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Day of the Dogs, Part 14: If One Day I Am Shipwrecked

13 January, 2021 - 07:00

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

“Mamá knows things” – Nur

Ancient Knowledge

SAMIA DIDN’T NEED TO ASK WHY HE WANTED MELOCOTON’S DNA. Instead she said, “Take your shirt off and tell me what you see.”

“You can’t wait for me to shower before you jump me?”

She clucked her tongue. “Just do it.”

He shucked off the shirt. Samia’s hand went to his wounded shoulder and he pulled back, expecting it to hurt, but when she touched him, moving her fingers lightly across the skin, there was no pain. He pulled her hand away to study the wound… except there was no wound. Only a scar about a centimeter wide, and not a bad scar at that, but the kind you might expect if you scraped yourself on the corner of the car door. The flesh surrounding the scar was pink and new.

He probed the area with his fingers. There was no pain. Samia wanted to know what he saw, and he told her. “It was the krägä bianga.”

She frowned. “You mean the medicine woman? When did you see her?”

He told her, briefly, about his visit to his mother’s house the night of the dinner party, leaving out the fact that Celio Natá had been there and had practically ordered him to become a governor and move to the wilderness.

“SubhanAllah,” Samia whispered. “Ancient knowledge.”

“I guess.”

“There’s no guessing. The evidence is here.” She rubbed his shoulder. “Knowledge comes from many places. We forget that. Nowadays people think knowledge only comes from laboratories, computers, universities. But Al-Ghazali said that anyone who believes that unveiling the truth is the fruit of well-ordered arguments belittles the immensity of Divine mercy. The same is true for well-ordered technology, for sure. Truth, in other words, as well as understanding, insight and vision, all flow from Allah’s mercy. That’s why, in that hadith about the bald man, the leper and the blind man, the blind man was the only one who was grateful to Allah.”

“I don’t get you. What blind man?”

“Don’t you remember from school? To summarize, and I’m paraphrasing, the Prophet sal-Allahu-alayhi-wa-sallam told a story about three Israelites: a leper, a bald man, and a blind one.”

She sat cross-legged beside Omar and told the story:

Leper, Bald, Blind

In order to test the three men, Allah sent an angel to each one separately. The angel asked each one what he wished for most, and what he would like to own. The leper wished for good skin and a cure for his disease, and to own camels. The bald man wished for a beautiful head of hair, and cattle. The blind man wished to be able to see, and for sheep. Each was given what he asked for, and over time their animals multiplied until they were wealthy.

Later the angel returned in the form of a poor traveler. First he went to the leper and said, “I am a poor man, at the end of my rope on my journey, without recourse except to Allah and to you. I ask by the One who gave you a good complexion, good skin, and wealth, for a camel whereby I may complete my journey.”

But the man said, “I have many obligations.”

The angel said, ‘I seem to know you. Weren’t you a leper, destitute and shunned by society? And didn’t Allah help you?”

But the man said, “No, I’ve always had this lovely skin, and I inherited my wealth from previous generations.”

The angel said, “You are a liar. May Allah make you as you were.” So the man was returned to his leprous condition, and stripped of his wealth.

The angel went to the bald man with the same request, and the man similarly lied and denied Allah’s favor, and was returned to his previous condition.

But then the angel went to the formerly blind man with the same request. And the blind man said, “Indeed, I used to be blind, but Allah restored my eyesight. Take whatever you want for the sake of Allah.”

* * *

“Do you see my point?”

“That we should be grateful?”

“And?”

He snapped his fingers. “Generous.”

“And?”

Omar was suddenly tired. Samia’s tendency to lecture did not always come at ideal moments. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll tell you, it’ll just take a sec. The blind man was given the vision to see the truth of things, and therefore could not deny that truth. He saw that all mercy, not only his ability to see, and the sheep he’d been given, but the light streaming from the sun, the uniqueness of each raindrop, the first cry of a baby, even the decomposition of bodies in the earth, is all a mercy from Allah, and that furthermore our own ability to understand these things and speak of them is yet another manifestation of rahmah.”

Omar’s was struck by the irony of Samia telling a story about a blind man gaining his vision. A thought came: Why can’t an angel come to her? Suddenly his eyes filled with tears, and he pressed his palms into them to hide it.

Mistaking this as a gesture of weariness, Samia caressed his curly hair and swung her legs off the bed, but Omar said, “So the krägä bianga is a manifestation of Allah’s mercy?”

“Why not?”

“She’s not Muslim.”

“Since when is Allah’s rahmah restricted to Muslims? Don’t the non-Muslims love their children too?” She clapped a hand on his knee. “Take a shower. I’ll make some apam balik.”

At the mention of apam balik, his stomach stuttered into gear and his mouth watered. He realized for the first time since waking how incredibly hungry he was. He grinned. “I should get sick more often, if I get apam balik for breakfast.”

* * *

He spent a few hours on the phone with his assistant Belem, and then doing research on the internet on DNA genealogy tests. He was pleased to see that the companies only wanted saliva samples, not blood. For sure Tio Melo would not willingly give him a DNA sample – the old man was obstinately private – but maybe Omar could somehow trick him into giving a saliva sample. The problem, however, was that the testing kits apparently needed about two millimeters of saliva, which was a lot.

Mamá Knows Things

Those few hours of work exhausted him. He took a noontime siesta, and woke to the feel of a small, sticky hand pushing his cheek around like baker’s dough. Opening his eyes, he saw Nur in his IIAP preschool uniform. While Omar had been sick his mother and Masood had been taking the boy to school each morning, and Nadia had been bringing him home.

Nadia was a lifesaver. Even in normal times, she picked Nur up every day, because the preschoolers had class until 1 pm, and Omar and Samia were both at work until 5. Since Nadia’s son Jameel was Nur’s classmate, she’d take Nur home with her, and Omar and Samia would fetch him on their way home. She had never asked for payment or reward. She treated Nur like a member of her family.

“Hey Nunu. How was school?”

Nur stuck out his bottom lip. “Bad.”

“Why?”

“Brother Ahmed didn’t give me a gold star sticker, and I cried. I told him that when I grow up and become a man I’ll buy my own stickers and I won’t give him any.”

“Aww, come here.” Nur hopped up onto the bed and Omar kissed him on the temple. “Were you scared when I was sick?”

“No, because Mamá said you would be okay, and I believe her because Mamá knows things.”

“Don’t I know things?”

“Yes, but not as much as Mamá.”

Omar grinned. Truth from the mouths of babes.

She’s Gone

Samia wanted him to take another day off work, but he was too far behind, and she too was needed at the office. So they returned to their routine the next day, with Omar driving Nur to school, and himself and Samia to work.

When they stopped in front of Nadia’s house to pick up Nur that afternoon, Omar stayed in the car. “You go,” he told Samia. He didn’t want to risk seeing Halima. They’d parted on such uncomfortable terms.

Samia shrugged. “Okay.” She stepped out of the car, unfolded her cane and snapped it open. When the door opened, Nadia and Samia exchanged cheek kisses, and Nadia waved to him. If Halima was there, she did not show her face.

When Samia returned with Nur, she had an odd look on her face.

“What is it? Something wrong?”

Samia hesitated. “Nadia says Hani showed up a few nights ago, banging on the gate and shouting. She threatened to call the cops but he went down on his knees and begged to see Halima. He was crying.”

“Crying?” Omar was incredulous. He’d never seen Hani cry in his life, even as a kid. For some reason he was repelled and disgusted by the thought, maybe because he found it impossible to believe the man was sincere.

“That’s what she said. Anyway… Halima went with him. She’s gone.”

Omar’s face became as flat as the road beneath them. “Of course she did.” Without another word, he started the car and pulled out into traffic. He felt bitterness and anger settle over him like a leaden blanket. He tried to tell himself that he was angry at Halima for making bad choices, and angry at Hani for being abusive and manipulative, but really, what were they to him? They were neither his children nor even good friends. They were adults, free to screw up, free to make the worst possible choices, free to be rotten, evil or simply stupid. To hell with them.

Even blind, Samia could read his moods. His silence was, to her, like the empty sky in a painting, portenting either the peacefulness of the day or the electricity in the air. When Nur tried to tell him about the latest trouble Fairy and Jameel had gotten into, his mother shushed him, saying, “Papá has to concentrate on driving.”

He turned on the radio, thinking to distract himself. A news announcer’s basso profundo voice intoned the daily ode to all the sadness and turmoil in the world: the Israelis were bombing Gaza. Syria was coming apart. In Europe, right-wing parties were winning seats. In Panama, a government minister had been arrested for selling protected forest land to a lumber company, and the inmates of La Joya prison were rioting.

Omar made a fist and punched the radio button, shutting it off.

Team Magma Vía España, Panamá, Panama

Vía España, Panamá

He made his way down Vía España, the bustling one-way downtown thoroughfare lined with stores, restaurants and hotels. He drove aggressively, blasting the horn as if it were a sonic weapon that would disintegrate everything in his way. His family ignored him. Samia had put on her cherry red headphones and was listening to the Quran on her phone. Nur was drawing on an Etch-a-Sketch.

He turned up a long driveway and into a large parking lot.

Samia lifted her head. “Where are we?”

“Price Smart. I told those Venezuelans by the Centro that I’d bring them food and water on Saturday, but I missed it.”

“You were sick.”

“They don’t know that. I don’t want to be yet another person messing them over.” He parked under the awnings that shaded the lot, and turned to his family. “Anyone want to come?”

Samia shook her head. Nur did not even look up. “Hey buddy,” Omar said, forcing a cheerful tone. “You don’t want to come with your Papá?” Price Smart had free food samples, plus a food shop that sold frozen yogurt and Mexican churros. Usually Nur enjoyed coming here. But the boy spoke without looking up from his toy: “No, you’re being a Team Magma.”

Omar pursed his lips. “What does that mean?”

“That’s what the kids say.”

“Which kids?”

“Fairy.”

“Of course. But what does it mean?”

“Nothing.”

Samia pulled one headphone cup away from her ear and said, “Leave it, honey.”

With an exasperated sigh, Omar opened all the car windows – it would turn into a sauna otherwise – and went into the store. A half hour later he emerged with a cart laden with five-liter water jugs, cooking oil, canned foods such as tuna, sardines and beans, an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a scattering of hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.

If One Day I Am Shipwrecked

He parked across from the Centro Islamico, directly beside the lot where the Venezuelans were camped. It must have rained last night, because the field was sodden with mud. The scene was much the same as last week, except that in addition to the tent and lean-to that had been here, two new tents had sprung up. One was olive green and appeared to be military issue, while the other consisted of nothing more than a tarpaulin hung over a clothesline strung between the wall of the property bordering the lot, and a stake in the ground.

The toothless old man with the ball cap still sat out in the sun. The thin woman with frizzy hair that he’d seen last week was cooking on a hot plate plugged into an extension cord that ran through a hole in the wall to the property next door. Omar wondered if the people who lived in that adjacent property were donating electricity, or if the refugees were stealing it. Not that it was any of his business. There was no sign of the two children who’d been playing football, nor of the weatherbeaten woman in her forties to whom he’d given the money. A tall teenage boy with brown hair cut close to the scalp was limping around the field with a black garbage bag, collecting discarded bottles and cans.

Omar exited the car and went around to the trunk to unload the goods. From inside one of the tents a woman was singing in a voice as clear and sweet as spun sugar, yet with an undertone of deep melancholy and pain:

I carry your light and your scent on my skin.
I carry the foam of the sea in my blood
and your horizon in my eyes.
And if one day I am shipwrecked
and a typhoon breaks my sails,
bury my body near the sea in Venezuela.

As Omar stood listening, the teenage boy spotted him. The youth dropped his bag, shouted and began running toward Omar with a hitching gait. The singing cut off abruptly. Omar watched, puzzled. When the boy was within seven or eight meters he reached down, scooped a handful of mud and flung it at Omar.

Muddy fieldThe mud struck Omar in the chest. It was wet and soft, and stuck to his shirt. He looked at his chest in shock, and when he looked up and opened his mouth to protest, the boy had already flung another handful. It hit Omar in the face, some flying into his mouth and down his throat. He gagged and bent over, coughing. Another gout of mud hit the car, splattering the side windows, and Omar heard Nur’s muffled voice crying out.

The fact that this punk was scaring his son enraged him. He straightened up and strode toward the teenager, who was bending down to scoop another handful of mud.

“Stop that!” Omar shouted. “Are you crazy?”

In response, the boy let loose a string of insults in a reedy, quavering voice, and chucked the mud. This time Omar sidestepped, letting the mud fly past, and a second later he was on the punk. He gripped him by the front of his t-shirt, lifted him onto his toes – the kid weighed practically nothing – and bellowed in his face. An instant later the older woman – the one he’d given the money to – was there, pulling on Omar’s arm, saying, “Let him go, please, he thought you were here to hurt us.” Only then did Omar’s mind register the bruises discoloring the boy’s face, and the wide, dilated eyes. The kid was terrified. People had emerged from the other tents and lean-tos. They were all women and children, and all looked frightened.

Omar released the youth and stepped back, breathing hard. His anger drained away. As a reward, the boy made a fist and hit Omar in the face. The punch struck his cheek, but there was no power behind it, and it felt like a flick from a fingernail. Omar looked at the boy and said calmly, “Don’t do that.”

The older woman gripped the boy’s face. “Stop! This man is a friend!” She turned to Omar. “I apologize. Some men attacked us two nights ago. They threatened to burn our tents. My son tried to stop them and they beat him. He thought you were with them.”

Samia called out behind him. Omar turned to see her approaching, swinging her cane back and forth. Her pant cuffs and nice Oxford flat shoes were stained. Behind her, Nur sat in the car, his face pressed to the window.

“What’s happening?” Samia called out. “Leave my husband alone!”

The appearance of a blind woman feeling her way across the field seemed to take the aggression out of everyone’s sails.

“I’m fine!” Omar called to her. He jogged to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “It was just a scared teenager.” He led her back to the mother and son, and introduced her.

The woman, who had been reluctant to give her name last week, now smiled and took Samia’s hand. “I am Graziela. This is my son Chiki.”

Omar explained that he had supplies in the car. Graziela called out a few names, and two women in their twenties appeared and accompanied Omar to the car to unload the goods, as Samia remained talking to Graziela.

Later, on the way home, Samia told him that while Graziela had been grateful for the supplies, she’d said that what they really needed was legal residency so they could get jobs. Some of the refugees had left children behind with grandparents or aunts, but could not bring them over without papers. “One man from their group went back to Venezuela,” Samia went on, “but Graziela says most of them were starving there. And the violence was terrible. Graziela was robbed ten times in the last year before she left, including twice in one day! But no one here will help. A UNHCR rep came by, took their names, and never returned.”

Listening to this, Omar knew that he had to help these people. But he didn’t know where to start. He looked at Nur in the rear view mirror. The boy was biting his nails, something Omar had seen him doing more often lately. “Hey Nunu,” he said. “You weren’t scared by what happened back there, were you?”

Nur shook his head. “No. But I thought you were going to beat the boy up, and I didn’t want you to.”

Omar let out a ragged breath. The thought of his son thinking of him, Omar, as a bully, shook him. He gripped the steering wheel tightly. When he glanced at Samia, she was not listening to Quran. Instead she seemed to be looking right at him, though he knew she could not actually see him.

“It’s okay, honey,” she said. She put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all going to be okay, inshaAllah.”

Escaped Convict

When he pulled up in front of his house, there was a police car parked along the sidewalk. It was unmarked, but possessed the telltale identifiers: long antennas, bull bars on the front, and a spotlight attached to the passenger’s side window. Celio Natá stood beside the front gate, arms crossed, talking to two men in suits. Omar opened the gate by remote, drove in and parked. He told Samia he’d be right in, thinking that this was one of those moments when he was glad she was blind. Then he felt immediately and powerfully ashamed for having such a thought, and said several istighfar.

He strode out to see what was going on.

When he introduced himself as the homeowner, one of the suited men flashed a detective’s badge, and asked if he knew Celio. Omar had the impression that they were about to arrest the old man. When he told them that yes, Celio was his uncle, they seemed disappointed.

One of the officers gestured casually toward Omar’s face and shirt. “What happened to you?” He was a big man with an oversized belly and a heavy shadow of beard growth.

“Oh.” Omar looked at his mud stained shirt. “Stupid teenager.”

La Joya Prison, Panama

La Joya Prison, Panama

“Huh. Anyway, there’s a riot going on at La Joya prison.”

“I heard about it on the radio,” Omar said. “So?”

The detective shrugged. “Some convicts escaped. One was a man named Nemesio Bayano. Do you know him?”

Omar stared at the man. “Nemesio escaped? How could that happen?”

The detective lifted his bottom lip as if to say, Meh. Who knows?

“So you know him?” said the other cop, an equally tall man with a muscular physique and military haircut.

“He’s my paternal uncle, and he’s a piece of garbage.”

“He hasn’t contacted you?”

“No. Why would he?”

“Because -” The detective took a small notebook from his breast pocket and flipped it open. “According to inmate Bayano’s case manager, he is known to have made repeated statements about wanting to kill his nephew, Omar Bayano. He is, quote, pathologically obsessed with murdering his nephew, and has stated his desire to dismember him and feed his body to dogs.” The man looked up, his face as impassive as if he’d read a weather report.

Omar didn’t know what to say. He looked up and down the street, as if expecting to see Nemesio advancing up the sidewalk with an axe. Only then did he notice another police car – this one marked as such – parked across the street.

“What are you doing about it?”

“Everything,” the muscular detective replied. “Half the police in Panama are pursuing the escapees.” The man handed Omar a card. “We’ll leave a car out front. Call us if your uncle contacts you.”

