Followers of the blog might recall that some time ago, I had a bit of a row with a few folks over female genital mutilation in our Shi’i tradition. Most of the comments were unpublishable frankly, a few suggested I had fallen under the influence of Zionism, but the more sensible ones at least expressed disagreement with my description of the practice as having some pedigree within Shi’i traditions. I noted then that when I had some time I’d go back and do a more thorough search of materials. I did that, and think I probably understated the case. I’d say now it’s a pretty well established part of Shi’i jurisprudence, just a part that contemporary jurists would prefer not to talk about.
The passage below I stumbled upon mainly in connection with an article I’m doing on the truly awful draft Ja’fari Personal Status Code that the Fadhila party had promulgated a little before ISIS took over Mosul, and collective attention was then (rightly) redirected elsewhere. (For the avoidance of doubt, despite many, many flaws, no FGM in that draft Code). Anyway, the following is from perhaps the most influential juristic compendium of early modernity, one that is the subject of intense study in contemporary Najaf, and one that effectively provides the model for modern juristic compendia. To those for whom it’s not obvious from that introduction, it’s Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi, Jawahir al-Kalam, which is itself a commentary on Muhaqqiq al-Hilli’s Shara’i al-Islam, perhaps the most influential work on Shi’i jurisprudence there is after the original sources. Anyway, Muhaqqiq’s words appear below in quotes and italics, the rest are from Sahib al-Jawahir, vol. 31 p. 242 in my version:
As for females, it is referred to among the companions as “the curtailing of the maidens” and it is “recommended” without disagreement. To the contrary the consensus supports it, and the [original] sources are plentiful or incontrovertible, and present the matter in its entirety. It is not required for the guardian [to do] before puberty, nor upon them after it. The manifest opinion is that the time for them is seven years. Indeed based on the report of Giyath ibn Ibrahim from Ja’far ibn Muhammad [al-Sadiq] from his father [Muhammad al-Baqir], peace be upon the latter two of them, “do not curtail the maiden until she reaches seven years.”
It is required not to uproot it in its entirety. From the Sahih of Ibn Muslim, from Abi Abdillah (peace be upon him), when the women emigrated to the Apostle of God (peace be upon him), a woman emigrated with them who was called “Um Habeeb”, and she was a curtailer, who curtailed maidens. When the Apostle of God, peace be upon him, saw her, he [peace be upon him] said to her, “Um Habeeb, the work that you used to do, do you do it now?” She said to him [peace be upon him], “yes, Apostle of God, unless it is forbidden, and you tell me to avoid it.” So he said, “no it is permissible. Come near me, so I may teach you.” She neared him, and he said, “Um Habeeb, if you do it, then do not destroy and do not remove entirely, but mark it, for this brightens the face and is more pleasurable for the husband.”
“And” in any event what is clear from what we have mentioned is that “if an uncircumcised nonbeliever becomes a Muslim, he must circumcise” himself “if he was of old age. . . . and” it is clear also that “if a woman becomes a Muslim” then “she is not obligated to be circumcised” but that is ”recommended” for her. In the report of Abi Basir, “I asked the father of Ja’far, peace be upon him, about the maiden who comes from the land of polytheism and she becomes Muslim, and she asks for one to curtail her, but she is unable to find a woman [to do it], so he said, “the Sunna [i.e. the practice of the Prophet and the Imams] for circumcision is for men, and not for women.”
This follows a set of rules on the circumcision of “males”, and those with both female and male organs, the khuntha in Arabic. Hence, he lays out the rules for males, the rules for the khuntha, and then, Sahib al-Jawahir tells us, the rules for females, or anath. He further tells us that such rules are referred to by the companions, then quoting Muhaqqiq, as curtailment of the maidens. (In the abstract, the term for maiden, or jariya, is at least ambiguous, as it could be translated as slave girl. From the context, however it does not. He says as much–when it comes to women, it is referred to as “curtailment of the maidens.” What could be clearer than that.) He describes this as recommended, suggests there should not be a cliteroctemy in the process, and further suggests that even if a woman (woman–mar’a) converts, it is recommended for her, though not required. It calls upon original source material to defend its conclusions and describes them as very numerous and declares juristic consensus on the point. Those interested could find the source material to which the Jawahir refers in Usul al-Kafi which makes specific recommendations on “circumcision” of “women” not “slaves.” Here’s one:
عدة من أصحابنا، عن أحمد بن محمد، عن الحسين بن سعيد، عن بعض أصحابه، عن عبدالله سنان، عن أبي عبدالله عليه السلام قال: الختان في الرجل سنة ومكرمة في النساء
Are the sources really plentiful mustafida or incontrovertible mutawatir? Not from what I’ve seen. Can their provenance be challenged? Yes, I think so. But then you’d have to challenge the juristic consensus that Sahib al-Jawahir claims, or you’d have to challenge his reading of Muhaqqiq, or you’d have to challenge Muhaqqiq’s reading of the main source material. Any of those are plausible approaches to change, but let’s be clear, you’re definitely in the liberal or reformer camp if you do any of those. (Welcome to the revolution, we’ve been waiting for you to arrive.) What you can’t be is a traditionalist who demands fealty to the Shi’i rules as they have existed throughout the centuries and then somehow have a problem with me for pointing out that those rules support the mutilation of female genitalia. The fact is that they do support it. Indeed, they recommend it.
That of course assumes that my Jawahir al-Kalam, published in Teheran, is accurate. There remains the possibility that Zionists secretly broke into my house and surreptitiously changed volume 31 in an undetectable manner so as to humiliate and embarrass us Shi’a. So Zionists, if you did that, please stop. Totally not cool.