Malaysia prides itself on its diversity. Known as a cultural melting pot, our country accommodates several different races, creeds and religions that sometimes live in harmony.
While that may be the case, our country is noticeably less accepting of different sexualities other than heterosexuality.
The LGBT community in Malaysia has been subjected to insurmountable scrutiny, pain and vitriol and none of this is done behind closed doors. In fact, this mistreatment of the LGBT community is done proudly and out in the open.
From ministers calling to ban all LGBT related content from Netflix to the abnormally common narrative that the LGBT community has supernatural powers that can inflict natural disasters onto the country, there is no shortage of hate directed towards the LGBT community.
Currently, an ongoing manhunt for Internet personality and entrepreneur Nur Sajat has further highlighted the discrimination towards the transgender community.
To catch you up, Sajat was called in by JAIS after she organised a recitation of verses from the Quran while dressed in female clothing. When authorities showed up at the scene, Sajat was allegedly handled roughly leading to bruises on her wrists and her face.
From there, JAIS issued a manhunt consisting of over 122 officers when in reality, they only needed 4.
PENULARAN VIDEO OLEH SAJJAD
As of right now, she is being charged under Section 10(a) Selangor Syariah Crimes Enactment No. 5 1995, a Syariah law which has be described as “defamation of Islam” and that is punishable with a fine not exceeding RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years, or both.
This incident caused a public outcry from activists and allies, stating that the constant bullying and harassing of Nur Sajat is baseless, some even mentioning how it’s a waste of time when there are other issues that need attention.
However, on a bigger scope, the reaction towards Sajat’s manhunt has been divided.
It is disappointing to see news outlets and netizens blatantly disregard Sajat’s identity as a woman by referring to her by her dead name. For those who are unaware, dead names are the names prior to the individual’s transition. Once an individual identifies as their new name, calling them by their old one is extremely offensive to the transgender community.
Not only that, using the proper pronouns, for example she/her instead of he/him is integral to respecting the individual’s identity.
Some have argued that using Sajat’s old name is crucial in reporting facts since it is the name stated on her MyKad. But does the birth name really matter in this case when she is already known to be a transgender woman? Doesn’t it just open more doors to bullying?
We should respect the decisions of others to name themselves whatever they want. After all, PM Muhyiddin Yassin would be PM Mahiaddin Bin Md Yassin if everyone were to strictly follow their MyKad.
The same goes for other cisgendered celebrities who commonly use stage names or aliases when it comes to dealing with media attention. Why are we respecting those names that have nothing to do with the person’s identity, yet we are purposely disregarding Sajat’s name for which she uses to identify as a woman?
Meanwhile, the public scrutiny towards Sajat has reached detrimental levels. Not only are people commenting harsh insults on her social media platforms, but the amount of death threats she receives have been at an ultimate high since this incident took place.
With netizens calling for her head on a platter, Sajat has reached her breaking point. Despite her controversial past and coquettish behaviour online, Sajat remained a practicing Muslim. However, recently, she has voiced that she no longer wants to be a part of the religion due to the constant onslaught of hate that she receives every day.
Pengakuan abang Sajat untuk keluar dari agama Islam (murtad) ketika di IG Live. pic.twitter.com/0EHng2DmnP
— Twiter Virall (@twitervirall) March 2, 2021
In an Instagram live video, she mentions that she is fed-up with the way she has been treated by Malaysians. Due to the overwhelming negativity, she feels Islam is no longer a religion that welcomes her and that she is willing to leave.
Apostasy is criminal offence in Malaysia and a Muslim can only leave Islam once they have proven in court that they were never raised as Muslim.
In 2017, a woman appealed to be declared as non-Muslim to the Federal Court after being raised Buddhist her entire life. After a 3 year battle, she won the case but only after being initially dismissed by the High Court.
For Sajat, who was born and raised as a Muslim, this is not an option yet continuing to live her life as a woman has also proved to be extremely difficult.
With religious figures dismissing her identity and insisting that her inner turmoil is her fault, Sajat has been backed into a corner but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen members of the transgender community being treated unfairly in the country.
Malaysia’s long, dark history of mistreating the transgender community.
Let us not forget what happened to T. Nhaveen, a young boy who was deemed to be “effeminate” by his classmates. In 2017, after constantly being called slurs and bullied in school, the 18-year-old was viciously beaten, raped and sodomised with foreign objects.
He was declared brain dead and soon died six days later.
In that same year, 27-year-old Sameera Krishnan was slashed in her arms, legs and head before she was shot three times. Her attackers were three masked men who arrived in two separate cars. Despite being loved by her family and all those around her, she was brutally murdered and even gang-raped. Until today, Sameera and her family have seen no justice.
A year later, another undisclosed transgender woman, aged 32, was beaten to death in Klang by a group of youths. Nisha Ayub, co-founder of the Kuala Lumpur-based transgender rights group Justice for Sisters, called this incident “a hate crime,” pleading for serious action to be taken against the assailants.
These are just the stories that have broken through the obsidian and peeked its head into our peripheral vision. Undoubtedly, there are numerous of other cases of discrimination towards the community that have either been buried under the rug or concealed as something else entirely.
Take it from Nisha herself, who has been subjected to endless violence, aggression and court proceedings for leading her life as a woman. She was even sent to prison in an attempt to change her into a “real man.”
Spearheading the cause for justice for transgender rights in Malaysia has not been an easy task and with Sajat’s recent case, it seems like the battle is far from over. Calling it an exercise of overzealousness, Nisha believes JAIS’s overstep into the matter is unconstitutional.
Despite the baby steps Malaysia has taken to rectify the country’s wrongs, there is still a lot to be done and the manhunt for Sajat has only just highlighted the existing issues that have been prevalent in our country for decades when in reality, the transgender community has been around for far longer than that.
In the 15th century, Malay androgynous religious practitioners have been serving the Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan and Johor palaces, ensuring that all food consumed by the royals were not tampered by evil spirits or ill-meaning commoners.
Essentially, these practitioners, also known as Sida-Sida were guards and were a vital part of the palace. Mostly males who dressed in female costume and engaged in sexual activity with the same sex, the sida-sida protected the palace from threats in the mortal and divine world.
Then there were also the Manang Bali, a group of gender non-conforming shamans from the indigenous Iban tribe, who lived in Malaysian Borneo for hundreds of years before the British colonised the area in the 1800s, bringing Christianity with them.
Moving forward in present day, Sajat’s will to leave the religion shows that we need to be kinder towards one another. Apostasy is not an option in this country so forcefully chasing someone out of Islam will lead to zero fruition.
Embracing our brothers and sisters in Islam and treating them with respect is the only way for peace to be had for both parties. Misgendering, disparaging and hunting members of the LGBT community with the intent to hurt them goes against such teachings and it reflects poorly on the religion and the country.
Conflict cannot be solved with more conflict.