Top Muslim scholars from around the world, including conservative clerics from Egypt and Africa, spoke out Wednesday against female genital mutilation at a rare high-level conference on the age-old practice, though some remained indecisive over whether to outright bar it.
The gathering, organized by a German human rights group, included the two top clerics in Egypt, where the practice is pervasive - the grand sheik of al-Azhar, the highest Sunni Islamic institution in the world, and the grand mufti, whose fatwas, or religious edicts, are considering binding.
"The Prophet Muhammad didn't circumcise his (four) daughters," the grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, said in his address.
It is rare for such religious figures in Egypt to attend such a conference on an issue that remains sensitive and controversial here, where many believe female genital mutilation - also called female circumcision - is required by Islam.
Female genital mutilation usually involves removal of the clitoris. Those who practice it believe it lowers a girl's sexual desires and thus helps maintain her honor. With age-old cultural roots, it is practiced today in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt and parts of Yemen and Oman. In the rest of the Islamic world - in the Middle East, North Africa and south and southeast Asia - the practice is rare or nonexistent.
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