Transgender and Muslim in Pakistan
By Aun Shahid
Faith is a tricky matter in a society like Pakistan where it is not one's private affair. Faith is often used as a weapon against people who do not follow the path set by a social group or society more generally as 'normal.'
Here, I will talk only about Muslim faith because it is the dominant faith tradition in the country. For transgender persons, it is near to impossible to justify themselves as believers of Islam. Their families are the primary source of pressure they receive in this regard. Many have to flee from their homes.
Transgender men, however, are mostly made to somehow adjust in homes because of the fears attached to female body. Inside those homes, they have to persistently justify how their identity is consistent with the dominant faith tradition.
In these material conditions, there are some who turn to atheism. I met one transgender man (Mr. S) who sought an asylum in Sweden and ran away. He believes that religion is a social construction and is used as a tool by the state to curtail individual's freedom. He claims to be an anarchist as well. His arguments are mainly against Islam even though he was brought up in a Muslim household.
Another transgender friend of mine (Mr. N) who belongs to a Muslim family says that he believes in Islam because he is raised in a Muslim house. However, he also says that he does not believe that Islam is superior to other religious traditions. In fact, he sometimes question some of the decrees in Islam.
Mr. N avoids conversations on religion in general and believes that all religious traditions convey a message of peace and acceptance and wherever such a message is conveyed we should accept it. He too expresses his hope to flee to a more "liberal country" one day and his family wants the same for him because his house is located in a very conservative area.
I have another very close friend (Mr. K) who is a transgender man. His family does not accept him at all for they believe he is engaged in an "anti-Islamic practice." He lives independently because his family would always force him to "act like a girl." He is a believing Muslim who prays, reads about religion, but who argues that the decrees of Islam are consistent with his identity.
When I asked Mr. K how his faith helps him go through his situation every day he said, "My faith allows me to be what I am. It makes me stronger. Islam is not a stereotypical religion and it is always open to proofs and answers." He argues with his family as well on the basis of what he has found but his efforts have been in vain.
I am a transgender man myself with a degree in theology. I am a believing Muslim and I personally agree with my friend that Islam is not necessarily what the orthodoxy represents. Islam allows debate and historically speaking, there is a lot of emphasis on what we now call "modern education."
However, people are unaware of their own rich history because of they turn to orthodox Muslim clerics for answers. The same clerics have turned Pakistan into a very conservative society especially for transgender people.
Recently, the parliament, with the consent of those clerics, has passed a bill which will ensure educational, health and legal rights to transgender persons. It is observed that the bill is so progressive that it will turn Pakistan into a more liberal country than even Netherlands, England and USA (except California) for transgender people! We now hope that it will eventually lead to awareness among masses as well.
One of my friends (Mr. M) and I are also running a group of transgender men on whatsapp where we try to answer questions related to Muslim faith. We also plan to start a group soon by the name of HOPE (Have Only Positive Expectations).
One of our goals behind this group is to provide help and support to transgender men regardless of their faith. We especially want to answer questions for those who are struggling to reconcile their identity and with their faith.
Aun Shahid is a transgender man. He finished his MA in theology and religion in 2015 and is into teaching and research. His area of inquiry is philosophy of art and religion. At personal level, he also explores the subject of religion and gender.