Information about Somalia. The dos and the dont's, business etiquette, general information about the country. The document was created for the project Info4migrants. Project number UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
1€ = approx 1000 sos
Languages SOMALI, ARABIC
Somali Shilling (SOS)
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Somalia (Somali: Soomaaliya, Arabic: aṣ-Ṣūmāl) is on the Horn
of Africa, and is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to
the north-west, and Kenya on its south-west. The country has
the longest coastline on the African continent, and as such, has
many beaches. The average temperature round the year is 20
This is a country with a troubled past. Civil war, military coups,
border disputes and warlordism are the general course of
events here. Things started to improve after the Ethiopian
Army withdrew in 2007 after defeating an Islamist govern-
ment, but since then violence has flared up again with the
re-emergence of Islamist and other clan and warlord-affiliated
Somalia’s economy has been seriously hampered by years
of fighting and political strife, as well as a severe long-term
drought which has affected the whole of East Africa. Subsis-
tence agriculture and livestock rearing occupy most of the
working population. Oil and gas deposits have been located,
but their exploitation has been in abeyance due to the lack of
an effective central government.
Coat of arms
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Somalia comprises of 27 regions and was colonized by
both Britain and France before it gained independence
on July 1, 1960. British Somaliland gained independence
from Britain on June 26, 1960 and Italian Somaliland
gained independence from Italy just a few days after that
on July 1, 1960.
Religion and ethnic make-up
The majority of Somalis are Sunni Muslims and a smaller
percentage follows the Shia Muslim denomination and
Sufism. The Somalis make up about 85% of the ethnic
composition of Somalia, Bantus make up about 14%, and
there are about 30, 000 Arabs in Somalia.
Mogadishu, also known as Xamar, is the capital of Soma-
lia and its largest city with over a million inhabitants. The
majority of Somalia citizens live in the countryside and in
Mogadishu region; there are only a few major cities in the
Reading and writing skills among Somalis over 15 years is
37.8%. Women’s literacy rate is lower, 25.8 percent com-
pared with 49.7 percent for men (UNESCO, 2007).
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Men usually wear western style pants or a plaid ma’awis
(kilt) western shirts and shawls. Women wear dresses,
Direh, a long billowing dress that is worn over petticoats,
a Coantino, a four-yard cloth tied over the shoulders and
draped around the waist, Toob, commonly worn through-
out Africa, Hijab, and head scarves are common.
Because almost all people in Somalia are Muslims, they do
not drink alcoholic beverages. The most common beverage
in Somalia is tea, especially black tea sweetened with milk
and sugar. Drinking 4-6 cups of sweet tea a day is common.
Some nomads drink a fermented beverage called chino,
which is made by burying camel’s milk in a leather flask for a
week. Kahawa (coffee) is another popular beverage in Soma-
lia. There are two methods of preparing it. The first involves
mixing seeds from one or two cardamom pods, water, freshly
ground coffee beans, ground cardamom and ground ginger in
a saucepan and bringing to boil. Then reduce heat and main-
tain at a low boil for ten to fifteen minutes. The second meth-
od requires you to bring water and cardamom seeds to a boil.
Keep on a low boil for ten minutes. Add coffee. Simmer for
five minutes more. Add ground cardamom and ginger.
Dating and marriage
Dating is not the same in Somalia as it is in the west.
Young urban people usually meet in universities or at
work and try to get their parents to establish a court-
ship for them. Marriages in the rural areas are usually
arranged. Dating one on one doesn’t happen until after
the engagement or until the marriage contract is signed.
Usually, weddings are spread over 3 nights of dancing
and singing, where women and men celebrate separate-
ly. The groom has to give a bridal token to the bride’s
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Somali cuisine reflects the people’s clever use of scarce
resources. People usually begin the day with a flat bread
called canjero or laxoo, liver, and either cereal or por-
ridge made of millet or cornmeal. The midday meal is
the largest and consists of rice or noodles (pasta became
very popular under Italian rule) with sauce and perhaps
meat. The evening meal is very light and might include
beans, muffo (patties made of Oats or corn) or a salad
with more canjero. Somalis adore spiced tea, but sheep,
goat and camel’s milk are also popular.
