Tuesday 5 March 2013

Syed Faiz on Inter-sex (Hijra) in Islam; A response to Gay Star News

Gay Star News published an article which slated a progressive Muslim in his attempt to liberate the Hijra community in India after years of being shunned from society. Here is a response to Jean Paul Zapata's article which was written on the foundations of mis-interpretations and strong stereotypes of the Asian and Muslim culture. 

Firstly there are a few words I have changed in the translation yet these are not major errors of my sort it is just to make things clear on my behalf.

It is alleged that this video has gone “viral on youtube”.  This is an over sensationalised statement when one takes into account that the video has only received 436 views and the majority of these are since the article has been written. The paltry level of views received would hardly constitute viral. 

The term ‘Hijra’ which is used to describe ‘Intersex’ (हिजड़ा) and not ‘Trans’ people. The definition for intersex people according to the Oxford dictionary is “the abnormal condition of being intermediate between male and female; hermaphroditism.”

The official definition of ‘trans’ however is “a person who strongly identifies with the opposite sex and may seek to live as a member of this sex especially by undergoing surgery and hormone therapy to obtain the necessary physical appearance (as by changing the external sex organs)”.  The definitions however clearly show that the difference between a transsexual and an intersex individual is that an intersex person has an “abnormal” condition at birth unlike ‘trans’ who, as we know, may alter their physical self later on.

It is interesting that no objection has been raised against the Oxford English dictionary referring to intersex as ‘abnormal’.  One wonders if this is because there is little media interest in showing the official English dictionary to be bigoted in any way when there are much richer pickings to be had by misinterpreting and sensationalising what is in essence a very positive message for intersex people. It is also important to clarify that Mr Syed says that an intersex persons genes are a ‘defect’. There is a clear difference between calling a person a defect and calling a persons gene a defect. The video when translated clearly shows that Syed is not calling the intersex individual a defect at all. When this matter was raised with Syed Faiz he states” I have not called eunuch as defect but I said some hormonal / psychological change or in general term for urdu speaking person as "defect" and i called defect not of person.” In his statement he further adds “I have not called a eunuch as a person to be defect”.

The writer of the article is incorrect on countless things. Another reporter for Gay Star News  Omar Kuddus states “Hijra, a slang term in Hindu, is the only word to describe a trans individual.” The term Hijra cannot possibly be the “only word to describe a Trans individual” as this term describes Intersex people not Trans people.  It is shockingly worrying that a person who professes to have an official and expert opinion in this area does not know the difference between these two very different communities. The nature of this article has caused attention from italian sites too Musalmani Omosessuali in Italia also raised concerns about the issue. 

The description of the IRC is indeed correct as the IRC defines its self as an:
“Islamic Research Centre (IRC) is a Non-profit organization, established in 2001. IRC aims to convey the true message of Islam (Peace) to Muslims as well as Non-Muslims with wisdom & beautiful preaching and to remove misconceptions about Islam among the masses and to provide social and welfare assistance to poor and needy in the field of Education, Health & Charity.”

Websites such as the Harvard Business School state that “In March 2008, Harvard Business School appointed Anjali Raina as Executive Director of the India Research Centre.” . This therefore shows its credibility as an organisation. The question asked by a member of the audience is “how can Intersex/ Hijra who are neither male nor female fit into Islam in terms of Sharia Law? This question is answered quite thoroughly and progressively by the scholar without any misconceptions or any wrong hadiths etc. 

“Syed continued, emphasizing that 'They are Allah's creations, expect there are some physiological and hormonal difficulties. They have changes in their bodies, what we call "gene defects" in our language.'” 

The scholar did make this comment but the writer of the article appears to firstly give no credit to the fact that English is not the Faiz Syed’s first language.  The tone and use of the word defect in this video has no negative connotations attached to it.  In fact, the purpose of him saying this is in response to the question of how people become intersex.  This comment is not made due to the scholar’s trans-phobia as this article does not deal with Tran-sexuality it clearly deals with intersex a biological and physical condition a person is born with.
In the interview, Syed quoted the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, also called the Hadith, to support his position on the Hijra community.

