Yes you read that title right! This is totally new to me so this post will probably be very short. I only became aware of it after reading chapter 6 of Shereen El Feki’s Sex and the Citadel (ISBN 9780099526384).
I’m surprised, not so much by the fact that such people exist (because modern orthodox muslims just explain them away as sinners/ improper muslims) but by the fact they existed!
In other words, this post will NOT be about transsexual/ transvestite/ transgender muslims in modern times, but ones in olden times – even back to Muhammad’s days!
Plural of mukhannath. Literally means effeminate, ie. men whose behaviour and/ or dress was like women’s. The ahadiyth talk about them, and interestingly they weren’t as persecuted as modern muslims would (like to) think. Despite the hadiyth in which Muhammad curses effeminate men (and masculine women, to be sure), debate still goes on over whether he meant all such people or particular ones around him. In another hadiyth a man applying henna was dragged in front of him and he had him banished – but not killed because that man prayed. It should be noted, however, that this term also encompassed eunuchs, so early muslims didn’t really distinguish between men who were “feminised” by force and those “feminised” by choice. This is in common with much of the world’s thinking back then, the thought that castration “emasculates” you, permanently puts you outside the fold of maleness. However, muslim scholars in the past did distinguish between 2 types of mukhannath – innocent ones who are innately feminine and don’t try to profit from their “womanliness”, and those who sin by prostituting themselves.
Also, male homosexuals were NOT covered by this term because mukhannathuwn were assumed to be asexual, or “free of physical needs” and therefore guys women were safe around. Usually. Modern Arabs and Arabised peoples, according to El Feki, wrongly disregard that and assume they’re raging homosexuals. There was no exact Arabic equivalent of homosexuals; the closest was luwtiy, a 13th century word based on the story of Luwt (Lot), the guy sent to Sodom & Gomorrah to convince the men there to stop having sex with each other. However, modern attempts at equivalents do exist.
Unlike in early Christian history, there’s nothing to show early muslims became eunuchs by choice. As far as I know…
Plural of gulāmiyyah. This word is a feminine form of gulām (young man or boy) and referred to women who dressed and behaved like men. Ironically, though some even went to lengths such as painting moustaches on their faces, hanging out in male-only events and taking on male names, they were decidedly heterosexual and made no attempt to hide their female shapes! They even painted their male lovers’ names on their faces! In fact, back in the Abbasid dynasty of 9th century Baghdad they were seen as hot. Al-Rashid, its most famous sultān, reportedly had up to 4000 gulāmiyyāt in his court. His son Al-Amin was known for liking boys, and his mother (worried about him not producing an heir) gave him gulāmiyyāt slaves – which he really took to. His favourite was a girl called ‘Arib. Also unlike modern days, they were NOT confused with lesbians as again there was no exact equivalent word for them – but there are many now.
Nowadays in the Arab region they’re called boyat and treated as Western-imported deviants trying to obliterate the God-sanctioned feminine norm, especially in Qatar. See what a conference in the Emirates had to say of them.
Update: Indonesia has the warias, men who dress & see themselves as women. This custom predated Indonesian Islam by ages but still persists. Since Indonesia has the highest number of muslims in the world, most warias are muslim.
This is going to be another personal post. A year and 3 months ago I made a life-altering decision, one that continues to affect me. To convey its significance, a bit of background:
My mother has been a devout Muslim my entire life, and of course that’s what I was born into. In case anyone’s curious, both my parents are ‘black’ Afro-Caribbean, not African, not south Asian, and especially not Arab.
She doesn’t follow any sect like Sunni, Shi’i, etc. and neither have I, in accordance with the Qur’an’s direct command “Don’t divide the religion”. I prayed 5 times a day every day; fasted all 30 days in Ramadan; paid my 2.5% zakah; did jumma’ every Friday; read the whole Qur’an in Arabic and English (I’d memorised about 30 surahs + translations in my late teens); avoided ever being totally alone with a girl; agreed that cherry-picking what to believe in was a sin; sought marriage in my early 20s; never bared my chest or shoulders in public – not even in front of other guys; believed all sexual activity was sinful except between a husband & wife; agreed there should be no divide between religion and other aspects of life; and sincerely thought it was the best, most comprehensive and only uncorrupted religion.
But in mid-September 2013, something changed.
I’d always been introspective and stuff, but at that point I admitted that my piety could be a bad thing. There was no getting away from the fact that this level of devotion has made me worse off in certain ways, e.g. no experience with attracting girls (despite wanting to get married young!); unwillingness to acknowledge historical evidences in the religion (i.e. the ubiquitous tug-of-war of peace v. violence, political acquiescence v. revolution, tolerance v. intolerance of non-Muslims, enslavement v. emancipation, racism v. anti-racism, observance v. suppression of female rights, conservatism v. moderation v. laxity, monetary & sexual greed v. restriction, nationalism v. universalism); disconnect between myself and other people.