For thousands of years Somalia was referred to as “Regio
Aromatica”, because it was believed to be the home of
myrrh, the traditional gift for baby Jesus. Myrrh was a
dried resin that was highly valued for its aromatic proper-
ties and for medical purposes.
It is estimated that there are between 15-17 million So-
mali people (Soomaaliyeed) living in the Horn of Africa.
About 8.7 million live in Somalia, 4.5 million in Ethiopia,
1 million in Kenya and 1 million in Djibouti. A signifi-
cant number of Somalis also live in the Middle East and
abroad. Somalis are reported to have started appearing
in the region at around 1200 AD. The clan groupings of
the Somali people are important social units, and clan
membership plays a central part in Somali culture and
politics. Clans are patrilineal and are divided into sub-
clans and sub-sub-clans, resulting in extended families.
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1 January: New Year
Besides being the 1st day of
the new year in the Gregori-
an calendar, this date is also
an official date of birth of
many Somali people: due to
the lack of documentation,
they are usually assigned the
first day of the year of their
birth as their birthday.
International Labour Day
People of Somalia celebrate
international Labour Day by
attending parades and artis-
June 26: Independence Day
The day is marked with
speeches fostering unity and
peace, hoisting of flag, sing-
ing of national anthem and
colorful police parade.
July 1: Independence Day
The date commemorates
the union of the Trust Terri-
tory of Somalia (the former
Italian Somaliland) and the
State of Somaliland (the for-
mer British Somaliland) on
July 1, 1960, which formed
the Somali Republic.
Moveable date in July:
Neeroosh celebrates the be-
ginning of the solar year in
Somalia and Somaliland. The
festival is known internation-
ally as the Festival of Fire, as
locals build huge bonfires,
splash water on each other,
and dance to welcome the
arrival of summer.
Moveable date in August:
End of Ramadan
This religious holiday marks
of the end of Ramadan. This
day is a celebration of every-
one’s efforts and sacrifices.
The day is marked with cer-
emonies in mosques around
the region, the gathering of
friends and families to enjoy
Moveable date in October:
Feast of the Sacrifice
The holiday lasts for two or
three days and is held to
commemorate the willing-
ness of Ibrahim to sacrifice
his first-born son to the Lord.
In accordance with the story,
locals slaughter a sheep,
thus performing the same
act as Ibrahim. The sheep is
then cooked and used as a
basis for a feast among fami-
ly and friends.
Moveable date in Novem-
ber: Day of Ashura
This holiday is a day of
mourning for the grandson
of the Prophet Muhammad
who died at the Battle of
Karbala. The day is com-
memorated by both Shi’a
and Sunni Muslims. Muslim
communities come out into
the streets in their thou-
sands to show their mourn-
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Somalia is one of the world’s poorest countries, and many gains made during
the years after independence were lost in the destruction brought about by civil
war in the 1990s. However, in 2000, individuals had begun to help rebuild cities
through independent businesses.
Among the factors hindering economic development is lack of adequate transportation.
The country has no railroads, only one airline, and few paved roads. Financial assistance
from the United States helped improve Somalia’s major seaports and Mogadishu Inter-
national Airport during the 1980s. Telecommunication systems were largely destroyed
during the Civil War. However, in 1999, independent businessmen in some towns estab-
lished satellite telephone systems and electricity, and Somali livestock traders and other
entrepreneurs conducted much of their business by telephone. Also banking networks
The basic monetary unit is the Somali shilling, with one hundred cents equal to one shil-
ling. A large amount of the income received by Somalis comes from Somalis who have
migrated to other countries to find work and send money and goods home to relatives.
Land Tenure and Property
In precolonial times, land claims were made by families and through bargaining among
clan members. During European colonization, Italians established plantations in the riv-
erine area and settled many poor Italian families on the land to raise crops. Since inde-
pendence, much of this land has been farmed by Somalis.
