Circumcision is an age-old tradition and, according to archaeological findings on ancient mummies and papyri, the practice existed in ancient Egypt, as well. Christopher Columbus was shocked to find Native Americans were circumcised. Even in today's world, circumcision can be a symbol of class, status and a worldwide topic for debate
In 2011, it was announced that a referendum would be held to allow for the imposing of a fine of $1,000 and sentencing to one year in prison for anyone who circumcised a boy under the age of 18 in San Francisco, California, in the U.S.
However, the Jewish Community Relations organization filed a lawsuit in response to the decision, claiming that it is against the U.S. Constitution. They claimed that a referendum cannot be held regarding an issue that is clearly written in the law and Judge Loretta Giorgi agreed and the referendum was not held. Afterward, the State of California passed a law that states no judicial authority in California has the right to ban circumcision.
The Amish people, members of a Christian sect who are famous for their technology-free lifestyle, were handed a verdict in favor of their decision to not send their children to school in an American high court in 1972. The court decided that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses cannot be forced to salute the U.S. flag during the daily pledge of allegiance in public schools, as it is against their religious beliefs. The court also ordered that Quakers are allowed to request non-combat positions in the U.S. military, as participating in war and the shedding of blood goes against their religious beliefs. Hence, any attempt to block circumcision is now perceived as a form of anti-Semitism.
Although the origins of circumcision are widely attributed to the Torah, circumcision is, in fact, an older tradition. As far as is understood from mummies and papyri, circumcision was practiced in ancient Egypt. Since then, it has been practiced on boys at the beginning of adolescence by priests, and hygiene was not the only reason.
It is claimed that the Mesopotamian tradition of sacrificing the firstborn son evolved into the act of circumcision during the time of the Akkadians. Circumcision is also popular among some non-Muslim communities in Africa. Members of the Aztec ruling class were circumcised. Christopher Columbus was shocked when he learned that Native Americans practiced circumcision.
Some scientists claim that all males were circumcised until 50,000 years ago, but due to the lack of sources from the period, the tradition was lost in Europe but continued in areas with hot climates.
In the Torah, it is written that Abraham was ordered to be circumcised at an old age and that he circumcised himself, thus fathering a child as a result of this act. While the law of Abraham stipulated that the decision to be circumcised should be left to the person, the followers of Moses were obliged to undergo circumcision, such that the term "uncircumcised" is used for "non-believers" in the Torah. Refusing circumcision is a reason for excommunication in Judaism.
Jesus Christ was circumcised when he was eight days old. Jan. 1 is the date that he was circumcised, according to texts. During the propagation of Christianity, Paul realized that Greeks did not want to be circumcised and therefore abolished circumcision, claiming that the Bible abolished the requirements of the Torah. Despite this, Syriac Christians did not reject circumcision and it is still practiced by the Coptic Church.
Hinduism and Buddhism ban circumcision, and circumcision is not practiced in India and China, except by Muslims.
First step to manhood
The Prophet Muhammad said male circumcision is a "sunnah" (teaching) of Abraham and ordered that circumcision be a practice. It was observed that Muhammad was circumcised at birth. Although it is known as "khitan" in Arabic, circumcision was called "sunnah" by Turks as it is a "sunnah" of Muhammad.
There is not a prescribed age for circumcision in Islam. It may be performed at any age before puberty. Although it is not an obligatory religious duty in Islam, even today it is unimaginable to come across an uncircumcised Muslim male.
In Islam, circumcision is legal just for males. Female circumcision, which is seen in some African and Bedouin traditions, is not a practice ordered by Islam. The valid Islamic references and tradition have nothing to do with female circumcision.
In the Islamic world today, circumcision is celebrated as a special feast during which children dress up in fancy costumes and are given gifts. Entertainment and banquets are organized for these feasts. The Ottomans used to give considerable importance to circumcision, which is accepted as the first special day for boys, the second being their wedding day. Entertainment is organized for children. On the day of the feast, everyone focuses on the happiness of the boy who will be circumcised.
Circumcision celebrations were and are generally organized in summer when schools are closed. The boy who would be circumcised was dressed up in the most beautiful and magnificent clothes. He may even be taken to the tomb of the most prominent saint in the region to pray, riding around on a fancy horse or phaeton.
Wealthy families not only had their children circumcised, but they also assisted in the circumcision of poor children in the neighborhood. Children of all social classes were integrated for this special banquet.
Chance for entertainment
While the boy is being circumcised, a close friend of the family holds the boy's arms down. This person is known as "kirve." In old Turkish tradition, being a kirve was a very important role and an honor to fulfill. A powerful social bond is formed between the circumcised boy and his kirve. So much so that in some regions, the circumcised boy is accepted as one of the siblings of the kirve's children and marriage between them is not welcomed.
While the person performing the circumcision is busy with the operation, the boy is distracted by tricks performed by jesters and Turkish delight is put in his mouth. Everyone says aloud: "Allahu Akbar," meaning God is the greatest, and prays. When the operation is completed, the circumcised boy lies on a decorated bed with his circumcision costumes on and amulets with "mashallah" written on them are fixed on the pillows guarding against the evil eye and guests congratulate the circumcised boy for his first step towards manhood and give him presents.
The circumcision ceremony of boys who were the members of Ottoman dynasty were even more ostentatious. Thanks to such ceremonies, ordinary life used the turn into an extraordinary and colorful one. Historians and travelers went into raptures while describing these ceremonies; artists competed against each other while depicting the lavish ceremonies. For this reason, the feasts of circumcisions are some of the best known ceremonies from Ottoman history.
Circumcision and health
International organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) are in favor of circumcision, reporting that it is beneficial for health. In the 1860s, circumcision used to be promoted with aims to prevent syphilis and stop masturbation.
While the circumcision rate was 10 percent in 1987, and 90 percent in 1971, the rate decreased to 60 percent in 1994, and 75 percent in 1999 in newborns as a result of initiatives. The rate is 33 percent in California. When health services began to be provided in the U.K. in 1948, and families were held responsible for circumcision costs, the rates rapidly decreased.
Surgeon Cemil Topuzlu, a member of the Young Turks, said in 1934: "They say circumcision is beneficial for bodily hygiene and that being uncircumcised leads to diseases. We can accept this. However, what is the reason for Muslim boys to have their organs cut at the cost of their life and for the sake of religion for fear of contracting a disease that is only seen once in a blue moon? I think that having boys be circumcised for fear of possible exposure to diseases is no different from advising one to have an appendectomy for fear of having your appendix burst." Despite this, today, even non-religious families have their sons circumcised and celebrate it with enthusiastic entertainment.
The males of the British Royal Family are circumcised. Charles Prince of Wales was circumcised by a rabbi who was invited to the palace, as well as his brothers. Princess Diana did not want her sons to be circumcised, but a few months after his mother's death, Prince William was circumcised at a hospital under the pretext of a hernioplasty, and his brother Henry followed suit.
It is said that Queen Victoria used to believe that her family origins dated back to David, compelling her to have her sons circumcised. Circumcision is a symbol royalty in Britain. The sons of royal and wealthy families are generally circumcised. It is also the case in the U.S. and Australia.