Sajat-'Saya diraba pegawai agama'...
I was groped by religious officers, says Nur Sajat. In February 2018, on her birthday, Nur Sajat put on a demure hijab and attended a Muslim prayer session at a new building she was inaugurating near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Three years after that sartorial choice, the Malaysian authorities have charged her with “insulting Islam” and wearing female attire.
On Monday, Ms. Nur Sajat, a transgender entrepreneur and social media personality, announced that she had fled to Australia to escape the threat of prison in her home state, Selangor. “When I received refuge in Australia, I felt protected to be my true self, to be free,” Ms. Nur Sajat said in an interview with The New York Times. “I felt trapped in my own country, where I was born, because of the laws there that criminalize me and consider me a man.”
Ms. Nur Sajat’s dilemma — having to flee home in order to be herself — broadly reflects a national division in Malaysia between more conservative Malays and a coalition of liberal Muslims and minority Chinese and Indians who stress the Southeast Asian nation’s multiethnic, multifaith heritage.
Malaysia is bound by a hybrid legal system when it comes to personal or family matters. Muslims, who make up more than half the population, must follow Shariah law. Non-Muslims are bound by civil law. While some of the stricter Shariah laws are rarely enforced, the governing coalition, which draws support from the nation’s Muslim Malay base, is tightening legislation targeting transgender and gay people.
“The government is serious about the issue of L.G.B.T. people in the country, as Malaysia is a country that adheres to the religion of Islam,” Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said last month, shortly after he was sworn in as Malaysia’s new leader. “Any individual who violates the law must face action. Nevertheless, at the same time, they need to be guided and be made aware so that they can return to the right path.”
Guiding Ms. Nur Sajat would mean, at the very least, placing her in a rehabilitation camp for transgender people, Islamic officials said. On Tuesday, Idris Ahmad, the minister for religious affairs in the prime minister’s department, offered such a camp as a more palatable option for Ms. Nur Sajat than imprisonment.
It is not clear why the charges against Ms. Nur Sajat were made three years after she had presided over the prayer ceremony while wearing female religious clothing. Ms. Nur Sajat, who has a large following on social media, said she had regularly conducted such events and donated part of her earnings to charity, as is the Islamic custom.
“When I received refuge in Australia, I felt protected to be my true self, to be free,” Ms. Nur Sajat said. “When I received refuge in Australia, I felt protected to be my true self, to be free,” Ms. Nur Sajat said. “I was born and raised as a Muslim person so I was taught to do things in an Islamic way,” she said. “I conducted a halal business.”
In January, Ms. Nur Sajat received a summons from the religious department of the state of Selangor, where her wellness and lifestyle business is based. It was the kind of missive that strikes fear in transgender people in Malaysia. With several friends and family, Ms. Nur Sajat went to meet the officials at the Islamic department, who said they had received public complaints about her.
While inside, Ms. Nur Sajat said that at least three men kicked her and pinned her down. They groped her breasts, she said. The same day, she was handcuffed, arrested and officially charged in a Shariah court. She was placed overnight in a male detention facility.
Ms. Nur Sajat’s mother, who witnessed the assault, confronted one officer, asking how pious Muslims could do something like that. He responded that Ms. Nur Sajat was a man so it was OK. (Her account of the assault was corroborated by an activist who spoke to her mother.)
“They think it is justified to touch my private parts and my breasts because they perceive me as a male person,” Ms. Nur Sajat said. “They didn’t treat me with any compassion or humanity.”
After the incident, Ms. Nur Sajat made a police complaint, and a few days later the authorities said that a religious department enforcement officer was called in to give a statement. Since then, no further action has been taken. The religious department refused to comment.
Panicked, Ms. Nur Sajat escaped in February to neighboring Thailand, where she was later convicted of illegal entry. That crime could have merited extradition to Malaysia, and the Malaysian authorities made it clear they wanted her back. But Ms. Nur Sajat quietly left Thailand this month and ended up in Australia, where other transgender Malaysians have been resettled through the United Nations refugee process.
“I’ve always been scapegoated to distract from larger issues, and my case has been sensationalized because of my social media presence,” Ms. Nur Sajat said.
The targeting of transgender people has intensified under the current governing coalition, which displaced an opposition force last year. A top religious official encouraged the nation’s Islamic authorities to arrest transgender people. In September, an Islamic council in the state of Perlis issued what amounted to a prohibition on transgender people entering mosques.
Through the middle of this year, more than 1,700 people were forced to attend a government-run “spiritual camp” meant to counter “unnatural sex,” according to government statistics.
Legislation in Malaysia targeting gay and transgender people is rooted not only in religious courts. British colonial-era prohibitions outlaw “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Shariah courts have the power to order caning for Muslims engaging in same-sex conduct, but for years the punishment was not meted out. Then, in 2018, two women were subjected to the brutal form of corporal punishment for having sex in the conservative state of Terengganu. A year later, five men were sentenced to caning in Selangor for the same offense, a ruling that was partly overturned by a higher court this year.
Ms. Nur Sajat released a video on social media earlier this year questioning whether she should give up her faith. She later deleted the video and said in the interview with The Times that she was in an anxious state because of the assault by religious department officials. Renouncing Islam can be considered a crime in Malaysia. “Islam is a holy religion,” Ms. Nur Sajat said. “It is a personal matter, and I have a right to privacy.”
