Trans and Muslim: A Call To Solidarity
President Donald Trump has issued what he calls the Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States authorizing a sweeping ban on free travel from six majority Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The order introduced limits on visas, immigration, and refugee resettlement in addition to “extreme vetting” of those believed to be Muslim. This has included requests for social media passwords and cell phone searches, with an attempt to institute a “biometric entry-exit system” for those targeted by the ban traveling to the United States.
Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency cemented long-standing antagonism towards American Muslims, evidenced by a significant spike in hate crimes - including the murder of Ben Keita and a spate of mosque burnings. 2016 saw 101 anti-Muslim hate crime, a new record according to Southern Poverty Law Center.
Muslim communities are under attack. These changes will have the greatest impact for those already marginalized, including transgender Muslims. It is essential for non-Muslims to learn how to be in solidarity with Muslims through active listening and education. Here’s what three transgender Muslims have to say about the impact of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, and how to join in struggle with targeted Muslim communities.
What is the greatest misconception about transgender Muslims, and what is the correct way to think of it?
Kareema Fatimah: The greatest misconception about trans Muslims is that we don't exist. We are a minority within a minority. When people think of trans people they don't consider that there are Muslims who are trans. Muslim people also don't believe it either. It's important to be inclusive. If you exist, then there is someone else who exists just like you, but on another spectrum. If you're Christian, remember that there is a Jewish trans sister out there, there's a Muslim trans sister out there. There is a trans sister, a trans brother, or gender nonconforming person out there for every religion and spirituality, and agnostics and atheists.
Mukhannathun, people who have traits of both genders, have existed throughout time. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, called us Mukhannathun. He took us to a city in Medina so we would be safe to practice our religion unmolested - which means without harm and without fear. He told the folk of that time to let the mukhannathun live, worship, and be at peace. Our prophet knew we existed and didn't want to harm us over 1,400 years ago. I want to make a safe space that mirrors what they are doing in Chicago so we have a safe space in New York City so that LGBT Muslims can attend Friday prayers.
Maya Jafer: I’ve had to be more spiritual than religious to accept who I am, transition, and live out and proud as a Muslim transgender woman. Transgender Muslims, like most other Muslims, are not terrorists or fundamentalists. The majority of Muslims around the world love peace and just want to live their lives and be happy. According to The Holy Quran anyone who hurts or kills other people is not a good Muslim. Islam is a religion of peace, of kindness, of loving and sharing. A few people who want power use religion as an excuse, which happens in almost all cultures and religions.
Tynan Power: One of the greatest misconceptions about transgender Muslims is the belief that we simply don't exist. Another major misconception about transgender Muslims lies in the assumption that our struggle for acceptance and affirmation in our faith communities parallels the struggles of transgender Christians. Trans people of many faiths share some experiences, but there are some aspects of the trans Muslim experience that are less common. One significant difference is that, for most Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, our religious spaces -- and often community events -- are strictly gender segregated. Every time we enter religious space, we are faced with the same "pick a gender" dilemma most trans people only face when they enter a public restroom or locker room. This is less true in Ismaili religious space, which I'm told is less rigid about gender segregation. Often, though, gender segregation leads trans Muslims to self-isolate, avoiding religious community or else trying to hide their true selves within it.
One of the most striking differences in the experience of transgender Muslims is that, since 1979, there has been significant support for transsexuality in the major sects of Islam. However, the support trans Muslims enjoy is far from an ideal outcome. It relies on an understanding of gender that is deeply rooted in the gender binary, which leaves non-binary and non-transitioning trans Muslims out in the cold.
How would Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban from six majority Muslim countries affect transgender Muslims?
Kareema: Donald Trump's travel ban will make it more difficult for trans folk in the Muslim world to travel safety because they are going to be checking credentials in a way they weren't before. I'm going to Hajj this year, and it terrifies me to have to travel. What if I'm not able to get out of Sudan? It affects me and certain members of my family. It also affects our trans siblings who are in those countries and who constantly advocate and risk their lives to bring change in their parts of the world. This travel ban is going to impact them; they may not be able to get out of those countries.
