In an unprecedented religious pronouncement, or fatwa, a group of clerics in Pakistan have endorsed transgender marriage, declaring Islam allows transgender people to marry each other and normal people.
Locally referred to as Hijra, a transgender, or a trans person’s life is infinitely challenging and rife with discrimination. However with support from the society and state, their grief can be transformed into joy, triumph and most importantly, into a feeling of equality. Perhaps this is exactly what was on the mind of the clerical body identifying itself as the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat, Pakistan, which issued the recent verdict against the repressed and victimized community.
The law further stated, “Making noises at transgender people, making fun of them, teasing them, or thinking of them as inferior is against sharia law, because such an act amounts to objecting to one of Allah’s creations, which is not correct.”
The ruling comes across a breath of a fresh air in a country constantly fighting terrorism and religious extremism. Nevertheless, Pakistan has been on liberal progressive track since 2011 when it attempted to incorporate the cornered community into mainstream society by enforcing equal rights for transgender citizens. Transgender individuals were given the right to vote in 2011, and the right to inherit property and assets in 2012.
Expanding on the religious verdict signed by over 50 local clerics, transgender persons can marry according to the gender identifications or prominence on their body. For instance, the verdict allows a transgender person with prominent male features or indications to marry a transgender person with a characteristic feminine distinction.
The ruling strides further by allowing transgender individuals to marry normal men and women and vice versa.
The transgender population in the United States and European Union is approximately 700,000 and 5 million respectively. Defined as “neither men, nor women”, trans people have always struggled with identity. The discrimination against them is so fierce that they are barred from using public toilets in some US states. Those who express revulsion at the idea of trans people using public toilets are heard hurling slurs such as “sexual predators” or “pedophiles”.
Adding fuel to the fire, a controversial law, Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (commonly called House Bill 2), has recently been passed in the US state of North Carolina that requires people to use bathrooms according to the gender identified on their birth certificates, i.e., meaning only a man born as man will be able to use “Gents Toilet”. The only exception to this law is people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery that allows them to legally change their gender on their birth certificates. All in the all, the House Bill 2 law places an extensive amount of the population in jeopardy including transgenders, gays, bisexuals, and intersex people.
Naturally, the criticism on the latest legislation is pouring from the left, right and center. Even the Obama administration has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, asserting the legislation violates the federal law. In a letter issued to the state, the Obama administration outlined the law stating public schools are legally obliged to allow transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender.
Such discrimination is not only scary but also unhealthy. If we, as a society, continue alienating the community, we will be heading towards an unmistakable social and health disaster. For instance, barring trans people from using bathrooms will force them to suppress their basic body needs which healthcare providers advise against since delayed bathroom use can lead to a myriad of health complications including urinary tract infections, kidney impairment, and hemorrhoids. To avoid harassment, some transgender people have even been reported to desist from drinking during the day so as to avoid going to the bathrooms.
The discrimination just does not end there — in many countries including the US, transgender people are physically assaulted. Transgender women are punished and abused for “giving up being a man” while trans men are subjected to public and domestic violence and sexual abuse. Such incidents are mostly silenced, hence remain under-reported.
According to the report Being Trans, one in three women and 34% of trans people in the European Union have been the victims of violence in 2014. Trans people, continuing the 2015 version of the report, face far more discrimination, violence and harassment than lesbians, gays and bisexuals put together. As a result, trans people are forced to avoid certain locations and hide or disguise their true gender.
Amid such a dark scenario, the religious ruling from a country such as Pakistan that is internationally perceived “myopic, fundamentalist, and backward”, is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The fatwa, although admittedly far from being perfect, is certainly a step in the right direction and calls for a major overhaul on society’s perception of gender minorities. Furthermore, similar rulings from religious and state authorities coupled with moral support and a welcoming approach by society are required.