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Trans and Muslim Ramadan Roundup


  

As the holy month of Ramadan comes to a close, we've gathered together articles and interviews over the past several years showing how several transgender Muslims have navigated the holiday.

Consider the Ummah (2018, Yusef Bornacelli, MASGD Azaan project)

The first thing I learned about Islam as a new Muslim convert was Ramadan. I was bombarded by many, many well intentioned messages about the importance of humility, piety, selflessness and spiritual dedication and discipline to this the most important time of our year. All those things were important, I guessed, but the one that really got me and that was too often glossed over was the importance of “Ummah” and holding this time in community as often as possible.

When I first met other members of the queer Muslim community it was as if a whole new world was opened to me and only me. I met people who looked and felt like I did every time they walked into a mosque. There was not one wallah bro or haraam policeman in sight. Instead there were trans, cis, queer, bi, straight, disabled fat, skinny, brown, black and every variance of size, shape, background, identity and even body modification as far as I could see—all connected by this feeling of otherness to the world, our own microcosmic universes, but yet, somehow, we truly did belong to and with each other. Since that time, I have looked forward to every year’s Eid with these darling humans in anticipation and jubilation. My Ramadans have turned from a starving of the body to a deep nourishing of the soul, knowing each and every one of them struggles and confides and seeks strength in an Ummah many of us thought was impossible to find.

Mahdia Lynn discussing Ramandan with Austen Harke (2018, YouTube, from 12:41)

Ramadan is a very family centered kind of holiday and practice. And there's a lot of community bonding over experiencing fasting together and breaking fast and having all these events. It's something that can be very difficult for queer and trans people because family is very fraught.

But the most beautiful thing that has come out of has been the chosen family that we have made and the traditions that we have made together and the events we hold. The community here in Chicago has been phenomenal and has been a source of strength for me for a long time.

I pray that everyone will be able to experience that. It's something that is hard when you are young and struggling with family. I ask that you hold on. Hold out, because that chosen family will come.

The secret life of Thailand’s ladyboys from Muslim majority southern provinces (2018, South China Morning Post article)

On a recent afternoon Asan strikes an eye-catching figure in a stylish white dress, turning heads on the streets of Bangkok. Her destinations included a mosque, where she went for Ramadan – after changing in a public restroom into a more low-key get-up out of religious considerations: a frilly burgundy blouse and matching trousers.

No one shouted insults at her. Instead, she was treated as a celebrity of sorts. Several locals came to take selfies with her in the warren of narrow streets that forms a small Muslim enclave opposite a Buddhist monastery. Only a couple of bearded men eyed the transwoman with a hint of disapproval, but they didn’t say anything.

“We don’t have a problem with transgender people in our community,” insists Woranuch Chalaganadacha, 57, a housewife dressed in a black abaya (a robe-like garb with a headscarf). “I have katoeys in my family. We Muslims are all brothers and sisters.”

Family Jewels for Eid (2017, Al-Walid, MASGD Azaan project)

Dr. Yasir Hamdi, my surgeon, was an affable West Coaster, who would treat a patient’s concerns with the utmost seriousness, and yet might also crack a joke in the same encounter. I felt like I was in safe hands. His name made it obvious that he was from a Muslim background...

The next morning, when Dr. Hamdi did his rounds, I asked him if he thought I’d be able to fast during Ramadan. “That’s far enough out that you probably could, yes. As long as you eat and drink at night,” he said. Then, with a thoughtful look, he said, “I can’t fast and keep being safe for my patients. You saw what long hours I work. There is no way I could do that without eating or drinking.”...

...even if I could have possibly judged Dr. Hamdi for not fasting, even if I believed judgment had a plate in religion, I had absolutely no desire to do so. In that moment, his visibility as a Muslim meant so much to me, that I couldn’t care less how observant he was or wasn’t. Prior to that moment, I hadn’t even dared to dream about finding Muslims who were trans-aware and accepting. And now in Northern California, just days short of Ramadan, a Muslim surgeon took painstakingly constructed my penis and scrotum in order to affirm my gender – inshaallah, by Eid my brand spanking new family jewels will have healed. I set along this path over a decade ago to live authentically as the man I am, and I have been lucky in that Allah has not deserted me. In this, as in every other part of my transition, I was so fortunate to feel like Allah had my back. As the cool kids say, mashaallah—as Allah willed it.