Omar watched the detectives drive away. He’d hoped never to hear Nemesio’s name again, let alone possibly have to confront him. So the man had been sitting in prison all these years, blaming Omar, stewing and filling with hate, while Omar almost never even thought of the man. What had the detective said? He is pathologically obsessed with murdering his nephew, and has stated his desire to dismember him and feed his body to dogs. Despite himself, Omar felt his skin crawl. He was not afraid for himself. But what about his family? Should he get out of town for a while? But he’d already missed a week of work. And what about his mother? She would have to be told.

Hot Chocolate

Celio cleared his throat. Omar turned. His uncle wore a gray suit with a black shirt and no tie. He had a scent to him, something that made Omar think of tree smoke. For a second he wondered if it was something Puro Panameño could distill and sell, and he had to consciously silence that part of his mind. Not everything was a marketing opportunity.

The old man’s clothes looked like they’d come off a thrift store rack, which Omar considered a mark in his favor. Any leader of a nation who bought his clothes off the discount rack was clearly not in it for the money. And that’s just what Tio Celio was, a leader, even if his people were not sovereign and did not have a seat at the U.N.

But that didn’t mean Omar was happy to see him. “Tio Celio.” His tone was brusque bordering on rude. “What can I do for you?”

“Perhaps I can do something for you.” Celio did not uncross his arms. He possessed a stillness that spoke of power coiled and waiting, in spite of the advanced age apparent in the lines on his face. “I will bring a man down from the comarca to act as your bodyguard.”

Omar snorted. “I don’t need that.”

“Of course not.” Celio’s face was unreadable. “Because how could an illiterate Indian protect you?”

Omar looked at the man askance. “What did you just say? That is not what I was thinking. What do you want anyway?”

“May we talk inside?”

Omar found he could not say no. How do you tell a jaguar to walk away and leave you alone? How do you argue with a mountain? He sighed. “Sure.”

At the door, he told his uncle to wait, and ducked inside. Nur was at the kitchen table, opening a box of colored pencils, and Samia was making him a peanut butter sandwich. She was still wearing her hijab.

“Cariño,” Omar said, using the Spanish word for sweetheart. “We have a guest.”

“Who is it? Should I make something?”

“No, don’t bother.” Omar fetched Celio and ushered him in, bypassing the kitchen and taking him to the living room. “You want something to drink? Guava juice? A Pepsi?”

“You have hot chocolate?”

Omar nodded. He went upstairs and washed his face and hands. His hands were shaking. It wasn’t fear. There was too much going on, and it was overwhelming him. Ivana shooting him, Tio Celio’s crazy demands, his illness and the terrible dreams that had accompanied it, this business of Tio Melo’s DNA, almost beating up some poor refugee kid, and now, of all things, Nemesio – the man he despised most in the world – loose and coming to kill him.

He took off his socks and made wudu’, imagining the water carrying away his sins, along with his stress and anxiety. By the time he was done, the shaking had stopped. ‘If one day I am shipwrecked,” he whispered, “and a typhoon breaks my sails, bury my body near the sea in Venezuela.” The words were longing and mournful, but they somehow comforted him.

After changing his clothes he went to the kitchen to prepare the chocolate. Samia was seated with Nur, who was telling her about his drawing. “It’s a city with buildings all on fire. The people who live inside are made of stone, so the fire doesn’t bother them.” The boy’s description set off an echo in Omar’s mind, and though he could not think of what it reminded him of, he shivered. A dream he’d had, maybe.

Hot chocolateHe set the water to boil. This was not a common drink here in sweltering Panama City, but he knew it was popular on the chilly mountain slopes of the comarca. His mother used to make it all the time, and he kept some for her visits. Not the store-bought brands, but genuine dark cocoa powder, ground from Panamanian cocoa beans. He made two cups, adding milk, sugar and a touch of chili powder.

“Honey,” Samia said quietly. “Who is that?”

“Nobody. Just… Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nobody?”

Omar did not answer. He returned to Tio Celio, setting the cups on the living room coffee table, which was oval-shaped. There was no sharp-cornered furniture in the house, for Samia’s sake. Celio was on the love seat, and Omar sat on the sofa facing him.

“This is good chocolate,” Celio said, taking a big gulp. “You made it Ngäbe style. I’m surprised.” The old man’s eyes settled on the eight stunning ceramic tiles hanging on the living room wall, one row of four above another. They were blue, and carved in the shapes of varying geometric patterns. “Those are Moroccan. Berber, I would say.”

Omar was surprised. “How did you know that?”

“I have been there. I met with Berber leaders to discuss the common cause of indigenous autonomy. I have been to many nations, many continents.” Celio studied Omar’s face. “This surprises you. You think I am a backward Indian. An illiterate savage.”

Omar’s face grew hot. “I do not think that. How dare you come into my house and -”

“You do. Maybe you don’t realize it. But I saw the loathing on your face when the krägä bianga was treating you. I saw the scornful look you gave the girl, Maura. And I heard what you said to your wife just now. That I am nobody, nothing. This is why you refused my offer. You look down on us indigenous people, as so many do. You deny this part of your heritage. You might know how to make Ngäbe chocolate, but that’s as far as it goes. Your blood is empty. You are a bigot. Yet it is not us you are ashamed of, but yourself. I am not angry with you, but I am sad. Anyone who is prejudiced against his own genetic code deserves only pity.”

Omar was shocked beyond words. He set his chocolate down on the table, hard enough that it sloshed over the side. “Don Celio,” he said, and though he used the man’s honorific – why had he done that? – his voice was as sharp as a knife. But he found that he didn’t know what to say. Deny that he was a bigot? Was there any point to that? Apologize? He’d done nothing wrong.

Before he could conjure anything meaningful, Samia appeared, her face tight with anger. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but it’s time for you to leave.”

Celio nodded slowly, considering this. For a moment Omar feared the man might refuse. But Celio stood and bowed to Samia, perhaps not realizing that she could not see him. “My apologies for the disturbance, señora. I will let myself out.” He strode toward the front door, then turned. “Child Omar. Your Malcolm X said, ‘We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.’ Ask yourself. Do you accept every part of yourself?” With that, he departed.

Blaming the Victim

Samia rounded on Omar. “Who was that? Why did he speak to you that way?”

Omar glowered. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He was deeply troubled by what Celio had said. Was it true? Was he a racist? Did he hate the Ngäbe part of himself? Discrimination against indigenous people was a nearly universal Latin American phenomenon. Was he infected by it? He felt like he’d been struck in the chest by a wrecking ball. But Samia knew very little about his mother’s side of the family, and he didn’t feel like getting into the whole mess right now.

“I see.” Samia tapped a finger on her forehead, then came to him, finding him unerringly. “Lie down. Time for a massage.”

“I don’t want to.”

She pushed him down. “Do it.”

Omar let out an exasperated breath and lay on his stomach on the sofa, turning his face sideways so that his cheek pressed against the cushion. Samia half-kneeled beside him, one knee pressing into the sofa cushion beside his hip, and began to massage his shoulders. She worked on the upper part of his shoulders and neck first, alternately applying pressure with her palms, and digging in with her fingertips.

She’d learned to do this from a sister named Sawdah, a Panamanian who had studied some kind of Japanese massage in New York. Sawdah held seminars in her home for women only. Samia had proven an apt pupil, and ever since then she often used her skills on Omar.

“I got this new gadget at work,” she said as she used her knuckles to dig into a particularly tight spot above Omar’s left shoulder blade, “called a line reader. It’s the size of a computer mouse. I run it over any printed page, and it reads the text out loud. It’s fantastic. It can read a spreadsheet, a letter, anything.”

Omar grunted. “So you could use it to read Islamic books too?”

Samia’s fingers ceased their work for a moment. “SubhanAllah. I never thought of that. I can read books again! Although the device’s voice sounds like a woman on opium.”

She worked lower, using her elbow to dig deep into the large muscles of the middle back. Omar found his anger at Hani, his shock and indignation at Tio Celio’s words, all fading with each dig.

“You must be pretty upset with Halima, huh? She’s a terrible person.”

He frowned. “No. She’s a victim.”

“But she went back to her abuser. So stupid, right?”

He knew she was baiting him, but he couldn’t help it. “Yes. It is stupid. But it’s her problem. It’s like a drug addict, you can’t help them unless they want to be helped.”

“So you think she wants to be abused?”

“She must.”

“Did you?”

Omar sat up. “Excuse me?”

“You were abused. Your uncle used to beat you. Did you want that?”

“I was a kid.”

“You were a teenager. Teenagers run away all the time. Plus, you were a karate student. You could have fought back or called the police. You could have told people, told your karate teacher, Principal Suwaylem, your friends’ parents.”

Omar leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. He hated talking about this. Finally he said, “I didn’t think I could do all those things. I felt… I don’t know.”

“Try.”

He kept his eyes on the floor. “I felt trapped and ashamed. I thought people wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t want to abandon my mother. I didn’t know where to go. I even thought that if I left, Nemesio might come after me and find me, and hurt me even worse.”

Samia reached out and cupped the back of his neck, squeezing. “I understand.” She didn’t have to say anything else. He understood the unspoken message: It’s the same for Halima, and for every other victim out there. Don’t hate them for their weakness. They are no more to blame than you were.

He sighed and relaxed, reclining into the sofa. “You’re right, cariño. Nunu did say that you know things.”

“Did he? He just knows who makes the apam balik around here.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 15:  DNA Doesn’t Lie

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Podcast: Damage Control With Digital Dinosaurs – On The Fiqh of Social Media | Omar Usman

12 January, 2021 - 05:33

The internet shapes our interaction with the Muslim world, but how does Islam shape our interaction with the internet? Join Zeba Khan as she discusses this with Omar Usman, digital dinosaur and author of the Fiqh of Social Media.

The internet shapes our interaction with the Muslim world, but how does Islam shape our interaction with the internet? Click To Tweet

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media.

“People assume that because they have access to the information, that it translates into understanding. So it’s almost like “well now that I can search Sunnah.com and access all that hadith, that means my fiqh is stronger than Abu Hanifa’s because he just didn’t have access to all the hadith. So I know more. My opinions are going to be more correct.””

“You can’t turn everything off and create your own bubble where you’re unaware of any type of atrocity happening in the world, but at the same time you do have to pick how deep you can go in on each one.”

 

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Violence At The US Capitol And Hateful Ideologies

11 January, 2021 - 19:18

Charles de Gaulle, the French President who led his country against Nazi Germany once famously said,”Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

This stark contrast between patriotism and nationalism is now more apparent than ever, with the latter resurgent around the world in a way that calls into question the sentiments millions of people who love their respective countries, races and religions have for each other. Is it love for “our people,” or hate for “others?”

The events at Capitol Hill on January 6 have been called an assault on democracy by a riotous mob and a fascist act incited by a rogue President. While these descriptions may be accurate, they do not identify the emotion that motivated hundreds of people from around the country to assemble at Capitol Hill, to engage in violence while on camera, and to put their own lives and livelihoods on the line in order to prevent what they were led to believe was a grave injustice. That underlying emotion was one of hate and indignation, and it was building up long before Donald Trump became President. Trump only accelerated its growth, serving as a catalyst to help it reach a tipping point until it found expression in the violence last Wednesday that claimed five lives.

The Capitol Hill attack, while rightfully considered as a dark chapter in US history, did not happen in isolation. The mainstreaming of far-right ideas once espoused only by fringe groups, is part of a global pattern of several countries gravitating towards virulent forms of nationalism. From the popularity of the rabid Hindu nationalist government in India and the rise of Buddhist “nationalist” forces cheerleading the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Ku Klux Klan finding common cause with the US President, hundreds of millions of people around the world are now increasingly identifying with (and voting for) a narrative that involves somehow restoring a “national glory” whose loss can be attributed to the “others,” usually immigrants, minorities and people of color.

The fact that millions of Trump voters continue to believe the election was rigged is not unrelated to the fact that the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, regarded by the FBI to pose a domestic terrorism threat now has their first elected representative to the US House of Representatives. Like the canard perpetuated by Hindu nationalist forces that 200 million Indian Muslims are “traitors” to their country, some of whom were marrying Hindu women as part of a “Love Jihad” campaign to subvert Hindu society, the QAnon movement has managed to get an online following of people who believe Trump is up against a cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles that is running a global child sex-trafficking ring. In the age of fake news and social media, the megaphones of falsehoods and smear campaigns are louder and more powerful than ever, and they threaten not only law and order, but the very idea of what is meant by popular will.

Should we be intimidated by the support that “strong men” like Trump and Modi enjoy in their respective countries, or question the underlying falsehoods that catapulted these men to power?

Is Aung San Suu Kyi’s tacit support for the Rohingya genocide, including a defense of Myanmar at the International Court, somehow less alarming because she continues to be extremely popular in Myanmar?

In so much as these leaders came to power through democratic elections, with each having an ardent following of millions willing to take to the streets for them, they represent the will of their supporters. In that sense, even the shameful assault on the Capitol was, in the words of John Harris of Politico, “a perverse expression of democracy.”

There is one thread that is common to all nationalist movements, from Nazism in World II Germany and Hindutva in India to the white supremacist forces in the West.Click To Tweet

However there is one thread that is common to all nationalist movements, from Nazism in World II Germany and Hindutva in India to the white supremacist forces in the West. It is a reliance on narratives that weaponize real or perceived grievances, on a revisionism of history that holds the “other” responsible for practically everything that ails the Republic and that falsely claims that the solutions to the country’s complex problems are predicated on a subjugation of its minorities.

Unfettered social media has amplified these hateful ideologies that have each been built around a web of lies and deceit. While these have varied causes, the effects on their victims follow very similar trajectories. Alienation, discrimination, demonization and far too often, horrific mass violence. Hate speech may be as old as the human race, but the means to amplify and disseminate it to a global audience have never been as powerful and its effects never as lethal as they are today. There exists ample evidence in the public domain that incendiary rhetoric online, especially by influential groups and individuals, has led to actual violence that has destroyed countless lives in India, Myanmar and other countries. It is not surprising that the “aggrieved” majorities in these countries are joining hands, as outlined in a New York Times article in 2014 titled “Deadly Alliances against Muslims.”

While people of conscience around the world agree on the need to challenge these false narratives, it is important we discuss the terms of such a challenge, if it is to even make a dent in the trajectory of these hate movements. To say that the rioting “nationalist” mob at Capitol Hill last Wednesday was driven by sentiments of hate is stating the obvious. The harder question is how we can rise above hating them! To retreat into our safe spaces where our perspectives are driven by a shared set of facts is easy. To confront the larger problem, of how fake news and the widespread abuse of social media are pushing false narratives which in turn fuel hate and anger, is hard.

Thanks to exposes of Facebook’s corrupt handling of hate and Islamophobia, two of which were published in the Wall Street Journal and one in Time, the public is now aware of the multiple failures of ethics and legality at the social media giant. However, this is not even scratching the surface in terms of how false narratives are purposefully disseminated over time, in ways that they become part of the discourse. A massive study of fake news undertaken by MIT found that falsehoods consistently dominate the truth on Twitter. The study analyzed 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users over 10 years. “We must redesign our information ecosystem in the 21st century,” declared a group of 16 political scientists and legal scholars in an essay published in Science.  

There are no winners when hate and falsehood become pervasive. The genocide of Rohingya has not brought prosperity to Myanmar, and the demonization of Muslims in India along with countless lynchings has not helped the country avert a record fall in its GDP.  It is therefore important for people of conscience around the world to rally around the goal of defending every citizen’s right to the truth. Fake news, social media and hate are a lethal combination, and left unchecked, they can collectively devour everything that defines our humanity, including our God-given mandate to discern truth from falsehood.

Hating and demonizing those who attacked Capitol Hill may help some of us let steam out in order to deal with the trauma of recent events. In the larger scheme of things however, it is our ability to strategize around long term initiatives and effective coalitions and to use our limited resources in ways that can have the most impact that will determine how this challenge to humanity is ultimately defeated. In other words, it is our tenacity in defending the truth and courage in taking on falsehoods that is facing a test.

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Muslim In Germany: European High Court Legalizes The Banning Of Halal And Kosher Animal Slaughter

10 January, 2021 - 23:39

Just a few weeks ago, the Highest Court of the European Union ruled that member states can ban halal and kosher animal slaughtering; or allow it only under the condition that the animals have been stunned before their throat is cut (which is the requirement for slaughtering animals for food in both, the Muslim and Jewish religions). The case came up to the highest court of the Union because Belgium (Flanders) had passed a law banning this type of ritual slaughter in spite of protests from both religious communities who say this is a deep infringement of their right to follow their own religious obligations.

This ruling might affect Muslims living in Germany even more than before. It should be known that banning kosher slaughtering had been first put into law at the beginning of the 1930’s, i.e., as a part of persecution of the Jewish minority (there were almost no Muslims living in Germany at the time). It either made Jewish life difficult for those wanting to live kosher, or forced practicing Jews into breaking an official religious obligation. The latter was one of the intentions of the ruling towards starting the legal persecution of Jews.

Of course, this law was among the first to be abolished after the end of the 2nd World War, and until late in the 1990s the topic was more or less no point of discussion despite a growing Muslim community. A community whose members increasingly sought to slaughter their own meat and sell in their own shops – a right that would have otherwise not been possible during the first decades of immigration, as opening shops was not allowed to new immigrants. Animal protection societies were still interested in the topic, but -owing to the fact that any protest in this direction would go against Jewish communities-, not too energetically.

With growing enmity against Islam and Muslims in general — although during the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s it was more a general xenophobia – which expressed itself most loudly in the debate about hijab, the question of halal slaughtering also came up. In 1995, slaughtering without stunning was forbidden, and it was necessary to apply for special permission not to stun animals before slaughtering. It was never questioned when a permit was required for kosher slaughter, but was more often than not refused to Muslims. Long fights at court ensued, and only the German constitutional court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) decided at last in 2002 that of course the Muslim slaughter of animals also had the right to this permission.

