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Transgenders in the light of Islam: An outlook of Kashmir Valley

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Allah is the “One who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases.” (Qur’an 3:6).

By: Tajamul Maqbool & Inamul Haq

The Qur’an is clear on genetic determinations by pointing out that Allah is the “One who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases.” (Qur’an 3:6). All shapes, that is, all physical traits including sexual characteristics and inclinations of a human being, come with the pleasure and permission of Allah.” Every child — male, female, or transgender—has the equal blessings of God and there is no justification for parents, courts, or governments to engage in gender-based ill-treatment.

The spirituality of transgenders is considered as authentic as that of men and women. The Prophet of Islam treated transgenders with respect, prohibited their ill-treatment, and had good things to say about spiritually-inclined transgenders. Believing that transgenders are dearer to God, some Muslim rulers appointed them as intercessors in royal palaces, including those of the Ottoman and the Mughal. Under the Mughal rule, transgenders were called Khawjasaras, a designation of respect and dignity. The Mughals employed transgenders as security officials in charge of female quarters. This role was assigned to transgenders in imitation of their historic role in holy cities where transgenders served as facilitators between men and women performing prayers and pilgrimage. In most parts of the Muslim world, transgenders commanded respect and were considered holy and special in the eyes of God.

The 18th-century British colonists, the self-righteous Anglican males of the self-assessed superior civilization, upon arrival in the Mughal-Muslim India, were repulsed by the sight of Hijras (transgenders) and baffled over why they were accorded so much respect in royal courts and other spheres of life. After deposing the Mughals, and in discharging the white man’s burden of civilizing the inferior races, the British colonists enacted the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 to declare what they called Eunuchs (transgenders) a criminal tribe (among many other Indian tribes) on the theory that certain tribes were genetically criminal and must be placed under state surveillance.

After the British left the sub-continent, the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed with respect to transgenders. However, the damage done to transgenders was irreparable. Transgenders lost social respect and various stereotypes have been built to humiliate and discount the transgender community. The transgenders were recognised in India by the census department. It was only in the 2011 census that their details were collected for the first time and their population was counted around 4.88 lakhs. As per 2011 census, there are 4,137 transgenders in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, transgenders were called with nicknames and were humiliated in the social structure due to their dressing. The Orthodox section of the Muslim society cited hadith that “men who dress as women and vice versa are cursed”. It is one of the saying of the prophet (SAW) but is not at all related to transsexuality. In reality, it is related to men who sneak into the women lodgings. Jean Sasson authored a book namely “The Princess” in which he says that in ancient time, there was a culture in Saudi Arabia, where men wore the burqa in order to attend the women gatherings. These men might be cursed by the prophet (SAW). There is no special dress for them, it is choice whether they wear women or men dress. They can marry and can live a life of a common man.

In 2016, a Fatwa was issued by 50 clerics affiliated with a little known Tanzeem Ittihad-i-Ummat that marriage with a transgender person is lawful. The Fatwa states that transgender having visible signs of being male or female can marry.

In the Kashmir Valley, the transgender community is struggling for their identity as well for their existence. Most of them were abandoned by their parents, abused, humiliated and forced to withdraw from public life. In the valley, the working assigned to transgenders is matchmaking, singing and dancing at weddings. But with the passage of time, they are losing their profession. A transgender namely Rashid Ahmed (Reshma) captured the hearts of young generation by his melodious voice. The Song Hay Hay Wasiye Yaarani Tadpaavnis captured the image of this neglected section in the valley and the young generation started recognising them.  However, the media of Kashmir also came into their support.

The Daily Greater Kashmir on 12th of November 2017 published a story on a Kashmiri transgender ‘Reshma’ to highlight the voice of the third gender in Kashmir. Reshma states that "Our community must be led by example. We should get the education and step into different professions which the third gender community is doing elsewhere in the world. If they can do it, why can't we?” A scholar from the Kashmir University namely Aijaz Ahmad Bund authored a book namely “Hijras of Kashmir” is the first ethnographic study of transgenders of the Valley. The abuses and other societal isolation that the transgenders are facing is clearly mentioned in the book. The book is itself a revolution that new generation came forward to fight against social segregation, which has the strong hold in the valley.

In order to do good for the society, it is important to know this isolated section and fight for their rights, because these are also an important section of society. The religion of Islam is the religion of humanity, equality, justice as well as the fraternity. However, the orthodox section curtailed their freedom and forced them to live in the darkness. The life of transgenders has been made hell by the fringe elements of the society, whose narrow-mindedness limits only to sex. The good news is that younger generation cultures and religions cannot stop them from getting to know one another, from living together, and from sharing both spaces and hopes. The need of the hour is to respect the transgenders and give them the equal place in the society. They are having potential and their potential can be used for the betterment of the society.

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