Leave Nur Sajat alone, prominent Turkish scholar tells Malaysian authorities

Turkish scholar Mustafa Akyol says Shia Muslim jurisprudence is more equipped in dealing with gender identity issues.

KUALA LUMPUR: A prominent Turkish scholar advocating greater freedom in Muslim countries has urged religious authorities in Malaysia to apply the correct Islamic response to a transgender’s decision to change into female clothes during her recent umrah trip.

Mustafa Akyol said Nur Sajat, who sparked controversy and angry reactions from politicians and muftis after she posted a picture of her in the telekung (female prayer garb) at the Holy Mosque in Mecca, should not be made a target by the authorities.

“The fact that Nur Sajat went for umrah shows that she is devoted to her religion,” Akyol, a strong advocate of free speech in the Muslim world who has frequently criticised both the Islamists and secularists in his home country, told FMT.

“She also probably didn’t disturb any other fellow Muslims around her on holy ground. So, why not respect the way she identifies herself?”

Akyol said Muslims need to accommodate transgenders as part of the ummah.

The US-based author said in this context, the Shia corpus of Islamic jurisprudence appeared to be more practical in dealing with people who are caught in a conflict of gender identity.

“It is noteworthy that the Shia ulama have taken positive steps in this regard. That is why sex-change operations are not only legal but even encouraged in Iran,” he said.

Iran, a predominantly Shia nation, is the only Muslim country in the Middle East that gives trans citizens the right to have their gender identity.

In 1986, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatullah Khomeini, passed a landmark fatwa declaring gender-confirmation surgery and hormone-replacement therapy as religiously acceptable medical procedures.

Nur Sajat changed into female clothing while performing the umrah in Mecca, sparking angry reactions from Muslim bureaucrats.

Sajat, whose name on the Mykad is stated as Muhammad Sajad Kamaruzaman, is a prominent transgender entrepreuner who identifies as a woman. She sparked controversy after posting images of her wearing the telekung (female prayer attire) while in Mecca.

It prompted a strong response from Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs, who warned Sajat of action upon her return.

The travel agency managing Sajat’s umrah tour has since removed her from the holy city.

Mujahid said Sajat had undermined the image of Islam as well as Malaysia’s ties with the Saudi government. Mujahid and Islamic bureacrats including muftis insisted that Sajat perform the umrah ritual as a male, as she was still officially a man.

But Akyol said society must come to terms with the transgender community.

“Such a group of people exist, not just today, but also throughout history, for reasons we don’t fully know.

“Some people are born with a conflict with their physical fitra and psychological fitra,” he said, using an Arabic term which means original disposition.

“In other words, they have a man’s body, but they feel like woman. Or vice versa.

“I think the right Islamic response to this fact is not discrimination or persecution, but rather compassion and help,” said Akyol, a staunch critic of religious bureacrats in Muslim countries.

Akyol said he was aware of issues arising from recognition for transgenders.

“If a transgender woman tries to use a women’s bath, for example, this may cause disturbance for other women, but such cases can be regulated,” he said.

“But there should be no problem in a transgender person being a full member of society – and also a good Muslim.”

Akyol urged authorities not to take action against Sajat.

“I believe Nur Sajat must be left alone, not demonised, targeted or banned from visiting the holy Ka’bah,” he added.