Circumcision is among the most significant traditional procedures related to the child in Anatolia, and is the strictest and most widespread practice among religious and ritual procedures. No parents ever wish to break away from this entrenched custom. The sanctions of the tradition are so strong that no objection is ever permitted.
The word “sünnet” (the word used in Turkish for circumcision) comes from Arabic origin and means “busy path”. In a broader sense; it refers to the path to God and the good or bad attitudes which human being adopt.
In Islam, complying with the practices and teachings of the Prophet is known as “sünnet”. Society makes almost no concessions on this. Consequently, young boys who have not been circumcised for various reasons within the socially acceptable period for this practice feel uncomfortable with their situation. People who have not been circumcised at the socially acceptable age are usually humiliated and criticized. In this respect, the sanctions imposed by a deep-rooted custom still function as intensely as in the past.
The tradition of circumcision is mainly separated into the following headings;
- The best age and time for circumcision,
- Preparations for the ceremony,
- Preparing the child,
- The circumcision procedure and the circumciser,
- Gifts and presents.
The best age and time for circumcision:
There are no specific rules for determining the best age and time for the ceremony. Children are usually circumcised before they start to school or when they go to primary school, before puberty. Recently, however, in big cities, some parents have been having their children circumcised right after birth in the hospital. The main aim is here to prevent the child suffering pain and fear at a later age. Such early circumcisions are not encountered in traditional sections of society.
Circumcision performs a number of functions in the social structure; a grand circumcision ceremony not only allows the family of the boy concerned to affirm its respectability in the eyes of the community, it also increases that respectability, as well as being a source of considerable joy for the parents. In Anatolia, taking care of the child, having him circumcised and having him married are duties of the parents.
Wealthy relatives have poorer children or orphans circumcised together with their own children. This task is sometimes also undertaken by charities.
Spring, summer and autumn months are generally preferred for the operation: Nowdays, Saturdays or Sundays are preferred for the circumcision ceremony, especially in big cities. In the past, the circumcision operations were usually carried out on Thursdays because Friday was a holiday and considered a day of good omen.
Preparations for the ceremony:
A family starts preparations by determining the time they will have their son circumcised almost two months beforehand, in accordance with the boy’s age and their economic situation. The family decides on a date and announces it some ten days before the day selected for the ceremony.
This announcement can be made by means of either;
- sending messengers with the news, or
- printed invitations.
In traditional communities in particular, great attention is paid to inviting everybody.
Preparing the child:
The family starts to prepare the child for the circumcision a few days before the ceremony. In fact, the child begins to experience the joy and the fear of the operation long before that. In traditional communities, parents start to prepare their son for this significant turning point in life months beforehand.
A special circumcision outfit is the most important part of the preparations for the ceremony. Rich families adorn their sons with jewels in big cities, and a light blue headgear on which the word “Maşallah” is embroidered on the front is the most common element of circumcision outfits there. In villages, the children who will be circumcised wear new outfits; a “çevre” (a surrounding piece of cloth) and “yağlık” (a large napkin) are hung around their necks and shoulders, and bridal tinsel is hung from the back of their headgear. A few days before the ceremony, or even on the day itself, the children to be circumcised are paraded around with their friends, either on horseback, on a cart or else by car. People are informed by means of this parade that the child is to be circumcised.
The circumcision operation and circumciser:
The circumcision procedure consists of cutting off the child’s foreskin. The boy is sat on the lap of his kirve (someone who acts as a kind of godfather at the circumcision) if he has one, or if not, on the lap of some other relative. The boy is made to open his legs, and the person whose lap he is sitting on holds the boy’s arms very tight. Meanwhile, encouraging words stressing manly virtues are spoken in order to help reduce the child’s fears. Before and during the operation, the words “Allahu ekber Allahu ekber” are uttered, and people recite a very common bantering couplet “oldu da bitti maşallah, iyi olur inşallah” (It has happened at once, May God preserve him; it will grow better, by God’s will). The person who carries out the circumcision procedure; that is the operation, is generally referred to a “sünnetçi”, meaning circumciser. This individual is also known as the “abdal” (wiseman) or “kızılbaş abdal” (scarlet-head wiseman) in Central and Eastern Anatolia.
Nowdays, Currently, the operation is carried out by trainned health officials, who describe themselves as “fenni sünnetçi” (scientific circumciser).
The major turning point of the circumcision ceremony is enhanced with various gifts, usually consisting of gold, money, clothing and household goods. Today, the practice of giving gifts and presents to the boy who has been circumcised still continues.
THE INSTITUTION OF “KIRVE”
The kirve is also called “kirve”, “kivra”, or “kivre” in different regions.
The institution of the “kirve” can briefly be described as a virtual kinship that is formed when one of two economically and socially equal families meets the expenses of the circumcision ceremony for the other. The kirve is the person who will support the child during the circumcision to ease his pain by taking him into his lap and at the same time, meet expenses of the ceremony, in full or in part. People who have their children marry each other by means of the “kirve” institution have a kinship relationship, and families who engage in “kirve” relationships enjoy a lasting friendship. We lack sufficient information about the origin of the “kirve”, which is very common, especially in the provinces of East, South and Southeast Anatolia.
Although it was more popular in the past, the “kirve” still exists since it fulfills the following functions:
The concept of the “kirve” is an important social institution since;
- It strengthens currently existing relations,
- It enlarges the social web of the families involved,
- It functions as a social security mechanism,
- It brings together families with different languages, religions and ethnic origins,
- It makes it easier for outsiders to adapt to the area,
- It brings with it significant bargaining power with increased solidarity and strength.
The relationship established by means of the kirve lasts until death. The children of kirves are forbidden to marry. This ban brings with it much more relaxed relationships and thus leads to stronger bonds between the kirves.