Somali nomads consider pastureland available to all, but if a family digs a water well, it
is considered as their possession. Under Siad Barre’s socialist regime, there was an effort
to lease privately owned land to government cooperatives, but Somalis resented work-
ing land they did not own. Some land was sold in urban areas, but grazing land contin-
ued to be shared.
In the colonial era, Italians developed banana, sugarcane, and citrus fruit plantations in
southern Somalia. These again thrived in the late twentieth century with Italian assis-
tance after a decade of decline due to high government taxation of exports in the 1980s.
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Livestock and animal products make up a large portion of the goods produced in Somalia.
The country’s few natural resources, such as gypsum-anhydrite, quartz, uranium, iron ore,
and possibly gold, have not been widely exploited.
Although Somalia is not an industrialized nation, there are some industries, such as fish
and meat canneries, milk-processing plants, sugar refineries, leather-tanning factories,
and pharmaceutical and electronics factories. Many of these were built with the help of
foreign nations, such as the former Soviet Union. Some mining and petroleum exploration
has been done, with the help of Middle Eastern countries.
Transportation equipment, machinery, cement and other building materials, iron, and
steel are major imports of Somalia. Most of the imports come from Italy, Ethiopia and
Kenya, China, Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, the United States, and Great Britain. Live-
stock is the country’s main export, especially camels, which are sold to Saudi Arabia and
other Arab nations. Animal hides also are exported. Bananas are the chief crop export.
Coffee, cotton, peanuts, mangoes, citrus fruits, and sugarcane are other important crops.
Fishing and the export of frankincense and myrrh add to the economy.
Division of Labor
More than half of all Somalis are self-employed, as herders, farmers, or independent
business owners. In the cities, some workers once held government jobs, and in 2000 a
growing percentage of workers had factory, plantation, or fishing-industry jobs. Among
rural Somalis of the Saab clan-family, lower castes still provide certain types of goods and
The unemployment rate in Somalia is difficult to estimate. According to the United Na-
tions report, the unemployment rate was around 54 per cent in 2012, with unemploy-
ment among young people aged 14 to 29 up to 67 percent.
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DOS AND DONT’S
• Shake hands whenever
you meet or bid farewell to
• Always offer your right
hand; the left hand sym-
bolizes uncleanliness and is
used for personal hygiene.
• Rise to show respect
whenever an important per-
son enters the room.
• Be aware that it is custom-
ary for Somali men to greet
each other with a hug and
a kiss on the cheek. This is a
sign of friendship.
Use Somali greetings (spo-
ken or gestured) unless you
are sure how to use them
• Open conversations with
• Maintain eye contact.
• Place your feet flat on the
floor if you are sitting on a
chair, or fold them under
you if you are sitting on the
• Demonstrate verbal skill.
Verbal facility is highly val-
ued in Somali society. If
you can recite a poem or a
tongue-twister, you will gain
respect for your skill.
• Avoid arguments.
• Bring photographs of your
family to show during con-
• Show impatience or undue
• Ask direct or personal
questions, especially about
female family members.
• Criticize a Somali directly.
This will cause him to lose
face and respect for you.
• Patronize or talk down to a
Somali, even if he does not
speak English very well.
• Do not move away from a
Somali who stands “close”
to you during conversation.
• It is customary for a Soma-
li to stand about one foot
• Understand and respect
the devotions of Muslims.
• Respect the requirement
for Muslims to fast from
sunrise to sunset during the
holy month of Ramadan. In
1993, Ramadan correspond-
ed to a period from about
22 February to 30 March.
Following Ramadan is the
festival known as Eid AL Fitr,
which is celebrated for three
days after Ramadan ends.
Enter a mosque unless invit-
ed. If invited, remove your
shoes before entering.
• Pass in front of a prayer
rug while a Muslim is in
• Take photographs of a
Muslim while he is in prayer
or stare at them.
• Eat, smoke, or drink in
public from sunrise to sun-
set or offer food, beverages,
or tobacco products to Mus-
lims during the holy month
• If given a gift, give a gift
in return (at a later date) of
slightly lesser value.
• Thank your host profusely
for his hospitality and good
conversation. Plan to return
• Accompany your guest
outside the door or gate
when he leaves.
