Transgender Day of Remembrance, through the lens of a Trans Muslim.

By the Girl in the Green Hijab

Trigger warning: topics of violence, rape, sexual abuse, police brutality, abandonment, murder, and death.

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, As-salaamualaikum siblings. My name is Uma and I am here today to talk to you about the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Briefly, I would like to say that I am a 47 year old, American revert who happens to also be transgender. I started my transition when I was 28 years old and later reverted to Islam. (More specifically I identify as Third Gender and Female presenting.) My pronouns are She/Her/They/Them.

The International Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance that falls on the 20th of November. On this day, we honor the memory of transgender women and men whose lives were lost in acts of anti-trans violence. Generally speaking, in the Muslim world, trans folks are marginally tolerated. Many of us live in fear of sexual abuse, police brutality, abandonment of family, and unempathetic or uncompassionate care from the healthcare system.

I would like to start this conversation with some startling statistics that have been compiled by TGEU (Transgender Europe). This data was compiled from January 2008 up until September 2020. During this time period there has been over 3664 murders of transgender and gender-diverse people worldwide. (Remember these are documented and registered deaths, there are many more that go unreported and undocumented!) When it comes to violence against transgender identified persons, we can narrow down the motives for violence into three specific themes or categories – Sex Work, Race, and Migrant status.

Of the over 3664 murders of trans folks, 60% were sex work related, 97% of the targets were trans women or trans feminine presenting individuals in the USA (as in most nations), 89% were trans women of colour. The areas with the highest murder rate of trans folks are Asia and the Americas, with Brazil ranking #1.

The age ranges of the victims have been documented as being as young as 8 years old and ending somewhere around the age of 80, with the median age being 30 years old. (That is way too young to die!) If you are wondering where most of the violence act occur – 41% of attacks happen in the street, 21% happen in the Trans person’s residence, and sadly 6% occur on a Highway, Freeway, or Expressway.

There is very little to no data for violence against trans persons in the majority predominately Muslim nations. We do have some data for which Muslim majority nation ranks #1 in violence/murder. Coming in first place is Pakistan with 70 documented cases (however we know for a fact that number can easily be tripled) followed by Turkey with 54 cases. There have also been documented reports in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Central Asian Republics, and of course within the Muslim populations of the UK, USA, and Canada. Now let’s briefly discuss transgender folks and Islam. I am not an Islamic scholar so please excuse any of my errors for only Allah truly knows best.

Citing an Editorial published in June 2020 by Aisya Aymanee M. Zaharin & Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, there is no direct reference in the Holy Quran prohibiting the changing of one’s gender. If you believe Allah is perfect and does not make mistakes – this means They create each person with perfect love and perfect intention. If you follow this logic that Allah created all people “as they are” then you must also logically believe that Allah created trans people. We do not say people who were born with a cleft palate, those who undergo amputations, and people who have plastic surgery are haram, so why is this only applied to people who alter their birth sex? Remember gender is in the brain, sex is determined within seconds of birth and assigned to you only by your visible characteristics to the attending physician. Why is correcting your physical appearance to match your internal gender haram? While surgically fixing a cleft palate or having a rhinoplasty for “correcting a deviated septum” is acceptable?

Now let’s look at the Arabic terms, Mukhannith (an effeminate man who behaves like a woman), Mukhannith (a person who physically changed their biological gender), and Khuntha (an intersex person). These terms are used in the Hadiths and the Holy Qu’ran DOES clearly recognize that there exists people who are neither male or female and/or “non procreative” (aqima, iqam, and uqama- which can be translated as infertile, barren, sterile, and ineffectual.)

Surah 42 Ash-Shura (The Consultation), Ayat (verses) 49-50. “The dominion of the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah. He creates whatever he pleases. They grant females to whomever, they grant males to whomever, or He grants a mix of genders and causes whomever He pleases to be barren.” Allah is all knowing and all powerful. Let us not forget that there are fatwas that have been issued by Islamic councils and bodies in Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan granting transgender folks visibility, some equality, and rights to marriage/inheritance.

I would like to end this conversation with this – we need to remember the Muslim Transgender folks that have been victimized solely for expressing who they were and how they lived their authentic lives.

Musa, age: 14, Murdered on April 4th, 2020 in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Musa was physically and sexually abused then beaten to death in front of their Guru’s (mentor’s) house.

Mira, age: 43, murdered on July 4th, 2020 in Jakarta, Indonesia. A group of 5-6 men attacked Mira after someone accused her of stealing a wallet and cell phone. The men beat her with a wooden club, poured gasoline on her, and burnt her alive in her home.

Heerawas, age unknown, murdered on September 5th, 2020 in Jhelum, Pakistan. Heerawas was beaten and her body was dumped in a well.

Aysu Mammadli, age 28, Murdered on June 18th, 2020. Aysu was a sex worker and her killer stabbed Aysu 11 times in the head, neck, heart, and back- THEN he called her friends and phoned his family to confess to the crime.

Piya, age: 20, Murdered on August 18th, 2020 in Kamoke, Pakistan. Piya was shot at close range by a group of men in her home.

Nida Chowdhury, age unknown, an artist/dancer, murdered on August 27th, 2020 in Muzaffar Garh, Pakistan. Shot and left for dead.

Gul Parana, age: 35, an artist/dancer, murdered on September 8th, 2020, location unknown. Shot and killed – her Transgender friend was also shot but somehow managed to survive.

Saad, age 32, artist/dancer, murdered on September 10th, 2020 in Swabi, Pakistan. Saad was murdered by their 14 year old brother after returning home from dancing at an event in Rawalpindi.

These are only a few of the many reported cases of violence against trans folks – it is the revictimisation by the police and coroners that allows the majority of others to go undocumented. In closing, I thought it would be fitting to end with a du’a.

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahi. Oh Allah, forgive every dead person who does not find someone to pray for them. Surely we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. Ameen.