EUROPE > German court’s move to ban circumcision unites religions

ISTANBUL - Anatolia News Agency

In a rare show of unity, Muslims, Jews and Christians in Europe unite against a ruling in Germany restricting circumcision. Doctors have also warned that the ruling could increase health risks by forcing the practice underground. Chancellor Angela Merkel pledges quick action to protect the rights of Muslims and Jews

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A boy's toes curl in pain as a doctor performs circumcision on him during a charge-free mass circumcision sponsored by a gubernatorial candidate in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 26, 2012. AP Photo

A boy's toes curl in pain as a doctor performs circumcision on him during a charge-free mass circumcision sponsored by a gubernatorial candidate in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 26, 2012. AP Photo

A German court’s ban on circumcising baby boys has provoked a rare show of unity between Muslims, Jews and Christians, who see it as a threat to religious freedom, while doctors are warning that the ban could increase health risks by forcing the practice underground.

European rabbis meeting in Berlin on July 12 promised to defy the ruling by a court in the city of Cologne last month. They plan further talks with Muslim and Christian leaders in Stuttgart next week to see how they can fight the ban together. “We urge the Jewish community in Germany and circumcisers to continue to perform circumcisions and not to wait for a change in the law,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, Swiss-born chief rabbi of Moscow. Goldschmidt said the ban posed a threat to the existence of the Jewish community in Germany and is a new example of creeping prejudice in European law against non-Christians, after a Swiss ban on minarets, French and Belgian bans on Islamic veils in public, and an attempted Dutch ban on halal meat.

The Cologne court took action after police were alerted by a doctor who treated a Muslim boy for bleeding after he underwent circumcision. It emphasized that it did not ban circumcision, but wanted families to wait until their sons were older. So far the ban applies only to the area of the Cologne court’s jurisdiction.

Support from EU lawmakers

Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims and 120,000 Jews. Many of the former are originally from Turkey, which also condemned last month’s court ruling. Ali Dere, Turkey’s departmental manager for external relations of the Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in Germany, said this step was the beginning of a new wave of discrimination against Muslims in Germany. Muslim and Jewish groups have also issued a joint call for German lawmakers to protect the right to circumcise boys. Several Islamic and Jewish organizations said in a statement released July 11 that they had met with legal and medical experts and European Parliament deputies in Brussels this week to discuss the court’s decision. “We consider this to be an affront [to] our basic religious and human rights,” the joint appeal said, Agence France-Presse reported.

The joint statement was signed by leaders of groups including Germany’s Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the Islamic Center Brussels, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, the European Jewish Parliament and the European Jewish Association. They met with members of European Parliament from Germany, Finland, Belgium, Italy and Poland, according to the statement released by the Turkish-Islamic Union.

The head of the German Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, said the ban meant there was “an increased risk of this task being performed by lay people which, because of poor hygiene conditions, could lead to serious complications.” But Montgomery said he sadly had to advise his colleagues to refrain from performing the operation until the legal situation had been clarified, otherwise they could face prosecution, Reuters reported. In response to concerns, the German government pledges quick action on July 13 to protect the right of Jews and Muslims to circumcise baby boys on religious grounds. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters it was “concerned” about the judgment published by a Cologne regional court. “It is absolutely clear to the federal government that we want Jewish, we want Muslim religious life in Germany. Circumcisions carried out in a responsible way must not be subject to prosecution in this country,” he said.

“It is urgently necessary that we establish legal certainty.” He said that aides from Merkel’s office would now discuss with the relevant government ministries ways to put the rite on firm legal footing. “It is clear this cannot be put on the back burner. Freedom to practice religion is a cherished legal principle,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the justice ministry said that there were three options for new draft laws to protect circumcisions on religious grounds that were under “intensive” review.


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Notice on comments

G Malent

7/16/2012 7:24:37 PM

@ Chas Spencer: Snide comments about "warm feelings" and allusions to Quixote mean that you can't or won't address the substance of the issue. You can do better than that. "The ritual is an event that binds and keeps the structure and cohesion of that Society." The structure of Muslim societies would be compromised and they would lose cohesion if Muslim boys were not circumcised? That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Surely you can't be serious.

Chas Spencer

7/16/2012 2:53:13 PM

This protracted "Intellectual" excercise may may give you a warm feeling of acomplishment but in reality all of you arefighting the Windmills a'la Don Quiquote. Circumcision is an religeous ritual, that has been practices for the lenght of each particular History. The ritual is an event that binds and keeps the structure and cohession of that Society. The ritual in itself does not elevate or deminish anyone. In this case a sitting Judge decieded to play a "Big Shot" for 15 seconds of Fame.

G Malent

7/15/2012 8:45:04 PM

@Rimon Tree: That argument is disingenuous. You know perfectly well that a foreskin or clitoris will never grow back once it's been removed. It's an irreversible procedure. The effects of religious education, on the other hand, while it has a strong influence, may sometimes be reversed or modified later in life with further education and emotional maturity and intellectual development. Not so with circumcision and other forms of mutilation. And with all due respect, I think you know that.

G Malent

7/15/2012 8:25:12 PM

Bank robbery and car theft are mentioned in the Qur'an as many times as circumcision and clitorodectomy. Don't you dare try to restrict my right to practice my freedom of religion by stealing cars and robbing banks. I'll take it up with the United Nations Human Rights Council! You'll be sorry!

G Malent

7/15/2012 5:59:03 PM

The argument that restricting male circumcision is a violation of religious freedom for Muslims is identical to the argument that banning female genital mutilation violates freedom of religion. And the argument is identical: "God commands us to do it." (And moreover, the Qur'anic basis for FGM is identical to the Qur'anic basis for male circumcision) If I get put on trial for stealing a car or robbing a bank, I'll tell the judge I did it because God told me to do it. That'll be interesting.

Rimon Tree

7/15/2012 11:37:45 AM

@ Erik If you think that religious education does not determine a childs life than take a good look around the Muslim World.

Erik Johansson

7/15/2012 10:20:09 AM

@Murat. In the Middle Ages in the desert, circumcision might have been a practical alternative. But today we have got soap and water, as you may know... -The africans should stick to condoms in stead of following the advice in that (infamous) study. Then the risk reduction is about 100%.

Erik Johansson

7/15/2012 9:59:25 AM

@Rimon. Circumcision determines a child for his whole life. Religious education doesn´t - you can always change your mind later on in life.

Dov Forest Hills

7/15/2012 4:25:18 AM

Mr. Johannson, this is a delicate matter, and you demonstrate understanding of it. However, to really ensure religious freedom, children would really need to be shielded from the religion of their parents until they are 18. Of course this is preposterous, but the truth is that nearly everyone adopts the religion they were brought up in. Circumcision for Jews must be done at an age of eight days, as Abraham did to Isaac. To change this to 18 years, fundamentally changes our religion.

The Lion

7/14/2012 10:03:35 PM

This was there way of trying to harass their Turkish minority again. It backfired however as it also was against the interests of their Jewish slavemasters.
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