Maya: It is probably hard for transgender Muslims from those countries to survive because of the laws and regulations. The ban would reduce opportunities transgender Muslims from those parts of the world to survive and thrive. The United States is considered the most powerful country in the world. It’s a melting pot where anyone can make their dreams come true. For transgender Muslims that may include being able to live their truth, transition, become an activist, or just get away from difficult circumstances. The ban would severely affect transgender Muslims.
Tynan: If it is allowed to be put into effect, Donald Trump's travel ban would directly impact transgender Muslims who are from the six Muslim-majority nations it names, if they are traveling to the U.S. The ban's real impact isn't limited to foreign-born Muslims, though. According to news reports, Muhammad Ali, Jr. has been detained twice when flying recently -- in February while returning from a trip to Jamaica and in March before boarding a flight within the U.S. If this can happen to a cisgender heterosexual Philadelphia-born American citizen, it can happen to any Muslim, from any country. The fears are only magnified for the trans Muslim population. As a white trans man, born in the U.S., with a name that does not immediately identify me as Muslim, I already endure invasive pat-downs almost every time I go through a TSA checkpoint. With the added scrutiny that could result from both the new administration's anti-Muslim and anti-trans policies, I am definitely concerned about traveling abroad -- and I know I have less to fear than the vast majority of Muslim Americans.
How can the non-Muslim trans community be in solidarity with all Muslims?
Kareema: If you know LGBT Muslims you need to include them. There are Muslims in this LGBT alphabet soup. I want non-Muslim LGBT folks to reach out to the Muslim LGBT community. When Ramadan comes, reach out. I have some friends who will take me out after 8:30 PM to eat. When my birthday came, It shocked me that non-Muslims actually Googled the proper way to say Happy Birthday to your Muslim friend. It was very personal and showed solidarity.
I am a member and employee of New York Trans Advocacy Group. I like the organization because they realize we exist. They realize that there are trans Muslims, gay Muslims, lesbian Muslims, queer Muslims - we exist. When you’re planning rallies and conferences this year remember that from Memorial Day to July 1st it's the only Muslim holiday. The larger Community-Based Organizations should create intersectional spaces for the LGBT Muslim population. They know we exist. I stepped to them because I wanted to make a group for LGBT Muslims but someone else was trying to do it. They should offer us a safe place to pray.
Maya: Transgender non-Muslims can educate themselves and raise awareness when a person or organization is misrepresenting the Muslim community by blaming them for terrorism and assigning a blanket label of terrorist. People should help educate and raise awareness. Interview transgender Muslims so the truth can contradict and erase the false notions about Islam. Educate yourself from the right sources, not Fox News. The more awareness that we are all human, we are all equal, and we are all one the better. The best way is just to live and let live, accept and respect each other for our differences.
Tynan: The most important way for the non-Muslim trans community to be in solidarity with Muslims is to be visible and vocal opponents of Islamophobia, whether it appears in policy, in rhetoric or in deed. Muslims need to know that non-Muslims have our backs and are ready to stand with us. In order to be able to be effective allies, it's important for non-Muslims to educate themselves about Muslims -- including the range of experiences and identities that fall under that heading. Many would-be allies reach out to local mosques, and while that is important, that is not always where you will find trans Muslims or queer Muslims or members of minority Muslim sects. It's important to remember that Muslims come in all ethnicities, all skin colors, and a wide range of ideologies. To have our backs, non-Muslims need to be prepared to stand with women in hijab and women who would never wear hijab, young trans women of color from Detroit and 90-year-old white grandmothers who were born in Albania.
For more information about supporting transgender Muslims, check out:
You may also be interested in our (free, on demand, online) Introduction to Transgender Liberation course, which includes discussion of intersectional identities, including transgender Muslims.