Mr. Idris, the religious affairs minister, said last month that should Ms. Nur Sajat “plead guilty” and “return to a natural self,” there would be “no problem.” He referred to Ms. Nur Sajat by the full name she was given at birth. “We do not seek to punish, we are more toward educating,” Mr. Idris added.
Ms. Nur Sajat runs a skin care, wellness and clothing business, and her appearance on a reality TV show placed her in the firmament of Malaysia’s social influencers. Last year, she went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and documented the trip on Instagram, courting controversy from some Malaysian clerics. One official deemed that she had “marred Islam” by wearing female prayer attire.
In 2019, the religious authorities tried to make Ms. Nur Sajat undergo physical tests to determine her gender. She refused.
“She has no protection in Malaysia and the state is hellbent in not only prosecuting her but also using this event to impose wider restrictions against all L.G.B.T.Q. persons,” said Thilaga Sulathireh, a co-founder of Justice for Sisters, a transgender advocacy group in Malaysia.
Other transgender Malaysians said they were worried about the zeal with which the nation’s religious authority, which recently received a surge of funding, had pursued Ms. Nur Sajat. - Hannah Beech and Hadi Azmi,New York Times
Tuan Idris Ahmad promised
Nur Sajat “counselling” if she returns...
When the de facto Religious Affairs Minister, Idris Ahmad, said he would provide counselling services to the transgender and cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat, what did he have in mind? When news emerged that Nur had sought asylum in Australia, Idris urged her to return to Malaysia, and said that the government would offer her “counselling services”. The definition of counselling, in particular the religious authorities like Jakim, is different from what most of us refer to as counselling.
For many transgenders and those in the LGBT community, counselling means that they are forced to attend boot camps, where it is alleged that effeminate males are subject to beatings and cruel taunts. Don’t they realise that the use of physical and mental violence will not cure anyone with LGBT traits?
Apart from the alleged use of violence, they are forced to pray harder and more frequently, in the hope that divine intervention through concentrated prayer, will compel the transgender to be what the authorities perceive to be a “normal” person. When arrested, many transgenders are groped, abused and some are allegedly raped.
In 2016, when Nur first publicly identified herself as a woman, many conservative Malaysians claimed that she had tarnished the reputation of Islam. Ever since then, she has been the target of cyber-bullying, hate mail and death threats from sections of the community, including from the religious authorities.
In 2018, Nur was charged in the Syariah High Court, for dressing as a woman at a religious event. When she failed to appear in court, an arrest warrant was issued, and the immigration department subsequently revoked her passport. Many people will wonder why crossdressing is considered a crime. Some of us do wonder if we will also be charged for dressing as a pirate at a fancy-dress party.
The authorities have failed to prioritise the nation’s needs. People are targeted for the manner in which they dress. When will more focus be placed on getting rid of corruption and abuse of power, instead of focussing on trivial issues like one’s garments?
Why should Nur return to Malaysia and face endless persecution and harassment? She will be vilified because she has a strong following on her social media sites. The idea is to humiliate her and bend her to the wishes of the authorities.
Nur has admitted that she does not feel safe in Malaysia. She has sacrificed being with her family and given up on her cosmetics business, to remain in a country where she is happy and free, and more importantly, will be accepted for who she is. So, why are some Malaysians, and especially the religious authorities obsessed with the LGBT community, whom they treat with contempt?
Members of the LGBT community have to be careful with whom they mix because of rising intolerance and ignorance. The religious authorities and conservative Malays/Muslims have perpetuated the claim, that they are deviant. They are not!
They cannot conduct their lives as normal as is possible, without having to look over their shoulders. They face intense scrutiny, threats and humiliating treatment at the workplace. They are subject to violent attacks and discrimination. Many have died. Their community is often targeted by the moral police. Stiff sentences are dispensed by the courts.
After Pakatan Harapan won GE-14 in 2018, many members of the LGBT community had hoped for reform and protection after years of discrimination. They thought that they may have been accorded equal rights, but many of its former leaders, like Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, reneged on their promise of equal rights for the LGBT community.
For decades, members of the LGBT community have been deprived of adequate and affordable healthcare, opportunities in education and jobs. Many of them recall their time at school, when their own teachers would call them names in front of the class, and the subsequent loss of friends who reject their friendship.
Their community suffer from high rates of depression and suicide. It is not just the conservative Muslims who target them because as one gay person told me, the Christians can also show intolerance. Members of the LGBT community are often treated as normal people when they venture to the west. They feel liberated when overseas, and express sadness that they shoulder a heavy burden.
If Islam is a religion of peace, compassion, kindness and justice, and if Islam teaches us that every person has been created with dignity, why are some of us very intolerant and fearful of the LGBT Why have we forgotten that “Every human is equal. I am not better than you, nor are you better than me”?
Nur describe her fears of returning to Malaysia. As we are aware, she will face persecution and will be targeted by the authorities. Sadly, her possible treatment at the hands of the authorities is a reflection of us, and how we treat others to whom we object, solely because they refuse to conform to our rules. – Mariam Mokhtar