Peshawar: Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has endorsed a groundbreaking decree by religious leaders allowing marriage between transgender persons, saying the right to marry was nothing new. 

“All that the 50 muftis did, was to highlight it,” Chief Research Officer and Director General Research at the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr Inam Ullah told News Lens Pakistan. CII is a religious body authorised by the Constitution to advise the country’s parliament on the compatibility of laws with the Sharia or the Islamic Law.

The Fatwa or decree allowing transgender persons to marry each other was passed by Sharia Board of Pakistan comprising 50 muftis – religious leaders.  The Fatwa, seen as a landmark development promoting the rights of transgender people by the civil society and rights bodies, said that families that abandon gender variant children because of their gender identity were “sinning” and “would have to answer God for ill treatment of their transgender children.”

The Fatwa also sought to address widespread discrimination and persecution of trans-people in the Pakistani society by emphasising that “discriminating against transgender people is a big sin and Muslims should refrain from it.” It said bullying and hate crimes against transgender people should be are sins and should be avoided.

But perhaps more importantly, it said Muslims should not avoid participating in the funerals of transgender persons. In a country where revulsion – reserved for and reinforced by societal attitudes – turn transgender people into social pariahs, compelling communities to avoid attending their funerals, the decree’s assertion is seen by rights groups as significant.

“The act [to avoid funeral prayers for a transgender person] has a huge symbolic impact, strengthening their status as something sinful and profane in the eyes of people,” said Qamar Naseem, Coordinator for Blue Veins, a non-profit that advocates transgender and LGBT rights. “The emphasis in the decree that transgender people are as entitled to prayers and forgiveness as regular Muslims will have a huge impact in restoring their humanity by breaking the myths and lies around their existence.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a landmark judgment recognising transgender as a third sex. Under the ruling, the Pakistan National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was required to introduce a third category of sex on the National Identity Card (NIC) where a transgender would record biological preference. However, the judgement has yet to come fully into force, with trans-women still mentioned as “male” in their identity cards.

Violence against transgender community is rampant in Pakistan. In June this year, Alisha, a 23-year-old trans-woman died in Peshawar after she was shot allegedly by her boyfriend. As she lay dying in a hospital, in need of immediate medical attention, doctors agonised over whether to admit her into a male or a female ward.

After a series of attacks that saw 45 transgender killed in the past two years, the provincial government announced a fund of Rs 2m in the annual budget this June for skills training and support to the vulnerable community. According to the Shemale Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are 50,000 trans-people living in the province.

“Their primary cause of psychological and physical distress emanates from the exploitation of their non-conformist sexuality by the community and state machinery,” says a study titled “Transgendered Identity: Shame, Honour and Sexuality, conducted by Aawaaz, a DFID supported programme to strengthen civil society initiatives. “A transgender’s economic activity for sustenance is either to perform and dance at various ceremonies or beg on the roads. Trading sex for money is an activity vehemently denied by all transgender. Not surprisingly, these are unexpected methods of earning a livelihood, given the insensibility and insensitivity of state and society. With no access to education, earning opportunities considered honourable are scarce.”

Maulana Maqsood Ahmad Salafi, the Central Chief Organiser for Mutahida Jamiat Ahle Hadees Pakistan said that he welcomed the Fatwa. He said transgender were a vulnerable segment of the society and it was a “good gesture” on the part of religious law organisations and scholars to highlight the rights and plight of the transgender.
Farzana Jan, 32, a trans- woman and President of TransAction Alliance, said she was happy to see religious leaders asking the government to formulate a policy for their protection and well-being.

However, when it comes to marriage, said Jan, trans-women don’t like marrying trans-men because “their souls are same.” She explained that Khunsa or intersexuals – transgender born with both female and male sexual organs and characteristics – don’t like marrying trans-women or men. She asked what will be the future of Khunsas.

“The souls of transgender are the same but they don’t want to marry each other,” said Jan. “As much as I am encouraged by the Fatwa, I know that a society that doesn’t like seeing the transgender in streets will not accept them into their homes as husbands or wives.”


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