Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Red Rock Open Space 6/28/11

Popular highly accessible trail system.  Not my favorite, but worth visiting if you've never been.  The quarry is kind of fun to see.

Monday, June 27, 2011


On July 1st, 17 U.S. states will drop Medicaid coverage of circumcision as part of budget-cutting measures. However, other forms of insurance may still cover the procedure, or families may opt to pay out-of-pocket to cover the expenses. Dropping circumcision coverage comes at a time when movements against the procedure are gaining steam.

A bill banning routine circumcision was introduced in Massachusetts last year, and some other states have similar bills in the works. Circumcision bans have been proposed in municipalities such as Santa Monica and San Francisco. In the November elections, these cities may make circumcision a crime.

Historically, the United States is one of the most circumcision-friendly nations in the world. According to the World Health Organization, circumcision is the most commonly performed medical procedure on American children. It estimates that 75% of men in the United States are circumcised, while only 30% of Canadian men and 6% of UK males are circumcised. Many Americans pursue circumcision as a matter of social custom and/or religious belief. There is a general cultural perception that uncircumcised boys and men face ridicule from peers and mates, and that being uncircumcised is less hygienic.

On the other hand, opponents to circumcision claim that it is a procedure with no real medical justification and that infants are not able to give informed consent for the procedure. At the least, they would have males wait until the age of consent. However, some doctors point out that adult circumcision is a more complicated, expensive, and trying process. Some studies have shown that circumcision slightly reduces incidence of urinary tract infections in infant boys, and that it slightly decreases HIV and other STD transmission in sub-Saharan Africa, but as with any medical procedure, complications such as bleeding and infection from circumcision can occur. The most extreme anti-circumcision activists tend to equate male circumcision with female genital mutilation (FGM), which is commonly illegal and culturally held as a heinous and repugnant practice.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) considers legislative efforts to ban circumcision a violation of free exercise of religion and considers the efforts to be a form of anti-Semitism. In Jewish tradition, the reasons for circumcision are stated in the Torah and relate to a covenant between Abraham and God. In Genesis 17:1-14 the covenant is mentioned, and Abraham is commanded to "circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, as a sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, you shall circumcise every male child born to you throughout the generations."

Circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur'an, but is mentioned in hadith, although rather sparsely. Some hadith indicate that all prophets were born circumcised. One tradition on circumcision mentioned in Shia sources is from Imam Ja'far Sadiq (as), with a nearly identical tradition related from the Prophet (saw): “Do the circumcision of your child on the seventh day of his birth. This is best for him. It is also beneficial for his proper growth and upbringing. Certainly, the earth abhors the urine of the person who has not been circumcised".(Wasail al-shiah, v15, p. 171) Another tradition, from Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (a.s.) has said: "I asked Abu Ja'far (a.s) about a bondwoman that was captured from the land of polytheism and there was no woman to circumcise her. The Imam said: "The Sunna recommended the circumcision of men and not of women." (quoted from fatwa of Sayyid Fadlullah) As for female circumcision, other hadith are more ambiguous or even apparently recommending it, but scholars have spoken out against female genital mutilation, referring to a saying attributed to the Prophet (saw) that if female circumcision is practiced, it is necessary not to wear out and do not mutilate. The general stance toward female circumcision is that if it does not cause harm and is not required by Shariah, then it is a matter of personal choice, but if it causes harm then it is prohibited. This general guideline applies to male circumcision also, but it is more commonly considered that male circumcision is required by Shariah, or at least strongly recommended.

Practices vary as to the age at which circumcision is usually performed and whether it is considered required. Among the four Sunni schools of thought, Shafis consider it wajib, Hanafis consider it mustahab, and Malikis and Hanbalis consider it ja'iz (allowed, but not recommended for or against). The reason for male circumcision in Muslim tradition is generally considered to be honoring of the covenant between Abraham and God and is thus related with the hajj rites. Many Muslim scholars consider circumcision a prerequisite for performance of hajj by an adult discerning male.

The matter of declining insurance coverage of circumcision likely cannot be construed as stemming from the anti-circumcision movement, but it may reflect a gradual change in cultural sentiment around circumcision in the United States that can be bolstered by declining budgets and vocal anti-circumcision activism. If bans of circumcision gain ground, Muslims may join Jews in concern over religious freedom and may question if motivations lie in anti-Muslim sentiment, just as the ADL is now crying anti-Semitism. At this time, anti-circumcision movements are generally motivated on opinion of cruelty to perform a painful and perhaps medically unnecessary procedure on a child who cannot consent, with anti-religion themes as prominent side-issues. However, people must constantly be alert to threats and erosions of freedoms regardless of their origins, and must educate themselves on the issues and make themselves prepared to self-advocate, because freedom has a way of disappearing when left untended.

