Entrenching Stigma: Malaysia’s Cross-Dressing Law

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2013 ended with another decision, somewhere in the world, to entrench the persecution and ostracisation of a minority group. I'm referring to a new syariah law introduced by the Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MUIP) in early December 2013, which would imprison for a maximum of one year or fine up to RM1000 (USD 304) a man who dresses like a woman, or a woman who dresses like a man.The deputy director of the Pahang Islamic Religious Department (JAIP) added that the ruling … [Read more...]

Mak Nyahs: Transgendered Muslims in Malaysia

Adam Shazrul. Image via the New York Times.

Mak nyah is the term that transgendered women in Malaysia use to identify themselves. Mak means 'mother', and nyah is derived from the literal meaning of 'running away' to refer to 'transition'. Khartini Slamah, a well-known 49-year-old activist and counselor to other transgendered women, explains how and why this term came about in the late 80s, in her chapter in the book Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice in South and South East Asia by Geetanjali Misra and Radhika Ch … [Read more...]

Facing Mirrors: Iranian Filmmaker Explores Trans* Identity in Iran

Facing Mirrors

Transgender identities and trans* embodiment are topics that are generally ignored within many communities, and the Muslim community is no exception, and transgendered people are oftentimes pushed to the margins.Art, film, music and other forms of artistic expression, unlike more fixed modes of understanding, can often open up a conversation that communities and individuals may be hesitant to explicitly explore. As I was cruising tumblr recently, searching for thought provoking and … [Read more...]

Welcoming Intersections: How Pakistan’s Recent Changes in Civil Rights Legislations Bring Us Closer Together

Last month marked a positive milestone in Pakistan’s civil rights legislations. Transgendered citizens, known as hijra or eunuchs, were allowed for the first time identify themselves as transgendered when registering to vote.The new legislation came after a much debated constitutional case in 2008 regarding the humiliation and ill treatment of transgendered persons in Pakistan.  The case has proceeded over a span of 20 hearings. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, in addition to cr … [Read more...]

Between Worlds: Jilbab and Transgender in Indonesia

It is a scene that wouldn't be unfamiliar in France or Belgium: a woman's hijab is snatched away by strangers on the street from her head despite her protest. She is told she shouldn't wear it, or rather, she has no right to because her wearing it mocks other women and femininity itself. But it is not an episode of Islamophobic rage that is recounted by Shuniyya Rumaha Haiibalah, but an incident in her native Indonesia that would later become the title of her best-selling memoir, Jangan lepas … [Read more...]

A Flash of Lightning: “Bijli”

The film “Bijli” opens with an off-key rendition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s haunting Sanu Ik Pal Chain Na Aave.  The poetry of the song describes a man who cannot find a moment’s peace without his beloved.  Some might consider this analogous to Bijli’s predicament as a woman trapped in a man’s body: constantly ill at ease without his other “half.”  Bijli is Fayaaz, the drag alter ego of this Pakistani-born dancer, who presently resides in New York City.This short film by filmmaker Adnan Malik … [Read more...]


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