Pakistani clerics declare transgender marriages legal in Islam

Fifty top Pakistani clerics have issued a religious decree declaring that transgender people have full marriage, inheritance and funeral rights under Islamic law.

The fatwa stated that a female-born transgender person having "visible signs of being a male" may marry a woman or a male-born transgender with "visible signs of being a female”, and vice versa.

However, it ruled that a transgender person carrying "visible signs of both genders" - or intersex - may not marry anyone.

It is currently impossible for transgenders to marry in Pakistan, where gay marriage remains punishable by life imprisonment, and no “third gender” is recognised on official identity cards.

The new fatwa also declared that any act intended to "humiliate, insult or tease" the community was “haraam” (sinful), and that transgender persons should not be deprived of family inheritances, nor the right to be buried in Muslim ceremonies.

Muhammad Zia Ul Haq Naqshbandi, the Lahore-based head of the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat religious law organisation that issued the fatwa, said parents who deprived their transgender sons or daughters of inheritances were "inviting the wrath of God”.

Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat is not a political organisation, and its fatwas are not legally binding. But the group wields influence thanks to its tens of thousands of followers across Pakistan.

Its statement was celebrated as a rare moment of good news for Pakistan’s marginalised transgenders, at a time when the community is increasingly being targeted with physical attacks.

Last month, the shooting of a transgender woman at her home in northern Pakistan triggered protests across the country. Another transgender activist who was shot in May died after allegedly being refused medical treatment for her wounds.

Activists claim that transgender persons receive insufficient protection from authorities in Pakistan due to their taboo status. They welcomed Sunday’s fatwa, and called on Pakistan’s government to codify the decree with binding legislation.

“This is the first time in history that Muslim clerics have raised their voices in support of the rights of transgender persons,” said Qamar Naseem, a transgender community activist. “But we have to go further for transgender people and the country needs to introduce legislation on it".

Parveen, another transgender activist, also called upon the government to introduce a transgender option, along with male and female, on Pakistan’s official national identity cards.

"I want to marry a male transgender, but to register a marriage I need a national identity card with mention of my gender, which is not available,” she said. “I was kicked out from my family in my childhood. Now authorities are asking for my father's card number for my ID, but my family refuse to even see my face.”