In reaction to this in 2006, an amendment was added to the German constitution (Grundgesetz) to declare the protection of animals as a main national objective. As a result, the authorities pretended this would negate the decision of 2002 and that they could again refuse this permission. Following more legal fighting, the current status stands that again the highest German court has decided that a special permission has to be granted if it is proved that the religious law is mandatory not to stun the animals first, and that the meat will only be sold to those members of the religious community who also hold on to this belief. Currently it can be observed that it is nearly impossible to slaughter for the halal market under this condition, with the authorities putting up more and more obstacles when a permission is applied for.

Close up shot of the goat with bunch of green lush grass on the summer meadow

Meanwhile, there were two ways to procure halal meat for the market in Germany: either import it from neighboring states where halal slaughter was not a problem, or follow the opinion laid down in some fatwas from different scholars that stated that meat could be considered halal if the animal was only put to sleep in a way that this would not kill it (unlike the shots animals get in German non-halal slaughterhouses) and, if the throat was not cut it would wake up unharmed. The Jewish communities however, declared this as not kosher, which meant that this regulation would restrict them to slaughtering completely.

This is a question of Islamic Law that I cannot decide, but it makes it very difficult for the average Muslim to know what they are buying or eating, even if food items are marked “halal” and/or are sold by Muslims as such. Whoever does not share the opinion that this is halal meat, must inquire doubly and triply when sourcing their meats, and invest in buying more imported goods from countries where you can be guaranteed of a more reliable certificate.

The new decision will not change too much in German law, but it leads to growing suspicions that the highest authorities in Europe consider religious laws and living as less important even than the rights of animals.Click To Tweet

The new decision will not change too much in German law, but it leads to growing suspicions that the highest authorities in Europe consider religious laws and living as less important even than the rights of animals. This might often give the strongly atheist, the right-wing (but not only) eagerness and help when they want to push against other facets of Muslim life. Keep in mind that the ban of niqab is legal according to this court (although not all countries want to get ridiculed for making laws against a two or three figure minority of Muslim women) as is a ban on hijab in schools, and like in France, for teachers and other government employees, etc. Discrimination against visible Muslims -again, mostly muhajjabas- is common, and getting jobs and finding housing are two of the most common problems, besides a rising number of attacks. Praying at a workplace is often as good as impossible, or at least a known reason for mobbing. All of this will be encouraged by decisions of high courts who treat Muslim laws and lifestyle as irrelevant.

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Day of the Dogs, Part 13: Never Be Your King

6 January, 2021 - 05:01

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12

“Who names their kid after a fruit?” – Omar

Good Dog

Car headlights in the rainOMAR GRIMACED AS HE SWUNG THE GATE OPEN. His shoulder was sending out pulses of pain, as insistent as a reggaeton beat. Grasping Berlina’s leash, he was about to dash across the street toward his mother’s house, but the dog planted her feet, stopping short.

A car blared its horn and rushed by in the darkness, its headlights blazing a path in the rain. He had not even seen it coming. Berlina had saved his life.

“Good dog.” He rubbed her neck with a shaking hand. Looking both ways now, he jogged across the street, his feet slapping the asphalt. From somewhere far off he heard a drawn-out cry that might have been the harpy eagle again, or a car skidding on the wet streets. He was filled with a directionless panic. He knew it was stupid. A harpy eagle was a bird, that was all. Nevertheless, his stomach felt like he’d swallowed a live eel.

He pressed the buzzer on the intercom at his mother’s gate, and a moment later the speaker crackled as Masood, his mother’s husband, said, “Who is it?” His voice was – as always – as mild as a pigeon’s coo.

“It’s me, Omar.”

The gate swung open. Omar hurried up the tiled white walkway, which rose in broad steps. Unlike his own lush garden, his mother’s yard had an open design consisting of mossy groundcover, boulders, and several strategically placed security cameras. It was a space to pass through rather than spend time in, and was arranged to make sure the cameras had an unobstructed view. He couldn’t fault her for the emphasis on security. Criminals had broken into and looted the house three years ago. Luckily his mom had slept at the factory that night, in an upstairs bedroom that she used when she worked late.

The exterior of the home looked like three massive, rectangular white blocks pushed together, the sheer surface broken only by vertical, heavily tinted windows. It was a weird play on traditional Panamanian homes, which tended to be made of brick, with small windows to minimize the sun’s heat. From the outside, the house seemed to say, proceed with caution.

Just like his mother, who had never been one to share her feelings about anything. She had not wept at his father’s funeral, though he knew she had loved Papá more than anything in this world. She had not wept when Omar lay in a hospital bed, ravaged by eighty seven dog bites. The only time he’d ever seen her panicked was when the harpy eagle had perched in the tree outside their home, all those years ago. What had she thought the eagle’s visit could mean? What could have been worse than all that had already happened? Though he knew the answer: she feared the eagle’s visit was a portent of my own death.

By the time he reached the front door Masood was there, dressed in his usual evening wear: leather Arabic slippers, cargo shorts and a polo shirt. The smell of fried rice and beef wafted out of the doorway.

A short, portly and balding Panamanian of Syrian descent, Masood had kind eyes, a full mouth and a chin as round as a ping pong ball. He was a perpetually mild-mannered man who was completely unlike Papá. You’d never find him practicing karate or stopping robbers on a bus. But you wouldn’t find him shouting, drinking or hitting like Nemesio either. He was neither brave nor cowardly, and that was fine. He was simply the man Mamá needed and relied on.

“How is Mamá?” Omar blurted.

Looking Omar up and down, Masood frowned. From Masood, this was an expression of great alarm. “What happened to you? Come. Ximena was just going to call you.”

Omar blinked, so unused was he to hearing anyone use his mother’s given name. Everyone else in the universe, from Puro Panameño employees to government ministers, called her Señora Bayano.

“Why? How is she?” Without waiting for an answer, Omar strode into the house with Berlina at his heel. Like the outside, the interior was wide open. White tiled floors, a high flat ceiling, a collection of white furniture here that represented a living room, a mahogany table and chairs over there that defined the kitchen.

Krägä Bianga Traditional Ngäbe dresses

Two Ngäbe girls wearing the traditional nagua dress.

He found an unexpected scene. Mamá – looking perfectly healthy – sat at the kitchen table, wearing a blue nagua dress with yellow triangular patterns along the edge – the triangles were called dientes or teeth and were ubiquitous in Ngäbe design – and a red hijab. At the table with her was a group of four Ngäbe-Buglé elders and one youth – two men and two women. The table was littered with the remains of a Chinese takeout dinner.

Omar recognized his maternal uncle Celio Natá, a man of about seventy years with hard black eyes, white hair, a face as wide as the head of a shovel, and a scar that ran from his cheek to the corner of his chin. He was dressed all in black: black jeans, a short-sleeved dress shirt, and an antiquatedly wide black tie. His feet were bare, as all the visitors had left their shoes at the door.

Though officially he was governor of the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca, unofficially Celio was no less than king of the Ngäbe-Buglé people, whose lands ran along the highlands of Central America from Panama all the way to Nicaragua.

Seated beside him was Anibel Guerra, the krägä bianga. She was the same medicine woman who had sung over him after the dog attack. He’d seen her a few times since then, the last a few years ago when Mamá had malaria. She was very old now, her face a mass of wrinkles. But her hair was still pure black, parted in the middle and hanging to her waist.

The other three he did not know. A dignified, straight-backed woman in her thirties or so, a fortyish man with broad shoulders, and a teenage girl in a yellow nagua.

Normally he would not be surprised to see these people here. Though Mamá had once been excommunicated from the tribe, that had long since been rescinded. She was, after all, one of the wealthiest of her people, and had been a benefactor to the tribe over the years. It was not unusual for the elders to come to ask a favor or consult about tribal matters. A few of the tribespeople had even converted to Islam, as a way of honoring her. But why was the krägä bianga here? Someone must be sick.

“What’s wrong, Mamá?” he asked. “I saw-” He stopped himself, not wanting to say what he had seen. Who knows what these Ngäbes would make of it.

His mother took in his grubby appearance, including the wound on his shoulder, which had begun bleeding again. Her eyes widened. “You are hurt!”

The next several moments were a blur. Omar was pushed into a seat at the kitchen table with the krägä bianga standing over him. The tiny woman stripped off Omar’s wet shirt, then gave the teenage girl commands in Ngäbebere, of which Omar understood not a word.

The girl opened a leather satchel and took out small earthenware pots sealed with cloth and rubber bands. From one pot the krägä bianga scooped a vile smelling green paste that she smeared on Omar’s wound. He winced, expecting it to sting, but the effect was soothing. On top of that she layered an ashy brown substance, then covered it with a regular sterile bandage secured with medical tape.

While all this was happening, Masood towel-dried Berlina and began feeding her bits of leftover Mongolian beef while Omar was forced to explain what had happened. His mother’s eyes narrowed in anger, but Omar could not tell who she was angry at, or what – if anything – she meant to do.

Finally the krägä bianga crushed a handful of agave leaves into a pot and lit them on fire. As the acrid smoke filled the room, making Omar’s eyes water, the medicine woman began to sing. Omar gritted his teeth. He’d never had patience for these rituals, but he’d mellowed over the years, and had learned to tolerate the Ngäbe ways. As Señora Anibel sang, the other Ngäbes rocked forward and backward in their seats.

When it was over, Masood brought him a pink polo shirt that fit like a circus tent. Then, seeing as how his mother was fine, and he didn’t need to be involved in this pow-wow, he rose to leave.

The Black Knife

“Stop,” his mother said. “Don Celio wants to talk to you.”

Dam in the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca

A dam in the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca

Omar sat warily. What could Celio want? The man was a notorious figure. Back in the 1970’s he’d led the Ngäbe-Buglé in the fight against natural resource exploitation on their ancestral lands. When the government wanted to build a hydroelectric dam that would have flooded a dozen Ngäbe villages, Celio fought it with lawsuits, protests, and barricades.

When all that failed, and the dam was 95% complete, Celio blew it up. The government hunted him all over the mountains for years, caught him, and imprisoned him for a decade.

When he was released he learned that his teenage daughter, who’d been working for a wealthy Panamanian family as a maid, had been raped by the master of the household. The man was a real estate tycoon; not only was he not prosecuted, the police would not even take the report. Someone broke into the man’s house, somehow getting past his alarms, slit the man’s throat and got away clean. The government arrested Celio, but because there were no witnesses or physical evidence, he was released.

One of the newspapers gave him the name Black Knife, and it stuck. He became known as a man not to be crossed – the Ngäbe-Buglé’s secret weapon.

He’d been instrumental in pushing the government to establish comarcas or semi-autonomous reservations for the indigenous tribes, which had finally been granted to the Ngäbe-Buglé in 1997.

Since then he’d continued to battle for indigenous rights, and was known for sabotaging any roads the government attempted to build in the comarca, because where roads went, mines and dams followed. As a result there was not a single paved road in all of the comarca. Most of the reservation was so steep and rugged, even horses couldn’t manage it, and the only way in was on foot. The downside was that the comarca was totally undeveloped, with no modern technology or amenities.

“I want you,” Celio said in his husky voice, “to become the governor of the Kädridri District.” He gazed at Omar evenly, having apparently finished what he had to say.

Omar stared at the man. The Ngäbe-Buglé comarca, he knew, was divided into three districts, of which Kädridri was one. It included two towns and scores of villages. It was also – like all the comarco – ridiculously remote and primitive.

“You’re joking.”

Omar’s mother reached out to touch his arm, as if to remind him to be respectful.

Celio merely said, “Why should I be joking?”

Omar held up his hands. “Seriously? I’m only twenty eight years old, I’ve never lived on the comarca, I’m only half Ngäbe, I don’t speak Ngäbebere, I’m not Christian, I have no experience in politics or administration.”

Celio held up a closed fist with swollen knuckles and began answering Omar’s points, extending a finger with each point:

“Many of our youth become parents at the age of fourteen or fifteen, and our lifespan, is low due to alcoholism, malnutrition and lack of medical care. So twenty eight is an elder in the comarca.”

“That you have not lived in the comarca is not a fault. We need someone who knows the outside world and can function as a bridge.

“That you are half Ngäbe is a problem, but we can deal with it.

“It is not necessary that you speak Ngäbebere, as all the men of the comarca speak Spanish. Regarding religion, some of our people follow the old ways, and many follow Mama Tata, our indigenous religion. Most will not mind that you are not Christian.”

“As for administrative skills, you can read and write, and you are familiar with technology, which puts you in the top one percentile. You are one of us. We need you. The matter is finished.” He closed the fist and dropped it on the table hard enough to rattle the dishes and silverware.

Seventh In Line

Omar wanted to say, ‘In a pig’s ear,” but this was not a man one spoke to that way. So he said, “Tio Celio. With all due respect. Why me?”

Mamá spoke up. “My brother has passed away. Your uncle Dominio. He died of liver poisoning.”

“Oh.” Omar was taken aback. Then a thought came and his breath caught in his chest. The harpy eagle. Someone had died after all. Get a grip, he told himself. You don’t believe in any of this stuff.

“I’m sorry. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. To God we all return. My sympathy for your loss.”

“So now you understand why he wants you?”

“No.”

“You are now seventh in line for the throne.”

He considered. His mother was one of seven children. Celio was the eldest. Of the others, one had drowned as a youth. One, Amistad, had moved to New York many years ago. There was Tia Teresa, of course. There had been Dominio, who had been impotent and never fathered any children, and had been killed in an alcohol-driven brawl during a Ngäbe festival. And Maria, who lived in a remote area of the comarca. Out of all of them, the only ones he’d ever met were Celio and Teresa.

Omar pointed out that there were many still in front of him.

“Not me,” Mamá said. “I can’t leave my company.”

Celio nodded. “You are correct, Omar. I have five surviving children. They come before you. Amistad does not wish to return to Panama. He had three sons, but one was killed by a gang, and one is gay and alienated from his Ngäbe identity. The other is undecided, but we are including him. He is also before you. Teresa…” He cleared his throat. “We excommunicated her in the past, when she married Niko. It was a mistake, in an earlier time when we were less… open minded. We have offered her and her children to return to the royal lineage, but she refuses. Maria is younger than Ximena. She and her children come after you.”

“So… that’s still a lot of people before me.”

“Yes. But our people die young. There is a chance you will inherit the throne in your lifetime. It is best to prepare you. Amauro here -” Celio nodded to the wide shouldered man of the group, who had spoken little – is the current governor of Kädridri. He will teach you, then step aside. You will also take Maura” – he nodded to the teenage girl – “as a wife. So that your future children will be more purely Ngäbe. Her mother is here to give approval.” The mother, apparently, was the dignified looking woman, who had not spoken at all.

Omar looked at the girl, who smiled shyly. He turned an incredulous gaze to his mother.

Mamá shrugged and held up her hands. “Islam allows polygamy, and so do the Ngäbe.”

Omar restrained the urge to laugh. This was unbelievable. The visitors, however, were quite serious. This was no trivial matter to them.

A home in the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca of Panama

A home in the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca of Panama

He had nothing against the Ngäbe-Buglé people. Their lives consisted of struggle from beginning to end. They’d been exiled to the least arable mountain slopes in Panama. There were 220,000 of them scattered across a sprawling region, and they lived mostly by subsistence farming. Some of the men made hats, or worked in the cities as laborers, while the women sold handmade necklaces and plant-fiber bags on the roadsides.

Like Bayano, the rebellious African Muslim who had refused to be enslaved – and whose name Omar carried – the ancient chief of the Ngäbe-Buglé, Urracá, had fought the Conquistadors bitterly for seven years, finally dying a free man in 1531. Celio, though born four and a half centuries later, was a man cut from that cloth.

Omar understood that these were desperate people. But… they had excommunicated his mother because of his father. Because they found his father unacceptable. His father, who had never done anything but try to help people, and who had died a hero. Well, Omar was his father’s son. So if Papá wasn’t good enough for them then he wasn’t either, no matter how much they might come kissing up to his mother now. And this matter of taking a Ngäbe wife in order to have more “pure-blooded” children. It was an insult to Samia and Nur, as it implied that they were impure. Celio claimed to be more open minded now, but nothing had changed.

The Ngäbes awaited his answer earnestly. Even his mother seemed to be drawn into this insane spell. Only Masood was apart from it all, the barest hint of a smile gracing his fleshy lips as he rubbed Berlina’s neck and ears. The dog wagged her tail happily, oblivious.

He looked the Black Knife in the eyes. The man’s gaze was confident, even arrogant. He was a powerful, dangerous man. He was not a man used to taking “no” for an answer.

“My answer,” Omar said, “is no. That’s final. And I will never be your king. You can skip over me to Maria and her kids, if it comes to that.” He stood and nodded to Anibel Guerra, the krägä bianga. “Thank you for the treatment. Buenas noches everyone. Berlina, come.” Instantly Berlina was at his side. He took her leash and began to walk toward the door.

A Lonely Old Man

“Omar!” His mother’s voice was sharp. He did not even look back, just kept heading for the door. He had almost reached it when his mother seized his arm. Omar winced and exhaled sharply.

Mamá gasped. “Sorry! I forgot. But Omar, what is the matter with you? You cannot speak to Don Celio that way. You did not even consider it. To be governor of a district! It is an honor.”

Omar rounded on her. “What is the matter with you? How could you imagine I would accept such an offer? You think I’m going to take Samia and Nur to live on some windswept mountainside to be treated like strangers and half breeds? You think I’m going to marry a twelve year old?”

“Lower your voice! She is fifteen.”

Omar’s face went flat. He felt suddenly, completely drained. His interest in this subject dropped to absolute zero. All he wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep. There was one question, though, that he could ask his mom, since he was here.

“Mamá,” he said. “Tell me about Melocoton. What do you know about him?”

She frowned. “What does he have to do with the subject we are-”

“This is a different subject. What do you know about him?”

His mother shrugged helplessly, as if Omar were a ship’s captain sailing into iceberg-ridden waters without a map. “He was your father’s friend. Reymundo tolerated him. Melocoton was a lonely old man who needed companionship. He had crazy stories of traveling around the world. You could never tell what was true and what wasn’t. Why are you asking about him?”

