Posted by: Yuki Choe | April 7, 2008

Transgenders On Focus In Malaysia (Part 1): Mak Nyahs Have Not Abandoned God.

This is the first of two articles published by The New Straits Times Of Malaysia today.

New Straits Times – Persekutuan, Malaysia

Spotlight: Mak nyahs have not abandoned God

Khartini Slamah says it is a misconception that transgenders do not
believe in religion.

Recently, she had been given a Quran by her superior, who enrolled her
into a counselling session and asked her to bertaubat (repent).

At the Mak nyah Drop-in Centre of PT Foundation, mak nyahs have
religious studies, too.

But a marked difference is they are not asked to “repent”.

Instead, every Thursday and Saturday for two hours, Ustaz Muhamad
Kasim Mohd Osman from the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department
(Jawi) explains Islamic teachings to his students using simple terms
in a non-judgmental manner.

Mak nyahs learn about fardu ain – the fundamental obligations of an
individual, which include solat (prayers), zakat (tithes) and puasa
(fasting). They are also given guidance in self-motivation,
personality-building and personal development.

Response, ever since classes started four years ago, has been nothing
less than exceptional.

It’s a misconception that transgenders do not believe in religion,
says Khartini Slamah.

“I’m a Muslim and a transgender. I don’t feel a conflict.

I still believe in God. Many Malay mak nyahs believe in religion. We
pray five times a day, but we don’t have to tell people that. We don’t
have to.”

Twenty-five years ago, it was almost impossible to string the words
“Islam” and “transsexuals” in one sentence without creating some sort
of confrontation.

After all, it was in 1983 when the edict on the ban for Muslim males
to undergo sex change operations was declared.

However, 20 years of relentless efforts in getting the religious
authorities to engage in dialogues with transgenders bore fruit when
they decided to listen to the silenced community.

“When we talked to bodies like Jawi, Jakim (Department of Islamic
Development) and Pusat Islam 10 years ago, we were not entertained.
Now, at least they listen to us.

From then on, religious classes started in PTF, anti-vice raids were
not so hostile and a few issues were resolved, albeit only a handful
out of a sea of questions which remain unanswered till this day.

One of those seen as “solved” is the issue of bathing of the body of a
dead Muslim, which must be done by people of the same sex, except if
they are related.

In the case of transsexuals, the religious bodies taught them how to
bathe a body, so that they can do so for their friends who have died.

Issues that remain in the grey area include will writing, inheritance,
and burial (male and female Muslims have different tombstones), among
others.

Kasim says more can be achieved if the definition of mak nyah can be refined.

“The definition is still unclear and much debated on by any side. We
should define who a transgender is, what her characteristics are, what
the issues are, before we decide on the rulings that pertain to them.

“Relevant parties should hold a discussion on where transgenders stand.

“In the scope of Islam, God created all humans to be perfect.

“The society’s perception is that transgender is wrong and sinful in
religion and culture as well as values. This causes them to be viewed
as a group that is not normal. By right, they are normal.

To me, the society’s perception has to be corrected.”


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