Syed is misinterpreted by Jean Zapata again when he states that the scholar uses a hadith “to support his position against the hijra community” as Syed states “they are not bad, but the Hadith says that those who are "dirty", you must get rid of from your home, house and village.” Yes, Syed does in fact say this and I can also accept the fact that this in a Hadith.  Yet this Hadith is again not talking about Trans people, it is about intersex or to the nearest Arab to English translation talking about “effeminate men” (mukhannath).  Siraj Scott argues in his book ‘Islam and homosexuality’ that “this incident is not self-explanatory”.  He explains further about when this incident happened. One day the Prophet’s wife was with a Mukhannath (intersex). 
The intersex called Hit was talking graphically about the physical appearance of a particular women and the prophet overheard this. On hearing this, the prophet said “do not admit him into your female’s presence and therefore he was kept out”. As you can see this hadith is in fact true depending on how strict one wants to be with translation yet the prophet is referring to particular type of Intersex people who talk graphically about women and therefore they are “dirty” in there speech. It would be an over generalisation for Syed to state just because one Mukhannath was expelled from the prophets house then all Hijras are to be treated the same. Therefore Syed clearly states that “only the dirty ones are forbidden”.

“Because of their defect they are not like, or act like, men or women, and because of that they work day and night sexually.” This is a heinous misquote as what is actually said is that Hijras are capable of working very hard day and night and this may have some link to the fact that they may have excessive energy which they may not be able to release sexually.  There is no link made to Hijras and working in the sex trade.  In fact, the scholar states that they should be kept within society as an integral part as it is only when they are caste out that they are forced to turn to immoral and dirty acts.

In many predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, homosexuality is considered a crime punishable by death. Some countries such as Iran go so far as to encourage sex changes for homosexuals to force them to have a gender-normative sex life.

In regards to the comments about “predominantly Muslim countries” and there legal status on homosexuality. I feel that it is inappropriate and futile for me to respond to this as this is completely out of context as the article is firstly talking about India, secondly about trans (despite it misinterpretation of the term Hijra) and thirdly Syed is not discussing the issue of homosexuality he is discussing the topic of Intersexuality within Sharia law.
The BBC article reads: 'The government even provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance and a sex change is recognized on your birth certificate'. As an orientalist and sympathiser of Edward Said. I would like to point out that this country provides trans people with rights to sex change etc. Yet, as soon as countries such as Iran take the same stance it is seen as a trans-phobic action by the government.

The interpretation of the message in this video has been grossly misconstrued.  The term Hijra has been misinterpreted as referring to Trans and gay people when in fact it refers to Intersex people.  There seems to be a preconceived notion that all Muslim cultures are the same so the argument switches between the treatment of gay people in Iran, Nigeria and Yemen to the life of Hijras in India is dealt with in the same breath when in essence they have no link.  The broad brush generalisation of cultures is not only presumptuous it is also dangerous.  I would encourage the editor to have this video translated verbatim by a qualified interpreter and printed in full.  It will then become clear that this is an extremely positive and forward thinking stance on the subject of intersex people.  The scholars final words are that intersex people have the same status under Islam and before God as any other Muslim and for those that consider themselves to be like men should be given a place with the pious men and those that consider themselves more like women should be given a place with the pious women.  Finally, if the subject was researched, you would see that in India, Hijras have a sacred status and are thought to have God-like powers. 

When asked to clarify who this video was about and what was his personal belif about Hijras he Said clarifies “They are human being with equal rights in society and society should not be treated them badly as is done in general with these people and due to our bad treatment they form different community, and about the Hadith which I said is about those eunuch which are bad should not be kept for working in our home (but it does not means that they should be completely boycotted), and my video was for clarifying doubt about eunuch in society not to degrade them. The video has nothing to take with transgender, lesbian, gay or others. 

On confronting Gay Star News about the article the editor/director has since published another article clarifying the errors made by the reporters and published the this article on behalf of Imaan an LGBT  Muslim organisation and my self. 

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