Friday, December 25, 2009

Malaysian Religious Persecution Of Transgender And Transsexual People


Putik Lada by NIZAM BASHIR
Should Malaysia reconsider its approach and accord more latitude to Muslim transsexuals? A Muslim country like Iran has done so – but such a move here will lead to another host of questions.
WHEN an Islamic hardliner like Zulkifli Noordin says that “we should help” Fatine, it is certainly time to sit up and pay careful attention to what is being said.
No doubt, “help” is being offered, but the offer is only on the table if Fatine is a hermaphrodite or an inter-sexed person that is to say someone born with physically ambiguous sexual characteristics (“hermaphrodite”). In all other instances, Fatine is on “his” own.
It is easy to see where the Kulim MP is coming from. Fatine is a Muslim and as such he is subject to the syariah laws in Malaysia.
If he is a hermaphrodite, no issue arises as Syariah laws recognise hermaphrodites as a natural phenomenon and even enable them to opt for sexual reassignment surgery (“SRS”) – if they elect to do so.

The reverse, however, is true if Fatine is a transsexual – that is to say someone who identifies with a physical sex different from his biological one. He would not be entitled to SRS and may even be subject to prosecution for “cross-dressing” especially when “cross dressing” is coupled with “immoral purposes”. That is how the law stands for Muslim transsexuals in Malaysia.
(The position is not too dissimilar for non-Muslim transsexuals in Malaysia. While there may not be any religious rulings against them, there is still Section 21 of the Minor Offences, 1955 to contend with where a slew of possible offences await the unwary. This can range from “merely” loitering late at night to something graver like prostitution.)
Not so in Iran. There, Muslim transsexuals are not subjected to any form of prosecution so long as the individual undergoes SRS and to facilitate this, the Iranian government even provides financial aid, if aid is required.
Crucially, post-SRS, Iran even recognises the individual’s post-SRS gender and the change is reflected on the birth certificate.
This has been the religious experience in Iran since the mid-1980s courtesy of Maryam Khatoon Molkara’s successful personal appeal to Ayatollah Khomeini for a religious edict in her favour.
Today, if we go by statistics alone, SRS has proven to be very popular for transsexuals in Iran and Iran is now second only to Thailand in terms of SRS carried out worldwide.
The real question however is whether Malaysia should reconsider its approach and accord more latitude to Muslim transsexuals in Malaysia merely because a Muslim country like Iran has done so?
From a religious perspective, the answer to that question appears fraught with difficulties.
The powers that be will not blindly apply Iran’s religious edicts. Iran is after all homelands to the Shias, the Ayatollah a Shia religious cleric and crucially, Malaysia no longer considers Shias to be a legitimate Islamic sect.
There is also the not-so-small matter of dealing with the religious edict (fatwa) issued in 1983 by the Conference of Rulers where matters like SRS and cross-dressing have been prohibited.
Nevertheless, from a legal perspective, proponents of the question would likely point out that transsexuals must be accorded the right to live as full a life without interference from the State so long as no harm is occasioned to others.
However, let’s not get too caught up in the intricacies of both arguments – religious or legal – and let’s merely look at the practical repercussions that may arise from changing Malaysia’s present stance on transsexuals.
Obviously, it means that transsexuals – Muslims or otherwise – would be more assured of their place in society.
It also means that society as whole would need to grapple with finding answers to the following questions:
1. Can a post-op transsexual get married to someone of his/her previously identified gender?
2. Can a pre-op or post-op transsexual adopt a child?
3. How should religious rites be carried out for deceased Muslim transsexuals? Should it be carried out by male religious clerics or women? Would you answer change post-op?
4. Which toilet should a pre-op transsexual go to? Male or female? Would your answer change post-op?
5. Can a male police officer conduct a body search of a pre-op transsexual male or can the individual insist on a female police officer? Can the female police officer decline conducting the body search?
6. Should a transsexual be permitted to reflect his or her post-SRS identities on his or her birth certificate or identification cards? If your answer was no, would your answer change if this was your child?....
ORIGINAL ARTICLE

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