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As a Muslim, I Believe There Is No Room for Transphobia in Islam

10/02/2015 05:01 EDT | Updated 10/02/2016 05:12 EDT
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Rainbow flag symbolizing and celebrating gay rights and freedom of expression.

The chairperson for the Edmonton Catholic school board expressed anger over fellow trustee Patricia Grell's speaking truth to power. Grell recently leaked a document, which mentions that gender change violates Catholic teachings. While some Muslims may ascribe to such teachings, a careful reflection reveals there is no room for transphobia in Islam.

The document, reported by the Edmonton Journal to have been drafted by the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta, indicates that "humans are 'obliged to regard (their bodies) as good and to hold (them) in honour since God has created (them)... Therefore, to attempt 'gender transitioning' is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

This is concerning especially in light of statements made by another trustee, Larry Kowalczyk, who despite having no professional expertise on the issue expressed that, "I see that as a mental disorder, my faith sees it as a mental disorder ... God has not made a mistake in the gender of me, or you, or anyone else."

Some Muslims follow similar teachings when they quote Qur'anic verses like 30:30 to assert that the nature in which Allah created human beings should not be changed. Recently, a principal in Mississauga wrote a guide wherein she states that "you cannot be a boy if you are born a girl and you cannot be a girl if you are born a boy. Allah does not make mistakes."

Both conservative Muslims and Catholics talk of mercy and compassion, but it seems they draw the limits at LGBT persons. While they have been able to get past difficult texts on slavery and concubinage, they have not been as successful on texts that are used to repress sexual minorities.

Islamic teachings countenance no interference from clerical authorities in the spiritual affairs of individuals. Indeed, verse 9:31 cautions believers on their spirituality by asserting that "they have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah." In a similar vein, school trustee Grell, a practicing Catholic, has stated that "No one can interfere spiritually with another person."

Yet transphobia runs so deep that even a top Muslim scholar erroneously stated that according to some text, trans persons were cursed. While one can easily pinpoint the errors in the misreading of ancient texts, unreasonable people are shaped more by deep-seated fears than by carefully reasoned positions.

Nonetheless, it is instructive to note that both Sunni and Shii clerical authorities have adopted very accommodating positions on trans persons, at least in terms of the permissiveness of gender reassignment surgeries.

Notwithstanding the texts on not tampering with nature, Shii authorities allow changing gender based on the jurisprudential principle that what is not expressly prohibited is allowed. Sunni authorities permit changing gender through a framework, which gives precedence to the inner soul over the external form. In both cases, jurists defer to the recommendations of medical and psychiatry professionals.

In Edmonton, Dr. Lorne Warneke, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta, has clearly stated:

"I have had a specialized interest in the area of transgenderism (gender dysphoria) for many years and have seen a number of children as young as five who are clearly transgender... Not allowing a child to express their true gender identity dampens a child's spirit. This leads to internalized shame and guilt for being who they are, and to poor self-esteem and a negative self-concept."

Likewise, Edmonton-based Dr. Karen Hoffman has stated:

"The DSM-V defines gender dysphoria and recognizes that it is 'associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of functioning.' ... Some children with sufficient resilience might survive a hostile environment though post-traumatic stress often manifests in adulthood. Resilience in other children might be overcome, leading to persistent depression and suicide attempts throughout childhood, adolescence, or adulthood."

Based on such views and given the Prophet's teaching of "doing no harm and accepting no harm," it is clear that any Muslim position in Canada should not be based on the fear-mongering of transphobic "Muslim" and "Christian" groups. Indeed, justifying one's transphobia under the guise of religious freedom is unconscionable.

As a septuagenarian Muslim friend recently expressed to me:

"The problem, it seems to me, is the set of religious beliefs indoctrinated... that God has declared some views and practices as sin and one must hold these beliefs, practices and their practitioners as sinful and repugnant. That indoctrination must change if we are to get Muslims (and perhaps people of other faiths as well) to be not just tolerant but respectful of other beliefs and points of view."

School board trustee Patricia Grell and activist Marni Panas, both devout Catholics, will find that they are not alone in their courageous stand against transphobia. Indeed, Muslims who are aware of the breadth of the Islamic tradition will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in speaking truth to power.

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