Fifty Pakistani clerics based in Lahore have issued a fatwa, or religious decree, declaring that transgender men and women have the right to marry. The religious decree also provides the transgender community with inheritance and funeral rights under Islamic law.
The move has been cautiously welcomed by the transgender community.
The fatwa was issued by the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat Pakistan. The body’s chairman, Zia-ul-Haq Naqshbandi, said he wanted a ruling from Islamic scholars to prevent discrimination against Pakistan’s transgender community.
“We need to accept them as God’s creation too. Whoever treats them badly, society, the government, their own parents, are sinners,” Naqshbandi said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“It is permissible for a transgender person with male indications on his body to marry a transgender person with female indications on her body,” the fatwa stated. “Also, normal men and women can also marry such transgender people as have clear indications on their body.”
However the religious document did not detail what these “indications” are or lay out the criteria to determine male or female characteristics.
Activists have pointed out that the fatwa takes a narrow view, where sub-categories within the transgender identity have not been addressed. Naqshbandi said that the edict doesn’t deal with the rights of those who have undergone a sex-change operation.
The edict also declared that a transgender person possessing both male and female “indications” cannot marry another transgender individual.
In recent years, the Pakistani government has implemented legal reforms to extend rights to the transgender community. In 2011, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that transgender individuals must be allowed to vote. A year later, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender individuals have equal rights, including the right to inheritance and employment opportunities.
Despite the legal victories, transgender Pakistanis continue to face discrimination, mockery, and isolation from mainstream society. Many struggle to find employment and resort to begging, prostitution or dancing at weddings to make ends meet.
They have also been targets of physical and violent attacks. Last month, a 23-year-old transgender woman named Alisha died after delays in her treatment at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan. Alisha was in critical condition after being shot, but the hospital staff objected to placing her in either the male or the female ward, according to her friends.
Despite insufficient protection from Pakistani authorities, activists have acknowledged the new fatwa and urged the government to codify the non-binding decree.
The fatwa explicitly stated that demeaning or harassing transgender people is a crime under Islamic law.
“Making noises at transgender people, making fun of them, teasing them, or thinking of them as inferior is against sharia law, because such an act amounts to objecting to one of Allah’s creations, which is not correct,” the edict said.
Roshni Kapur is an independent journalist based in Singapore.