Sex reassignment surgery is “not allowed” in Islam because Muslims in Malaysia are easily confused

The re-instated word on the legal status of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) within Islam continues to stand as “not allowed” on all counts except for hermaphrodite people. The ban on SRS was first introduced in 1983 but occasionally a re-issue of the fatwa is necessary mainly as a reminder to Muslim Malaysians that they’re being policed.

International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) law lecturer Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz is incredibly confident that Islamic jurisprudence is very clear on the issue of transsexualism. She goes on to say that “Islam’s position on this is so clear it is not even debatable today. Islam does not permit sex changes to avoid any confusion and problems that would crop up later”.

According to the law lecturer, “it would be confusing for Muslims to conduct burial rites for those who undergo a sex change when they die, with questions raised about whether the body should be treated as a man or a woman”.

Yes, it is not news to Muslim Malaysians that we are an easily confused lot. Or at least this is what Malaysians politicians, religious leaders, and other pundits seem to assume. But Muslim Malaysians are especially (and dangerously) confused when it comes to religious matters says this enlightened bunch. Of course this assumption is not only deeply patronising but also very offensive. It is important to be wise to this condescending talk of confusion, because popular Islamic discourse is used in Malaysia to portray Muslims as unknowing, naïve, and intellectually dependent on clerics and Islamic teachers to conveniently close all debate on religious matters. So, because you are easily confused you must not question or criticise what is purportedly set in stone ‘by Islam’.

The truth is, this potential gender ‘confusion’ brought upon by SRS has nothing to do with Islam. If anything, it’s not confusion but transphobia. A person can only allow themselves to be ‘confused’ because they choose to be ignorant about the realities of being a Muslim transgender and transsexual person in Malaysia. Ignorance or “confusion” is not an excuse when it comes to SRS and therefore whatever reason to disallow SRS will not hold water.

Other clerics and key figures in Islam are more progressive about transsexualism and transgender people. It is common knowledge that Iran has long been an unlikely capital of SRS ever since Ayatollah Khomeini recognised its significance for humanitarian reasons in 1978. Early Islamic scholars Ibn Abd Al-Barr, Ibn Qudamah, and Ibn Abbas wrote about transwomen in neutral terms, describing their mahram status amongst cis Muslim women.

It is important to note that the Qur’an does not mention the terms khunsa (hermaphrodites), mukhannis (biological males who identify as women and want a change of their biological sex) or mukhannas (biological males who identify as women but do not consider changing their biological sex).

According to some scholars however the Qur’an does have a reference to people who are neither male or female, ‘aqim (translated into English as ‘ineffectual’) in verse 42: 49 and 50.

So what’s this then about Islam being clear on its position against SRS when we have opposing opinions that are backed by religious discourse? And why is gender confusion an excuse when gender diversity is explicitly described in Islamic texts in neutral terms? What is clear is that there are differing opinions that can be used to support the right to SRS. All one has to do is to carefully examine the texts of the Quran, hadith, sunnah, and other scholarly texts.

In sum, the refusal to engage with the wealth of Islamic texts on gender diversity, some of which are fascinating and surprisingly progressive, only exposes prejudices against the experiences of transgender and transsexual people. Instead, conservative scholars like Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz come up with blanket justifications that serves only to highlight the pettiness that encumber the gender privilege of people like herself.

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5 thoughts on “Sex reassignment surgery is “not allowed” in Islam because Muslims in Malaysia are easily confused

  1. Salam, nice post and good point. Muslims should rely on ‘ulama in any complicated matters. But should really learn the basic Islamic teachings. That’s why learning Islam (not learning in general) is ‘wajib’ (compulsory) to all Muslim. Similar to our health. We doesn’t have to be doctor in order to be healthy. But the knowledge on how to be healthy Malaysians is part of our education in primary school. Is we faced a health complication, we will refer to the expert, i.e. the doctor. Similarly, if we face a ‘fiqh’ complication, we should refer to the expert in fiqh only and not the Qari (Quranic Reading Expert) or ordinary ustaz in our ‘kampung’. Mistakenly referred doctor will led to health complication and mistakenly referred ustaz will led to astray.

    • Thanks Hisham. I am rather used to this analogy but let’s think about how that analogy can be used in practice. You use the analogy of health condition, how about using transgender as a condition? Can a cis-gender doctor let alone person know what it is like to be transgender? Some trans gender people do not consult a doctor about their gender identity, so some turn to religious leaders who are 9.99% cis gender. Would a cis-gender religious leader know about the needs (other than spiritual ones) of a trans person?

      The expert of experience should be the person who experiences it. Basic Islamic teachings is very important but what if people use basic Islamic teachings to hurt a transgender person? This has happened many a time. One could argue that the abuser has not learned the spirit of Islamic teaching to be more peaceful and tolerant. But who would go out of their way to use Islamic teachings to protect trans people?

  2. i totally agree with the statement, srs is haram in islam, allah subhana tala has sent his book, and it is mention what to do’s and not, so why there is a confusion, transgender people says that they were trapped in the wronge body, but this is only there confusion, when a women is pregnant of 3 months an angel goes inside the mothers womb and ask allah subhana tala that what should be the gender of baby allah decide weather to make a baby male or female, then the angel follows the allahs command, when a ts says they were trapped in wronge body you are blaming allah, they say allah made a mistake, listen people allah is wise, allah is great he knows what is there on the earth, and what is there on the heaven, he has made a man to marry a women, and a women to marry a man, u cant blame allah and u cant play with his creation, think again your are just going near to jahannum, this is a short life were we have come to face the exam of allah, real life is after death, and its never ending, Assalamualaikum.

  3. jabir ali,
    You got to be kidding. Have you made any genuine effort to get to know any transgender individuals to make such a dumb ass statement? AMW was absolutely right when she said the expert should be the person who experiences it.

  4. jabir ali, i think u didnt read the QURAN properly. quran has also mentioned about such people who are niether male nor female. SO ALLAH has created transgenders as well and he knows the better reason. being a researcher on gender studies i have come to know thet transsexuals have a different brain structure and their bed nucleus of stria terminalis(BSTc) which is the brain are that forms the gender identity is like those of the opposite sex. this means that a male transsexual has a female brain structure and viceversa. so ALLAH has given them a brain opposite to their genital sex. i think u must enhance your knowledge and then comment on such a complicated issue. JAZAK ALLAH

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