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Home » What is Islam’s Position on Transgenderism?

What is Islam’s Position on Transgenderism?

May 2022

(Tentative draft submitted to the Fiqh Council, by Dr. Yasir Qadhi)

All praise is due to Allah, and may peace and salutations be upon the Messenger ﷺ.

In light of the recent discussions regarding the topic of transgenderism, the Fiqh Council of North America has been asked by many people regarding Islam’s stance on this issue.

Regarding the two biological sexes and genders

The Quran is explicit that mankind has been divinely created from a male and a female (for example: “O Mankind! We created you from a male and a female […” [Ḥujurāt: 13]). It also states that mankind is divided into the two sexes of male and female (such as: “…and from the two of them, He spread forth multitudes of men and women” [Nisāʿ: 1], and “And the male is not like the female…” [Āl ʿImrān: 36]). The two sexes are equally human and equally noble: there is no spiritual superiority of either gender over the other, and both have equal access to divine blessings, grace, forgiveness, and Paradise.

There are simply too many verses in the Quran that refer to the two sexes for us to deny a fundamental gender binary, and there is no reference whatsoever in the Quran to anything other than this. It is an undeniable reality that numerous Islamic legal and social rulings differ between males and females; these rulings are found in all legal textbooks and run from the beginning chapters of purification all the way to ending chapters of inheritance. Many aspects of our Islamic Sharīʿah are inherently gender based, and one finds different rulings for men and women in almost all chapters of fiqh. The contemporary distinction between biological sex and psychological or cultural gender might have some elements of truth to it (for example, it is correct that some aspects of traditional gender roles are culture based). However, to claim that “gender” in its entirety is a cultural construct bearing no essential relationship to biological sex is simply incorrect. The very DNA of the male and the female is different. It is precisely because males and females are different—physically, physiologically, biologically, emotionally, and in so many other ways—that the Sharīʿah clearly delineated the broad outlines of responsibilities of each gender.

Therefore, the contemporary claim that gender is an imaginary or cultural human construct, with no necessary link to biological sex, is untenable in light of Scripture, the Sharīʿah, biology, common sense, and the cumulative history of mankind. The details of gender roles and the different tasks assigned to each gender in the Sharīʿah cannot be delineated in this short fatwa, nor is this the purpose of the fatwa. Some of these differences in gender rulings are obligatory (wājib), others are encouraged (mustaḥabb), and yet others are merely permissible (mubāḥ). Some are Sharīʿah based and immutable, while others relate to cultural contingencies and may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

The point here is that it is undeniable that each of the two sexes has a primary role for which Allah created that gender; hence the role of the husband is complementary to that of the wife, and the role of the mother overlaps with, yet is distinct from, the role of the father. Therefore, there is such a thing as objective “masculinity” and “femininity,” and each has both biological and cultural manifestations. Hence, each gender is encouraged to conform to its roles, even as some aspects are negotiable in accordance with person, time, and/or place. Those born biological males are recognized as men, while those born biologically female are likewise recognized as women. Therefore, those who wish to abide by the Sharīʿah must identify their gender with their biological sex (this includes the issue of personal pronouns) and live by the rulings associated with that gender.

Gender Dysphoria and Gender Identity Disorder

Regarding the issue of what has variously been termed “gender dysphoria” or “gender identity disorder” — meaning that a person born in one sex does not identify with that sex and feels a stronger identity associating with the other sex — the Fiqh Council recognizes that such a feeling might actually be beyond one’s control. Feelings over which a person has no control are not sinful if not acted upon. If a man feels that he is actually a woman trapped in the body of a man or vice versa, these feelings in and of themselves are not blameworthy, and no one should be made to feel that he or she is any less of a believer for having these feelings. 

What the origins of such feelings are—i.e., the question of “nature” vs. “nurture”—does not play a role in Islamic law. We remind our fellow believers that, contrary to the sentiment common in our cultural Zeitgeist, the mere existence of an urge or inclination is not an indication that it is a positive desire, nor is it an open license to cultivate that desire or to act upon it. The essence of our religion is to control our urges and to bring them in line with the Sharīʿah; the urge itself does not define a person, and conquering urges that are contrary to our faith is how piety is established.

