Circumcision Rites & Imitating Non-Muslims
Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: I have a question regarding circumcision for infants. Do Muslims appoint a ‘godparent’ to their son that holds him at circumcision as many Christians do? I apologize for such an ignorant question, but in my husband’s culture this is what they do and i have told him that i think that this is wrong, that it is not an Islamic practice, but we have decided to bring it to a scholar instead of guessing on our own. I would greatly appreciate any answer you can provide.
Answer: Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that this finds you and your husband in the best of Deen and health. Before we get into your question, I would like to commend how you and your spouse agree to look to the Deen when there is any confusion or query, rather than leaving the matter to be speculated about or subject to personal opinions. It is an example for other Muslim couples to follow as well.
The basic answer to your question is that as long as the circumcision “ceremony” is not intentionally imitating specific acts of another religion (not simply resembling, or having roots in an old religious tradition that has now watered-down into a merely cultural event), what you stated should be fine insha Allah. There are something thing to keep in mind however, to ensure this.
Circumcision for Baby Boys in Islam
In Islam, circumcision is an emphasized Sunnah and it is the duty of the parents to ensure that this salient mark of Islam is performed on their newborn sons. It is done for hygiene and to follow a prophetic lifestyle of cleanliness that reconnects us with our quintessential human nature (al-fitrah).
Unlike some other religions however, in Islam, circumcision is not a ritual, nor is there any ceremony or celebration that is legislated during or after it. A feast after the circumcision (waleema) is not Sunnah, but it is permissible if there are no excesses and wastage, and it is not seen as a religious obligation [Tuhfat al-Mulook, al-Razi, notes by Dr. Salah Abul Haaj).
The Concept of a Godparent
The custom that you mentioned, where the one holding the infant during the procedure is seen as a godparent, closely resembles the traditional Jewish brit milah (circumcision ceremony), where the one who holds the baby is called a sandek, an honor that is sometimes translated as a “godparent”. Perhaps a similar ritual is present in various Christian sects as well. For Muslims, if this rite is being done in imitation of other religious traditions or influenced by them, then it will not be permissible to undertake, since Islam has its own rites and is a complete way of life and guidance without any need for borrowing from other religions.
As well, if what is meant by the concept of a “godparent” is the assigning of binding financial or religious responsibilities, the ascription of blood-ties (mahram relationships) when there are in fact none such that marriage within the “god-family” is considered incest, or a religious obligation to adopt the child if the parents pass away, then there is no such concept in Islam. Rather, familial ties between a child and a strange couple are established in Islam through breastfeeding, and caring for orphans is something that Qu’ran heavily emphasizes for all Muslims, especially within one’s own extended family, not just to a godparent. However, there is nothing wrong with a close friend or relative of the family promising, of their own accord without binding obligation or gaining special rights, to care for a child should the parents be unable.
You mentioned that this practice is done in your husband’s culture. The concept of taking culture into consideration (al-‘urf) is an integral part of applying Islamic sacred law. Perhaps your husband is from a Muslim culture that, without taking from a non-Islamic source, simply holds circumcision customs as a tradition of the people, not as a religious duty. In this case, if a Muslim culture does so out of ta’dheem (exaltation) of the Sunnah of circumcision, and if it brings two people or families closer to have a friend hold the baby during the procedure, then there is no problem with that insha Allah.
If there is a case where one or both spouses is a convert and their family insists on this as a way of celebrating their grandchild’s birth, if there is a clear non-Islamic religious imitation, the Muslim couple should firmly but politely decline and offer neutral alternatives, but if it is merely cultural without any unlawful or specific imitative acts taking place during it, it might be wise to simply let the grandparents “do their thing”. This can be used as a da’wah opportunity then, to share the fact that this act of hygiene and purity is a blessed Sunnah passed from the Prophet Abraham all the way to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, (may peace and blessings be upon them). And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani