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Trinity Lecturer Under Fire for Pro-FGM Comments

Dr. Ali Selim, part-time lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, has been the subject of heavy criticism following comments made to RTE’s Primetime in support of female circumcision. Selim teaches Arabic language classes at Trinity, and he is also a senior representative and spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Centre, Clonskeagh.

“I’m not an advocate of female genital mutilation but I am an advocate of female circumcision,” he stated. “It is not an obligation but it should be allowed by law if needed and a medical doctor can decide if it’s needed or not needed. (…) It might be needed for one person and not another, and it has to be done by a doctor and practised in a safe environment.”

He made similar remarks to the Medical Independent several days previously: “Female circumcision is a matter that should be determined by a medical doctor. If the doctor thinks there is a need for it, then do it and if otherwise, then otherwise. If it is done, then it should be done carefully and safely and should be limited to the amount needed.”

FGM refers to ‘female genital mutilation’, the removal of the female external sexual organs often undertaken for cultural reasons. There is no distinction between FGM and female circumcision, both of which are banned in Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (Female Genital Mutilation) 2012. It is also illegal to compel any person leave the country to undergo FGM.

Surgery falling under the term FGM is only performed under extremely rare circumstances, and is almost never medically advisable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has condemned the practice, which causes unnecessary pain, distress, and many medical problems, including urethra damage, childbirth complications, painful sexual intercouse, and greater risk of HIV transmission. Approximately 6,000 people in Ireland have been victims of FGM, with over 2,000 at risk.  

Trinity released a statement the day after the controversial comments were made, stating that the college condemned FGM in all circumstances. The college also announced plans to employ another Arabic language lecturer, after a large volume of complaints from his students, so that those who did not wish to be taught by Selim could opt not to be. Trinity College Students’ Union President Kevin Keane also wrote to the college calling for Selim’s resignation.

Prof. Chris Fitzpatrick, former master of the Coombe Women & Infants University hospital, condemned Selim’s comments in a letter to the Irish Times. Dr Deirdre Murphy, Professor of Obstetrics at Trinity, also opposed the statement: “Any doctor who suggests female circumcision is medically indicated is deluding themselves.” She stated that female genital cutting and female circumcision are “synonymous terms.”

Members of the Muslim community in Ireland have also spoken out against Selim’s comments. Shaykh Dr. Umar Al-Qadri, head Imam of the Islamic Centre Ireland, issued a fatwa (a ruling on a piece of Islamic law) against female genital mutilation: “there is no doubt that FGM affects the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of women,” he stated. “It is binding upon all Muslims to speak against this practice, stop it if they are aware of its occurrence, and report any knowledge of it to the authorities.”

The Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council and the Islamic Centre Ireland have both released statements condemning FGM, and called upon Clonskeagh Islamic Cultural Centre to do the same. Ali Al Saleh, Imam of the Islamic Centre in Milltown, also criticised Selim for his statement.

Selim consequently apologised for his remarks on TV3’s Pat Kenny show: “I condemn FGM in the strongest terms. I admit that I caused confusion based on my misunderstanding of the term [circumcision] and I do apologise for this,” he stated. “I’m not a medical doctor.” He stated that his English “lets him down” sometimes, and he was unclear on the implications of his statement. He also criticised media outlets for not reaching out to him to clarify his comments.