Male circumcision is the same surgery no matter your creed, but what the removal of the foreskin from male genitalia means is different for each of the world’s three largest religions.
In Genesis 17:9-14, God commands Abraham, father of the Jews, to be circumcised and have his descendants do the same. Those who didn’t follow the ritual would be cut off from his people.
At some point in history, a procedure called “Pondus Judaeus” was introduced. A bronze weight was put on a circumcised male’s remaining foreskin to stretch it back out. The procedure became popular with Jewish males to prevent embarrassment while among other cultures, including the Greeks and Romans, that did not perform male circumcisions.
In Judaism, the religion most often associated with the practice, circumcision is the physical representation of God’s covenant with the Jews. Through circumcision, called “brit milah,” boys are welcomed into that covenant. It is customary for a boy to be circumcised in the home of his parents on the morning of the eighth day after his birth. Circumcision is so important that it can be performed on holidays or the Sabbath, when the drawing of the blood is usually prohibited. The procedure is performed by a “mohel,” who is someone trained in Jewish law and surgery. If a mohel does not perform the circumcision, a ritual circumcision must be held.
In Islam, circumcision, or “tahara,” is an issue of cleanliness. Although not mentioned in the Quran, circumcision is mentioned in the Sunnah, the recorded words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, who was told by Allah to follow Abraham’s example. In order to pray, Muslims must be clean and have all urine removed from their bodies. Circumcision is one way of ensuring cleanliness. The time in which a Muslim boy is circumcised depends on region but can be anywhere from seven days after birth up until puberty.
While many Christians in the U.S. circumcise their male children, it’s not for religious reasons but rather out of health concerns. They follow the words of Paul, who in the book of Romans said, “real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.”
Worldwide, 30 percent of the male population is circumcised. As of 2005, about 80 percent of all U.S. males had been circumcised. But only 56 percent of all male babies born in the U.S., about 1.1 million children, are circumcised each year.
Supporters say circumcision is important not only for religious reasons, but also for health, stating that it can help lower the risk of spreading HIV and decrease the risk of penile cancer.
People against circumcision argue that the procedure is an inhumane thing to do to a child because general anesthesia cannot be used on babies because of breathing risks, and local anesthesia causes inflammation, which makes the surgery much more risky.