There is a worldwide trend to circumcise boys at the earliest possible age. However, in Turkey, families prefer to circumcise boys at a later age with a celebratory ceremony so their sons are old enough to understand the significance and meaning of the event.
It is commonly acknowledged today that circumcision at an early age is recommended both for its health benefits and so that the boy is not psychologically affected by the operation. Circumcision is common in Turkey due to religious and cultural reasons. At some point up until the age of 12, most Turkish boys are circumcised.
Celebrating the circumcision is an important event in Turkish culture. A few days before the ceremony, the boy who is going to be circumcised visits his relatives and neighbors in his circumcision outfit -- a blue hat and a white shirt with an inscription of Maşallah (may God avert the evil eye) -- and kisses their hands. The custom is that each person whose hand is kissed gives money to the boy. On the day of the circumcision, guests gather at the boy’s home or a hall rented by the family, recite prayers and eat a meal together. During the circumcision, the boy’s kirve -- the equivalent of “godfather” in Christianity -- is at his side. It is also common to chant “Oldu da bitti Maşallah” (It is all over and done) once the operation is completed.
After being circumcised, the boy, dressed in a long, loose white dress, is gently placed on an ornately decorated bed in his home to rest and recover. After the meal, guests give presents to the child.
The word “sünnet” (Turkish for circumcision) denotes the practices of the Prophet Muhammad. According to Islamic belief, the example of the Prophet should be followed by all Muslims as much as possible. Although some Islamic scholars state that circumcision is recommended, the majority of Islamic scholars argue that it is obligatory.
However, regardless of how religious the families are, most Turkish males get circumcised between the ages of 5 and 12. Nuri Şimşek from the Medical Park Tarsus Hospital says: “This is because the circumcision event has a symbolic and traditional significance for the families. We recommend performing the operation at an earlier age so the boy does not get frightened, but it is also a fact that being at the center of such a festivity, receiving all the attention and gifts and proving his courage might also be for the boy’s good. We can’t explicitly say what is better for everyone, but in medical terms, it is healthier to do it some time up to the age of 2.”
Some district municipalities organize mass circumcisions for hundreds of youths during the school summer holidays, paying for the doctors’ expenses and providing food for the relatives of the children.
Most of the mass circumcision festivals organized by municipalities take place in İstanbul. One of them, the Küçükçekmece Municipality, has promised to cover 1,200 circumcision operations, the boys’ circumcision outfits and celebration feasts. Kites are also gifted to the 1,200 boys and a free concert given by rock group Seksendört. An official from the municipality has said the boys who are circumcised by the municipality are mostly between the ages of 3 and 13, with the majority being 5 or 6 years old. The circumcision operations take place in two private hospitals.
The official says that circumcision festivals are great opportunities to merge a social project with a celebration. “These festivals are held in the summer so people can enjoy the arrival of summer with a concert and a meal. It’s a win-win situation -- even for the boys as they get lots of presents. I think the idea of mass circumcision is a new and modern tradition created by municipalities.”
As part of the Sixth Mass Circumcision Festival put on by Bursa’s İnegöl Municipality, about 200 children were circumcised in hospitals in the last 15 days of May. Outfits for the festival were provided by the municipality.
Also, part of Turkey’s recent aid efforts to developing countries is sending pediatric surgeons to circumcise boys. The Aegean International Health Federation (ESAFED), which is made up of volunteer medical personnel, circumcised 6,000 children for free in Sudan in May. The boys were aged between 7 days old and 17 years, and among them were the Sudanese president’s three grandsons and the son of the Sudanese health minister.