“What’s his real name?”

Mamá held up a hand in puzzlement. “It isn’t Melocoton?”

“That’s not a name. Who names their kid after a fruit?”

“I’ve heard stranger names. Why are we talking about this?”

“We’re not. Goodnight.” With that, he opened the door and stepped out into the rain.

Fever Dreams

By morning Omar was coughing and shivering. His mother came over to watch Nur and Berlina, as Ivana and Fuad picked him up – wrapped in a blanket and covering his mouth with a handkerchief – and took him and Samia to the hospital. Tests showed that he had pneumonia. He was given medication and discharged.

Back home, in bed, he lay alternately shaking like a wet cat on an ice floe, and burning up like a man in the Sahara. He saw things, and most of the time did not know if they were hallucinations, dreams or real. He was lost in a world where rules no longer applied, and where the past was no precedent.

Red boxing spiderIt was raining spiniflex rubirosa. They fell from the sky like flecks of red ash. Omar ran down the middle of the Corredor Sur, all the traffic stopped around him, people huddled in their cars. Other cars were abandoned, their doors thrown open. Smoke rose from the city. Explosions sounded. Melocoton was beside him. “Take this!” the old man shouted, thrusting a yellow umbrella at Omar. But when Omar took it, it caught fire and burned his hands. The spiniflex fell onto his arms and face, and began to burrow…

Someone pressed a wet cloth to his forehead. It sounded like Samia, but her face was made of light, like the face of an angel. He recoiled, trying to pull the blanket over his head. “Hush, my love,” the strange Samia said. “You’ll be okay. Everything is fine.”

Spiniflex spiders the size of human beings had overrun the city, killing everyone. Omar was a giant as well, ten times the size of a man, and unafraid. He strode through the streets with a flamethrower, torching the spiniflex as Melocoton and Hani cheered from a balcony. The spiders tried to scurry away, but the flames enveloped them. The burnt carcasses were piled high, the stench of roasting flesh choking the city. But when he passed a building with reflective windows, he saw that he was not a man at all. He was a giant spiniflex spider, and the ones he was burning were human beings…

A spoonful of warm soup was tipped into his mouth, and he swallowed. Samia recited to him from the Quran as she fed him. Her face was a hovering blur, but her voice was soothing, and Omar was comforted.

The city was in chaos. Omar stood in the center of his living room as a mob of criminals – killers and looters – smashed through the boards and barricades he’d erected. Melocoton, Tameem and Basem stood with him, the four of them back to back and holding golden handguns, though Omar wondered how Tameem would perform with his throat cut like that, and Basem with his head caved in.

The mob charged, screaming curses, wielding axes and machetes. Omar fired his gun again and again, carpeting the room with bodies, filling the air with gunsmoke, until the ammunition ran out and the gun clicked dry. Berlina leaped between him and the invaders, snarling and baring her teeth, holding them back. He turned his head to ask for ammo, but his companions were gone. They had deserted him. Instead, Nemesio loomed behind him, massively muscular from years of lifting weights in prison. The man grinned and raised a machete to strike – and Samia came out of the shadows, dressed in leather armor and wielding a scimitar. She swung the sword in a blur, and cut Nemesio in two like a rotten fruit…

Four Days

He sat up in bed. The sheets were soaked with sweat, and he felt as weak as a baby hamster, but he was clear-headed. The fever was gone. Sunlight streamed in through the bedroom window. He could smell his own body odor. Berlina lay on the floor, her chin resting on her arms. Seeing him sitting up, she raised her head and cocked her ears, watching. Her tail began to wag.

He looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was an old-fashioned analog clock with arms. It had no cover or case, so that Samia could tell the time by feeling the position of the arms. The time was was ten in the morning.

A small pitcher of water and a glass stood on the nightstand. Omar reached for the pitcher, but it felt unaccountably heavy, and he was afraid he would drop it. He tried calling for Samia but his voice emerged as a hoarse rasp. Berlina gave a yip, then jumped up and ran down the steps.

A minute later Samia came up the stairs, wearing pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, her long black hair hanging free. Her movements were slow, her eyes lined with exhaustion. She came to him, reached out. Feeling him sitting up, her face registered alarm.

“Lie down honey,” she said. “You’re sick.”

He shook his head. “Water.”

Samia filled the glass. Omar drank, then said, “It’s over. Alhamdulillah. I’m better now.”

Samia opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly her eyes filled with tears. She threw her arms around him, sobbing into his chest. He patted her back, returning the soothing words she had given him, saying, “It’s okay, mi amor. It’s fine.”

“I was afraid,” she said when the tears stopped. “You’ve been out of it for four days.”

He was shocked. “Four days? All I remember is you standing beside me, feeding me and comforting me. Even in my dreams. Now help me up. I need to go somewhere.”

She pulled away, her face scrunched up in incredulity. “Are you crazy, buster? You’re not going anywhere. Where do you want to go anyway? Work? I spoke to your mother. Your assistant Belem is managing, though just barely. The guy called a half dozen times with questions about Adwords and Doubleclick and I don’t know what.”

Omar smiled. “What did you tell him?”

“That I have no clue, and he should Google it.”

“It’s not work I need to go to.”

“What then?”

“I want to see Melocoton.”

She frowned. “I’ll call him to come here.”

“Tio Melo doesn’t believe in phones. Says the radiation turns your brains into a Gongbao stir fry.”

“What’s that?”

“No idea.”

Samia huffed. “That guy. Fine. You can go see him in a couple of days, when you have your strength back. What do you want from him anyway?”

“His DNA.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 14:  If One Day I Am Shipwrecked

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 13: Never Be Your King appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

2021 – Online Islamic School with Sh. Yahya Ibrahim is Now Open

2 January, 2021 - 22:03

With the Name of Allah and prayers of peace be upon His Messenger Muhammed sala Allahu alihiWasSalaam

Alhamdulillah Season 2 of the Online Islamic School program is open for registration. More than 1600 students have taken part in the Online Islamic School program from around the world – https://YahyaIbrahim.com/School

The Self-paced, On-Demand program with Live Interactive Q and A with SH Yahya Ibrahim has been well received alhamdulillah.

In Season 2 we will be covering some essential information that builds upon our other programs, but is accessible as a first time experience.

SEASON 2’s modules include:

You, Me and Allah
The focus is building Faith that is collaborative and brings balance to the relationships we have with others in Life.

The Art of Manliness & Heart to Heart (contributed to by Dr. Aminah)
Our age-appropriate unique series that assists young people in the transition into recognizing their essential obligations to Allah & Society. Both the male & female versions are included.

PrayerFULL – Enriching our Salaat & finding humility and Khushu in our prayers. This is an essential module for all those who want to connect with Allah and understand why we pray the way we pray & how to make it BETTER!

Did the Prophet really say THAT? A unique retelling of some of the Prophet’s (sal Allahu alaihi wasSalam) hadith. The 30+ Hadith selected sayings are inspirational, timely, and full of practical and spiritual wisdom.
Understanding the Suras we Read Often – Discussing the most often recited verses and chapters in the Quran so that we can connect, be inspired, and practice what we recite from the Word of Allah often!

Memorize with Sh. Yahya – Learning to pronounce through repetition with Sh Yahya the Suras we Read often. Read the Quran with proper pronounciation and Tajweed through a verse by verse Reading and memorization guide.

and SO much more in sha Allah!

Enroll yourself and your Family TODAY!
https://YahyaIbrahim.com/School

The post 2021 – Online Islamic School with Sh. Yahya Ibrahim is Now Open appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

“And the Male Is Not like the Female”: Sunni Islam and Gender Nonconformity (Part 2)

30 December, 2020 - 08:00

Mobeen Vaid (MA Islamic Studies, Hartford Seminary) is a Muslim public intellectual and writer (see herehere) who focuses on how traditional Islamic frames of thinking intersect the modern world. He has authored a number of pieces on Islamic sexual and gender norms, including “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Qur’anic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle” (MuslimMatters, 2017).

Waheed Jensen is a physician, medical researcher, blogger, and the producer and host of “A Way Beyond the Rainbow,” a podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah and Islam and to helping Muslim families, communities, and institutions navigate questions related to Islam and homosexuality in the contemporary world.

The authors would like to thank in particular Dr. Hatem El-Haj and Sh. Mustafa Umar for their generous and careful review of this paper, especially section IV, “Islam and Transgenderism.” May Allah reward them and the other scholars who took the time to read this article and provide feedback in helping to vet, shape, and interpret the material.

N.B.: Items underlined in orange are hyperlinked for ease of navigation to original sources. For easier reading, you may download a PDF of this study in article format (with footnotes) by clicking here.

I.  Overview

While part 1 of this study surveyed the Islamic tradition and established Sunni Islam’s normative position on gender nonconformity, we now transition to an examination of gender identities in contemporary society. The modern world has given rise to myriad alternative gender identities that are viewed as disadvantaged relative to what are seen as the privileges enjoyed by “cisgender” individuals—a term denoting those whose biological sex agrees with their psychologically internalized gender. Though various lists exist online enumerating these many alternative gender categories and sexual identities, the rapid expansion of sexuality as an independent set of conceptual constructs makes it difficult to keep pace. In discussing this expansion, David Frank and Nolan Phillips write:

The expansion of sexuality in society is self-reinforcing. The legitimation of each new identity engenders others. Thus, the old gay center on campus morphs into the lesbian and gay center, and then the LGB center, and then the LGBT center, and then the LGBTQ center, and at some point the LGBTQI center, and now even the LGBTQQIAAP center (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies, and pansexual).

These expanded initialisms conglomerate two categories: sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.) and gender identities (transgender, non-binary, etc.). This conglomeration is, among other things, strategic. Alternative genders and sexualities are regarded as marginalized and sitting outside the prevailing male–female binary. Both alternative gender identities and alternative sexual orientations are subject to moral opprobrium by traditional religion, an institution—or, rather, a set of institutions—viewed as a significant obstacle, if not the greatest obstacle, to achieving complete social, cultural, and political equality. Advocates for both are also equally interested in advancing the rights of those sitting in the interstitial crevices occupied by minority communities. In so doing, LGBT+ advocates seek to undo what they identify as entrenched paradigms of prejudice that remain as vestiges of a supposedly bygone era of reified, “medieval” religion and its concomitant canons that continue to infringe on the social and political freedoms of the modern individual. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of gendered language, the “traditional” notion of marriage, and social norms that stigmatize the sex-related choices of private citizens. All this, and more, is seen as needing to be dismantled.

This study begins by providing a detailed account of this phenomenon, then moves to examine gender from a conceptual angle while indulging several debates that have emerged in the past decade related to gender nonconformity. Following this, we shift our attention to transgenderism as a modern phenomenon, beginning with a brief history and then examining the many issues that intersect it, including, but not limited to, debates in the field of psychology, transgender youth and the medicalizing of adolescents who experience gender dysphoria, and transgender advocacy as a distinct political and cultural program. Finally, we conclude with a section reviewing legal rulings (fatāwā, sing. fatwā) by Muslim scholars on gender nonconformity and sex change operations.

II.  Gender and Gender Identities A.  Gender: A Social Construct?

A common feature of contemporary discourse is its consistent appeal to gender and gender debates. Muslims and non-Muslims alike are immersed in questions of equitable pay, perceived (and real) gender inequality, and what constitutes a gender “role” (assuming there is such a thing). Despite this sustained and often raging debate, the central conception of what in fact comprises gender is rarely subject to scrutiny and careful delineation. Implicit in a great many gender debates is the presumption of an analogy between gender and biological sex, that is, the presumption that gender reflects a person’s psychological makeup in the same straightforward way that sex reflects one’s biological composition. When filling out a form, one is typically prompted to choose from a binary of male or female (and increasingly “other” or given the preference not to say) when identifying one’s sex. When watching sports, one tunes into men’s athletics and women’s athletics, and when the urge to relieve oneself arises, one is routed to either a men’s or a women’s restroom. In these ways and more, the natural teleology of men and women as distinct genders distinguished by their biological makeup is reinforced.

Modern gender theorists call this conception of gender into doubt, arguing instead that gender is something cultural that one becomes “through a complex process of socialization.” This conception is buttressed by anthropological evidence shedding light on various cultures and societies that have formally recognized three or more genders, alongside the myriad differences inherent in societies that maintain a strict gender binary. These differences become ossified in societies via social norms, which are communicated through methods of socialization that include media portrayal, schooling conventions, and the perpetuation of male vs. female expectations from parents towards their children at a young age (sartorial selections for children, how parents speak to their children, naming customs, etc.). Critically, because each society manifests gender in a way that is largely unique to it (variant dress, social roles, etc.), it is argued that “the sex of the body does not bear any necessary or deterministic relationship to the social category in which that body lives.” In other words, gender denotes social expectation alone and not biology.

B.  Gender: Biologically Determined

Militating against this view are critics who foreground biological constitution as a substantive determiner of gender identity. This approach maintains that “biological characteristics of the sexes are the basis of gender differences—the X and Y chromosomes and hormonal activities influence a range of individual qualities from body features to thinking to motor skills.” Proponents of the biological model do not reduce gender to material or biological composition alone, acknowledging fully the range of environmental and social factors that can and often do contribute to the canonization of gender roles and conceptualizations. However, what advocates of biological influence argue is that gender categories, no matter how deeply informed by social factors, invariably intersect traditional male–female gender identities, themselves determined almost universally on the basis of anatomical sex distinction.

A nearly universal historical enshrinement of gender dichotomized into male and female is difficult to chalk up to purely external factors like varying and contingent social conventions. Even societies that have recognized three (or more) genders have done so in a way that necessarily circumscribes alternative gender conceptions within an abiding male–female dichotomy (the alternative genders representing strict anomalies and not statistical distributions of gender identification across such societies). These alternative genders most often manifest themselves in the form of effeminate males, masculine females, or some combination thereof. In other words, the assimilation of added gender identities has, as a matter of self-definition, taken as its principal reference point the existing, normative binary of male and female.

Interestingly, devoted religionists have not been alone in asserting gender inherentism against constructivist efforts; even some prominent feminists have challenged the idea that an individual can truly transition from one gender to the other. Disparagingly referred to by some as “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (TERFs), feminist scholars Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, and others have disputed notions of gender transition. Raymond’s 1979 work The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male faults a society that has produced men who enthusiastically “objectify women in rape, pornography, and ‘drag’ ” for also having given life to men who, underwritten by the same enabling socialization, objectify themselves through “male-to-constructed-female” transitions. In so doing, transsexualism comes to comprise “the ultimate, and we might even say the logical conclusion of male possession of women in a patriarchal society. Literally, men here possess women.”

Like Raymond, Greer, too, has situated discourses surrounding gender fluidity within the paradigm of patriarchy, viewing transgenderism as an appropriation of female constitutionality by reducing the definition of what it means to be a woman from one of a sex (akin to man) to a non-sex. Accordingly, for Greer, surgical procedures to remove male genitalia comprise a type of mutilation and, ultimately, fail to achieve their intended purposes, as the removal of male genitalia does not alter the “chromosomal fact any more than the removal of the tails of puppies [. . .] produces a tailless breed.” In support of her argument, Greer marshals alarming statistics concerning post-transition life for transsexuals, including high rates of prostitution, HIV, hepatitis B and C, active syphilis, and demand for subsequent corrective surgeries to address necrotizing tissue, graft failures, and narrowed or closed vaginal passages. In a 2015 BBC interview, when prompted about her stance on transgenderism, Greer retorted that transgender women do not “look like, sound like, or behave like women.”

Renowned academic Camille Paglia, a self-described “dissident feminist,” has also been critical of gender fluidity. In a 2014 op-ed published in Time magazine, Paglia writes, “The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will.” More recently, Paglia has remained candid in her support for a biologically influenced conception of gender, stating in a June 2017 interview:

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women’s studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.

These feminist voices are not alone in their disapproval of gender constructionism. York University neurologist Debra Soh penned an op-ed in the LA Times in 2017 asking whether gender feminists and transgender activists were “undermining science” in insisting that gender was merely something into which one was socialized. In her piece, Soh argues that in pursuing a particular political agenda, gender theorists have jettisoned scientifically sound and repeatedly substantiated research that affirms anatomical and physiological differences between men and women. These distinctions include brain structure and function (such as verbal fluency, visuospatial processing, etc.), a field in which Soh is an expert. In addition to Soh’s contentions, medical research abounds that examines sex-specific characteristics and features, with recent studies examining how “genetic sex can lead to differences between the sexes in the etiology and the progression of disease.”

Arguments rooted in inherent and biological composition occasionally extend beyond human beings by pointing to animal life and observed gender roles therein. Andrew Sullivan, former columnist for New York Magazine who currently writes as an independent blogger, recently offered commentary reflecting this very point, namely, that the male–female distinction, though loathed by modern gender theorists and feminists, is the de facto norm in nature. Sullivan writes that although progressives protest against the notion that gender corresponds to biological sex, they are “not currently campaigning to shut down the Planet Earth series because it reveals that in almost every species, males and females behave differently—very differently—and there appears to be no ‘patriarchy’ in place to bring this about at all.” Sullivan goes on to say that “it is strikingly obvious that for today’s progressives, humans are the sole species on this planet where gender differentiation has no clear basis in nature, science, evolution, or biology. This is where they are as hostile to Darwin as any creationist.”

There have been efforts of late to problematize what is seen as an exclusion of transgenderism from the realm of biological substantiation. Some have claimed the existence of variation in gendered behavior among animal life, including some species that exhibit gender disguise. A recent article by Juliet Lamb provocatively entitled “Are There ‘Transgender’ Proclivities in Animals?” was one such effort, though it concedes in its conclusion the rather tendentious nature of the analogy between the “gender-disguising ruses of non-human animals and human gender identity.” More serious efforts have emerged that have put forward brain structure as the crucial biological factor causing an internal and dispositional gender dysphoria. We examine these arguments in the following section.

