Muslims, Jews join forces against circumcision ruling

BERLIN — German Turkish and Islamic organizations joined Jewish voices Wednesday to condemn a German court ruling that the religious circumcision of boys amounts to bodily injury, punishable by law.

Cologne’s district court said in a judgment published Tuesday that religious circumcision should be considered “illegal bodily harm.”

The judgment, based on a child’s right to self-determination, is not binding for other courts, but could set a precedent.

Circumcision is an initiation rite for Jewish baby boys, performed eight days after birth. It is also common in Islam, normally carried out before puberty, although it is not mentioned in the Koran.

The Cologne case involved a doctor charged with causing bodily harm for circumcising a 4-year-old Muslim boy. He was cleared by the court, which ruled that he did not know his actions might be punishable.

The Central Council of Muslims called the decision “a blatant and inadmissible encroachment into the right of self-determination of religious communities and the right of parents.”

Ali Demir, the head of the Religious Community of Islam in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, warned against criminalizing parents and doctors.

“This is a harmless procedure with thousands of years of tradition and high symbolic value,” Demir told the German news agency dpa. “I consider the judgment to be hostile to integration and discriminating for those affected.”

On Tuesday, the Central Council of Jews condemned the decision as “outrageous and insensitive,” calling on parliament to protect religious freedom.

“The circumcision of newborn boys is a key part of the Jewish religion, practiced for millennia worldwide,” said the president of the Central Council, Dieter Graumann.

Orthodox rabbi David Goldberg told dpa that circumcision was “decisive for our (Jewish) identity,” pointing out that the practice was also widespread among non-Jews, for medical reasons, including reducing the risk of AIDS.

The Turkish Community in Germany, or TGD — which represents secular interests — expressed solidarity with Muslim and Jewish condemnation of the decision.

In a statement, the TGD said it feared that the decision could subject boys to unauthorized medical procedures, or simply prompt parents to take their children abroad for the operation.

Meanwhile, the German Bishops’ Conference condemned the decision as a serious encroachment on religious freedom.

“Many are asking themselves with concern whether they will be able to pursue their religious duties unhindered in our country in future,” said Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, who oversees the organization’s relations to Judaism.

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