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11 Jun, 2009 05:40

Jews and Muslims find common ground in Sweden

Circumcision in Sweden is considered dangerous surgery, with some saying it should be banned. Yet for the 300,000 Muslim and Jewish-strong population, sticking to their traditions is above the law and public debate.

Mohel Maynard Gerber prepares thoroughly for surgery. A cantor at a synagogue in Stockholm, he’s one of only two people in the Nordic country licensed to perform circumcision privately. A lack of specialists means Maynard’s skills are in demand. Up to 50 private patients come to him, says the mohel.

“Most of the people think that if you’re a doctor, you can do any kind of operation. And it’s not true. Most of the doctors in Sweden have never done a circumcision. So there are few here who can do it,” says Maynard Gerber.

This time around there is a special significance to the operation. Gerber has gone to the town of Uppsala to circumcise a Palestinian Muslim boy, and the whole time little Hossan stayed calm during the procedure. So while Arabs and Jews may be at loggerheads in the Middle East, in a more liberal country such as Sweden, they are able to put their differences aside.

“Yes, there is fighting back in my homeland. But here, we’re far away from war. Besides, all men are equal in the face of God, as well as at a medical table. So we see nothing wrong with such help from a Jewish specialist,” says Ismail Al-Harbiti, a Palestinian immigrant living in Uppsala.

Recently, however, two Muslim boys were hospitalized in Sweden after private circumcisions. The operations were done by the only Muslim doctor officially licensed by the state. The incidents sparked public debate, with some questioning whether the procedure should be allowed at all. The doctor’s license was revoked and now Muslims have no one of their faith to carry out the procedure.

“It’s quite severe damage with bleedings, infections, difficulties to urinate. So the organization which runs communities in Sweden has recommended that all circumcisions must be done in public healthcare. But I know some who just don’t want to,” says Thorsten Mossberg, Sweden’s Health and Welfare Board Assistant.

Sweden provides free healthcare to its citizens, yet it does not cover the cost of circumcision, so getting the procedure done in a state clinic can cost up to €1000. Unfortunately there is a severe shortage of private alternatives as a license is required, which in themselves are hard to obtain. So for those wanting to maintain their traditions, the only way to get it right is to turn to Mr. Gerber and the few others like him, regardless of their faith.