Brain structure research and transgenderism

Much like in the case of homosexuality, recent efforts have been made to implicate biological factors as the cause of transgenderism. Unlike homosexuality, however, the claim of a biological predisposition towards transgenderism has not been primarily anchored in appeals to genetic evidence or the pursuit of a “trans gene.” Though studies have been conducted examining possible genetic origins for transgenderism, the number of studies has been scant, at least relative to studies exploring genetic factors that possibly influence sexual orientation. Additionally, these studies have largely focused on MtF (male-to-female) subjects given the frequency of MtF transgenderism relative to their FtM (female-to-male) counterparts. Moreover, the results have largely been unexceptional or inconclusive due to a variety of factors, including a dearth in sample sizes, complications introduced by subjects receiving hormone treatment, and qualitative differences between transsexuals who identify as homosexual relative to their natal (i.e., biological) sex and those whose attractions are heterosexual relative to their natal sex.

A study that is occasionally cited in support of a genetic influence on transgenderism was conducted by a group of Australian researchers in 2008. Provocatively broadcast by media outlets at the time with headlines reading “Transsexual Gene Link Identified” and “Transsexual Study Reveals Genetic Link,” the actual conclusions of the study were far more modest. Undertaken with the objective of inspecting possible genetic causes for transsexualism, the study examined “the role of disease-associated repeat length polymorphisms in the androgen receptor (AR), estrogen receptor β (ERβ), and aromatase (CYP19) genes.” These three gene variants are typically associated with undermasculinization and/or -feminization, and the study found no associations for transsexualism (a term used in earlier studies interchangeably with transgenderism) for the ERβ or CYP19 genes. An association was identified for the AR gene, with the conclusion that “male gender identity might be partly mediated through the androgen receptor” (emphasis added). Thus, claims of genetic disposition remain unsupported, and efforts to identify genetic underpinnings for transgenderism are being revisited, with a new study underway examining a transsexual genome as a possible cause.

Though studies examining genetic factors for transgenderism have been either inconclusive or supportive of the conclusion that discordant gender identities have no genetic basis, neurological research has delivered ostensibly more reliable conclusions for those who argue for a biological origin of gender dysphoria. Accordingly, the notion of a “trans brain,” or brain gender incongruities, has been advanced as the primary source of gender dysphoria in contemporary transgender discussions. In addressing this contention, it is important first to recognize and fully acknowledge the nature of neurological malleability as represented in the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity today often functions as a buzzword used to suggest that one can rewire one’s brain almost entirely (and, at times, in rather fantastical ways). Molecular and developmental neurobiologist Moheb Costandi writes that among the general public, neuroplasticity “is generally misunderstood, and misconceptions about what neuroplasticity is, and what it is capable of, are rife.” Costandi goes on to describe neuroplasticity as “a catch-all term referring to the many different ways in which the nervous system can change.” Though just fifty years ago scientific consensus recognized only a limited notion of brain formation that eventually calcified as time went on, research in the early 1960s began what would become an overhaul of this prior orthodoxy, demonstrating in a variety of experiments the full malleability of brain function and the effect of learning and other experiences on brain material. By way of example, a study conducted on taxi drivers in London found that they had greater gray matter volume in the hippocampus, resulting from the acquisition of spatial knowledge. Moreover, the same study found that the longer taxi drivers remained in their occupation, the more their right posterior hippocampal volume increased. To put this example in simple terms, components of taxi drivers’ brain structure adapted over time to the type of knowledge and experiences the drivers repeatedly carried out in the course of their daily vocation. Other studies have focused on the impact of self-conception and psychological factors on the brain, such as meditation, stress, and intentionality.

Given the breadth of neurological malleability, it stands to reason that persons who conceive of themselves as gender dysphoric over prolonged periods of time would come to acquire some neurological idiosyncrasies reflecting this self-conception. This is even more the case for those who have convinced themselves for years, if not decades, that they possess a disoriented phenotype and who have received hormone therapy and/or undergone accompanying surgical procedures as a “corrective” measure. (See Appendix A for a fuller discussion of the interaction between the brain and culture in light of an emerging theory of brain morphology called the Culture-Brain-Behavior Model.)

Notwithstanding, the most authoritative paper synopsizing prior studies on brain structure and transsexualism is the 2016 study “A Review of the Status of Brain Structure Research in Transsexualism” by Guillamon et al. With respect to the developmental path of transsexualism, there are three broad trajectories that serve as the paradigmatic lens through which studies on gender dysphoria (GD) are conducted: early-onset, late-onset, and rapid-onset. (We will return to this trifurcation later in the section entitled “Transgenderism” below.) Corresponding to these trajectories are distinct sexual attractions: early-onset gender dysphoria (beginning in childhood and continuing into adolescence and adulthood) almost always corresponds with homosexual attractions (MtF androphilia and FtM gynephilia), while late-onset gender dysphoria more readily occurs in those who are heterosexually inclined (MtF gynephiles and FtM androphiles). The 2016 study discussed here centers exclusively on early-onset homosexual gender dysphoria, focusing on studies that examine the brain phenotype of early-onset FtM and MtF subjects both prior to and following cross-sex hormone treatment. The relevant findings are as follows:

  • Studies examining homosexual MtF transsexuals before hormone therapy indicate that “the main morphological parameters of the brain are congruent with their natal sex in untreated homosexual MtFs.” Thus, insofar as the main morphological parameters of the brain are concerned, androphilic MtF transsexuals demonstrate congruence with cisgender males. Nevertheless, “some cortical regions show feminine volume and thickness,” though this cortical pattern is “not the same as the one shown by control females.” Likewise, the main white matter fascicles indicate demasculinization, whereas other fascicles are masculine. In this regard, the brain phenotype of homosexual MtFs demonstrates a distinctiveness in both white and gray matter that mainly affects the right hemisphere of the brain.
  • Homosexual FtM transsexuals, like their MtF counterparts, show gross morphological patterns that correspond to their natal sex. However, also like homosexual MtF transsexuals, homosexual FtM transsexuals demonstrate their own phenotype in other aspects of the brain phenotype like cortical thickness, subcortical structures, and the like, and “these changes are mostly seen in the right hemisphere.”

These findings demonstrate that neither homosexual MtF nor homosexual FtM persons possess a fully “feminized” (in the case of MtFs) or “masculinized” (in the case of FtMs) brain in a manner that departs substantially from their natal gender. Instead, the homosexual MtF brain “presents a mixture of masculine, feminine, and demasculinized traits,” while the homosexual FtM brain “presents a mixture of feminine, defeminized, and masculinized morphological traits.” The significance of the right hemispheric brain discordances remains subject to further study. The 2016 study notes that the right hemisphere is “mainly involved in the analysis of body perception and its emotional connotations” and makes the further point that “the emergence of a masculine or feminine identity must be strongly mediated by the early development of a male or female body self-perception.” Aside from these conclusions, the 2016 study also examines a study of non-homosexual MtF persons, though this study was limited in its sample size and concluded no significant variance from the brain phenotype of control males.

The 2016 study also reviewed the introduction of hormone treatment, and for both MtF and FtM transsexuals, morphological changes were observed after four months of continued treatment, although, as the study notes,

changes are to be expected when hormones reach the brain in pharmacological doses. Consequently, one cannot take hormone-treated transsexual brain patterns as evidence of a transsexual brain phenotype because the treatment alters brain morphology and obscures the pre-treatment brain pattern.

It should be noted that studies examining MtF behavior and brain structure outnumber FtM studies on account of frequency, with instances of MtF transgenderism exceeding those of FtM transgenderism.

Aside from the 2016 study, a similarly significant 1995 study entitled “A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and Its Relation to Transsexuality” is heavily cited in support of the “trans brain” claim. The 1995 study examined the brain of six deceased adult MtF transsexuals who had undergone both hormone therapy and sex reassignment, finding that “the volume of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), a brain area that is essential for sexual behavior,” corresponded to female size. Though this study remains a common point of reference, subsequent studies have complicated this picture, if not rendered it entirely irrelevant. Anne Lawrence examines the 1995 study alongside two subsequent studies, one in 2002 that observed BSTc development not occurring until adulthood and a 2006 study examining the effect of hormone therapy on brain volume. In summarizing these findings, she writes:

The brain-sex theory of transsexualism has never been easy to reconcile with clinical reality: Homosexual and non-homosexual MtF transsexualism are so different clinically that it is almost impossible to imagine that they could have the same etiology. Nevertheless, for a time the Zhou/Kruijver data gave the brain-sex theory a certain superficial plausibility. In 2002, Chung et al. reported new data that raised serious doubts about the brain-sex theory, but the authors were able to explain why the theory might still be plausible. The new data reported by Hulshoff Pol et al. in 2006 did not invalidate these explanations, but it rendered them largely irrelevant. The simplest and most plausible explanation of the Zhou/Kruijver findings is that they are attributable, completely or predominantly, to the effects of cross-sex hormone therapy administered during adulthood. There is no longer any reason to postulate anything more complicated. 

The brain-sex theory was never helpful in explaining clinical observations; now it has become irrelevant to explaining neuroanatomical observations. It is time to abandon the brain-sex theory of transsexualism and to adopt a more plausible and clinically relevant theory in its place.

Given the intersection between sexually divergent brain phenotypes and homosexuality among transsexuals, American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard has theorized that “MtF and FtM homosexual transsexuality is an extreme expression of homosexuality,” suggesting “the following continuum: homosexual → gender dysphoric homosexual → transsexual homosexual.” Blanchard went on further to theorize non-homosexual MtF transsexuality as a distinct paraphilia which he coined autogynephilia, a Greek term meaning “love of oneself as a woman.” The theory of autogynephilia developed in response to repeated research and studies in which biologically male non-homosexual patients overwhelmingly reported an erotic desire to embody the female gender as the principal motivation for enacting transgender behavior and pursuing transgender medical treatment. Blanchard is not alone in this observation, with studies reporting this phenomenon as early as the early twentieth century. Other studies have argued for a correspondence between a desire for limb amputation and non-homosexual MtF transsexualism on account of the overlapping desire to “correct” one’s phenotype to match one’s perceived identity. Parallels between the two phenomena include “profound dissatisfaction with embodiment, related paraphilias from which the conditions plausibly derive (apotemnophilia—an acute desire for limb amputation—and autogynephilia), sexual arousal from simulation of the sought after status (pretending to be an amputee and transvestitism), attraction to persons with the same body type one wants to acquire, and an elevated prevalence of other paraphilic interests.”

Like Blanchard, other specialists in the field of gender studies and psychotherapy, such as Anne Lawrence, Michael Bailey, and Kenneth Zucker, have also endorsed autogynephilia along with the basic parameters of Blanchard’s conclusion that MtF transsexualism is an essentially erotic manifestation and not indicative of a deep-set feminine essence. On this, Bailey writes in his work The Man Who Would Be Queen:

One cannot understand transsexualism without studying transsexuals’ sexuality. Transsexuals lead remarkable sex lives. Those who love men become women to attract them. Those who love women become the women they love.

Several writings have been published critiquing Blanchard’s conclusions, most notably a study by Charles Moser, who argues against autogynephilia as a comprehensive explanation for gynephilic MtF transsexuality. Instead, Moser suggests a multiplicity of causes that require independent clinical diagnosing without endorsing any factor in particular as correlating completely with non-homosexual MtF transsexuality. The debate remains an active one, with Anne Lawrence authoring a comment article on Moser’s critique of autogynephilia. In this article, Lawrence calls into question the rigor of Moser’s research, highlighting shortcomings in his research methods.

In addition to this, more fundamental questions between the relationship of brain morphology and cognition remain subject to significant scholarly dispute. Perhaps the fiercest critic of those who instrumentalize neurological research and brain imaging to explain cognitive processes was the late William Uttal. Drawing on the works of philosophers, neuroscientists, and others, Uttal revealed problems at the core of cognitive neuroscience, including the “enormous complexity, non-linearity, and complex interaction of both the neural and cognitive domains” and how they “pose what may be intractable problems of analysis and explanation for anyone with the temerity to study human mentation.” Uttal would go further, describing localization in cognitive neuroscience—attempts to correlate psychological phenomena, be they subjective experiences (i.e., qualia) or mental processes of other sorts, with localized patterns identified in brain imaging—as a “new phrenology.” According to this critique, cognitive neuroscience relies on correlative fallacies of the highest order, ones that depend on ill-defined mental activity (the full accessibility of which is itself highly contested), the assumption that psychological phenomena can be reduced to “neural, cognitive, or computational components,” and the total lack of ability directly and persistently to correlate parts of the brain with specific tasks (i.e., the problem of replicability).

The application of this critique to brain studies on transgenderism introduces important questions: Can “male” and “female” brains be distinguished so conclusively that aberrant brain features may be regarded as either effeminate or mannish? For instance, if the hippocampi size is enlarged in a female who prefers to dress like a male, does this fall outside the normal range of acceptable hippocampi size observed in women who conform to female sartorial habits? How decisive is this brain difference, and is it different enough to suggest definitively that the brain of this woman is “male”? And what of those whose brain structure and morphology show no changes at all, even after hormone therapy? To what degree should we adopt biological determinism of this sort to explain transgenderism as a phenomenon when its substantive claims are all psychological at their core? And to what degree should we entertain the now common two-step of insisting that individual “choices” be respected regardless of their comprehensibility by any scientific measure while simultaneously proclaiming a “born this way” thesis without so much as a single reliable, verified, corroborated, and peer-reviewed piece of research to support this claim?

To summarize, the relevant findings to date find morphological divergence in the brain to be most pronounced among homosexual transsexuals, though even this research concludes that “the main morphological parameters of the brain” for untreated homosexual transsexuals “are congruent with their natal sex.” Greater divergence has been reported among transsexuals who have undergone prolonged hormone therapy, which is consistent with findings in other studies of subjects who have received pharmacological doses of hormones that reach the brain. The data to date does not support significant morphological divergences for untreated heterosexual transsexuals, and many studies on transsexualism remain inconclusive owing to limited sample sizes and other control factors. Some researchers (such as Blanchard) have proposed a theory of MtF homosexual transsexualism as an extreme expression of homosexuality and non-homosexual MtF transsexualism as correlative with a pronounced cross-gender fetish (namely, autogynephilia), while others have drawn parallels between non-homosexual MtF transsexualism and male desire to carry out limb amputation.

Alternative theories abound concerning gender dysphoria, and resistance to anything short of full-fledged confirmation of prevailing ideas concerning gender fluidity and an “essential” gender identity that departs from one’s natal sex has led to severe backlash and targeted campaigns calling for career terminations. In 2016, Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a leading researcher in the field of sex transitions, was fired by a Canadian clinic due to pressure by a group of trans activists. More recently, journalist Jesse Singal published a piece in the Atlantic entitled “When Children Say They’re Trans” calling for deliberation and prudence prior to concluding that sex change surgery or hormone treatment is the right solution for gender dysphoric children. In response, trans activists have targeted Singal viscerally, questioning his motives and castigating him as uninformed, obstinate, and plainly bigoted. 

These pressures notwithstanding, the origins of transgenderism remain contested, while the significance of brain change is itself subject to considerable debate given the state of neurological research and the malleability of brain structures overall. Accordingly, the simplistic notion of transsexualism as involving a “biological male with a female brain” or vice versa does not cohere with actual research findings, and the various studies used to depict transgenderism as a congenital condition can equally be used to problematize the phenomena of gender dysphoria, hormone therapy, and the desire for surgical alteration. The inherent fluidity of biological disposition simply suggests what is already well known: namely, that whatever one thinks of transgenderism, appeals to inherency are a double-edged sword, and the view that “gender” (as opposed to biological sex) is inherently embedded in one’s psychological state is a primarily metaphysical, rather than a scientific or empirical, claim.

III.  Transgenderism A.  Transgenderism: A Brief History

The history of modern Western transgenderism is subject to significant debate. Gender theorists maintain that transgenderism predates the modern era and cuts across human civilization. This view treats gender nonconformity as a biologically determined phenomenon that manifests in myriad taxonomies and communities across human history. Accordingly, any “third gender,” past or present, is regarded as reinforcing a larger narrative of transgenderism as being an essential part of the human condition for a minority of people whose gender identity differs from their anatomical sex. (This characterization, however, is rightly contested by many as an anachronistic transposition of modern Western categories onto past peoples and societies that held no notion of a gender identity distinct from biological sex, at least not in the manner in which it exists today.) This history includes recasting eunuchs, transvestites, the belief in gender ambiguous deities, and related phenomena as all supporting an allegedly long and storied history of the transgender experience.

Critics of this reading argue that transgenderism is—like its exponents contend gender itself to be—socially constructed. Scholars like Sheila Jeffreys chronicle this history and date it to a relatively recent past, with the term transgenderism having been coined only in 2005 by cross-dresser Virginia Prince in order to “create a more acceptable face for a practice previously understood as a ‘paraphilia’—a form of sexual fetishism.” Prior to Prince, “transsexualism” was the more common term used to describe persons who desired sex modifications, a phenomenon that itself dates only to the mid-twentieth century. As we will see in the forthcoming section on psychological developments, the reengineering of terms and concepts for the purpose of destigmatization figures heavily in transgender advocacy.

The first recorded case of surgical intervention for gender dysphoria is that of Lili Elbe (born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, d. 1931), a Danish painter who, after marriage, moved to Paris in 1912 and openly identified as a female. In the year 1930, Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, which was highly experimental at the time. Elbe underwent four separate surgeries over the course of two years, dying shortly thereafter, in September 1931, due to an infection resulting from a labiaplasty. Roughly twenty years later, Christine Jorgensen (born George Jorgensen, d. 1989), a military servicemember during the Second World War, traveled to Copenhagen for a sex reassignment surgery. Unlike Elbe, Jorgensen additionally received hormone therapy, returning to the United States in 1952 to headline stories reading “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” Jorgensen lived a life of celebrity until his passing in 1989. Jorgensen became an advocate of transgenderism upon his return to the US, stating in the year of his death that he had given the sexual revolution a “good kick in the pants.”

