In Islamic Turkey, circumcision is much more than a surgical procedure.
This boy is Ali. This picture was taken as he was being circumcised in the operating room of the Kemal Özkan Circumcision Palace. The two-story building includes a playground with a go-kart track, a dancing hall, and a restaurant.
PHOTOS BY MAURO D’AGATI
In Islamic Turkey, circumcision is much more than a surgical procedure. Traditionally occurring between the ages of five and 12, and known as the “first joy,” it’s seen as the first landmark in the boy’s religious life, proof that he is strong, brave, and ready to be called a man. To this end, the procedure is generally performed with local anesthetic or none at all, as the pain is an integral part of the ritual. In the festivities surrounding the circumcision, the boy is made to wear a king’s costume, and the assembled family and friends shower him with gifts and tie gold coins to his belt. Almost 30 percent of Turkish parents, including medical staff, choose the traditional method over the postnatal procedure in hospitals, and in rural Turkey up to 85 percent of circumcisions are performed without any doctor at all.
The “circumcision experts” who are called to perform the ritual instead of medical personnel often inherit their position from their fathers. As a result, the official literature is filled with reports of vomit-inducing botched procedures, some of which end with severed urethras, infections, gangrene, amputation of the penis, and even death.
Kemal Özkan, a 58-year-old qualified paramedic, is a Turkish celebrity. He is known as the Sultan of Circumcision. He has allegedly operated on more than 100,000 children in his 37-year career and his famously outlandish publicity stunts have included performing circumcisions on horseback, on a camel, and in flight.
Before the procedure, the boy is distracted with music and a clown, all to help him forget the mind-shattering pain that will soon wash over his entire body.
Mustapha kisses the great Kemal özkan’s hand before his circumcision. Kemal is well-known as the greatest circumciser in Turkey, partially thanks to his PR stunts, such as performing 2,000 procedures in one 24-hour penis-snipping marathon.
A boy named Ahmet, wearing the traditional costume, is getting prepared for circumcision by Kemal’s assistant. The clapping people behind him are his immediate family.
The girls behind the window are trying to get a glimpse of their cousin’s circumcision. Circumcision, although not explicitly mentioned in the Koran, is seen as obligatory for most Muslims. An uncircumcised man, for example, cannot perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The child has given his ceremonial hat to his brother. Watching over the operation are his mother, grandfather, and sisters. Traditionally, the boys are held down by the man who will become his kirve, which is similar in concept to the Christian godfather.
The child visits the Eyup Mosque before attending his First Joy. In Islam, whatever the Prophet did is called sunnet, and, according to Arab custom, Muhammad was circumcised at birth. This is the origin of the Turkish word for “circumcision,” which is also “sunnet”.
The Eyup Mosque. Thousands of Muslims flock to pray at the great mosque, bringing along their children a few days before their party.
A street photographer who specializes in portraits of children visiting the mosque on the day of their First Joy, showing his wares.
This is the first phase of the actual circumcision, performed in front of the gathered family and friends.
As the paramedics continue the operation, the screaming child is assisted by his kirve. The kirve will theoretically become part of the boy’s family, and the boy cannot marry the kirve’s daughter, as it is considered incest.
An unwilling child being walked to the operating table so the procedure can be completed.
This is right after this boy’s circumcision. Some lucky kids have the luxury of new equipment that makes the procedure much less painful. He was one of them.
Following the circumcision, the child is checked to make sure he can urinate correctly. The parents are trying to distract the child to alleviate the trauma he just went through. Success!