Hassanein (left) does not agree with his childhood friend Ragab on this particular question, but their friendship is strong.
The Imam
Hassanein Abdelhakam is a 46-year-old man who has been an Imam for over 20 years. He studied Sharia law at university, and has been both a preacher and a teacher. The decision to change his opinion on genital mutilation was not a dramatic one for him.

“Sexual response is important. Mutual pleasure is good for the marriage.”

Hassanein Abdelhakam
What: Religious leader who has changed his opinion and is now oppose to genital mutilation.

“I am against genital mutilation now. What convinced me was the information about the medical consequences for the women.”
Genital mutilation was an everyday fact of life when Hassanein was growing up, although, like other young men, he did not understand what it involved. Only that it was a tradition.

“But many other traditions have disappeared. This one has to go too, because it is harmful. Remember what it used to be like on wedding nights, when the midwife had to be present. That custom has almost disappeared now. These days no-one thinks that it’s a good idea for the young couple to have an audience on their first night.”

His childhood friend Ragab Foad, who is also an Imam, joins in our discussion. Both have sixteen-year-old daughters, who were circumcised when they were eight.
“I’m not totally against circumcision,” says Ragab cautiously. “It’s part of our religion and we accept it. Yes, we do it to protect the girls from behaving badly.”

Hassanein disagrees good-naturedly:
“Everyone has their own opinion. But it says in the scriptures that a healthy body is more important than an enlightened mind! I believe that. The prophet said: “You must not injure yourself or others.” I was persuaded that genital mutilation is wrong when I learned that it damages the woman’s body.”

But Ragab shakes his head. Since FGM is illegal he cannot condone it, but if a member of his congregation asks him for advice he says that nothing can go wrong. FGM is not particularly dangerous. That is what he believes.
“The prophet Mohammed saw it happening and did not stop it. That is the proof that circumcision is right and the honourable thing for the family’s daughters.”

I have learned that FGM leads to women not being able to respond sexually. I didn’t know that!

 Ragab takes his own son as an example; he would be worried if his son married an uncircumcised girl.
“She would kill him. She would demand more sex than he could offer her and than he could manage. She might be critical of him, and that would be bad for the marriage.” 
Hassanein protests:
“I have learned that FGM leads to women not being able to respond sexually. I didn’t know that! That’s important. Mutual pleasure is good for the marriage.”

Religious leaders and authorities on the scriptures at the highest level are now officially agreed that there is no support for FGM in either Islam or Christianity.
Hassanein and Ragab may not be able to agree on that particular question. But they leave hand in hand.