Sex reassignment surgery was not available in the United States until the year 1965, when the Johns Hopkins Hospital became the first institution in the country to offer it. The founder and chief publicist for the program was psychologist John Money, a figure who fell into disrepute following his handling of the ignominious David Reimer case (also known as the “Joan/John” case).

John Money and the case of David Reimer

John Money was an early advocate of gender constructionism, arguing that gender was something learned rather than inherent. He was featured on television and in several print media during the early years of the Johns Hopkins sex reassignment program. It was on account of this notoriety that Janet and Ron Reimer approached him seeking advice concerning their infant son, Bruce, who had just suffered a botched electrocauterization procedure intended to remediate Bruce’s phimosis. The failed procedure left the infant with a penis damaged beyond surgical repair, and his parents were concerned about Bruce’s future happiness and sexual function given his genital abnormality. Money and the Hopkins team persuaded Bruce’s parents that sex reassignment was in the child’s best interests, arguing that while a vaginal pathway could be constructed surgically, a penis could not. Moreover, given Bruce’s young age, he would have experienced limited, if any, socialization that would contribute to any conception of a male gender identity. The fact that Bruce had an identical twin brother (Brian) would also offer a unique opportunity to put Money’s constructivist theory to the test as a control factor against which Bruce’s successful socialization as a female could be reasonably assessed.

The Reimers consented to Money’s counsel, and at the age of twenty-two months, Bruce underwent genital reconstructive surgery and was subsequently named Brenda, after which he grew up with periodic hormone treatment and psychotherapy from Money and his extended team to reinforce his new female gender identity. Bruce would go on to experience severe psychological distress and damage throughout his life, threatening suicide at the age of thirteen if he had to return to see Money once more. Approximately two years after that incident, Bruce’s parents revealed to their son that he had undergone sex reassignment as an infant, after which he chose to retransition to a male identity and adopt the name David. David subsequently revealed the details of his life and treatment with Money in a memoir written by John Colapinto entitled As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. Money’s “therapeutic” techniques and procedures bordered on the unspeakable and regularly involved David participating with his twin brother, Brian, in a variety of sexual acts. David went on to commit suicide at the age of thirty-eight, while his brother Brian developed schizophrenia and died of an overdose of antidepressants in his thirties as well.

The significance of the David Reimer case, at least for our purposes, lies in the activities of John Money and his role as a leading exponent of gender constructionism. Money developed a number of concepts that lie at the center of transgender discourse today, including gender identity, the “love map” (a mental map that guides one’s erotic desires), and paraphilia (a term coined by Money to replace “perversions”). It should also be noted that Money introduced the now common term “sexual orientation” in place of “sexual preference” to signify an immutability in relation to homosexual desires. Over the course of his work with Reimer, Money routinely misrepresented David’s female development as “Brenda,” describing it as an ongoing success with only rare (and relatively minor) setbacks. This deliberate falsification demonstrated Money’s intractable commitment to gender constructionism and is redolent of the dogmatism that is characteristic of many present-day gender constructionists.

Johns Hopkins discontinued sex reassignment procedures in 1979, only fifteen years after initiating them. Though Money’s methods and field work with the Reimers came to light long after the cessation of sex reassignment at Hopkins, some scholars have speculated that Money’s scholarly writings on the subjects of child pornography and incest played a larger role in closing the program. In these writings, Money argued for the destigmatization of incest, claiming that erotic love was entirely natural even among close kin. Money’s proposed sexual schema was indeed an abnormal one, and there is reason to believe that the impact of this literature extended to those on the ground who were disquieted by Money’s publications and research; during this same period, Howard Jones, one of the chief surgeons connected with the Hopkins program, left the institution.

Johns Hopkins, Jon Meyer, and Paul McHugh

Jon Meyer, who ran Johns Hopkins’ Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit, published an important review of the Hopkins sex reassignment program in a 1982 study entitled “The Theory of Gender Identity Disorders.” In this study, Meyer reflects upon his decade of work with 526 patients “having the most severe disturbances of gender, disturbances reflected in their application for surgical sex reassignment.” Meyer reported a complex set of clinical symptoms in these patients. For those who underwent sex reassignment procedures, long-term follow-up (ten or more years) “suggested that feelings of isolation and emptiness continued,” while there remained “a profound sense that, whereas externals had been changed, the patient was not truly male or female, merely a reasonable facsimile.” Meyer concluded that transsexual disjunction between self-representation and anatomy was “a defensive, symptomatic condensation of remarkable proportions,” further stating that “the destruction of the meaning ordinarily associated with genital anatomy is a violent psychic act, one means by which the superficially absent rage is expressed.” In a similar vein, an earlier 1979 piece by Meyer concluded that “sex reassignment surgery confers no objective advantage in terms of social rehabilitation.”

Another critical figure worth mentioning here briefly is the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Paul McHugh, who served as a leading voice in the closure of the Hopkins gender identity clinic in 1979. McHugh has written a number of articles as of late defending that decision, arguing that sex reassignment does little more than “cooperate with a mental illness” and that psychiatrists would do better to try to “fix the minds” of those suffering from gender dysphoria and “not their genitalia.” Elsewhere, McHugh ruminates on the state of medical practice:

Without any fixed position on what is given in human nature, any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate. A practice that appears to give people what they want—and what some of them are prepared to clamor for—turns out to be difficult to combat with ordinary professional experience and wisdom. Even controlled trials or careful follow-up studies to ensure that the practice itself is not damaging are often resisted and the results rejected.

McHugh’s observations and strident opposition to gender constructionism and its concomitant medical campaign have not gone unnoticed. Trans activists and supporters of transgenderism as a condition requiring medical intervention have maligned McHugh’s research and accused him of “distorting science” and “spreading transphobic misinformation” while “dangerously undermining the safety, security and well-being of LGBTQ people.” Meanwhile, conservative political actors and representatives have leveraged McHugh’s writings in congressional discussions concerning sex reassignment procedures, including a 2016 House hearing on transgender surgeries.

In October 2016, Johns Hopkins released a letter entitled “Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Commitment to the LGBT Community” in order to assuage public concern over the possible connection between McHugh and the institution. Although McHugh is not mentioned by name, the letter states that

some have questioned our position, both inside and outside the institution, not because of any change in our practice or policy, but because of the varied individual opinions expressed publicly by members of the Johns Hopkins Medicine community. We have taken these concerns seriously. We want to reiterate our institutional support for LGBT individuals and update you on the work we are doing to further that commitment.

The letter goes on to announce the following:

  • “Johns Hopkins Children’s Center physicians helped lead an American Academy of Pediatrics committee that authored the 2013 policy statement that supports access to clinically and culturally competent health care for all LGBT and questioning youth.
  • “In field and clinical research, Johns Hopkins University faculty members have advanced understanding of LGBT health and well-being, contributing to the important work of counteracting the negative effects of bias, discrimination and stigma that can hinder LGBT communities from seeking and receiving the best health care.
  • “In the past year, two Johns Hopkins Medicine task forces on LGBT health care have been charged with developing new paths for our institutions to further approaches to evidence-based, patient-centered care for LGBT individuals.
  • “We have committed to and will soon begin providing gender affirming surgery as another important element of our overall care program, reflecting careful consideration over the past year of best practices and the appropriate provision of care for transgender individuals.”

Since publishing the letter, so-called gender affirmation surgical services have commenced and are now publicly listed among John Hopkins’ surgical services.

Recent developments

Johns Hopkins is but a microcosm of what has been occurring in the public square. Though transgenderism and its underlying clinical diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder were once regarded as a distinct mental illness, the past decade and a half has witnessed a substantial shift in public opinion. Consequently, determining public and private transgender policy, suitable pronouns, the relationship of gender to personal identity, and the appropriateness of surgical intervention for gender dysphoric adolescents and adults have become politically charged topics that are now being litigated through an eclectic mix of policy makers on Capitol Hill, medical professionals of various fields, activists, and other culturally influential voices.

Simultaneous with this debate has been a marked shift in attitudes towards gender, transgenderism, and adolescent gender self-conception. In a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, approximately three percent of Minnesota teens reported that they did not identify with traditional gender labels (i.e., “boy” or “girl”). In another study conducted by UCLA, a full twenty-seven percent (!) of those studied between the ages of twelve and seventeen in California were determined to be “highly gender nonconforming (GNC).” Compare this to reported rates of 6.8/100,000 MtF and 2.6/100,000 FtM transgenderism among adults and the disproportion comes into clearer view. We will return to the subject of adolescent GD below (see subsection “Childhood-onset gender dysphoria”).

It should be noted that emerging treatments of gender nonconformity in gender studies are transcending commonplace transgenderism (i.e., transitioning from one gender to another) with new theories and conceptions of nonconformity that attempt to situate individuals fully outside the established male–female binary. One increasingly invoked category that reflects this tendency is known as genderqueer (GQ), a term used to denote a departure from the gender binary without situating individuals within a prefabricated gender/non-gender stereotype. Though it shares conceptual overlap with transgenderism in its repudiation of the notion of an inherent birth gender, the term genderqueer differs from transgenderism in the “persistent unease [of those who identify as genderqueer] with being associated only with the binary gender assigned to them from infancy—apart from that, their expressions, experiences, and preferences vary greatly from individual to individual.”

Rogers Brubaker furthers this discourse to examine models of transgenderism that go beyond—or, in other instances, that mix—gender deviations, oftentimes as a result of a desire to maintain aspects of one’s “pre-trans” self. In describing this phenomenon, Brubaker writes:

The desire to continue to express aspects of one’s pretransition self has found support from intellectuals and activists who have sought to emancipate the transsexual experience from prevailing forms of medical control and from the need to pass as a ‘natural’ member of the gender of choice, both of which encouraged or even required rigidly stereotypical gendered presentations of self.

Brubaker goes on to introduce modes of transgenderism dubbed the “trans of between” and “trans of beyond,” the former of which speaks of the “positioning of oneself with reference to the two established categories, without belonging entirely or unambiguously to either one,” while the latter involves “positioning oneself in a space that is not defined with reference to established categories.”

Although some of these theories are receiving significant attention in certain academic quarters, the phenomenon of gender nonconformity continues to emerge most commonly in the form of transgenderism with two relatively stable identities: MtF and FtM. Given the growing appeal of reformative gender projects and the increasing social authority accorded to constructionist voices and programs, the following section examines the different types of transgenderism and provides a brief review of trans activism today.

B.  Transgenderism: Types

Transgenderism is not a single, unified phenomenon. Rather, it covers a variety of phenomena that can diverge considerably from one case to the next. Clinically, the condition that is said to cause transgenderism was formerly known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), a diagnostic label that held until 2013, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) reclassified the condition as Gender Dysphoria (GD). The name gender dysphoria served the purpose of destigmatizing transgenderism and shifting the relevant psychological concern to one of distress, anxiety, and related anguish, in contrast to GID, which implies that gender identity divergence is an objective mental illness in and of itself.

Individuals with GD “experience a strong desire to be treated as the other gender (or some alternative gender different from their assigned gender), and/or to be rid of their sex characteristics, and/or the strong conviction of having feelings and reactions typical of the other gender (or some alternative gender).” In examining gender dysphoria, psychologists have attempted to classify the phenomenon into at least three different subtypes. (It should be noted that there are other, less common types that have been discussed and written about, though we will not attend to them here for the sake of simplicity.) The classification of GD into subtypes is critical for a number of reasons. For one, classification assists in better understanding the variability in GD cases and gender transitions. This is a marked departure from the current public discourse, in which transgenderism is treated as a single phenomenon with all cases reducible to a simple matter of individual choice. Cases involving transgenderism can differ dramatically from person to person. Consider, for example, the case of Jazz Jennings, a natal male who was “so feminine that she earned a diagnosis of gender identity disorder at the age of four.” By comparison, Chaz Bono, a natal female, publicly identified as lesbian in his (then her) mid-20s and only transitioned nearly two decades later. Caitlyn Jenner, a natal male, had been heterosexually married (i.e., to women) on three separate occasions and has six children from those marriages. Each of these individuals presents substantive differences concerning his/her gender identity and ultimate transition.

The trifurcation of transgenderism that we will examine here intersects four factors, namely, (1) age (child vs. adolescent vs. adult), (2) speed of onset (sudden vs. gradual), (3) sexual attraction (homosexual vs. heterosexual as measured against natal sex), and (4) sexual ratio (frequency of occurrence in natal males versus natal females). The three types of transgenderism are

  1. childhood-onset gender dysphoria
  2. autogynephilic gender dysphoria
  3. rapid-onset gender dysphoria.
Childhood-onset gender dysphoria

Also referred to as early-onset gender dysphoria, childhood-onset gender dysphoria refers to children, as young as age three up through adolescence, who “behave like the other sex in a variety of ways, including preferences of dress and appearance, play style, playmate preferences, and interests and goals.” The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, provides the following description for childhood gender dysphoria:

A.  A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/
expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least six months’ duration, as manifested by at least six of the following criteria (one of which must be Criterion A1):

  1. A strong desire to belong to the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire, or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typically masculine clothing and a strong resistance to wearing typical feminine clothing
  3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe or fantasy play
  4. A strong preference for the toys, games, or activities stereotypically used or engaged with by the other gender
  5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender
  6. In boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play, or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities
  7. A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy
  8. A strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender

B.  The condition is associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of functioning.

Critics have called the above criteria into question, arguing that they rely heavily on sex stereotypes and include characteristics that are commonly observed among otherwise normal and healthy children. A New York Times op-ed by a mother named Lisa Selin Davis, published in April 2017, makes this precise point. Entitled “My Daughter Is Not Transgender, She’s a Tomboy,” Davis’s piece expresses frustration with others’ calling into question her daughter’s gender identity simply on account of her interests (she enjoys sports), friends (she is friends primarily with boys), and hairstyle (she likes her hair short). She writes: “I want trans kids to feel free and safe enough to be who they are. I also want adults to have a fluid enough idea of gender roles that a 7-year-old girl can dress like ‘a boy’ and not be asked—by people who know her, not strangers—whether she is one.”

Although statistics are not precise concerning the prevalence of childhood gender dysphoria, recent studies have reported relative stability of childhood GD cases over the past decade, though adolescent cases have experienced a marked increase. Possible reasons noted for the increase in adolescent cases include the influence of social media, a preference for being trans over being gay or lesbian, and the social status given in some youth subcultures to transgender individuals. In one study, an adolescent girl is reported to have remarked, “If I walk down the street with my girlfriend and I am perceived to be a girl, then people call us all kinds of names, like lezzies or faggots, but if I am perceived to be a guy, then they leave us alone”—thus resorting to transgenderism as a recourse against hazing or other forms of anti-gay animus.

Causes of childhood GD remain elusive, though “genes, hormonal influences in the womb, and environmental factors are all suspected to be involved.” When GD appears in adolescence, which often falls into the two categories discussed below (autogynephilic and rapid-onset), it is reported that “parent–infant interpersonal issues” and related trauma—including, but not limited to, sexual trauma—can play a contributing role, as well as depression and anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and social contagion.

A feature of adolescent GD is the reported correspondence it bears with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Samples of adolescents who are referred to gender identity services reveal that six to twenty percent of such cases also have ASD, thus representing a significantly higher correlation as compared with studies conducted on adults (though ASD and GD co-occurrence is nonetheless common among adults as well).

It should be noted here that of all GD types, childhood cases have become a particularly acute battleground in the public square. Much of the consternation surrounds the question of what is known as desistance, which refers to the possibility—and, in most cases, the likelihood—of children eventually going on to accept their biological bodies rather than permanently identifying as transgender. Studies examining adolescent GD have consistently reported statistically high rates of desistance, with some studies revealing a desistance rate as high as eighty-four percent. It should be noted that literally dozens of studies report high rates of desistance, even as the statistical outcomes differ. In other words, the self-resolution of childhood GD is a common occurrence and one that is in keeping with what is otherwise known about childhood development and the volatility of childhood self-perception.

In responding to the multitudinous studies confirming high rates of desistance, several transgender advocates have published against what they term the “desistance myth.” In January 2016, Brynn Tannehill of the Trans United Fund published an article in HuffPost arguing against desistance, provocatively entitled “The End of the Desistance Myth.” Though the article alleged that studies reporting desistance were built upon “bad statistics, bad science, homophobia and transphobia,” it did not produce any substantive evidence to demonstrate this claim. The only meaningful objection seems to be that desistance is closely correlated with the intensity of childhood GD, such that higher-intensity cases are less likely to desist than lower-intensity ones. Though this is no doubt true—and is confirmed in the very studies critiqued by Tannehill—the possibility of desistance remains even in high-intensity cases (albeit with a lower likelihood).

Considerably more contentious with respect to childhood GD is the issue of medical intervention, including the use of puberty blockers and the initiation of hormone therapy as part of treatment programs. In a 2016 paper entitled “To Treat or Not to Treat: Puberty Suppression in Childhood-Onset Gender Dysphoria,” for example, the authors state that the “paucity of published research on the effects of GnRHa [puberty suppressing medication] on health-related outcome measures calls for studies that might help to advance the evidence-based debate on risks and benefits of puberty suppression.” However, just two sentences later, the authors conclude that “despite a limited number of studies, the existing literature supports puberty suppression as an early, sufficiently safe, and preventive treatment for gender dysphoria in childhood and adolescence.” This conclusion is shared by Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health at San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center. The conclusions of the 2016 study and Ehrensaft’s advocacy stand in direct contradiction to studies that demonstrate that children treated with puberty blockers report higher rates of self-harm and suicidality compared to those not so treated. Dr. Michael Biggs of Oxford University has spoken out against a comparable study endorsing the use of puberty suppressants published by England’s National Health Service (NHS) and has stated that “puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria. Yet the study has been used to justify rolling out this drug regime to several hundred children aged under 16.” In addition to the complications and side effects of puberty blockers, the popular claim that the effects of hormone therapy are entirely reversible has itself proved tendentious. When asked about this alleged reversibility, Dr. Polly Carmichael, a clinical psychologist who heads a clinic devoted to treating adolescent gender dysphoria, responded saying, “Nothing is completely reversible.”