Pictures from Fountain Creek

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shining Sun

Shining Sun was written by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Husayni Tihrani, a close friend of 'Allamah Tabataba'i, as a tribute to the latter shortly after his passing in 1981. It has been translated to English by Tawus Raja and is now available for purchase from ICAS press.

Sayyid Tabataba'i is probably best known today for his exegesis of Qur'an called Al-Mizan (The Scale), which is notable for its methodology of using the Qur'an to explain itself. The tafsir and its methodology have both become standards for scholarship in the field.

The tribute consists of two main parts; a brief memorial of Tabataba'i followed by transcriptions of several discussions the author and/or other students of the 'Allamah had on religious topics in the fields of history, philosophy, mysticism, theology and Qur'an. As is standard for books published by ICAS, the work is graced with copious footnotes, glossary of transliterated terms, indices of Qur'anic verses, hadith, and poetry for comparison or reference between the English translation and original forms, and a general index.

If a reader approaches this book expecting a biography or a religious textbook, he may be surprised to find neither. The memorial section does contain biographical information that provide glimpses into certain aspects of Allamah Tabataba'i's life, but is in no way comprehensive enough to be considered a true biography. A reader with little or no prior knowledge of the scholar will not be able to develop a very clear picture of him as a religious scholar or as a man, but will be able to appreciate the love and high esteem afforded him by many people such as the author, and will also be able to have a basic appreciation for his importance and achievements in Shia religious scholarship. Similarly, the larger discussion section of the book may contain some religious information that educates the reader, but that would be incidental to the apparent larger purpose of elucidating methods and content of religious reasoning and discussion employed by 'Allamah Tabataba'i and his students.

These discussion transcripts cover a range of topics such as explanation of particular verses in Qur'an, logical analysis of the concept of tawhid and its ramifications on what happens to the perfected soul when it reaches a stage of annihilation or return to God, explanation of the meaning of ruh in Qur'an and the role of angels, method of delivery of Qur'an, history of Qur'an compilation, numerology, experiences of barzakh depending on spiritual status of the individual, tayy-al-ard (claimed ability of highly-advanced mystics, jinn, and others to instantaneously transport themselves to other locations), issues related to Torah and Gospel and other prophets, and more.

Many of the issues or questions discussed are the type of questions that almost everyone has at some point in his life, often beginning in childhood. For example, most people have worried or pondered about what happens to their souls after death. Do the souls continue to exist permanently? Or, at some point, is all creation annihilated and no identities remain except the one true identity, God? Was the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet (saw) through Gabriel only, or was it sometimes revealed directly to him, and if it wasn't always revealed the same way, why was that so? Who compiled the Qur'an, and when, and is it the same as what was originally revealed? Why are there minor differences in recitations, such as "Owner (Malik) of the Day of Judgment" vs. "King (Maalik) of the Day of Judgment"?

If a reader is hoping to use Shining Sun as a reference to answer these essential questions, it might not be satisfying for that purpose. The discussions do not really take place in a question/answer format. Rather, in many cases a philosophical or logical debate amongst the 'Allamah and the students takes place. The general aim in many of these discussions seems to be to use logical reasoning, grammar, and accepted reference in Qur'an, hadith, poetry, etc., to "prove" a posited answer. For example, a student may claim and provide evidence using logical reasoning as developed in the field of philosophy that all of us will at some point cease to exist and there will only remain God. Others may find logical inconsistencies in the reasoning and then try to solve those inconsistencies. The group becomes satisfied with a solution if it answers the question and has no logical inconsistencies or errors. But some of the discussions expire without any solidly arrived-at conclusion or summary of results. It is illuminating to see that students freely disagreed with the teacher or each other in some cases and yet the reputations of participants and decorum in the discussions remained impeccable, as the focus was clearly on Truth-seeking rather than egoistic tendencies.

However, a reader may be dissatisfied in following such a discussion seeking the ultimate answer, because the end result may not be an indisputable conclusion. Rather, it is more likely that a reader may come to appreciate or understand the process that was taking place as an act of scholarship and reasoning, but may not always be personally convinced that every solution or answer mentioned by 'Allamah Tabataba'i or his students is definitely correct. In fact, some readers may be a little disturbed by a few of the issues raised and the uncertainties or implications arising in their discussion. This disequilibrium may precede a reader's personal resolution of the issue, or the issue might remain personally uncomfortable and unresolved.

Shining Sun is an important text as a memorial of a master of Islamic philosophy and spirituality. It provides a unique window into processes of reasoning and discussion applied to religious topics that must be preserved and developed in the current and future generations for the sake of all mankind. While logic and reason are held separate from religion in some schools of thought, they are essential in the Shia faith. While the lay person may not need to engage in such exercises on a regular basis, every person needs to learn how to think and reason and how to apply these processes to all matters, including religion, so as not to be misguided or oppressed. If Shining Sun is read with this in mind, a general audience has much to gain from the experience.