Ismail Berdiyev, a leading mufti from Russia's North Caucasus region, has called for genital mutilation to be carried out on "all women to reduce lechery" and "sexuality." DW's Moscow Correspondent Emma Burrows reports.
"All women should be cut, so that there is no depravity on Earth," said Ismail Berdiyev (pictured above), mufti of Russia's North Caucasus Muslim Coordination Center, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
The agency added that he went on to say: "It is necessary to reduce a woman's sexuality, and it would be good if this [female genital mutilation] were done to all women. God created women so that they can have children and bring them up. This [female genital mutilation] has nothing to do with that; women do not stop giving birth after having this done."
The World Health Organization (WHO) says female genital mutilation (FGM) can cause complications in childbirth, including increased risk of baby death.
The United Nations has condemned FGM and called for its elimination. The WHO estimates more than 200 million girls and women around the world have been subjected to the practice. It is mostly carried out on girls from birth to the age of 15 and involves the full or partial removal of part of the genitals.
The mufti made his comments following the publication of a report by the Russian Justice Initiative (RJI), a nongovernmental organization, which said FGM is widespread in some mountainous areas of Dagestan, a region in Russia's North Caucasus near Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Following a backlash on social media in Russia, Berdiyev reportedly distanced himself from his words by saying he had meant the comments as a "joke" and had not advocated FGM for all women.
Support from Russian Orthodox Church
He received support, however, from a senior priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, Vsevolod Chaplin, who wrote on his Facebook page: "My sympathies for the mufti. I hope he doesn't retreat from his position because of the howls and hysterics which will start now."
He also said the mufti had simply "talked about his time-honored traditions, recognized by the majority of women living under this tradition," before adding that "feminism is a 20th century lie" and that it is not necessary to practice FGM on Orthodox women because "they are not debauched anyway."
There is no religious text which proscribes FGM, and it has been condemned worldwide by many Islamic organizations. Rushan Abbyasov, a senior mufti from Russia's Spiritual Council of Muslims, said it is "pre-Islamic" tradition, although the recently published report quotes one imam from the Makhachkala mosque in Dagestan's capital as saying: "It has to be done...If it is not done, it will lead to sin."
The report by the RJI says FGM has "almost complete support" in the remote mountainous villages of Dagestan where it is carried out - mostly on girls under the age of three, although older girls have also been subjected to the practice. It is often done by people with no medical training - in their own homes with crude tools such as scissors or knives.
Risk of death
The risk of infection is high because of unsanitary conditions, and there have been instances worldwide where girls have died after being subjected to FGM - the most extreme form of which involves the complete removal of the external part of a woman's genitals (clitoris and/or labia). In some countries, a woman's genitals are then sewn up to leave a small hole, although there is no mention of this latter step taking place in Dagestan.
In Dagestan, the report says, a variety of different methods are practiced because there is a widespread belief that FGM has to be done in order for a woman to "become a Muslim." Other reasons include trying to make a woman more marriageable or to reduce her sexual desire in order to keep her faithful to her husband.
The Russian Ministry of Health has said FGM is a "crippling" practice, but although it is against various sections of Russian law, there is no specific legislation forbidding it. One of the co-authors of the report, Yulia Antonova, told DW that "the law needs to be strengthened because otherwise there will not be any prosecutions at all."
Since the publication of the report, Diana Gurtskaya, chairperson of Russia's Civic Committee for family, children and motherhood has called on the prosecutor general to investigate FGM in Russia and prosecute those who carry out the "barbaric" practice.