This is a topic of much discussion among anthropologists and historians and the exact origin of FGM remains questionable.
It is clear that FGM existed before Islam and Christianity since there have been Egyptian mummies discovered that date back to the fifth century BC that were genitally mutilated. This is also confirmed by a Greek papyrus in a British museum that is dated 163 BC.
It is theorized that the practice began around the western shore of the Red Sea and spread along the slave trade routes to the southern and western African regions. It was reported in 1609 that a Somali group had a custom of “sewing up” their female slaves to prevent conception and increase the price of the slave to the purchaser. It is also reported that in 1799 Egyptians employed circumcision and infibulation (other terms for mutilation) to prevent pregnancy in female slaves.
Despite the questions of its origin, FGM is alive and well today. It would be a true sign of society’s progress for future anthropologists to write that the practice of female genital mutilation ended in the 21st century.