Creating New Traditions at the Intersections (2017, Tynan Power, HRC blog)

As a queer transgender Muslim, my connection to the mainstream Sunni Muslim community I’d joined when I converted in 1985 became strained when I came out in 1997. For a long time, I did not go to the mosque—any mosque—for fear of being outcast or even enduring the questioning and judgment I’d experienced from so many, both in and outside of the Muslim community, when I started to come out. What sustained me through that long period of isolation was my faith in God and the ways in which I could practice my faith as an individual, despite the lack of community.

However, for me and for many Muslims, Ramadan is an especially difficult time to be without community. Too many queer and trans Muslims feel unwelcome in traditional Muslim religious spaces; some have faced outright exclusion. While many Muslims see Ramadan as a time for family and festive break-fast dinners, converts often feel isolated without their own Muslim families to break the fast with. People who are unable to fast—whether due to medical conditions, age, eating disorders or other challenges—can feel left out when the focus of Ramadan is reduced to fasting, which is only part of the experience of the holy month.

To find community, many of us—like the earliest Muslims—have been building it from the ground up.

Seek Justice, Wherever You Are (2017, Mahdia Lynn, Medium and HRC blog)

This summer, we launched a program for incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims at Masjid al-Rabia. A collection of shared resources, advocacy work, and a pen pal program for our siblings behind bars with over 300 participants?—?and growing every day.

This holy month of Ramadan, we are supporting and engaging with our siblings on the inside like never before. It has been one of the most rewarding parts of running a mosque, not only for being able to provide such a service but also from the contributions and critical support we’ve received from our incarcerated family. Our mission is captured perfectly by something a pen pal of mine shared early in our ministry: “We are called upon to seek justice, wherever we are.”

We are called upon to seek justice, wherever we are.

Weaving Our History Back Together (2017, Mahdia Lynn, MASGD Azaan project)

Our first Ramadan as a mosque has been full of new and earnest work in ways never seen before. Everything beautiful and new. With no elders to look towards, we find ourselves in uncharted territory.

Only, this isn’t new.

None of this is new.

The LGBTQ Muslim Community isn’t an infant. It’s a phoenix.

We have no history to look towards because our history keeps being erased. Our history is one of dormancy, followed by a flourishing of advocacy and support, followed by a snuffing out through violence and threats. We desperately write ourselves into the margins, we’re here we’re here, before some poisoned power erases us again...

Let us tie the disjointed strings of our history back together: time and time again we rise up to support our community. Leadership begets leadership, and our elders are here to teach us. Let us see ourselves for what we are: a flourishing community of people who thrive despite so much striving to tear us down. Let us see we are no longer building anew in a vacuum. The act of disconnecting us from our own history is violence enacted by poisoned authority. We have millenia of history to uncover. We have to fight to learn about—and learn from—our elders.

It is our job to tie the strings. To weave our history back together.

Ramadan Care Package Program Supports Incarcerated LGBT Muslims (2017, Transfaith article by Cyree Jarelle Johnson)

You are not alone. You are not the only one. There are people on the outside who are listening and will continue to be there for you." That’s the message that Mahdia Lynn, director of Masjid al-Rabia hopes to send incarcerated LGBT Muslims this Ramadan. ...

When asked what impact she hoped the 2017 Ramadan Care Package Program has, Mahdia said “There's a thing that we hear back constantly: ‘I thought I was the only one.’ Our prison system serves to isolate people, cut people off from the world. This is doubly true for LGBT people of faith. We are trying to fill a gap and also be a service.”

Indonesia’s Transgender Muslims, Known As Waria, Celebrate Ramadan (2015, HuffPo, photos) [Just the images via Getty]

During the holy month of Ramadan, a group of transgender Muslims in Indonesia meets regularly at the Al-Fatah Islamic school on the outskirts of the city of Yogyakarta to practice their faith.

Like millions of Muslims around the world who are also partaking in the fast, they abstain from food and drink during the day and listen in as the Quran is recited, according to Stephen Suleeman, a lecturer at Jakarta Theological Seminary who helps organize programs relating to LGBT issues. They visit the graveyards of relatives and other transgender people who have passed away. When the sun sets, they break their fast together as a family, in one of the few sacred centers in the Muslim-majority country where there is space for people of a “third gender.”


More about the Transgender and Muslim Project

More articles about being Transgender and Muslim

  

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