The Mukhannathun: Islam and Transgenderism

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The “effeminate ones” or the “Mukhannathun” in classical Arabic are usually described as trans women; some, however, confuse them for Eunuchs .   The Mukhanatun , according to many Islamic scholars, are people born as males but identify themselves as women by dressing, talking, and carrying themselves in more feminine ways.  Muslim women do not have to cover up around the Mukhannathun since they are considered to be free of sexual desire for women.  Islam as a whole is surprisingly progressive towards the Mukhannathun if you compare it to its stance on homosexuality; it is no sin to be effeminate if you were born that way, but if you act as a woman for monetary gains such as engaging in prostitution, then it is a sin. The hadith talks about the Mukhanatun but not in a positive way in my opinion; apparently they were banished to a region near Mecca by the prophet (it’s important to know that the he forbade the killing of them):

Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41, Number 4910:

Narrated AbuHurayrah:

A mukhannath who had dyed his hands and feet with henna was brought to the Prophet. He asked: What is the matter with this man? He was told: Apostle of Allah! he affects women’s get-up. So he ordered regarding him and he was banished to an-Naqi’. The people said: Apostle of Allah! should we not kill him? He said: I have been prohibited from killing people who pray. AbuUsamah said: Naqi’ is a region near Medina and not a Baqi (in other words not referring to Jannat al-Baqi‘ cemetery.

The Quran, on the other hand, seems to be very clear in the existence of only 2 sexes as can be seen in verse 75:93 : “And he made him two mates, the male and the female.” Some Muslims believe that Transgenderism is an anomaly, a sin, and that Allah does not make mistakes. However; more progressive Muslims believe that the sex of the soul and biological sex can be different. You see, according to the Quran, Allah would breath the soul into the fetus after it is created; perhaps the sex of the soul and body are incompatible and that is why we have transgenderism?  Many Muslim countries have in some ways taken a compassionate stance to transgenderism namely Iran and Egypt.  Iran carries the most sex reassignment surgeries in the world and the government covers half of the expenses; they also change the patient’s sex in their birth certificate.  This progressive attitude occurred after the revolution of 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on transgenderism. Egypt also followed suit in 1988 with the renowned Islamic institution of Al Azhar also issuing a similar fatwa on sex reassignment surgery:

“As for the condemnation of [men] who by word and deed resemble women, it must be confined to one who does it deliberately, while one who is like this out of a natural disposition must be ordered to abandon it. … The rulings derived from these and other noble hadiths on treatment grant permission to perform an operation changing a man into a woman, or vice versa. … It is, however, not permissible to do it at the mere wish to change sex from woman to man, or vice versa.”

Despite Iran having a more positive attitude on  Transgenderism, homosexuality is still a crime punishable by death. To avoid the death penalty, many gay people under go SRS so that they can resume their relationship in a safer, and most importantly, heterosexual way.

The Mukhannathun don’t fit in any one gender or sexual orientation category; the story of Tuay and Al Dal recounted in the hadith  are classic examples. Tuay was a Mukhannathun that ended up marrying a woman and having children, as for Al Dal, the story goes that he had intercourse with a bride on her wedding night and then moved on to the groom. It is clear that the Mukhannatun are very fluid in their gender and sexual identity.  Regardless of Islam’s more positive stance on trangederism, we can still see some intolerant behavior among the Muslim community. For example, we hear many stories of Trans women not being allowed to pray at the female section of mosques, they are usually forced to be with the men. I believe that such intolerance stems from ignorance, despite Iran and Egypt’s progressive attitude towards transgenderism, the Islamic community as a whole is not discussing the topic enough. I was always taught about the sodomites in Sunday school, but never once had I heard the term “Mukananthun.” It is on this note that I end this post: to make Islam more sexually positive and inclusive, there needs to be more dialogue about LGTBQ issues and the concept of Mukhannathun should be added to our Sunday school curriculum.

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