More radical transgender advocates today lobby for adolescent independence and affirmative transgender therapy—including medical intervention—for teenagers and youth struggling with GD without even requiring parental consent. Moreover, some have argued for treating individuals who display indicators of GD and transgenderism at very young ages. Diane Ehrensaft, for instance, contends that “children as young as one year of age are capable of announcing they are transgender, even before they can speak,” further suggesting that a one-year-old girl’s stating “I boy” can be construed as a meaningful indication of gender nonconformity.

Ehrensaft is not alone in her commitment to radically “affirmative” care. Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is a prominent affirmative care physician and has spoken in the past about radical mastectomy outcomes in girls as young as thirteen. Hacsi Horváth from the University of California San Francisco writes about Olson-Kennedy’s push for medicalizing young girls diagnosed with GD as follows:

She [Olson-Kennedy] doubled down on this affront to Hippocrates by suggesting that if teen girls later regretted the loss of their breasts, they could “go and get” new breasts, suggesting that breast implants would make them as good as new. There has been a tremendous surge over the past decade in girls and young women presenting to gender clinics (Zucker 2017, Littman 2018), and Olson-Kennedy says she has personally ushered more than 1100 of them into the medicalized trans lifestyle. In a 2018 paper, she recommends referring girls for this “top surgery” first, and only afterwards prescribing testosterone—thus removing the option for what might have been a little more time to think through this irreversible decision (Olson-Kennedy, 2018).

For young children who display signs of GD, Ehrensaft and Olson-Kennedy support “social transitioning” rather than medicalization—with social transitioning considered a precursor to eventual medical intervention. Social transitioning, which can be applied to children of any age (including infants), represents a form of transitioning in which parents and others socialize the child into an alternative gender identity (adjusted name, dress, treatment, etc.).

This fractious climate has made it exceedingly difficult for parents of GD children to distinguish truth from falsehood or fact from ideology, and the proliferation of transgender affirmative guidelines directed towards educators, counselors, medical professionals, parents, and youth has compounded the already substantial difficulties that families experience when facing a GD diagnosis in their child. Children with GD can exhibit significant “impairment in major areas of functioning, such as social relationships, school, or home life,” while adolescents with GD report significantly higher rates of suicidality, psychopathology, self-harm, eating pathologies, poor peer relationships, and higher rates of bullying and social isolation, as well as a greater likelihood of partaking in risky sexual behaviors. An ideological program zealously devoted to lowering the possibility of desistance and promoting gender transition obfuscates all these inconvenient facts while selectively marshalling evidence that can be used to encourage gender transition and stifling vital debate before it can even take place. The possibility—indeed, the likelihood—that these children can function in a wholesome, healthy way with who they are biologically is increasingly marginalized and cast as harmful to children.

Autogynephilic gender dysphoria

Coined thirty years ago by Ray Blanchard, the term autogynephilia denotes a male (adolescent or adult) who demonstrates a “propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female,” a common symptom in cases of gender identity disorder (GID) and transvestic fetishism. The development of sexual interest during adolescence typically materializes in sexual fantasies or desires directed towards the opposite sex and can involve sexual arousal, desire, and sexual function. The concept of autogynephilia extends this sexual development for non-homosexual males: an autogynephilic male would, in addition to the aforementioned sexual developments, fantasize about embodying women and, in many cases, act out the fetish. That is, he would feel arousal at the thought of dressing like a woman and, at times, possessing female body parts. Ray Blanchard sees this condition as a type of orientation, one that falls along the spectrum of heterosexuality to homosexuality. In this view, autogynephilia is a type of immutable orientation that will continue to some degree as a lifelong condition.

It should be noted here that our understanding of “orientations” is not firmly established in any field of sexuality. That is to say that although in many cases individuals manifest dominant or exclusive sexual desire for a single sex, the causes behind this phenomenon are not well understood. This is as much the case with same-sex desire as it is with less typical sexual desires and fetishes like autogynephilia. In the case of autogynephilia, the available data and sample sizes complicate the picture, as our scope of understanding is fundamentally limited given the rarity of gender dysphoria and sex reassignment—though in recent years the numbers have increased substantially (which risks obscuring the picture even further by confounding organic occurrences of GD with those contributed to by rising socialization factors). Whatever the case may be, it is fair to conclude that autogynephilia is perhaps the most common underlying condition among males who pursue sex reassignment, and reports show that in recent years, seventy-five percent of male-to-female transsexualism cases in Western countries have involved autogynephilic patients.

Not all of those diagnosed with autogynephilia pursue sex reassignment or express gender dysphoria. In fact, the majority do not, and some with autogynephilia end up marrying and having children. Autogynephilia, like all conditions, exists along a spectrum. Some can suppress the occasional desire to cross-dress, whereas others may engage in infrequent cross-dressing as a sort of release. Other cases include individuals with a higher intensity of fetish. In an article on autogynephilia, Michael Bailey and Ray Blanchard write:

Although many autogynephilic males find discovery of the idea of autogynephilia to be a positive revelation—autogynephilia has been as puzzling to them as it is to you—some others are enraged at the idea. There are two main reasons why some autogynephilic males are in denial. First, they correctly believe that many people find a sexual explanation of gender dysphoria unappealing—discomfort with sexuality is rampant. Second, they find this explanation of their own feelings less satisfying than the standard “woman trapped in man’s body” explanation. This is because autogynephilia is a male trait, and autogynephilia is about wanting to be female.

It is good to be aware of autogynephilia’s controversial status, because transgender activists are often hostile to the idea. You will not learn more about it from the activists. And if your son has frequented internet discussions, he may also resent the idea. We emphasize that autogynephilia is controversial for social reasons, not for scientific ones. No scientific data have seriously challenged it (emphasis added).

Autogynephilia can present in men with same-sex or opposite-sex desires (though it is more common among non-homosexuals), while other autogynephilic men are bisexual. For men with heterosexual desires, autogynephilic arousal comes from embodying the sexual other. For men with homosexual desires, arousal often involves the idea of being penetrated as a female. Autogynephilia therefore “provides an implicit theory of motivation for the pursuit of sex reassignment by autogynephilic males: It suggests that they seek sex reassignment because they love (i.e., experience attraction, sexual arousal, and comfort from) the prospect of having bodies that resemble women’s bodies and living in the world as women.”

Charles Moser argues for the possibility of autogynephilia in female subjects as well, that is, women being sexually aroused by their own bodies. As a paraphilia, this is certainly not outside the realm of possibility, and both men and women have, at times, reported sexual arousal by seeing themselves nude.

Though the symptoms are understood (albeit controversial), there is no scientific consensus on the cause of either autogynephilia or gender dysphoria. As we have noted, Blanchard, Bailey, Lawrence, and others view autogynephilia as a type of “orientation” akin to other sexual orientations. The late Joseph Nicolosi, however, argued that gender dysphoria is undergirded by a problem of attachment. On this understanding, gender dysphoria emerges in young children who experience trauma and attachment deficiencies at a young age that later materialize at the point of puberty or manifest fully in adulthood. Nicolosi writes:

Experts in the area of childhood gender identity disorder (GID) have found certain patterns in the backgrounds of GID children. A common scenario is an over-involved mother with an intense, yet insecure attachment between mother and child (emphasis original). Mothers of GID children usually report high levels of stress during the child’s earliest years.

We often see severe maternal clinical depression during the critical attachment period (birth to age 3) when the child is individuating as a separate person, and when his gender identity is being formed. The mother’s behavior was often highly volatile during this time, which could have been due to a life crisis (such as a marital disruption), or from a deeper psychological problem in the mother herself, i.e., borderline personality disorder, narcissism, or a hysterical personality type.

When the mother is alternately deeply involved in the boy’s life, and then unexpectedly disengaged, the infant child experiences an attachment loss—what we call “abandonment-annihilation trauma.” Some children’s response is an “imitative identification”—the unconscious idea that “if I become Mommy (i.e., become female), then I take Mommy into me and I will never lose her.”

This is the same dynamic that we see in the fetish, where the boy is “taking in a piece of Mommy” (her shoes, her scarf) and developing an intense (and later sexualized) attachment to an object associated with her.

Nicolosi’s therapeutic program focused more on childhood-onset GD cases. However, his theory of GD would also be applicable to adults who live with lingering and unresolved distresses buried beneath the surface (Nicolosi did not seem to distinguish between adult, adolescent, and childhood cases of GD). Although addressing such pain may not succeed in eliminating dysphoric feelings, such feelings would, nonetheless, hopefully become more manageable, thus providing individuals experiencing gender anxieties a way to cope with their gender nonconforming thoughts while potentially mitigating the intensity and frequency of such feelings.

Rapid-onset gender dysphoria

Unlike autogynephilia, rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a relatively recent category constructed in response to a growing phenomenon of sudden expressions of gender discordance. Typically, this sudden onset of dysphoria has been observed among (predominantly) female adolescents and young adults. The most thorough and comprehensive treatment of this phenomenon comes to us in the form of a recent study by Lisa Littman. Littman, a researcher at Brown University, studied parents of children who had expressed sudden gender dysphoria with no preceding history of gender nonconforming expression. In examining their children’s unexpected experience of gender dysphoria, parents described “a process of immersion in social media,” including, inter alia, “binge-watching YouTube transition videos and excessive use of Tumblr” prior to the child’s expressing feelings of gender dysphoria. Critically, Littman’s study describes in detail the power of social influences in stimulating dysphoric attitudes and promoting the idea of gender dysphoria among otherwise non-dysphoric adolescents, teens, and young adults. The stories of rapid-onset GD cases in Littman’s piece include the following:

  • A twelve-year-old natal female who was bullied specifically for going through early puberty and the responding parent wrote, “As a result she said she felt fat and hated her breasts.” She learned online that hating your breasts is a sign of being transgender. She edited her diary (by crossing out existing text and writing in new text) to make it appear that she had always felt that she is transgender.
  • A fourteen-year-old natal female and three of her natal female friends who were taking group lessons together with a very popular coach. The coach came out as transgender, and within one year, all four students announced they were also transgender.
  • A natal female who was traumatized by rape when she was sixteen years old. Before the rape, she was described as a happy girl; after the rape, she became withdrawn and fearful. Several months after the rape, she announced that she was transgender and told her parents that she needed to transition.

These stories describe traumatic encounters and social events that contributed in some direct fashion to an eventual desire to embrace an alternative gender identity. Littman concludes with a few key hypotheses. One is, as we have noted, that social influences—both in person and online—provoke gender dysphoria. Another important hypothesis is that in certain instances, gender dysphoria serves as a maladaptive coping mechanism, much the same way that eating disorders serve as coping mechanisms following acute anxieties, bouts of depression, and traumatic events. In describing this phenomenon, Bailey and Blanchard write:

The subculture that fosters ROGD appears to share aspects with cults. These aspects include expectation of absolute ideological agreement, use of very specific jargon, thinking of the world as “us” versus “them” (even more than typical adolescents do), and encouragement to cut off ties with family and friends who are not “with the program.” It also has uncanny similarities to a very harmful epidemic that occurred a generation ago: the epidemic of false “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse and the associated epidemic of multiple personality disorder.

Over eighty percent of rapid-onset GD cases involve females, though it is possible, albeit less common, for men to present with sudden GD as well. Many of those presenting with rapid-onset GD had previously been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, with several cases of self-harm, sex or gender related disturbances, and family stressors (i.e., death of a parent, parental divorce, etc.).

Littman’s conclusions have not been without controversy. Originally retracted from Brown’s website after publication in August 2018 because of public pressure and outrage from activist corners, Littman’s paper was republished in March 2019 following a secondary review with edits to address concerns raised during the editorial reassessment. Some have characterized Littman’s research and study as “transphobic,” while trans activist and biologist Julia Serano has disputed rapid-onset GD as a category altogether.

Recently, journalist Abigail Shrier built on Littman’s research, authoring a work dedicated to the growing phenomenon of female transitioning entitled Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. In it, she documents the rising rates of female transitioning, rates that have flipped what was once a predominantly male phenomenon into one that is now majority FtM in composition in a number of countries. Gender clinics in Stockholm, Toronto, and Amsterdam all report that their ratios of gender dysphoria have shifted to majority natal female patients in recent years, while US incidences of gender dysphoria went from being forty-six percent natal female in 2016 to seventy percent just one year later. Shrier details features of female transitioners, the vast majority of whom display no dysphoria in childhood, often come from middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds, and are heavily influenced by their surroundings, especially social media and trans influencers. Prominent trans influencers today command large followings while encouraging social transitioning, donning “binders” (used to suppress breast protrusion), depicting testosterone therapy as cathartic, and advocating deceit in the path of the “greater good” of arriving at one’s true, transitioned self. Along the way, young girls are taught that parental resistance is an indication of hatred and lack of affection or love and that the threat of suicide is an important tool to employ and weaponize when dealing with counselors, teachers, parents, and others who offer anything other than full-throated support.

Many young women today suffer anxieties related to their body image and a pathologizing of feminine norms and features. In such a context, self-harm, depression, and low self-esteem abound, and a desire to abandon the burdens of being a woman can be profoundly persuasive. Shrier quotes therapist Sasha Ayad, whose practice focuses on gender questioning teens, as saying, “A common response that I get from female clients is something along the lines: ‘I don’t know exactly that I want to be a guy. I just know I don’t want to be a girl.’ ”

C.  Transgenderism: Medical Treatments

Among the many troubling practices of gender affirmative therapy is the rush to medical intervention. For children, this begins with puberty suppressants, a step that is itself often preceded by “social transitioning.” Puberty blockers (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone [GnRH] agonists) are typically administered at the pre- or early pubertal stage (at around nine to thirteen years of age) to suppress puberty as a first step to transitioning to the desired sex. This is followed by cross-sex steroid hormones at fourteen to sixteen years of age. The use of puberty suppressants is recommended by many gender-affirming physicians and therapists as a temporary step to allow adolescent children more time fully to come to terms with their gender identity. Dr. Rob Garofalo, director of the Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Gender and Sex Development Program, states that puberty blockers “allow these families the opportunity to hit a pause button, to prevent natal puberty [. . .] until we know that that’s either the right or the wrong direction for their particular child.” At times, children exhibiting even mild gender dysphoria or expressing nominal gender confusion are encouraged to take puberty blockers as a stopgap measure to prevent normal pubertal development. Medical monitoring and psychotherapy ensue to explore possibilities of living as the other gender and to verify if transitioning is something the child really wants. Transitioning to the opposite sex through hormones (with or without eventual surgery) is less invasive on a body with stunted puberty caused by puberty blockers as compared to a body that has started to develop, or has fully developed, sex characteristics of the original sex. In this manner, gender affirmative therapy and treatment can serve to promote transgenderism as an eventual outcome, even when it is not in the patient’s best interest. Unsurprisingly, a rising number of adults who were pressured into adolescent transitioning are now going public with their stories of trauma, anxiety, and malpractice by medical practitioners and therapists.

Although hormone therapy as a secondary step following puberty suppression is often presented as only a “possibility,” in most cases it turns out to be an eventuality. Dr. Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital reports having never seen an adolescent decline hormone therapy after GD diagnosis and the use of puberty suppression. Hormone therapy involves the administration of testosterone to natal females and estrogen to natal males. With puberty now blocked and the concomitant gender-specific physical traits prevented from manifestation, hormone therapy proceeds to stimulate opposite-sex gender development. For women, this means an increase in facial and body hair, more severe acne, growth in muscle mass, and the cessation of menses. For men, hormone treatment results in reduced facial hair and slowed body hair growth, the development of breasts, and reduction in testicular size and function. During their years on puberty blockers, adolescents’ genitals and reproductive tracts remain in a pre- or early pubertal state, and the pubertal growth spurt is suppressed. If followed by cross-sex hormones, the possibility of reproduction is eliminated.

The final possible step is surgical intervention. Sex reassignment surgery—sometimes referred to as “sex confirmation surgery”—begins, for men, with an orchiectomy, a procedure that involves the removal of the testicles. Surgeons make an incision in the middle of the scrotum, after which they cut the spermatic cord and remove the testicles. This effectively eliminates testosterone production for men and sets the groundwork for a second surgery, which is either a vulvoplasty or a vaginoplasty. A vulvoplasty is a procedure in which a surgeon uses the skin and tissue of the penis to begin fashioning a synthetic vulva, the outside part of the vagina. A vulvoplasty consists of the following steps: the head of the penis is used to construct a clitoris; the skin from the penal canal and scrotum is used to fashion the labia; and, finally, an opening is created for urination (the urethra). An alternative to a vulvoplasty is a vaginoplasty, which involves the fashioning of a full vagina from penile skin and tissue. Patients may experience an orgasm through clitoral stimulation following a vulvoplasty, but they will not be able to participate in vaginal intercourse. A vaginoplasty, on the other hand, allows for sexual intercourse and is thus regarded as a more complete and satisfying form of transition for male-to-female GD patients.

