When Being Yourself is Against the Law


Being a transgender is against Islamic law in Malaysia.

A Muslim who is a transgender can be arrested, abused, assaulted, and violated for wearing women’s clothing.

While some 200 cities and countries around the world not only ban gender identity discrimination but also offer protection for transgender people through ordinances and provisions, officials in Malaysia continue to criminalise them.

According to Human Rights Watch, Malaysia is one of the world’s worst countries to be a transgender in. As one transgender woman explains: “I was detained by Religious Department officials who stripped and sexually assaulted me. They were rough. My breast (implants) were squeezed. One of them took a baton and poked my genitals. Everyone – male and female officials – took photos of my naked body.”

There have been hundreds of incidents in which transgenders were paraded before the media and made to suffer other forms of humiliation. Many have been arrested over and over again, some up to twenty times or more. They are imprisoned with male inmates where they face daily sexual abuse. And when reporting this abuse to the authorities, they face further assaults.

According to the Federal Constitution, everyone has the right to live the life he or she chooses. But in Malaysia, even our constitution and basic human rights are put aside when faced with Islamic law.

60% of our population are Muslims who are bound by Syariah law. This law governs how Muslims should live their life publicly and privately. And within these walls, some 10,000 transgender are trapped.

As a Muslim, I find this appalling.

If cross-dressing is prohibited by Islamic law, why are only Muslim men dressed as women detained? What about Muslim women dressed as men?

And I wonder why we cherry pick which law to enforce and which to put aside. Let me give some examples.

Dressing modestly is a requirement in Islam – according to both the Quran and Hadith – but do we enforce it in our so-called Islamic country? Do our religious officers go about detaining Muslims who are in bikinis or mini shorts?

Try walking into a mall on a Friday afternoon. Why are the loads of Muslim men walking around not detained when the Friday congregational prayer is obligatory to adult male Muslims? As a matter of fact, the five daily prayers are also obligatory, but they are not enforced by our Islamic authorities.

And what about the improper behaviour of Muslim men and women? We have Muslim celebrities playing movie roles which require them to be in bed with people they aren’t married to or related to. We watch them touch, hug, kiss and get their hands all over their co-stars while we sit in a cosy air-conditioned theatre hall with popcorn in our hands. Whatever happened to our religious police?

Why is it perfectly okay for some Muslims to live as they wish but not okay for others to live their way?

Did God ever say being a transgender is the greatest sin and thus should be placed above all the other transgressions under Islamic law?

Why has religion become a tool which can be manipulated based on what’s popular in society?

People think “pondans are so geli”; so let’s put them away. Most Muslims are too lazy to pray five times a day; so let’s cut them some slack. Local movies that are sexually charged are box office hits; so let’s close an eye. Is that how it works?

The sad thing is that the people entrusted with upholding Islamic law are the ones using it unfairly.

We live in a society that is built on the foundation of mutual respect and love but if we use religion to manipulate individuals’ rights and freedom to stay true to themselves and live the life they wish to live, we will never be a developed nation in the true sense of the word.


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