Circumcision is fundamentally, the partial or total elimination of the male genitalia’s foreskin. This procedure is executed for various reasons, the most common being the obligations imposed by various religions. As such, many ritualistic activities accompany the procedure. Circumcision is, at present, performed in several countries with various cultural histories, among which are the Jewish and Muslim countries, West African countries, the United States and some Asian countries, like South Korea and the Philippines. In the three last-mentioned countries, circumcision involves a simple medical procedure and hardly involves any symbolism and ritual. The most prolific and symbolic use of circumcision involves the Jewish, African and Muslim cultures, which are deeply immersed in their religions.
For the Jews, circumcision is viewed as a portion of the covenant God concluded with Abraham. This procedure, called the Bris Milah, is carried out on the child during the 8th day reckoned from his birth. The person performing the surgery is called the Mohel, who is trained in both the surgical procedure and the appropriate Jewish law or religious provision. The Mohel is the only qualified person in Jewish law to perform the Bris because only he is acquainted with both the physical and spiritual facets of the entire ritual. The circumcision ritual involves a “sandek” or godfather, who must hold the child while the surgery is being performed. A vacant chair is also placed on one side, from which, the prophet Elijah can watch over the ritual in its entirety. After several blessings and the giving of the child’s proper Hebrew name, the surgery is then performed by stretching the prepuce through an opening in a metal shield, then cutting the projecting skin.
Muslims also perform circumcision for the religious purposes contained in the Hadith, which is a collection of traditions and sayings made by Muhammad. Some Muslims perform this process, called the Khitan, on the child’s 8th day, others between the sixth and eleventh years, and yet others on the thirteenth year of the child’s life. The process itself entails the elimination of the outer skin or prepuce so that the glans will become exposed for the child’s entire life. In some Muslim countries, no accompanying rituals are observed in the process because some consider the latter to have merely a hygienic purpose. For Africans, especially those undergoing the Xhosa ceremony, the ritual lasts for several days and involves countless tests and symbolic activities. The circumcision day itself entails the burning of all that the child used during the tests and thereafter burying the removed foreskin.
Since the Ancient Egyptian period, at which time circumcision was first recorded, until the present, the custom of circumcision has achieved notoriety all over the world. In fact, at this time, the debate still continues regarding its safety and moral soundness. One side of the argument states that circumcision is nothing but an immoral and cruel degradation of the human body. Moreover, since the procedure usually involves young boys, some people consider it both psychologically and physically damaging to the subject. The other side, however, not only proclaims that it is safe and virtually immune from any complication, but also lauds the incident benefits to the subject’s hygiene. They say that the procedure ensures a young boy’s cleanliness and protects him from diseases caused by accumulated bacteria and other harmful agents in the foreskin. Regardless of the soundness of either argument, it is nevertheless important to be informed about such a controversial and popular surgical procedure.