Circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin (prepuce) from the penis. The word circumcision comes from the Latin words circum (meaning “around”) and caedere (meaning “to cut”). Female circumcision is a term applied to a variety of procedures performed on the female genitalia. Circumcision is usually performed for religious, cultural, and medical reasons. Elective adult circumcision may also be chosen as a form of body modification, or for aesthetic reasons.
The oldest documentary evidence for circumcision comes from Egypt. This technique was also widely practiced by Semitic peoples, Greeks and Romans, although it was not considered mandatory and certain people rejected it.
Judaism and Islam are the leading religions that see circumcision as mandatory practice for their members today, although Judaism is attaching a greater importance to this act. Jewish male children are circumcised eight days after their birth, unless health reasons force a delay. Islam clerics are less formal about the exact time of circumcision, although some communities still observe the eighth day practice of Judaism. One difference between the two religions is that Jewish male children are circumcised by a religious figure called “mohel”, while some Muslim communities, especially in Iran, take their children to hospital for circumcision.
The Roman Catholic Church rejected this practice at the Council of Florence in 1442. However, the members of the Coptic Christian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches still observe circumcision as mandatory.
Circumcision is also common in a number of African and Australian Aboriginal religious traditions, where it is used as a passage rite for young males. For some West African animist groups, such as the Dogon and Dowayo, circumcision represents a removal of “feminine” aspects of the male, while the Nilotic people hold periodical circumcision ceremonies that are used to group young males in age sets.
The United States, the Philippines and South Korea are the only countries that still practice circumcision routinely on a majority of males for non-religious reasons. Routine circumcision practices in South Korea are largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War.