Mariam Mokhtar on Nur Sajat

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The Minister for Religious Affairs promised Nur Sajat “counselling” if she were to return to Malaysia. What’s your advice to her?

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.

Beatings?

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

Reneged on their promise

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. – Rebuilding Malaysia