Transvestitism (cross-dressing) 

The Sharīʿah explicitly forbids men to deliberately act or dress effeminately, and for women to deliberately act or dress in a masculine manner. What is beyond one’s control in terms of voice, gait, mannerisms, and overall physiognomy does not, of course, fall under the purview of the Sharīʿah, for the Sharīʿah concerns itself with voluntary outward actions and not with matters that lie beyond one’s control. It is true that some aspects of what constitutes femininity and masculinity  may vary according to time, place, and culture, and the Sharīʿah takes these differences into account. However, to use the ambiguity of these relatively trivial cultural differences to negate the overall established principle of gender distinction is logically invalid, and religiously inconsistent with the goals of the Sharīʿah.

In light of the foregoing, intentionally seeking to appear as, or deliberately acting in a manner specific to, the gender opposite that of one’s birth gender, or contriving an appearance or mannerisms that are otherwise contrary to one’s birth gender (such as in the cross-dressing of drag queens/kings or other ‘transvestites’) is prohibited (ḥarām) by the explicit texts of ḥadīth and the unanimous consensus (ijmāʿ) of the jurists.

Same-sex attraction (SSA) 

It is possible that a person may be sexually attracted to members of their own sex/gender, either exclusively or partially (covering the various stages of demi-, bi-, and pan-sexualities typically discussed by modern practitioners). As stated previously, feelings that are beyond one’s control are not in and of themselves sinful, nor should any person consider his or her primary identity to be defined by his or her sexual orientation. A person who experiences same-sex attractions is no less of a believer than anyone else; indeed, such persons might even be stronger in faith if they maintain an Islamic identity and struggle, as is the calling of all Muslims, to live a life true to Allah SWT and faithful to His noble Sharīʿah. It is also possible that one has no sexual feelings or inclinations at all (referred to as “asexuality”). There is no sharʿī ruling associated with being asexual by way of either prohibition or reprehensibility. 

On the other hand, what is prohibited explicitly in numerous verses of the Quran (and especially through the story of the Prophet Lūṭ), and by unanimous consensus of every single sect and school of law of Islam, is the act of male-male sodomy (liwāṭ) (and, by extension, sexual acts between females). Just as premarital and extramarital (heterosexual) intercourse are major sins that necessitates repentance and diminish one’s spiritual standing before one’s Creator, so too does sodomy constitute a major sin in the eyes of God.  

In our times, there has been an attempt to radically reinterpret the explicit texts regarding sodomy and other same-sex acts, to ignore the unanimous consensus in our Sharīʿah regarding its prohibition, and to claim that the Quran condones same-sex relations. The Fiqh Council declares that such attempts lack any scholarly merit whatsoever and cannot be taken seriously by anyone who knows the basics of Islamic law. There is simply no leeway in this regard, and the claim that the Sharīʿah can morally accept such actions is potentially a rejection of the Sharīʿah and even the Legislator Himself. 

Intersex individuals

There are some people—known as intersex individuals—who are born with ambiguous genitalia and/or have atypical sex chromosomes (i.e., a DNA pattern of XXY or XYY instead of the typical XX or XY). Intersexuality is a relatively rare phenomenon and comprises a number of sub-categories. In fact, in many cases the person may not even be aware of this phenomenon until undergoing a medical exam. 

There are a handful of specific rulings in the books of fiqh under the topic of ‘khunthā’ that deal with the phenomenon of intersex. However, these are specific concessions and rulings for those born with both private organs. One of the legal maxims states, “Extraordinary issues do not take on legal rulings,” meaning that something that is extremely rare remains rare and does not come to be taken as a default. We deal with rare issues on a case-by-case basis and do not make a generic ruling for all mankind on the basis of it.

It is to be noted that even in such cases, Islamic law, while understanding that intersex conditions are beyond a person’s control and hence not sinful, nevertheless requires the intersex person to live his or her life according to Islamic rulings of the gender he or she is physically and biologically closest to for legal purposes. On very rare occasions, including some individuals who are completely sexually androgynous, the Sharīʿah might consider such individuals as being essentially of indeterminate gender for some aspects of life (such as where to stand in prayer in a masjid); in other aspects of this individual’s life, however (such as inheritance), a primary gender will be selected in consultation with a medical expert and a religious scholar, and the rulings associated with that selected gender will apply for the remainder of the individual’s life for those other aspects.
The term “trans” as is used in today’s culture is a very broad term encompassing many different aspects, and it is a mistake to equate the discussion in the books of Islamic law on khunthā as being equivalent to the modern “trans’ category. Specifically, as we have seen, the phenomenon of intersex—which is what sharʿī discussions of the khunthā are about—stems from a physiological abnormality that renders the individual’s classification as male or female objectively ambiguous. By contrast, current-day transgenderism references a psychological condition in which the “trans” individual subjectively disidentifies with the gender of the unambiguously male or female body with which he or she was born.

