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A Difficult Dilemma Between Islam and Waria


A Difficult Dilemma Between Islam and Waria

INCOTIVE 05/12/2017

Artikel “Guest writer” oleh Aliya Alifadrianti (Program Guest writer adalah salah satu program Incotive yang mengajak orang-orang dari berbagai latar belakang untuk berbagi perspektif mereka dalam bentuk tulisan)

Ilustrasi oleh Adam Noor Iman


As the call to prayer reverberate around the city at dawn, rows a conservatively dressed Muslim bowing towards Ka’bah and murmured prayers in Arabic. By night the same person dressed up in a Barbie doll-looking, wearing high heels and tank tops, wandering over city station running for errand: greenbacks. This is just a glimpse of waria life.

Waria is a local Indonesian term represents the transvestite community, the so-called “third-gender” of the country. The term itself is a portmanteau of “wanita”(woman) and “pria” (man). The group of waria are diverse, most commonly known in the Western world by drag-queen, cross dressing, a effeminate gay man and any irrepressible feminine spirit.

The concept of identity, gender, and human right has always raised premises for debate especially to certain countries with a degree of religiosity and cultural values, such as Indonesia. It took a while for discourse of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, queer identity) to be contested in Indonesia, a country with 87.2% population of moderated and traditional Muslims. Although the present of waria had been exist for long time, the concept itself still inflicting many parties especially religious groups. Sex and gender are topics that categorized as shrouded and taboo for the people of Indonesia. Sex education is impeached as immoral and lead to social deviation so does gender education. Therefore Indonesian only known 2 genders: male and female, yet waria are very common to be seen in Indonesia.

For waria, identity is the main problem in the facet of gender in Indonesia. They often experience such discrimination including harsh beating by officials, arrested, stripped naked, urinated, catcalling, and seen as abject “creature”. Judged from their jobs such as street singer, make-up artist, hairdresser, and unfortunately prostitute made waria distressed about their position in the society. They were beaten like man but also in some point getting teased like woman on street.

Waria are also for most of the time seen as object of condemnation in the society. In the eye of law, written under the law of Population of Administrative Law (No. 1/1994) Indonesia only provide male or female option on identity card and in Law of Ministry of Social Affair (No. 8/2012) is categorized as someone who needs rehabilitation for the solution of “abnormality”. Although some people are already have culturally open-minded view towards deviation yet Islamic culture does not approve any of it. These have led waria in difficulties of accessing facilities and services around the country, including to religious sites. As a result there are only a few place for waria to worship for people who “fall” outside the boundary of the common Islamic Law.

Happen to be a devoted Muslim; Maryani and Shinta Ratri build a madrasa (educational institution for Islamic instruction) as a safe house for waria known as Pesantren Waria al-Fatthah around Tengen, Yogyakarta in 2008. As the madrasa get the endorsement from KH. Hamroli, well-known ulama from Nahdatul Ulama (NU), they start educating waria who has “seek” for God. The establishment was solemnly for gathering and creating safe house for waria yet to be grown as non-formal educational institution to learn about religion. Although it seems strange for waria to be passionate about the religion that shunned them, they believe that even society does not accept them, God does. From my perspective the establishment of Pesantren Waria al- Fatthah was solely for educational purpose but without limitation to educate public about whom transgender woman are, and to push the government so that it acknowledges that waria has equal rights.

In the madrasa itself waria are expected to be them self in the most comfortable way. For instance the madrasa allows waria to pray and express their identity based on how they feel most comfortable with to the condition. Some of waria; particularly the older one, are used to expressing their “true self” as most of them had already made peace with God to pray openly in woman’s robe (mukenah) but some of them comfortable dressed as a man before they head back to street as woman. They learn about their faith like they never experienced before, remembering that most of mainstream mosques has not yet open for the waria instead harshly reject them.

This madrasa was build along with collaboration of NU, a widely know Traditionalist Javanese Islamic movement in Indonesia whom send their students of Nahdatul Ulama Islamic University of Jepara (UNISNU) to teach theoretical and practical Islam at Pesantren Waria al-Fatthah. The irony that a trans education institution is supported by Indonesia’s most prominent traditionalist Muslim group seen as condemned to other fundamentalist group but it was understood as the tradition of Javanese people itself were already introduced to transgender woman well before Islam arrived. Regarding gender expression, NU argues that the Pesantren Waria al-Fatthah creates a solution to the dormitory system in regular pesantren: where it will be problematic when waria are placed in the men so does in women.

In a religious sphere, the content of fiqih (an Islamic Jurisprudence) does not have much discussion on waria compared to men and woman yet this problem are attempted to be solve by scholar-activist of NU as the act of acknowledging their existence and their subjectivity towards expressing gender identity and religiously within ritual and practice.

The discourse between waria and NU should lead to the perspective of seeing the kind as a subject of knowledge, sexualities, and religiosities ulterior beneath the term gender consciousness. In where the term is a will result particular groups reassessing and acknowledging waria subjectively in understanding their subject position in social and religious lives; as Shinta said, to promote recognition of equal rights with others. Furthermore this recognition manifest in the global contemporary issue and local concept of Islamic liberation theology and aswaja to create consideration among the term of waria to be seen as minority that should be protected, truth of their beings, rather be discriminated and shunned.

On the other hand, mainstream religious group are insisting the banned of LGBT community especially at Yogyakarta. Among them is the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) whom actively condemned any movement Pesantren Waria al-Fatthah made. The militants argue that the madrasa itself should be shut down aside from social deviation it also surrounding neighborhoods although Shinta claimed never heard of such complains. I thoroughly am putting my appreciation through Shinta’s courage on creating public understanding about waria and how she stood up as an intellect between the other. As her alibi stated that:

Islam accommodates diversity: people with disabilities, waria, and all kinds of people deserve Allah’s love. I recited passages of the Qur’an and explained how we teach waria how to face death as Muslim, how to pray as Muslims. In our heads and our heart we are woman and in our soul we are Muslim

Religious framework fails to understand the phenomena of this third-gender and decided to consider it as deviation and disorders that needs to be rehabilitated. Although it’s not completely wrong to disagree with values the waria possessed but prejudging and shunning them are not accepted either. For most of the case, this happens because lack of understanding and the ridged mind of the militant whom refused to understand the condition the fluidity of gender. I do hate this condition, but values are something constructed. They learn from their fundamentalist environment where such deviation is understood as sin in the eye of God. It is not an easy process to accept new things that is judged as wrongful, it could takes generations especially on society whom religious. They are afraid of the sin and that God will send amok upon them.

For the waria, the question of relationship between gender and sex prove the alignment for nonessential to form a full definition of identity, since the construction of gender is fluid and open-minded. As they wish that Islam could just be more accepting and forgiving with a lifestyle that wasn’t their “choice”, they could have been more accepted and would not be shunned to this risky and degradation existence.

The condition is not changing anything soon but things to be considered is the discourse and tolerance between both parties are needed to create comprehensive understanding regarding gender identity. It is not easy but possible, if we all just try.


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  1. Ally 06/12/2017

    Reblogged this on Obrolan Warung Kopi and commented:
    Originally titled: “A Difficult Dilemma Between Identity and Belief” – a paper submitted to International Network University Student Conference in Hiroshima Japan. Republished for Incotive.com as column rubrics as it is in line with their current theme of the month.


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