Islamic scholars in Pakistan have clarified a new religious law or ‘fatwa’ which was reported around the world as making it legal for trans people to marry.
In fact the clerics, the Tanzeem Itehad-e-Ummat, who issued the law say it does not apply to transgender men and women.
They still want to kill trans people as they believe them to be ‘gay’.
Instead the scholars say the new religious law or ‘fatwa’ applies to what westerners call intersex people. Intersex people are born without a clear male or female gender – with ambiguous genitalia or sex hormones.
The scholars say it is them who they meant as ‘khawaja sira’ people.
The clarity came after a group of the Islamic scholars met with NAZ Pakistan, an LGBTI supportive HIV and sexual health charity.
What did the clerics mean to say?
Maulana (or master scholar) Muhammad Zia ul Haq Naqshbandi told NAZ the Fatwa is only relevant to intersex persons:
‘Our understanding of a khawaja sira is what the Koran, Allah and his Prophet has told us.
‘Allah works in mysterious ways and his creations are beautiful. He made man, woman, and then he made khawaja sira. Some khawaja siras have genitals that are more male, while others have genitals that are more female.
‘And then there are khawaja siras whom we call mukhanas e mushkil… these are khawaja siras who are born with ambiguous genitalia.’
Talking about transgender people, the Maulana said:
‘As Muslims it is our duty to follow the teachings of Allah and His Prophet and those people who are born male and yet dress in women’s clothing are going against Allah’s will. That is completely unnatural.
‘These people are gay and Allah clearly says that gays should be killed. These people are fake Khawaja Siras. They dress in women’s attire to seduce men and men do come under their seduction.
‘These seduced men are victims and need religious counseling.
‘These fake khawaja siras have intimate relations from the back side [anal sex], which is haram [forbidden]. There is no Islamic fatwa that can give protection to people who commit sin knowing that it is a sin that they are committing.’
The quotes imply a false belief that all transgender men and women are also gay.
NAZ asked if this Fatwa would also include similar rights for those khawaja siras who are castrated. Some people in this community go through ‘nirwaan’, which removes the penis, scrotum and testicles.
The Maulana replied: ‘Castration is prohibited in Islam. The Koran, in clear words, tells us that we must not alter our bodies. These castrated ones are just gay men who are mentally ill. Why would a sane person castrate any part of his body unless it is for medical reasons?’
And he explained why the fatwa says intersex persons whose gender can not be determined (who the clerics call mukhanas e mushkil) are not allowed to marry:
‘Mukhanas e mushkil cannot be allowed to marry because they are neither man nor woman. In Islam there must be sexual relations between the husband and wife for the marriage to be consummated.
‘Since mukhanas e mushkil are unable to have sexual relations, it is Allah’s wish that they should remain celibate.’
And the representatives of the Tanzeem Itehad-e-Ummat explained why the khawaja sira people were not consulted before they made up the new rules.
The replied: ‘Prior consultations with khawaja siras were not required because Allah and His Prophet have clearly outlined the rights of every human being, including those of khawaja siras.
‘Islam considers khawaja siras to be Allah’s chosen people as he has awarded them with both genders. One does not need to socialize with a certain population to know that they are being hurt.
‘All of us see khawaja siras begging on the streets and that pains us. We worry about what will happen to them in their old age. They cannot have children so who will take care of them.
‘We worry that because they are shunned by society they will turn to criminal activities to support themselves. All human beings should have the right to good nutrition, education, marriage and the right to bear children.’
Did the scholars get it wrong?
The scholars have taken a very narrow interpretation of what a khawaja sira really is.
Publications around the world, including GSN, assumed they meant transgender people because that is the normal translation.
Khawaja sira are better known as ‘hijra’. They can be intersex but few actually are – for most hijra, their genitalia at birth is clearly male or female. But they live as trans women.
Some turn to sex work for survival but they also have an important cultural and spiritual role – for example blessing marriages.
Kahawja sira or khawaja saraa are the Urdu words for hijra, because the Hindi word hijra is considered derogatory in Urdu.
They are legally recognized as ‘third gender’ in Pakistan, one of the few countries with such an advanced law in the world.
NAZ Pakistan said: ‘Efforts need to be made to bring clarity among the general population on the differences between a “eunuch”, transgender (both men and women) and khawaja sira. It must be understood by all stake holders that khawaja sira is a culture and not a gender.’
What rights does the fatwa give?
The fatwa gives intersex khawaja sira more than just the right to marry.
They are eligible for inheritance, can have a Muslim funeral and be buried in a Muslim cemetery.
The fatwa condemns those who humiliate and abuse khawaja sira as ‘these people are disrespecting Allah’s creation’.
The clerics even say parents who abandon such children should be prosecuted.
It instructs khawaja sira to offer prayers five times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, pay zakat (or charity money) and do ‘haj’, a pilgrimage to Mecca.
What does NAZ Pakistan think?
NAZ Pakistan welcomed the rights awarded to intersex people and called on the Pakistani government and other religious bodies to follow this lead.
The organization emphasized this shows misunderstandings between biologically intersex people, trans people, gay people and khawaja siras. The khawaja siras are, in many respects, a cultural identity rather than a biological one.
NAZ Pakistan added: ‘We strongly disagree with Tanzeem Itehad e Ummat’s interpretation of the Koran and its teachings as they pertain to transgender and gay identified persons. All institutions, including religious, have an obligation to be accepting of diversity.’