Ironically, though I felt non-Muslims couldn’t completely relate to me for reasons of belief, it was easier than relating to most other Muslims. I felt I couldn’t relate to Muslims around me simply because most of them were of south Asian background. They don’t even know Caribbean Muslims exist let alone try to get on with them! And as much as they don’t like to think so (especially Pakistanis) their cultures are founded on Hinduism, which in some respects they still practise, anti-Islamic as they may be.
Furthermore, most Muslims are too narrow-minded to deliberately explore subjects that contradict the Islamic paradigm, or even parts of the religion that scholars don’t discuss. Basic questions don’t get answered, or even asked, like:
What religion did Muhammad follow before Islam? To this day no Muslim knows or cares
Why is circumcision so common despite the Qur’an making no mention of it?
Why do some ahadiyth describe Muhammad as ‘black’ and others as ‘white’?
Why are many Muslims uncomfortable discussing sexual matters when Muhammad himself had no qualms? In 1 hadiyth a woman came up to him and asked if women can ejaculate, and he just said yes! Also, in the Qur’anic account of Jesus’s birth the angel – which had “the likeness of a man” – blew into Mary’s farj. Modern translations render farj as sleeve, but just check any online Arabic-English translator and it translates as vulva/ vagina!
What age was A’ishah when Muhammad married her? This is still hugely debated
Why’s it accepted that there were no female prophets despite Mary mother of Jesus being mentioned amongst a list of prophets in the Qur’an?
Why does the Qur’an directly tell believers to free enslaved people yet throughout all of Islamic history taking slaves (concubines & sex slaves too, not just prisoners of war) was standard?
Why should divine revelation be the criterion to judge & live life by when people disagree on what it says or means?
All in all, most Muslims have a romanticised understanding of Islam; back during the Islamic empire the world was much better off and would be again if we just returned to it. But this simply doesn’t agree with historical evidence or present-day reality.
In fact, when I told the big news to my mum I gave her this list of criticisms:
Islam doesn’t make sense to me. There are too many mythical and magical aspects of it, eg. Satan (where is he? If he’s so real, why can’t we see/ hear/ feel him?), jinn (what are they? How come we can’t see or hear or feel them? Is there a scientific explanation for them?), prophethood (why would God only send messages to certain people in certain time periods?), the ahadiyth (the isra & mi’raj – only make sense as a dream/ hallucination, the dajjal, al-Mahdi, the return of Jesus, all the signs of the day of judgment’s approach, the story about Muhammad going to heaven and asking Allah to reduce the prayers from 50 to 5, etc.), Islam’s status as the religion of the fitrah (bollocks. There’s no evidence of Islam as we know it existing before Muhammad’s time, or of being somehow innate in people’s natures), angels (despite my personal understanding of them as mere forces of nature, Islam sees them as living beings with wings and faculties that bear similarities to humans’. Where are they?). And there are so many questions I’ve had for years that no-one can answer, so I’ve had to find my own answers. The only answers that I’ve gained have come from using my own brain, not relying on Islamic sources or ‘knowledgeable’ people.
(update: now I realise that Allah was a tribal god, just like Yahweh was for the original Jews who happened to become universalised as the religion spread to other parts of the world. It’s true muslims changed polytheism to monotheism, setting up Allah as the ONLY god, but I’ve found no evidence that they had a different perception of who/ what Allah is. Ancient Semitic people saw him as basically a man, with hands, a face, shins, feet, eyes, etc. not as an intangible omnipresent ‘force’. How else would he supposedly have daughters?)
It’s incompatible with what I understand and have experienced for myself. I used to believe patience and suppression of anger were virtues but I’ve experienced too many times to ignore how impatience and anger have helped me. I was led to believe Islam is the perfect religion and it has answers for all of life’s problems, so why have I had to look outside the religion for answers to my problems, whether deep emotional ones or mundane everyday ones? I always thought controlling my sexual desires was a virtue and felt guilty for looking at women and porn – even dating was haram, but if you don’t approach women how the raas are you meant to find one you like? Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what people call themselves, what matters is what they personally believe, want, prioritise and care about. All religions can be and have been used to justify anything and everything – war, peace, slavery, emancipation, racism, anti-racism, misogyny, sexual equality, etc. so what good are they by themselves without people to apply them?
It’s boring and inane. All the God-damn repetition of prayers, fasting, and all the du’as for every little thing we do is reminiscent of someone with OCD or something! All the little prohibitions are bullshit too, eg. noteating & drinking with the left hand (that one really pisses me off, and it only makes sense when you’re wiping your ass with your bare hand and have no guarantee of being able to wash it like back in those days), not praying dead on midday or sunset (wtf? Prayer is prayer any time of day!). How does any of that matter to everyday life? And there’s no let-up, no change, no room for new input, nothing!
