits to God's commandments and covenant cannot
expect a life without some pain and suffering. When endured for the
right reasons it always leads eventually to great spiritual benefits.
This is also the lesson of the
Jewish Holiday of Hanukah because the Greek attempt to forbid
circumcision was part of the reason for the revolt.
The first government attempt in history to prohibit
circumcision happened in 169 BCE when the Greek rulers of the Syrian
Empire, decided to prohibit Jews from circumcising their sons, as
part of government program to make Jews conform to Greek standards of
pressure on Jews to 'fit in' culturally had some limited success with
many wealthy Jews and among some of the upper levels of the
priesthood in Jerusalem.
the Greek King ordered that a statue of himself be placed in the
courtyard of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He also ordered all Jews
to stop circumcising their sons.
led to a revolt which broke out in 168 BCE in the small village of
Modin, led by a man called Judah, the Maccabee (hammerer) and his
trust in God, the Maccabee brothers (four of who were killed in
battle over the next two decades) defeated the much larger Syrian
armies, recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated (Hanukah) the desecrated
Temple in an eight day festival.
the Festival of Freedom celebrating the duty to say 'NO' to the
unjust demands of a dictatorial government, is still celebrated to
this day in Jewish homes by reciting blessings, lighting candles,
singing songs and retelling the ancient story in various forms.
oppression of Judaism by Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek king, was the
first known attempt at suppressing a minority religion, but
unfortunately not the last.
well known attempts were the three century long Roman persecution of
Christianity, and the persecution of Muhammad and his followers by
the majority of pagan Arabs in Makka.
three religions emerged from their varying periods of persecution
stronger than ever, and this is the ongoing spiritual lesson of the
Hanukah lamp that once lit by faithful believers, filled with hope
and trust in God; lasts longer than anyone else thinks possible.
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