Gender “reassignment”

Given all these realities, the Fiqh Council, in accordance with all mainstream fiqh scholarly bodies around the world, deems that it is impermissible to actively attempt to change one’s biological sex/gender, whether through hormone treatment, surgical procedures, or any combination of the two. All mechanisms for seeking to actively transition from one sex/gender to another are forbidden according to the teachings of Islam.

The only exception to this—if it even be deemed an exception—is when an intersex person undergoes surgery to bring his or her physiology more into line with the gender to which he or she has been determined to belong or more closely approximate (as determined in consultation with medical experts).

Advice to Those with Same-Sex Attractions or Gender Identity Disorder / Gender Dysphoria and Their Families

As with all desires and emotions, the Sharīʿah has delineated which desires and emotions are pure and good to fulfill and which should be curbed and controlled. Our closeness to our Lord is based on our attempts to conform to His Sharīʿah. There is no stigma that attaches to anyone because of a desire beyond his or her control; we encourage all Muslims to turn to their Lord and ask Him for help in living their lives to the best of their ability.

Our Sharīʿah also encourages modesty (ḥayāʾ), bashfulness (ḥishma), and the concealment of one’s faults (sitr). Therefore, even if a Muslim falls into a mistake, he should ask his Lord for forgiveness, for it is Allah who is the Forgiving, the Merciful. The notion of “coming out” with one’s sexual orientation and/or revealing one’s sins or lifestyle that is not in accordance with the Sharīʿah completely contradicts these Islamic ideals, as it normalizes sins and publicizes a person’s faults. The default is that a Muslim does not mention his or her personal faults to other people.

Exceptions can be made if someone wishes to get help in dealing with his or her challenges. Indeed, we encourage all Muslims, if a friend or relative comes to them seeking help with respect to any challenge, to be wise, caring, and supportive, and to use all legitimate means to try to better the moral and spiritual well-being of such a person. 

It is likewise imperative to distinguish between those wishing to overcome their personal problems and abide by the Sharīʿah from those who flaunt immorality and boast about it. The former must be offered utmost compassion and support. As for the latter, since there is no leeway in this matter, the Fiqh Council states categorically that anyone who wishes to normalize homosexual acts and gender transitioning procedures and attempts to justify them from within the Sharīʿah, after having been made aware of the explicit texts and unanimous consensus regarding these matters, should not be treated in the same manner.

Masjids are meant to be beacons of morality and Islamic ideals, and if anyone wishes to use these sacred spaces for promoting lewdness and immorality of any type, it is appropriate to take any and all legal measures necessary to prevent such people from spreading falsehoods within our communities.

As for family members and friends of those who are unabashedly living in sin, we advise them to remember that the goal is rehabilitation of the sinner, and not punishment. Therefore, each person should judiciously decide what tactic he feels would work best to help such a person abandon his sin and become more observant of Islamic norms.

Regarding Hate and Violence

The religion of Islam is a religion of mercy and does not preach indiscriminate hatred, much less violence, against people on account of their feelings and urges. It is a mistake to conflate teaching one’s faith communities about moral and immoral acts with preaching hatred against persons. Muslims believe that it is immoral to drink alcohol, yet it cannot be claimed that they preach hatred (or violence) against those who drink. Disapproving of a particular act or lifestyle does not translate into hating or sanctioning acts of violence against an individual who practices those acts.

The current fatwa is not about preaching hatred of any individual or group; furthermore, Islamic law explicitly condemns any acts of vigilante justice. We treat all people as humans and give them the respect and dignity they deserve, regardless of their lifestyles and choices. Furthermore, we welcome anyone intent on living an Islamic lifestyle to our masjids and communities, regardless of their personal temptations and desires, and we encourage all Muslims to provide others any spiritual help and support they need and to accommodate all people of all backgrounds as reasonably as possible and within the parameters of the Sharī’ah.

Regarding people outside the faith who adopt such practices, Islam does not ask us to mistreat anyone, and we advise Muslims to demonstrate to all people the kindness, compassion, and good manners emblematic of our faith, regardless of their personal practices.

Given the sensitive nature of these topics and the ease with which misunderstandings occur, we state explicitly that as citizens of the United States of America, we embrace the diversity afforded by the political laws of this land, even as we insist on our own political and religious rights to preach our faith in its full integrity to all those who choose to follow it. Those who claim to espouse liberalism and to believe in the freedom of all must extend that freedom to those whose moral vision differs from their own.

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