There has been a fair amount of recent Arabic language press respecting a recent decision by ISIS to force women to undergo genital mutilation. Whoever is surprised is not paying sufficient attention. They issued a memo requiring this a year ago, last Ramadan, long before they were in Mosul. Given that my last translated ISIS memo gathered some attention, I figured I’d go ahead and translate this one as well. My commentary this time is mostly here. The memo appears below. Where I have comments in the memo itself, they are [bracketed and in bold].
I think the reason this female genital mutilation memo has not received the same attention, nor has the current decision of ISIS to implement it, relative to the plight of Iraq’s Christians, at least on the Muslim side, is because of our uncomfortable relationship to the subject. Make no mistake, the ISIS requirement that all women undergo this is as tendentious as the decision to expel Christians. Nothing like this exists in the fiqh. But it’s uncomfortably closer than many would like it to be.
Hence, it’s hard for many Shi’is, for example, to jump up and down about how terrible this ISIS decision is when, just to take two examples, Grand Ayatollah Khu’i described khafadh al-jawari (the Ja’fari term referring to FGM) as recommended at the age of seven, and there is a whole book on the subject of khafadh al-jawari in the Furu al-Kafi. (Trust me, it’s there. Or don’t, look it up, I rechecked today just to be quintuply sure before writing this.) It is, let me be absolutely clear, a recommended and not required practice, with conditions, and one that exists entirely on paper, and is honored more in the breach than the observance (thank God). I don’t know anyone in my social circle who’d do this to their girl, or at least who’d admit to it. But it’s there, and Sunnis who might smugly point out that I just referenced Shi’a sources, wait for the memo below, there’s plenty of source material in your tradition too, believe me.
I suppose you could ask whether or not this is really different from the morally problematic jizya that ISIS refers to in its expulsion of Christians memo. Yes, it is different. That is public law, that nobody thinks you can or should apply unless particular conditions are met, and nobody except ISIS thinks they are met, and as the last post points out, even if they were somehow right about that (don’t ask me how, I don’t see it), they still did everything completely wrong. FGM is private law, and hence could in theory be applied now by the believers. So we’ve got this source material saying it’s a good idea, broad social practice, at least within the intelligentsia, who don’t believe that at all and would prefer it not be true (usually this takes the form of them yelling at me that I’m wrong because I must be. I wish I were. I’m not. To be clear, I think the fiqh needs an entire rethinking anyway, so it’s not a problem for me to describe the fiqh as recommending the practice, as it does, and as a gross human rights violation, which it is. But it is a problem for others). Anyway, to top it all off, now we have a guy who gets it in his head that he has the right to require people to do that which is recommended (and, to be clear and to repeat, that required part is extremely tendentious to say the least).
So here we go:
District of Aleppo
Region of ‘Azaz?
ISIS Logo [Looks like a child scrawl, and it reads “No god but God; Muhammad is the Apostle of God”
2 Ramadan 1434 Hijri
[Same date format as last memo, suggesting that the decisions described in previous post respecting the date are somewhat deliberate.]
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
[This is before the name change, and I call it “ISIS” because everyone does, but Levant is a better word for Sham I think than Syria is.]
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
All praise is to God, and prayers and blessings upon the Apostle of God, his progeny, his companions, and those who follow him as leader. What is more. [Far more typical intro than the expulsion memo, as last post shows]
Out of concern on the part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and out of fear of the spreading of corruption and depravity in our Islamic society, among our honorable sons and daughters,
from the master of our affairs, the Commander of the Faithful
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
[larger font for his name appears in original, but I’m not doing that. This is before he named himself Caliph Ibrahim. Which by the way is odd, as he seems more influenced by Catholic practice than Islamic history. Caliphs don’t take another name when they assume the post like Popes do.]
An order issued to notify all of the states and regions of the obligation [not an obligation, according to anyone, except ISIS] to circumcise women [the Arabic verb is khafadh- “lessen” or “reduce”, and is different from the term khatan, or “circumcise,” always used for men, and at times women. That said, I’ll use “circumcise”, it works best. I’d call it what it is and say “mutilate the genitalia of women” but then the translation carries evidence of editorializing I’d like to avoid.] an honor and a benevolent gesture from the Caliph, Commander of the Faithful [Women of Mosul. You’re welcome.] and the implementation of our true religion. [Again, wrong.] And an implementation of the statement of the Apostle of God may peace and blessings be upon him by a narration of Um Atiya, may God be pleased with her. She said there was a woman who performed circumcisions in Medina. So the Prophet peace and blessings upon him said to her, ‘do not stop, for that is a grace to the husband, and creates a radiating appearance.’ That appears in detail in other accounts that indicate that when the women emigrated, there was among them Um Habeeba. And she was known for the circumcision of maids. When the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him saw her he said “Um Habeeba, that which you used to do [lit. was in your hands], do you still do it now?” She said to him “Yes, Apostle of God. Unless it is forbidden, in which case I will stop.” The Prophet peace and blessings upon him said “to the contrary, it is permissible. Come near me so I can teach you.” She said “so I neared him and he said, ‘Umm Habeeb, what you do, do not stop, because it creates a radiating appearance and it is a grace to the husband.”
And the meaning of “do not stop” is “do not stop cutting and circumcision.” [It is precisely narrations like this, which exist in both Sunni and Shi’i traditions, that make the subject of FGM so uncomfortable for those good people more attached to the fiqh than I. But anyone who can think themselves out of a paper bag can see that this wouldn’t authorize some sort of massive state action obligating everyone to perform FGM.] And [there is] this narration, which is reported by Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said “Women of the Ansar [basically women of Medina, those who welcomed the Prophet to Medina as opposed to the Muhajirun who came from Mecca with him], do not cease circumcising.” This narration comes in the Nil al-Awtar of Shawkani vol. 1, page 311 [interesting he felt the need to cite that, probably because not in a canonical hadith source and therefore more prone to challenge] and in another account from Abdullah bin Umar, may God be pleased with him [again, sounds defensive, particularly since we don’t where that one comes from].
These accounts and others carry the call of the Prophet to the circumcision of women.
May God grant blessings to our families in our district and all the lands of the Muslims in this blessed month of Ramadan.
And render it, our Lord, a month of victory and conquest and empowerment of your united servants, and blessings upon Muhammad and his progeny, the good and the pure. [That last bit is very, very odd. It’s Shi’i in conception. Not that it espouses a notion Sunnis would deny, but that’s very, very Shi’i as stated.]
[Stamp of ISIS]