Pakistan’s deeply stigmatised transgender community was only granted equal rights in 2012, and still faces widespread abuse and harassment. Homosexuality remains criminalised, meaning that many transgender persons still suffer legal discrimination.
A cohort of 50 Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa on June 26, declaring that the marriage of transgender individuals is acceptable in Islam. The fatwa also asserted that they have the right to inheritance and to burial in proper Muslim ceremonies, and came down harshly upon the degradation and abuse of the transgender community.
The fatwa was issued by clerics affiliated with Islamic organisation Ittehad-i-Ummat Pakistan.
According to Dawn, the religious edict stated that it was permissible for a transgender person who bore “visible signs of being a male” to wed a transgender person who bore “visible signs of being a female”. However, it added that individuals who showed visible signs of both genders were not allowed to marry.
It also stated that “normal men and women” could marry such transgender persons “as have clear indications on their body,” reported Reuters. Unfortunately, it failed to intimate what these indications were.
Further, the fatwa declared that transgender persons were entitled to their fair share of inheritance and that parents who deprived them of this were “inviting the wrath of god”, and called on the government to take legal action against such parents.
In an attempt to tackle societal views and treatment of the community, the fatwa termed ‘haraam‘ – or forbidden – any attempt to “humiliate, insult or tease” transgender people.
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”.