Masajid are full of shit. I reckon they used to be good back in the days of Muhammad but now they’ve become places to pray and nothing else. And they’re run by old Pakistani & Bengali men, who are out of touch with this generation, this culture, who pass off their backwards cultures as Islam and usually don’t cater for women, the disabled or non-Asians. The ummah is also full of shit, what ummah is there really? When muslims in Africa are starving or being killed off, how many Asians bat an eyelid? How many Asians even know about Caribbean muslims?
I’ve outgrown it. Simple as.
(most important) It’s never helped me in anything I really cared about. It’s never helped me develop or even see the importance of self-confidence, it’s never helped me find what I really want to do in life, it’s never helped me make friends or take an active interest in the dunya, it’s been of absolutely no relevance in my recent successes in creativity. If it really were such a good religion it should’ve done all of that, but it hasn’t.
Now that I’ve looked into it with this new perspective, I understand Islam is a collection of man-made guidelines, opinions, tribal add-ons & superstitions – just like every other religion, philosophy or systematised belief. In an ethnic and historical context it’s an Arabised fusion of Judaism* (hence the appeal to clear laws, circumcision, distinctive behaviour & dress code and references to Old Testament figures) and Christianity* (hence the relative flexibility, ethnic inclusiveness and inordinate focus on Jesus).
* Remember that Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism diluted down to appease non-Jews, while Judaism was just another tribal faith that was spread around the world by the Jewish diaspora & foreigners invading Judea (Palestine), and both faiths were already spread to the nearby Arabian peninsula and adapted to local audiences.
By Arabised, I mean from the outset it was designed to appeal to a predominantly but not exclusively 7th century Arab audience; it’s in the Arabic language – the Qur’an was originally written in 7 different dialects, it speaks of deities that Arabs or their southwest Asian (“Semitic” or “Middle Eastern”) ancestors used to worship (Wadd, Suwa’, Yaguwth, Ya’uq, Nasr, Allah and his 3 daughters – al-Lat, al-‘Uzza & al-Manat), speaks of nations/ places that Arabs were familiar with (‘Ad, Thamuwd, Iram), and assumes listeners are already familiar with magic, angels & jinns, the Holy Spirit & “what your right hands possess” – which they would’ve been.
On a slight tangent, I also get the impression that Muhammad was seen as a good but somewhat weird guy back in his day before Islam. This is exemplified by the fact that he was generally a nice guy and easy to get on with; the typical 7th century Arab man was all about getting drunk, defending his honour & burying his newborn daughters alive. And he first married at 25 (which back then was fucking LATE!), to Khadijah, a 40-year-old widow who made more money than him! Most men nowadays would be gobsmacked at this! Then during Islam he became an active revolutionary, which made him an enemy to the state (Makkah) and his own tribe (Quraysh). There’s also a hadiyth which has Muhammad saying, “Islam began as something strange, and it will return to how it began – strange, so give good news to the strangers.” This suggests that Muhammad accepted his status as a weirdo by the standards of his day.
Though I admit I like those aspects of him, the possible paedophilia (if it’s true he married A’ishah when she was 6) stops me respecting him. Also, as good as Islam may have been back then, it’s irrelevant. People follow what they want and use aspects of a given religion to justify it, and when they get into positions of authority the reworked religion gets systematised and enforced on others as a new culture, for the benefit of some and the detriment of most. Hence the tug-of-war I mentioned above. That’s the state of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. in 2015.
Back on topic. The big news is I’m not a Muslim anymore!!! I am a murtad, apostate, ex-Muslim, non-believer, a kafir if you will. However, I’m emphatically not atheist or agnostic. Definitive categories don’t work for me as my beliefs are fluid and dynamic, so brief descriptions of my current state of spirituality are in order:
Monotheistic, still deciding what to call ‘God’ (Allah, Yahweh & God all have an anthropomorphic slant, but I believe It is not human or like any biological organism, and is definitely not male or female)
Trusting of emotions as well as rationality, subjectivity and objectivity
Understanding the importance of self-esteem, sense of purpose and following my desires
Trusting of my real-time experiences over pronouncements of ancient books
Prioritising external material blessings over internal spiritual ones (not because I think it’s more important, but because I’ve been brought up to do the reverse so much I’m trying to balance it out)
Situationist, fallible & liable to change without notice (which is a good thing; change is the foundation of reality. People who refuse to change refuse to improve, and people who refuse to improve are fucked)
No longer feel guilty about swearing!
Because of this change, I now have a working understanding of religious history, I relate to people better, I accept my quirks & faults, I no longer feel obliged to be patient with people or situations I don’t like, and I have a sexiness-incarnate dark-skinned GIRLFRIEND with whom I spent Christmas & New Year’s – and enjoyed every second of it! YAY!!!
Randomly rhyming words, a few random thoughts, and an empath's emotional rollercoaster. In other words; Ramblings, Poetry, Soul-Food, Haiku, Narrative, Poems, Life, Transcend, Snow-leopard, Spoken word