Proposed Icelandic ban on circumcision accused of attacking religious freedom of Muslims and Jews

Religious groups have condemned an Icelandic bill that would ban circumcision for non-medical reasons, with Jewish and Muslim leaders calling the bill an attack on religious freedom[1]. Iceland has approximately 250 Jewish citizens and 1,500 Muslim citizens, although figures vary[2].

Supporters of the bill draw comparisons between it and a 2005 law banning female genital mutilation, as the latest bill considers circumcision to involve “permanent interventions in a child’s body that can cause severe pain”[3]. Under the proposed law, the circumcision of boys would be viewed as equal to female genital mutilation, and would be punishable by up to six years in prison[4]. The bill is justified by supportive politicians as upholding children’s rights, which have to be prioritised over the right to freedom of belief[5], because boys are not able to give informed consent to the procedure[6]. It has the support of 422 Icelandic doctors[7].

Imam Ahmad Seddeeq of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland criticised the bill, saying, “It’s… part of our faith … It’s something that touches our religion and I believe that this is… a contravention [of] religious freedom”[8]. Many also fear that the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, following similar trends of discussing and regulating religious dress and the slaughter of animals[9].

The Bishop of Reykjavik also warned that the bill could make Jewish and Muslim people feel “unwelcome” in Iceland, as their religious practices may appear “criminalised”[10].

The concern that the procedure causes pain and can carry risks, which have been used as a justification for the bill, has also been refuted by Jewish and Muslim communities, with Imam Salmann Tamimi stating, “Circumcision is harmless if it’s done at a hospital … This bill is appealing to people’s emotion, not evidence”. Imam Ahmad Seddeeq instead argued that the medical benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks[11]. He also stated that the ban especially attacked the Jewish community as circumcision was especially religiously significant for them[12].

It has also emerged that religious communities were not consulted before the bill was introduced, with the MP behind the bill claiming that she “didn’t think it was necessary to consult” them, because she does not consider the issue to be “a religious matter”[13].

Concerns about the procedure in Iceland are not new. Iceland’s national health system stopped carrying out circumcision after a 2013 report by the Nordic Ombudsmen for Children and paediatric experts concluded “there are no health-related grounds to circumcise young boys in the Nordic countries”[14]. Many doctors are uncomfortable about carrying out the procedure, and Muslims in Iceland reportedly already travel to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed because of this[15]. The ban may cause this travel to become more common, rather than stopping the act of circumcision itself[16].

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries, but at the time of writing, no other state has outlawed it, although the Council of Europe has called for the practice to be carefully regulated[17].

[1] BBC News, 2018.

[2] BBC News, 2018; Associated Press, 2018.

[3] BBC News, 2018.

[4] Associated Press, 2018.

[5] BBC News, 2018.

[6] Associated Press, 2018.

[7] Associated Press, 2018.

[8] BBC News, 2018; Sherwood, 2018.

[9] Sherwood, 2018.

[10] BBC News, 2018.

[11] Sherwood, 2018.

[12] Associated Press, 2018.

[13] Vonberg, 2018.

[14] Vonberg, 2018.

[15] Sherwood, 2018.

[16] Sherwood, 2018.

[17] Sherwood, 2018.

Share Button


Associated Press. (2018) ‘Religious leaders erupt over Iceland’s proposed circumcision ban’. [online] 25 February. [Accessed 27 February 2018].

BBC News. (2018) ‘Iceland’s mooted circumcision ban sparks religious outrage’. [online] 19 February. [Accessed 27 February 2018].

Sherwood, H. (2018) ‘Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom’. [online] 18 February. [Accessed 27 February 2018].

Vonberg, J. (2018) ‘Iceland male circumcision ban: MP behind plan ‘didn’t think it was necessary to consult’ Jewish and Muslim groups, amid growing anger’. [online] 19 February. [Accessed 27 February 2018].