• Praise too much any pos-
session of your host; he may
give it to you. If he does, you
are expected to give some-
thing in return.
• Appear anxious to end a
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The clan groupings of the Somali people are important social units, and clan membership
plays a central part in Somali culture and politics. Clans are patrilineal and are often divid-
ed into sub-clans, sometimes with many sub-divisions.
PEOPLE IN SOMALIA
Unlike many African nations, Somalia is
composed of a single, homogeneous ethnic
Although Somalis may differ in nuances of
local lifestyle, they share a uniform lan-
guage, religion, and culture, and trace their
heritage to a common ancestor.
In 1975, the most prominent government
reforms regarding family law in a Muslim
country were set in motion in the Somali
Democratic Republic, which put women
and men, including husbands and wives, on
completely equal footing.
The 1975, Somali Family Law gave men and
women equal division of property between
the husband and wife upon divorce and the
exclusive right to both to manage his or
her personal property.
In 1991, people began leaving the country
to escape the hunger, rape, and death that
had become widespread.
Over one million people fled to neighboring
countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti,
Yemen, and Burundi. Most stayed in large
refugee camps that were established to
house the Somalis. Resettlement programs
have enabled families to move to Europe
and the United States.
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Greetings and Displays of Respect
Many social norms are derived from Islamic tradition, and
thus may be similar to other Islamic countries. The com-
mon way to greet someone is to say “salam alechem”
(roughly translated as “God bless you”) and to shake their
hand. Due to Islamic tradition, men and women do not
touch each other. Thus men shake the hands of other men,
and women shake each other’s hands. When departing, the
common phrase is “nabad gelyo” (“goodbye”). Respect is paid
to the elders of the community. Elders are addressed as “aunt”
or “uncle,” even if they are strangers.
Somalis use sweeping hand and arm gestures to dramatize speech. Many
ideas are expressed through specific hand gestures. Most of these gestures are performed
• A swift twist of the open hand means “nothing” or “no”.
• Snapping fingers may mean “long ago” or and “so on”
• A thumb under the chin indicates “fullness”.
• It is impolite to point the sole of one’s foot or shoe at another person.
• It is impolite to use the index finger to call somebody; that gesture is used for calling
• The American “thumbs up” is considered obscene by the majority of Somalis.
• Only use your right hand when eating.
• Do not offer anything to another person with your left hand.
• Sharing a meal and eating from the same plate is the best way to get to know someone.
• Be sincere and show appreciation.
• Do not start eating before your host has started.
• If you are hosting a dinner, when you start eating, you show the guests they can start as
Somali dining etiquette is generally the same as those in the rest of the region, with other
influences. For example, the Yemeni tradition of having a khat (as qat is referred to in So-
malia) chew in the afternoon is common among Somali men.
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Marriages can either be arranged or be a result of personal choice. The common age of
marriage is around 14 or 15 years old. Men who can afford to do so, may have up to 4
wives, as is customary in Islamic tradition. However, not all wealthy men exercise this op-
tion. In urban areas, a man with multiple wives provides separate homes for his different
families. Whether these families interact or not depends on the preference of the individ-
uals involved. In rural areas, it is more common for a man with more than one wife to have
a single household, where the families care for the farm or livestock together.
Women wear white clothing during mourning period for her husband who passed away.
Both men and women can remarry. Women often seek a new marriage with a brother or a
cousin of her late husband, if she has many male children to support.
As in many Islamic cultures, adult men and women are separated in most spheres of life.
Although some women in the cities hold jobs, the preferred role is for the husband to
work and the wife to stay at home with the children. Female and male children participate
in the same educational programs. Somalia has a literacy rate of 37,8%. The literacy rate of
women is 25,8%.
Family and Kinship Structure
There are several main clans in Somalia and many, many subclans. In certain regions of
the country a single subclan will predominate, but as the Somalis are largely nomadic, it
is more common for several subclans to live intermixed in a given area. Membership in a
clan is determined by paternal lineage. Marriage between clans is common. When a wom-
an marries a man of another clan, she becomes a member of that clan, though retains
connection with her family and its clan.
