A group of clerics in Pakistan have issued a landmark fatwa (religious decree) allowing marriages between transgender people, locally called hijras, and outlining their social rights.
According to the decree:
- A transgender person having “visible signs of being a male” may marry a woman or transgender person with “visible signs of being a female” and vice versa. However, it adds that a transgender person carrying “visible signs of both genders” may not marry anyone.
- Robbing transgender people of their share in inheritance, teasing or humiliating them is unlawful in Islam.
- Parents who deprive their transgender sons and daughters of inheritance are “inviting the wrath of God.”
- All funeral rituals for a transgender person will be the same as for any other Muslim man or woman.
- All transgender persons must abide by the tenets of Islam in the same way as all male and female Muslims. Prayers, fasting, zakat and Hajj are obligatory on them too.
The decree is a milestone in a country where transgender people have almost no rights. In the absence of job opportunities, they are usually forced to either beg for work as sex workers to support themselves.
It has only been only a few years that the transgender community has started fighting for their rights.
Thanks to the relentless work and activism of Almas Bobby, leader of Pakistan's transgender community, the Supreme Court ultimately granted transgender people the legal right to list a third gender option — neither male nor female — on their national identity cards in 2011.
“Now that the Supreme Court has allowed us to have an identity card, we will fight for our rights. There is no other way to effectively address the concerns of the third gender without our having representation in Parliament,” said Shahana Abbas Shani, president of Pakistan’s She-male Association. “I hope to stand and serve as a representative of all under represented communities in our society.”
However, “The policy was more of a lollipop…a pacifier. While getting the ID card, one has to assert whether they are a transgender male or a transgender female. There are many who do not fit into either category. What about them? And even if they ascribe to the categories, when they try to get married, they are told that they cannot because they belong to the same sex,” said Qamar Naseem, who serves on the advisory council of the Trans Action Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alliance.
In May 2016, a transgender activist died in hospital after being shot multiple times by a suitor in the city of Peshawar. According to her friends, the hospital delayed her treatment while they decided whether to admit her in a male or female ward.
Farzana Jan, the president of Shemale Association of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, described how she had to run around looking for doctors and finding a suitable ward while people, mostly attendants with admitted patients, chased her and teased her instead of helping her in the hour of need. The male and female wards were also reluctant to have the injured transgender patient.