MACSA is supportive of the statement made by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs, YB Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri in his Facebook page dated July 10, 2020 calling on the Religious Enforcement Officers of Federal Territories’ Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) to not arrest but also provide religious education so that the transgender community can “return to the correct path”.
The call was made in the light of recent scandal sparked by the sharing of lewd photographs by an infamous transgender cosmetic entrepreneur, is a welcome step towards upholding Islam’s religious and spiritual tradition on sexual relationship consisting of man-woman and its traditional family unit of husband-wife-children relationship.
It is however regrettable that this call has been received with criticisms and allegations by certain parties that the Minister’s statement is irresponsible and degrading about trans-people.
While we noted the concerns expressed by NGOs on the maltreatment of trans-people by irresponsible authority personnel who fail to adhere to the standard operating procedure. However, with regard to the insinuation that the statement alone will systematically increase discrimination, violence and mistreatment of transgender women with impunity by enforcement officers of the Islamic Departments as well as members of the public, we are of the view that these concerns should be addressed separately and not link the said maltreatment of trans-people with the Minister’s call to uphold the ethical injunction and morality as enshrined in Islam and other religious traditions.
We have always taken the stand that the transgender community must be treated like any other human being vested with human dignity, deserving to live and having access to all public goods as espoused in Articles 1 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) and ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). They should not be ostracized, rejected and condemned but deserving compassion, mercy and love in the plight they are going through.
What the Minister says is nothing more than a clarion call for the Muslim community at large to guard their dignity and address the need for a public morality that espouse modesty, decency and mutual respect for public decorum and conduct in sexual relations according to the tenets and precepts of Islam as a universal religion.
Protection of Public Decency
MACSA draws the attention that the Minister’s call was issued pursuant to the provision of Section 28 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories Act) [Act 559]. This provision empowers Religious Enforcement Officers to investigate any male person who, in any public place, wears a woman’s attire and poses as a woman for immoral purposes. Section 29 further provides for these officers to investigate any person who, contrary to Islamic Law, acts or behaves in an indecent manner in any public place. These provisions reflect the understanding of syariah and are within the precepts of Islam which now forms part of the Malaysian legal system to protect the Muslim public against indecent and immoral acts. They should therefore be respected as law of the Federal Territories.
Right of Transgender People to Receive Input and Education
Islam and other Near Eastern religions such as Christianity obligates its followers to educate those whose conduct and lifestyle have deviated from the path of truth and rightness as expounded in the Holy Quran, or the Christian scripture, the Holy Bible.
This includes educating and counselling trans-people who are voluntarily and genuinely seeking help and understanding. To those individuals who voluntarily and willingly seek help and recourse, they should therefore be recognised as having the right to seek religious input and understanding to decide for their own welfare and well-being. They should not be deprived of such rights owing to the prevailing narrative that change is not possible in such conditions or for fear of being looked upon as subjecting themselves to the religious authorities, or reprisal from the wider LGBTQ groups and the threat of being ostracised from either the public or the Muslim community at large.
Misrepresenting Educational Programmes
While seeking to educate the trans-people, there have been suggestion and aspersion casted that such education programmes are nothing more than “corrective or conversion therapy” which uses spiritual and religious methods that will likely bring harmful impact, including depression, suicidal ideation and attempts as well as self-harm, among others. It has therefore been suggested such practices are forms of torture given the magnitude of alleged harm it has on the individual and their loved ones.
Such assertions are unjustified and unfounded. The education manual as adopted and used by JAKIM aims to promote and educate the Muslim transgender people on the basic tenets of Islam. This could be easily verified. Participation in the Mukhayyam programme is also completely voluntary with no elements of coercion involved and is far from the conversion therapy practised by other countries which involves an element of forced participation. In fact, Mukhayyam is the common name for any extended spiritual camps normally held by schools and higher institutional centres for the students as well as by government and private agencies for their Muslim staffs as part of team-building and motivational input. In short, Mukhayyam held for trans-people in fact emphasizes the non-discriminatory nature of the religious authorities in providing education and awareness building as part of their religious rights. This has been repeatedly confirmed by participants of past Mukhayyam programs.
The education process is geared towards inculcating mutual respect and acceptance of Malay-Muslim and other religious values and cultural peculiarities. They seek to change perspectives and mindsets in line with the teachings of Islam and its great religious heritage. To wrongly misrepresent such educational programs, specifically designed for Muslim trans-people, as corrective or conversion therapy as torture is a gross misrepresentation of fact. In fact, it is discrimination upon religious groups and the right of any religious groups with respect to their freedom of religion and belief to manage and direct their own religious affairs. If indeed the concern is on the harmful effects and abuse, the same should be highlighted and supported with clear primary evidence so it can be addressed with due attention.
Undermining Religious and Spiritual Values of the Majority
We are greatly concerned with the greater public promotion of LGBTQ lifestyles and values. While respecting the right of all people to express and espouse their own lifestyle and values, we are of the view that the values and lifestyle as promoted and manifested by the LGBTQ groups are against the religious and spiritual values of Islam and other religious traditions. It undermines the ethical and moral injunctions of sexual purity, morality and traditional family unit so clearly taught and enjoined on all believers in the faith to uphold and practice.
MACSA also observes the alarming development and overbearing attitude of some promoters and defenders of LGBTQ lifestyle with great agitation especially when they have come out to attack and make unsubstantiated claims against conservative religious groups and religious people as bigots. Many of these so-called freedom defenders have name-called proponents of public morality as a hindrance to progressive life and thus deserving to be castigated and silenced when they disagree with promotion of LGBTQ. A case in point is the recent intimidation levied against author, JK Rowling for her tweets which genuinely expressed concerns that the new trans activism is pushing to erode the legal definition of sex therefore threatening women’s and girls’ rights to single-sex spaces.
Respect our Rukun Negara
As the Rukun Negara is the central ideology to the modern nation state of Malaysia, we call on every Malaysians to uphold and cherish the Rukun Negara principles, in particular ‘Courtesy and Morality’. This is necessary to check the more recent trend that tends to celebrate lewd and indecent posts shared on social media. This immoral trend is worrisome as signs are growing it will eventually undermine the public morality, decency and modesty so interwoven within the various religions and religious traditions of our unique Malaysian identity.
Malaysians should readily espouse this principle within the Rukun Negara and to collectively make all efforts to ensure that the shared values of decency, morality and courtesy is not eroded or vanish all together for the sake of a good and better Malaysia.
Lukman Sheriff Alias, Founder of Malaysian Lawyers Circle (MLC) and Chairperson, Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (MACSA)
Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (MACSA)
MACSA is a coalition of civil society organisations with the specific aim and object to look into, as well as advocate, human rights issues in Malaysia for the UPR Process.
Eugene Yapp, Managing Director, RFL Partnership and Programme Director, GBM Coalition SB
Mable Leong, Legal and Operations Manager, RFL Partnership