Living with extended families is the norm. Young adults who move to the city to go to
school live with relatives rather than alone. Similarly, people who do not marry tend to live
with their extended families. Divorce does occur, though proceedings must be initiated by
FAMILY IN SOMALIA
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Men is Somalia wear basically casual busi-
ness wear on a daily basis. They wear dress
shoes and never tennis shoes.
Wearing jeans is not as common, and gen-
erally they are not worn. Casual slacks such
as khakis or other colored dress pants are
worn every day.
Men leave their shirts always untucked,
unless wearing a tie. Their casual style is a
reflection on their laid back attitudes.
Men are not to shake hands with men un-
less they are close relatives or family mem-
Women should wear conservative cloth and
fabrics, skirts and dresses are favored.
Women do not wear anything too revealing
and keep to the conservative colors.
Women must wear a headscarf at all times
in Somalia. It leaves only their face visible.
Women wear flat shoes or low heels.
Women are not to shake hands with men
unless they are close relatives or family
A normal business week in
Somalia is Saturday through
Thursday and Friday are con-
sidered their weekend days
such as our Saturday and
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Conversations and Networking
The official language of Somalia is Somali
yet Arabic, English and Italian are also very
English is more common in the north of
Somalia and Italian is more common in the
central and south of Somalia, whereas Ara-
bic is spoken throughout the country.
You must be able to speak Arabic to grad-
uate from high school in most parts of the
Generally, English and Italian are both
taught in private schools only in the eve-
nings and sometimes in the weekends.
The most common way of greeting in So-
mali is ASSALAMU ALAIKUM which simply
means “God be with you”
Hugging and shaking hands with the oppo-
site sex is not common.
Avoiding too much of eye contact with the
opposite sex is considered respectful.
Meetings, Presentations, and
A normal business week in Somalia is Satur-
day through Wednesday.
Depending on your career, as an occupant
in Somalia you may work on Thursday but
absolutely no one works on Fridays.
A normal business day in Somalia is from
7:00 am to 7:00 pm..
Once again, the laid back attitude and life-
style are reflected in daily life.
In general, meetings start within 30 min-
utes of the scheduled time. This gives time
for anyone running late for whatever rea-
In general, most Somali people prefer not
to schedule meeting on Fridays.
Every Friday is considered a holiday. Peo-
ple visit friends and relatives and as well as
spend time with family.
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Status, Roles, and Prestige
Children and elders share mutual respect. When ad-
dressing another family member or friend, words for
“aunt,” “uncle,” “brother,” “sister,” and “cousin” are used
depending on the person’s age relative to the speaker.
Men are usually the head of the household. Women
manage the finances and take care of the children. It is
considered culturally unacceptable for a man to not be
perceived as being in charge of his home. At the wedding
ceremony, the groom is told by the elder/sheik/father/
father-in-law that he is responsible for feeding his family and respecting his wife.
Most women in Somalia now work outside the home, due to increasing financial hard-
ships primarily caused by war and resulting inflation. In Somalia, working women tend
to have more flexibility and community support than in the Western countries and main-
taining a household and obtaining childcare is not as stressful. In the Western countries,
it is also common for women to work outside the home. It can be difficult for women to
balance homemaking and childcare responsibilities without the type of support available
in Somalia. Because men traditionally don’t contribute to caring for children and house-
work, excess strain on the relationship can lead to divorce.
The civil war is based on interclan and interfactional conflicts. When addressing Somali
culture, it is considered disrespectful to refer to “clans” or “tribes.” It is a very sensitive
issue that is best avoided when in the Western countries, and some in the community
will deny their existence. Tribes were names originally given in order to place families and
locate people, but now they reinforce prejudices produced by the civil war.
Family is extremely important in the Somali community. The focus of Somali culture is
on the family; family is more important than the individual in all aspects of life. Soma-
lis will live with their parents until they get married. In times of sickness or marriage,
all resources are pooled and it is understood that whatever you have is not only yours.
Somalis who have immigrated abroad will send money back to their families and even
to close friends and neighbors.
