WITH the death of Abdul Rashid alias Reshma, the debate around transgender and their reception and evaluation by our religion – the religion of Islam and our society has prominently figured among social media denizens and people otherwise. Barmania and Aljunid, Caroline, Lee and others maintain in their studies that transphobia, discrimination and injustice, violence and persecution continue to be the fate of transgenders in Islamic countries. The scenario in Kashmir, though moderated by cultural inklings of inclusion and diversity, isn’t all well and transgenders continue to face marginalisation and ostracism. While an attitude of criminal maltreatment is meted out to the transgender community, the plight is aggravated by the misnomer that this behaviour is sanctioned rather desired by the religion. It is often postulated that Islam demands from us the behaviour of exclusion and stigmatisation for transgenders. But this understanding asks for a proper and deeper understanding of the Islamic stand on the issue of transgenders lest our attitudes and behavioural latitude towards the community be distorted by our bias and insubstantial claims.
What are the actual Islamic rulings on the issue of transgenders and do they truly grant any legitimacy to our ill formed opinions on the subject?
To begin with, there is no monolithic practice prevalent among Muslims across the globe in their behaviour towards transgenders and the behavioural diversity is shaped by geography, culture and at times by the era or epoch referred to. Thus, we see a spectrum of behaviours from welcoming and inclusive to a level of rejection that can be marked by a range of actions ranging from social marginalisation to physical violence. The prevalent balance, despite the global diversity, is one of exclusion and otherisation. But these practices and behavioural attitudes are not sanctioned or legitimized by the theoria and praxis of Islam.
It must however be borne in mind that there are precedents from Seerah, Sunnah and the repository of Ahadith which point in opposite direction and those incidents are so explicit and frequent as to easily lead one to conclude as if Islam is transphobic. But a deeper and contextual understanding of these incidents wakes us up to the true import of these precedents and helps us avoid wrong inferences.
Various academics such as Alipour and Rowson point to references in the Hadith to the existence of mukhannath: a man who carries femininity in his movements, in his appearance, and in the softness of his voice. The Arabic term for a trans woman is mukhannith as they want to change their biological sex characters, while mukhannath presumably do not/have not. The mukhannath or effeminate man is obviously male, but naturally behaves like a female, unlike the khuntha, an intersex person, who could be either male or female.
Ironically, while there is no obvious mention of mukhannath, mukhannith or khuntha in the Qur’ān, this holy book clearly recognizes that there are some people, who are neither male nor female, or are in between, and/or could also be “non-procreative”. The presence of effeminate men (mukhannath) during the time of the Prophet is well documented. However, almost all references justifying animosity towards transgender people in the Hadith have been quoted out of context, and they wrongly condemn transgender people, despite so many major Islamic scholars having argued that the Hadith actually refer to cross-dressers who want to deceitfully gain access to women’s spaces . The particular Hadīth in reference to transgender have been narrated by many Islamic scholars like Ibn Majah, Al-Bukhari, Al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Hanbal and Abu Dawud.
There is considerable evidence that in pre-colonial Islamic communities, mukhannath served as servants as long as they had no sexual interest in women. They would then be allowed to enter women’s private places such as harems and other exclusively female spaces .Those males whose effeminate qualities were innate and natural, and who did not experience sexual attraction toward women, received no blame, guilt or shame as they were not considered sinners and were not to be punished . Because of the regularity of mukhanath hired in women’s spaces, there were men who sought to take advantage because they lusted after women and pretended to be mukhanath in order to gain access into women’s spaces.
Al- Tabari took it as an example that the Prophet did not forbid a particular mukhanath, Hit, from entering the women’s quarters until he heard the servant giving a description of the women’s bodies in great detail. Hit was later prohibited from the house because he had breached the trust of the Prophet but not because of his effeminate identity. The Prophet’s prohibition was rather a response to his actions in this particular situation. Clearly, just like any other person, the principles of moral and ethical behavior were also applied to them and did not entitle them to speak or behave inappropriately. This hadith narration is commonly used by conservative Muslim scholars to justify hatred for effeminate men and transgender people as it is used as proof that Muslims should not allow them in their houses . In reality, the Prophet did not punish mukhanath unless they carried out immoral acts, nor did he try to ‘cure’ them. In one Hadith, the Prophet was recorded to have saved the life of a mukhanath when others wanted to kill him (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41, Number 4910). In the narration, although he was exiled from Medina for immoral behavior, the Prophet still respected this person as a human being, sparing his life and allowing him to carry out his religious deeds.
These surveys, bordering on history and the corpus of Hadith literature, reveal that prohibitions, if any, in respect of transgenders, were purely circumstantial and conditional. The class of Ulema needs to dispense fuller information along with contextual underpinnings to the populace to protect the transgender community from misdirected maltreatment and exclusion. Moreover, it is high time to rise up to the conscience and consciousness that transgenders have equal rights to the life of dignity and honour, of economic inclusion and participation in opportunities. To exclude and marginalise people on the basis of sexual orientations and trying to seek legitimacy for this behaviour from scripture is a task of folly which stakes both the dignity of transgenders and the sanctity of religion.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.