Kareema Fatimah Abdalah is a Muslim Political/Social Trans Activist and Community Advocate. She is also a Community Organizer, Public Speaker, Blogger, HIV/AIDS Educator -Tester, Group Facilitator, Outreach Worker and Community Navigator linking the Trans and Gender Non Conforming Community to Services. Kareema is currently Program Director of NYTAG(New York Trans Advocacy Group) a Core Member of Sylvia Rivera Law Project Movement Building Team where she is a Community Organizer and facilitator of the weekly meetings. In this time Kareema has organized events for the Office of the Mayor and City Council office and Human Rights Commission. She has been the group facilitator for breakout Housing Groups for the city council to talk about the increasing barriers the Trans and Gender Non Conforming Community faces with Housing, employment and education. Kareema also is a member of the Audre Lorde Project Trans Justice team where she is further advocating on behalf of the Trans and Gender Non Conforming Community and Organizing Community events to help assist in bringing forth positive changes and removing the stereotypes that has been placed on us as individuals of Trans Experience. She is also consistently working on HIV stigma campaigns and prevention to raise awareness around the pandemic it has had on People of Color and Trans. Kareema does extensive Outreach in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan including Harlem and Washington Heights. As a Blogger Kareema was chosen to write a case study for LGBTQI Muslim Youth by Barnardos in the UK and making written contributions to charities to assist the Youth. She has been invited to sit on many Community Boards, Panels and Discussions to speak on the specific needs of the Trans and GNC community. Kareema has met with the Senator to speak on Trans issues and implementation of a plan of action. She has relationships with NYC Public Advocate Office, Trans Legal Fund, and other elected officials throughout the City of New York and New York state.
Maya Jafer is an Actress, Bollywood Dancer, Holistic Dr. & Transgender Advocate. She is a post op. transexual woman from India, now settled in Los Angeles, as an U.S.A. citizen. She has 2 doctorates in Holistic Medicine, the first from Mangalore, Karnataka, India & the 2nd from Seattle, WA, USA. She has over 25 years of training & clinical experience in the Holistic Medicine Field. She experienced a spiritual “re-birth” after having done her ‘Gender Confirmation Surgery’ on February 10th, 2011. She was born & raised in a very strict, orthodox, religious, traditional Muslim family in Madurai, Tamilnadu, India. Her family has completely disowned her, due to her Gender Transition from male to a complete woman. Her belief system now is Spiritual, meaning; accepting of all belief systems or lack thereof. Her Buddhist Guru in India, gave her the name “Maya”, which is Buddha’s mother’s name. Her main passion is acting, dancing & advocacy. She hopes to make it “big” in these areas of life. She is also the subject of a multi award winning international documentary feature " Mohammed to Maya". She used to be Mohammed, she is now Maya ! The documentary has a focus on the spiritual, emotional, & physical aspects of her complete gender transition. It was taken around the time of her Gender Confirmation Surgery. Mohammed to Maya has screened in about 55 film festivals around the world. MOHAMMED to MAYA’s trailer is available on YOUTUBE and on its website MohammedtoMaya.com. She is also a co-star on the Golden Globe Award winning, Amazon Original Series ‘TRANSPARENT’. She is also a co-star on the Emmy Nominated, Transparent-Docu Series: ‘THIS IS ME’
Tynan Power is a transgender progressive Muslim faith leader and the Muslim liaison for TransFaith. He is the former co-coordinator of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) and currently serves on the organization's steering committee. He is the founder and faith leader of Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims/Masjid al-Inshirah, a progressive Muslim congregation in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Power also is a writer and editor, whose work has appeared in the Washington Post and in the anthologies Progressive Muslim Voices: Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada and All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim. As a religious leader, he is deeply committed to non-sectarian community building and encourages full participation and inclusion of those often traditionally excluded from congregational life and leadership, such as women and LGBTQ individuals.