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IN EVERYDAY SITUATIONS
Somali names have three parts. The first name is the given name, which is specific to
the individual. The second name is the name of the child’s father, and the third name is
the name of the child’s paternal grandfather. Thus siblings, both male and female, will
share the same second and third names. Women, when they marry, do
not change their names. By keeping the name of their father
and grandfather, they are, in effect, maintaining their affili-
ation with their clan of birth.
The right hand is considered the clean and po-
lite hand to use for daily tasks such as eating,
writing, and greeting people. If a child begins
to show left-handed preference, the parents
will actively try to train him or her to use the
right hand. Thus left-handedness is very un-
common in Somalia.
As proscribed by Moslem tradition, married
women are expected to cover their bodies
including their hair. In Somalia, some Somali
women wear veils to cover their faces, but few
do in the West as they find this a difficult custom
to adhere to in Western society. Pants are not a gen-
erally accepted form of attire for women, but may be
worn under a skirt.
The traditional women’s dress is called a hejab, and the traditional
clothing for a man is called a maawis. The snug-fitting hat that men wear is a qofe.
“ASSALAM ALAIKUM” - GOD BE WITH YOU
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PIRATES OF SOMALIA
1. They Have a Robin Hood Complex: Many
Somali pirates see themselves as good guys.
2. Nobody Brings Home the Bacon Like a
Pirate: According to some estimates, pirates
in 2008 pulled in as much as $150 million,
indicating that piracy is now Somalia’s big-
3. Being a Pirate Is Easy: Piracy is so simple
that anyone can do it. All you need is a gun,
an aluminum ladder and a motorboat.
4. The Law Can’t Touch Them: everybody
knows piracy is wrong, but is it illegal? The
truth is that the places where pirates oper-
ate are actually lawless.
5. Pirates Rarely Kill People and also prefer
to keep their prisoners in good health.
6. Pirates Have Friends in High Places: The
biggest gangs have informants in Mombasa,
the major port in the region, where ships
have to file paperwork stating what they’re
carrying and where they’re going.
7. Bigger Ships Mean Bigger Paychecks:
Somali pirates are getting bolder.
8. Sailors Are Fighting Back, it is working.
9. Pirates Hurt Somalia the Most:
The biggest victims of Somali piracy are the
Somalis themselves. Nearly 4 million peo-
ple there (half the population) depend on
food donations to survive. But pirate attacks
on food ships have made it difficult for the
United Nations to keep sending provisions.
10. It May Be Time for Desperate Mea-
sures: Even with the world’s navies rushing
to protect East African shipping, the sheer
size of the ocean and the huge numbers of
ships involved mean warships are rarely in
the right place at the right time. The Unit-
ed Nations recently passed a resolution
allowing an invasion, but the United States
military has put the brakes on participating
in any operation. Perhaps they are hesitant
because of their last unsuccessful experi-
ence sending troops to Somalia in 1993.
And yet, it is becoming more and more
clear that without major, international in-
tervention, piracy will continue to grow.
10 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT SOMALI PIRATES
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Approximately 6.5 million Somali girls and women have undergone female genital muti-
lation/cutting (FGM/C), otherwise known as female circumcision (according to a report by
Although support for the practice is
waning, the report indicates that 98% of
Somali women between 15 and 49 have
been circumcised - the highest per capita
percentage in the world.
Lots of parents believe that this tradition
protects the chastity of their daughters.
Others are convinced that this will ensure
that girls remain virgins until they are
Sheikh Abubakar Moalim Ibrahim, a cleric
in Mogadishu, said female circumcision is
undesirable and neither a religious duty
nor an obligation.
“Female circumcision is neither a favour-
able duty nor a sunnah and the prophet
reprimanded women who performed this
practice and directed them to only prac-
tice ishmam,” he told Sabahi.
Ishmam refers to “symbolic circumcision”,
a form of cutting to draw blood, but with
no removal of tissue and no permanent
alteration of the external genitalia.
While symbolic circumcision is still consid-
ered a form of FGM/C, it is less invasive
and has been proposed in some places as
an alternative to more severe forms.
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