Lahore: 50 Muslim clerics of the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat in Pakistan issued a fatwa on June 26, declaring that the marriage of transgender individuals is acceptable in Islam. However, this fatwa was not without its set of qualifications as only those transgenders who have “visible signs of being a male” could marry a woman or a transgender with “visible signs of being a female” could marry a man.
Underlying this qualification is a certain degree of antipathy towards homosexuality as the clergy has historically been hostile to the rights of homosexuals. This is further perpetuated by the broader feelings of homophobia that are prevalent in Pakistani society, and which have forced the country’s gay community to live in constant fear and secrecy. The plight of transgenders is similar to that of homosexuals notwithstanding that in the case of certain transgenders, the two are the same.
Hence, it is indeed good that, at the very least, a debate has been started regarding the rights of transgenders, and this can pave the way for more meaningful debate that addresses homophobia and antipathy towards transgenders in Pakistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zia-ul-Haq Naqshbandi, the chairman of Ittehad-i-Ummat Pakistan, said, “We need to accept them as God’s creation too. Whoever treats them badly, society, the government, their own parents, are sinners”.
The deeply stigmatised transgender community was only granted equal rights in 2012 and homosexuality remains criminalised. As a result, transgender individuals and couples face abuse from mainstream society, receive insufficient protection from authorities – even facing harassment from the police – and are often forced into begging, prostitution or dancing to earn a living. Last month, protests erupted when a transgender woman was shot in her home as well as when a transgender activist died after being refused medical treatment after being shot. Over the past two years, over 45 transgender people have been killed in the Peshawar region alone.
While this fatwa is some measure of good news, transgender activists say that the document takes too narrow a view of the transgender identity and does not address the aspect of homosexuality or the rights of individuals who have undergone sex change surgeries. “I don’t quite understand it. They’ve said trans men can marry women, and trans women can marry men. The transgender identity is nowhere,” said Bindiya Rana, a rights activist based in Karachi.
Activists also say that this fatwa, which is not legally binding, is not nearly enough. “This is the first time in history that Muslim clerics have raised their voices in support of the rights of transgender persons,” said Qamar Naseem, another transgender activist. “But we have to go further for transgender people and the country needs to introduce legislation on it”.