By Mariam Mokhtar
What does the de facto religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad mean by counseling?
When news emerged that transgender and cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat had sought asylum in Australia, Idris urged her to return to Malaysia and said the government would offer her “counseling services”.
The definition of counseling, especially for religious authorities like Jakim, is different from what most of us refer to as counseling.
For many transgenders and those in the LGBT community, counseling by religious authorities means they are forced to attend boot camps where it is alleged that effeminate males are subject to beatings and cruel taunts.
Don’t they realize 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 become what the authorities consider “normal”.
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.
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 cross-dressing is considered a crime. Some of us are curious. Will we be charged for dressing as a pirate, or another character at a fancy dress party?
The authorities have failed to prioritize 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 spending time 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. Her critics wish to humiliate her and bend her to the wishes of the authorities. They want to make an example of her and deter her from being outspoken and stand up for her rights.
Nur has admitted that she does not feel safe in Malaysia. She has sacrificed being with her family and sold 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 possible without having to look over their shoulders. They face intense scrutiny, threats and humiliating treatment at the workplace and in public. 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 GE14 in 2018, many members of the LGBT community had hoped for reform and protection after years of discrimination.
They thought they might have been accorded equal rights, but many of its former leaders like Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim reneged on their promise of equality 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 suffers from high rates of depression and suicide.
It is not just 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 back in Malaysia.
If they were equipped with better opportunities, they could excel and flourish in education and work. They would then be able to make valuable contributions to society.
Instead, the conservative and ultra-religious people beat them up, cheat them at work and humiliate them.
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 LGBT?
Why have we forgotten that “every human is equal, and I am not better than you, nor are you better than me”?
Nur described her fears of returning to Malaysia. 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.
1. TheVibes.com: Help us bring Nur Sajat home, cops ask entrepreneur’s family
2. Malaysiakini: Minister: Govt will offer Nur Sajat counseling if she returns
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)