By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
08 May 2019
Transgender people are those who are physically and psychologically abnormal. They are called Mukhannath in Arabic and are looked down upon by the society because of their physical abnormality and their effeminate manners and speech. They are generally called the third gender because they look and behave neither like men nor women. These people go through a psychological and sexual anxiety through their entire life. They cannot lead a normal life and so they resort to immoral and sometimes criminal practices to make a living and most of the time their community works as entertainers in parties and weddings. Nowadays they are seen in trains and on streets begging or extorting money from passengers and passers-by.
When we study the Quran to find the Quran’s approach towards the transgenders, we find no mention of them. This is somewhat intriguing because the holy Quran does not leave any aspect or issue which is important for the society. So let’s try to find out the reason why it does not mention the transgenders.
When we study the Quran, we find that it says that there is no third among human beings or in any other species on earth. The Quran says that God created every species including human beings in pairs. This suggests that all the species have only two genders: male and female. There are some verses dealing with the issue:
“Glory to Allah, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kind and (other) things of which they have no knowledge”.(Yasin: 36)
“And Allah did create you from dust; then from a sperm-drop; then He made you in pairs.” (Fatir: 15)
“That has created pairs in all things, and has made for you ships and cattle on which ye ride,” (Zukhruf: 12)
“And of everything We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction.” (Zariyat: 49)
In all the above quoted verses, the Quran speaks of pairs in all the species of living things including human beings. Does the Quran then ignore the transgender who are neither men nor women?
The reason for the Quran not mentioning the transgender because there is nothing called the third gender. The people who are considered the third gender actually suffer from a disease or syndrome which causes abnormality in physical and mental behaviour of a man. The disease is called Klinefelter Syndrome and the persons suffering from this syndrome are called hermaphrodites. People suffering from this syndrome have an additional x chromosome in their cells (xxy). This causes less hair on the body, effeminate way of walking and talking, sometimes taller figure, enlarged breasts and small testicles and genitals. Therefore, it is a chromosomal disorder.
Since transgender are human beings with a chromosomal disorder, the Quran does not treat them like third gender.
The practices of the Holy Prophet pbuh show that he did not have any aversion towards transgender persons or Mukhannatun. In the prophet’s era transgender were employed as domestic helps and they were respected in the society. However, the principles of moral and ethical behaviour were applied to them. Belonging to transgender community did not entitle them to speak or behave immorally. The holy prophet pbuh disapproved of immoral behaviour of Mukhannatun. There is a Hadith about an incident in which the holy prophet expressed displeasure over the remark of a Mukhannath about a woman of Taif.
“Umm Salama (wife of the holy prophet) reported that she had a eunuch (as a slave) in her house. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) was once in the house that he (the eunuch) said to the brother of Umm Salama:
Abdullah ibn Abi Umayya, if Allah grants you victory in Ta'if on the next day, I will show you the daughter of Ghailan for she has four folds (upon her body) on the front side of her stomach and eight folds on the back. Allah's Messenger heard this and he said: Such (people) should not visit you. (Sahih Muslim; Book No.39, 2180).
The remark of the Mukhannath showed that he judged women sexually and had an eye on physical aspects of women and so the prophet pbuh disapproved of his presence in the house. Otherwise, he respected them as human beings as their abnormality was a biological disorder.
This Hadith shows that during the prophet’s period, the transgender were allowed to serve in houses as domestic helps and the Muslim women did not observe veil from them. A transgender was even allowed in the house of prophet’s wife as a servant and she did not observe veil from him until he demonstrated his sexuality.
There is another Hadith that even suggests that hermaphrodites could be operated upon and treated to remove the disorder. The former grand mufti of Al Azhar University Al Tantawi in his fatwa on sex-change operation issue 1988 said:
“That being so, the rulings derived from these and other noble Hadiths on treatment grant permission to perform an operation changing a man into a woman, or vice versa, as long as a reliable doctor concludes that there are innate causes in the body itself, indicating a buried (Matmura) female nature, or a covered (Maghmura) male nature, because the operation will disclose these buried or covered organs, thereby curing a corporal disease which cannot be removed, except by this operation.
This is also dealt with in a Hadith about cutting a vein, which is related through Jabir (a famous companion of the Prophet): “The Messenger of God sent a physician to Abu ibn Kacb (one follower of the Prophet). The physician cut a vein and burned it.” This Hadith is related by Ahmad [b. Hanbal] and Muslim. What supports this view is what al-Qastallani and al-Asqalani say in their commentaries on it:“This means that it is incumbent upon the hermaphrodite to remove the symptoms of femininity.”1
This indicates that modern ulema also approve of sex-reassignment surgery to change the sex of Mukhannath to fee them of their psychological biological dilemma.
However, in most Muslim societies, the transgenders or Mukhannaths are not treated with respect. They have been reduced to a community of beggars and entertainers. They are also considered a community of Gays and Lesbians. But this was not their position during the Mughal era in India. In the Mughal palace, they were called Khwaja Sara and were employed as the supervisor or custodians of the harem and also held important positions in the court. But during the British rule, the government passed the Criminal Tribes Act and the transgenders were put under the category. Under this law, they could not dress like women or sing or dance in the public. This took away their source of earning and they had to resort to begging.
In Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Afghanistan, transgenders live an ostracized life. Their families abandon them and they do not enjoy the right to inheritance. In Pakistan, they are often sexually abused by people and the police. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan passed a law that provided them protection from police harassment, declared them eligible for a separate gender ID card and eligible for inheritance. Still they are a victim of religious bias and discrimination. Taliban are their arch enemy and the transgender fear them the most.
In Malaysia, the transgender are regarded as people belonging to the lower stratum of the society and are forced to work as sex workers. They are not given employment irrespective of their educational qualification. In the Islamic society of Malaysia, transgender (Mak Nyahs) face discrimination and oppression by the government and the society. For dressing like a woman and showing “immoral behaviour”, a transgender can be fined up to RM 1000.
In short, though the holy prophet pbuh did not hate the transgender and even allowed them to work as a servant to his wives, the Islamic society has reduced them to outcastes confining them to an ostracized life of crime and prostitution. The Islamic society needs to change their outlook towards the transgender community helping them to lead a dignified life.
Jakob, Skovguard-Peterson, (1 April 1995). "Sex Change in Cairo: Gender and Islamic Law". Journal of the International Institute. 2 (3). ISSN 1558-741X.
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com
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