In cases of female-to-male transition, medical intervention involves the reduction and reshaping of the breasts and the removal of the uterus and ovaries. The surgical options for FtM transsexuals are generally bifurcated into what are referred to as “top surgeries” (involving the chest) and “bottom surgeries.” Top surgeries involve reducing breast size and contouring the chest to make it appear more masculine. Of the two sets of procedures, top surgeries are far more common owing to the lower cost and relatively higher rate of success. Bottom surgeries are considerably costlier and more complicated and take place over the course of multiple procedures that can span months, if not years. The principal bottom surgery for FtM patients is a phalloplasty, in which a “neophallus,” or artificial penis, is molded using forearm tissue (or other parts of the body) and then surgically attached in a manner that provides for standing urination. Some FtM patients, following a phalloplasty, elect to undergo yet another surgery to install a penile implant that allows for the appearance of an erection through the use either of manual inflation or of non-inflatable rigid models that are manually moved to mimic the appearance of an erection. The complete set of potential bottom surgeries for a female-to-male patient includes

  • a hysterectomy (to remove the uterus)
  • an oophorectomy (to remove the ovaries)
  • a vaginectomy or vaginal mucosal ablation (to remove or partially remove the vagina)
  • a phalloplasty (to turn a flap of donor skin into a phallus)
  • a scrotectomy (to turn the labia majora into a scrotum, either with or without testicular implants)
  • a urethroplasty (to lengthen and connect the urethra inside the new phallus)
  • a glansplasty (to sculpt the appearance of a penile head)
  • a penile implant to allow for an erection.

Bottom surgeries are highly volatile and are perhaps the riskiest of the aforementioned surgical options. Phalloplasties, for instance, have been described as “one of the most complex reconstructions that plastic surgeons are called upon to perform” and are fraught with risk due to uncertainties surrounding flap survival and common functional failures. Even relatively successful cases cannot guarantee the rigidity required for successful sexual intercourse, leading one set of experts to describe the practice of phalloplasty as assuming “Herculean dimensions.”

The complications and side effects of the aforementioned treatments are non-trivial and are rarely disclosed in full to parents, adolescents, and adults considering medical intervention. Publicly available literature on trans-affirming sites glosses over the possibility of unfavorable consequences or of medical outcomes that introduce pathological changes or previously non-existent ailments. In the interest of disclosing some of these outcomes, we turn our attention to medical complications of transition treatments in the following section.

D.  Complications of Medical Treatments Puberty blockers

In general, puberty blockers used on children are medically indicated for the treatment of a condition known as precocious puberty, in which an early secretion of pubertal hormones brings about all the manifestations of puberty at an earlier age than usual. Such puberty blockers aid in delaying puberty until an appropriate age. However, there is no way to infer that such blockers are safe in physiologically normal children who suffer from gender dysphoria.

In the United States, the use of puberty blockers for the treatment of gender dysphoria has not yet been approved by the FDA (although their use for the treatment of precocious puberty, prostate cancer, and other conditions has been). The use of puberty blockers for GD is considered “off-label,” meaning that physicians are legally permitted to use such treatments on children with GD but are barred from marketing them for the treatment of GD due to the lack of FDA approval. The use of puberty blockers for the purpose of treating GD has not yet been proved in clinical trials to be safe and effective. There are many claims that the effects of puberty blockers are reversible. It is argued that puberty suppression can “give adolescents, together with the attending health professional, more time to explore their gender identity, without the distress of the developing secondary sex characteristics. The precision of the diagnosis may thus be improved.”

Some questions worth asking are the following: Is it not to be expected that the development of natural sex characteristics would contribute to an organic consolidation of one’s gender identity, as opposed to interfering with one’s exploration of it? Would not interfering with normal pubertal development possibly influence the gender identity of the child by further hindering his or her gender identity development in line with his or her biological sex, as opposed to allowing for a more accurate diagnosis of gender identity? With puberty blockers, the natural sequence of development is already disrupted. With normal puberty, there is a complex relationship between physiological, psychological, and social factors that shape one’s gender identity, particularly when the physical body matures and sexually differentiates. Would such development resume in a normal fashion after puberty blockers are discontinued? And, what are the psychological consequences that arise in children with gender dysphoria whose puberty has been suppressed for some time and who later come to identify with their natal biological sex?

There are virtually no published studies of adolescents who have discontinued use of puberty blockers and then resumed the normal pubertal development process typical for their sex. Most adolescents studied generally go from suppressed puberty to cross-sex hormones later on, bypassing the most essential step of sexual maturation, the maturation of one’s reproductive organs (which, in some cases, may eventually even be removed altogether). Infertility is therefore one of the major side effects of puberty suppression. The absence of a robust public debate and discussion over sterilizing children in the context of “affirmative therapy” programs is striking to say the least. For any other group of children, an intervention bearing the same degree of medical consequence would be discussed extensively and would include ethics review boards and committees alongside substantial policy debates foregrounding the implications for children in school and the like. On this curious, not to mention worrisome, lack of debate, medical anthropologist Sahar Sadjadi writes:

Needless to say, children are not legally capable of consent, and 9–10-year-olds are not capable of understanding all the health consequences of the treatment. Parents are asked to make life decisions on issues as critical as fertility for young children. Can they make an informed decision and evaluate benefits vis-à-vis risks when confronted with such horrendous forecasts for their children?

We also have no data concerning the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics in adolescents whose puberty has been artificially suppressed before or at the point of puberty. Hence, there is no rigorous scientific data to support the claim that medical intervention of any sort, including puberty suppression, is reversible.

One question that arises from all this is, Do such treatments contribute to the persistence of gender dysphoria in adolescents who might otherwise have resolved their feelings of belonging to the opposite sex? As mentioned earlier, most children who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria eventually grow out of it. The fact that cross-gender identification persists for virtually all those who undergo puberty suppression raises the question whether such treatments may, in fact, actively increase the likelihood of persisting cross-gender identification. In this vein, Michael Cretalla of the American College of Pediatrics writes:

There is an obvious self-fulfilling nature to encouraging a young child with GD to socially impersonate the opposite sex and then instituting pubertal suppression. Purely from a social learning point of view, the repeated behavior of impersonating and being treated as the opposite sex will make identity alignment with the child’s biologic sex less likely. This, together with the suppression of puberty that prevents further endogenous masculinization or feminization of the entire body and brain, causes the child to remain either a gender nonconforming pre-pubertal boy disguised as a pre-pubertal girl, or the reverse. Since their peers develop normally into young men or young women, these children are left psychosocially isolated. They will be less able to identify as being the biological male or female they actually are. A protocol of impersonation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires lifelong use of toxic synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible nor harmless.

Cross-sex hormones

A 2018 study carried out by Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers in Georgia and California followed up 2,842 transsexual women and 2,118 transsexual men who had received hormonal treatment. Authors found a link between cross-sex hormone use in transsexual women and an increase in vascular side effects such as stroke and venous thromboembolism (VTE), that is, the formation of venous blood clots. Results of the study show that rates of VTE in transsexual women were nearly twice as high as those among cisgender men and women, and the rates of stroke and heart attack among transsexual women were eighty to ninety percent higher than those observed in cisgender women but similar to the rates found in cisgender men. The increase in the rates of VTE and stroke was more noticeable several years after the initiation of estrogen therapy. The evidence was insufficient to allow conclusions regarding risk among trans men participants.

Another study showed that, after an average of ten years of cross-sex hormone treatment, a substantial number of transsexual women suffered from osteoporosis at the lumbar spine and distal arm, and twelve percent of transsexual women experienced thromboembolic and/or other cardiovascular events during hormone treatment, possibly related to older age, estrogen treatment, and lifestyle factors.

As for hormone-related cancers in transgender individuals, case reports of trans women diagnosed after the initiation of medical or surgical “gender affirmation” include cancers of the breast and prostate, prolactinomas (a type of pituitary gland tumor), and meningiomas (a type of brain tumor). In transsexual men, published case reports describe cancers of the breast, ovaries, cervix, vagina, and uterus. These reports remain sparse, and large studies on the proper incidence of such malignancies in these patient populations remain to be carried out.

As for children, those who transition require cross-sex hormones for significantly longer periods of time as compared to adults. Consequently, they may be “more likely to experience physiologically theoretical though rarely observed morbidities in adults.” Hence, boys placed on estrogen treatment may be at a higher risk of developing VTE, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, high blood fat levels and blood pressure, decreased glucose tolerance, gallbladder disease, and breast cancer. Similarly, girls receiving testosterone may experience a higher risk for elevated blood cholesterol levels, liver damage, increased blood viscosity and red cell count, and an increased risk of sleep apnea, insulin resistance, and diabetes, as well as unknown effects on breast, uterine, and ovarian tissues.

Sex reassignment

One of the most robust studies on sex reassignment comes from Sweden, where a nationwide population-based, long-term follow-up study of sex-reassigned transsexual persons was published in 2011. The study followed 324 sex-reassigned persons (191 male-to-females and 133 female-to-males) in Sweden between the years 1973 and 2003. This study found that for sex-reassigned transsexual individuals compared to a healthy control population, there are substantially higher rates of overall mortality, death from cardiovascular disease and suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalizations. Authors of the paper argue that even though surgery and hormonal therapy may alleviate gender dysphoria, they are apparently not sufficient to remedy the high rates of morbidity and mortality found among transsexual persons.

Mortality from suicide was strikingly high among sex-reassigned persons (19.1 times increased risk), even after adjustment for prior psychiatric morbidity. In line with this reality, sex-reassigned persons were found to be at an increased risk for suicide attempts (4.9 times more likely). In-patient care for psychiatric disorders was significantly more common among sex-reassigned persons than among matched controls, both before and after sex reassignment, and the authors recommend that there is a need to identify and treat co-occurring psychiatric morbidity in transsexual persons not only before but also after sex reassignment.

A 2001 study of 392 MtF and 123 FtM transgender individuals found that sixty-two percent of MtF and fifty-five percent of FtM subjects suffered from depression, while thirty-two percent of each population had attempted suicide. Similarly, in 2009, Kuhn et al. found considerably lower general health and general life satisfaction among fifty-two MtF and three FtM transsexuals a full fifteen years after sex reassignment surgery as compared to controls.

A 2019 longitudinal study from Sweden by Bränström and Pachankis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed up 2,679 individuals who received a diagnosis of gender incongruence (that is, transsexualism or gender identity disorder) between 2005 and 2015. Compared to the general population, individuals with a gender incongruence diagnosis were around six times more likely to have had a healthcare visit for mood and anxiety disorders, more than three times as likely to have received prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and more than six times as likely to have been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Increased time since last gender reassignment surgery was significantly associated with reduced mental health treatment (adjusted odds ratio = 0.92, 95% CI = 0.87–0.98). This led the authors to conclude that such data lends support to providing gender reassignment surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them.

Subsequent to the study’s publication, however, multiple clinicians wrote letters to the editor of the journal criticizing the authors’ flawed methodology and cherry-picking of data in order to arrive at the desired conclusions. One such letter was authored by Van Mol, Laidlaw, Grossman, and Paul McHugh (whom we have encountered earlier). This led the journal to seek statistical consultations, the results of which were presented to the study’s authors, who concurred with many of the points raised. Upon request, a reanalysis was conducted to compare outcomes between individuals diagnosed with gender incongruence who had received gender reassignment surgeries and those diagnosed with gender incongruence who had not. The results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder–related health care visits, prescriptions, or hospitalizations following suicide attempts for that cohort. Given that the study used neither a prospective cohort design nor a randomized controlled trial design, the authors themselves deemed their original conclusion—namely, that “the longitudinal association between gender-affirming surgery and lower use of mental health treatment lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them”—to be too strong. All this led the American Journal of Psychiatry to issue a major correction and the authors of the study to retract their conclusions. In short, the Bränström study reanalysis demonstrated that neither gender-affirming hormone treatment nor gender-affirming surgery reduced the need of transgender-identifying individuals for mental health services.

Cited in the letter by Van Mol et al. was the Swedish study by Dhejne et al., which employed population controls matched by birth year, birth sex, and reassigned sex. A follow-up time beyond ten years revealed that the sex-reassigned group had nineteen times the rate of completed suicides and nearly three times the rate of all-cause mortality and inpatient psychiatric care compared to the general population, as outlined previously.

The foregoing considerations reveal that sex reassignment alone does not provide individuals with a level of mental health similar to that of the general population (as opposed to proving that sex reassignment positively yields an increased risk of suicide or other psychological morbidities). A 2008 study from Minnesota published in the Journal of LGBT Health found that discrimination and social prejudice do not account for the mental health discrepancies between LGBT-identified individuals and the heterosexual population. For transgender individuals, there is a link to underlying trauma that may have contributed to their gender dysphoria and/or subsequent adult transgender lifestyle and conditions. The Minnesota study examined the extent to which a recent experience of a major discriminatory event may contribute to poor mental health among LGBT persons. Researchers included 472 individuals who identify as part of the LGBT community; as a control group, they included 7,412 individuals who identify as heterosexual. The study finds that

[c]ompared to heterosexuals, LGBT individuals had poorer mental health, with higher levels of psychological distress, greater likelihood of having a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, greater perceived mental health needs, and greater use of mental health services, as well as more substance use, with higher levels of binge drinking, greater likelihood of being a smoker, and greater number of cigarettes smoked per day. They were more likely to report unmet mental health care needs. LGBT individuals were also more likely to report having experienced a major incident of discrimination over the past year than heterosexual individuals.

Later in the study, they remark that “statistically adjusting for discrimination did not significantly reduce mental health disparities between heterosexual and LGBT persons.” Now, some might object that this study was conducted in the relatively more conservative United States, where a higher amount of discrimination might be thought to occur as compared to other, more liberal Western societies. However, we can also point to two very recent (2017 and 2018) studies from Sweden, a country with an “international reputation for heeding the human rights of non-heterosexual people.” Both studies reveal a similar trend. In one study, researchers found a “significantly elevated prevalence of high-risk alcohol use, cannabis use, and daily tobacco smoking among sexual minorities compared to heterosexuals. Further,” the report continues, “these substantial disparities in substance use more often co-occurred with psychological distress among sexual minorities than among heterosexuals.” The study also remarks that “the elevated risk of co-occurring psychological distress and substance use was most notable among gay men relative to heterosexual men (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 2.65, CI 1.98, 3.55) [i.e., 2.65 times more elevated] and bisexual women relative to heterosexual women (AOR = 3.01, CI 2.43, 3.72) [i.e., three times more elevated].” The study concluded that “experiences of discrimination, victimization, and social isolation partially explain the sexual orientation disparity in these co-occurring problems”—but, significantly, only partially. In the second study, researchers affirm that “psychosocial experiences may be insufficient to explain and understand health inequalities by sexual orientation in a reputedly ‘gay friendly’ setting.”

E.  Transgender Regret and Success

As a sociological phenomenon inclusive of significant medical intervention, transgenderism has only a brief history. There is no historical precedent for drastic surgical changes akin to what we are witnessing today and certainly no historical record for hormone therapy being administered except in the most limited cases of medical necessity. Accordingly, the data related to post-operative and post-medicalized outcomes has only recently been subjected to formal study and examination, though even this is limited and there is much left to be done.

One such area has been that of post-transition regret. A number of articles have appeared online detailing the internal anguish of transitioning, the social factors that apply pressure on individuals struggling with gender dysphoria (including online “affirmative” forums), and post-transition remorse, depression, and general feelings of unhappiness. Lily Maynard (a pseudonym) is one such figure who has become prominent in shedding light on the problems of transgender ideology. Although Maynard herself never transitioned, her daughter, Jessie, did at the age of fifteen, only to detransition years later. Maynard writes an account of the transition and subsequent detransition entitled “A Mum’s Voyage through Transtopia.” There are a number of important anecdotes in Maynard’s retelling, but one critical one is how her daughter felt submerged in a particular ideological space, encouraged by friends she had made on trans and gender nonconforming forums, and that all these factors served to intensify her feelings of “being a boy” instead of finding peace and comfort in the female body in which she had been born.

A recent site dedicated to trans remorse is entitled “Sex Change Regret.” Run by Walt Heyer (a detransitioned natal male), the site aims to expose readers to the reality of post-transition regret and to provide resources for those who find themselves in the same boat but do not understand how to revert to the person they once were. A review by the University of Birmingham’s Aggressive Research Intelligence Facility (ARIF) of more than “100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals” found “no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.” In addition to the inefficacy of surgical intervention, ARIF also highlighted how post-operative reporting is skewed to suggest beneficial outcomes. One particular domain where this imprecision comes into focus is the dropout rate of those tracked following sex reassignment. For example, in one five-year study, nearly five hundred people dropped out of a study of 727 post-operative transsexuals. The growing specter of regret, complications, underlying psychiatric disorders (that are not and cannot be treated by heavy surgical intervention), and more is increasingly becoming a part of the public transgender conversation. In September 2018, Russia Today aired a documentary entitled “I Want My Sex Back: Transgender People Who Regretted Changing Sex.” The documentary focuses on the life of Heyer as well as two others who had undergone surgical transition but did not find comfort in the decision or the peace they had been seeking.

Ryan Anderson’s recent work When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment includes an entire chapter dedicated to telling the story of “detransitioners.” Anderson mentions a number of stories in the chapter, including that of Ria Cooper, who underwent a sex change operation at the age of seventeen. At the time, the surgery was a matter of some controversy given Cooper’s age; however, it was reported that he had undergone a “thorough psychological evaluation” as well as counseling, thus reassuring those who were concerned about the appropriateness of such a heavy-handed procedure for someone so young. Within a year of living as a woman, Cooper attempted to commit suicide twice and ultimately detransitioned back to his natal sex. Anderson documents a number of other stories, with common themes related to social pressures, the role of online material and interactive forums telling individuals that transitioning is necessary for those who experience gender atypical feelings, and the contribution of mental health practitioners, divers medical personnel (pediatricians, general practice physicians, etc.), and school administrators (such as counselors and the like) in encouraging otherwise unsure individuals that they should consider and pursue gender transition.

However, this is not the whole story, and not all express regret following a transition. Many advocates of transgenderism claim that the process is lifesaving, with many prominent activists including Chaz Bono, Jazz Jennings, and, more recently, Caitlyn Jenner. Though these figures largely make up the face of the trans movement in America, other transitioned individuals write about the importance of transitioning—and, in some cases, the necessity of sex reassignment—to their mental health. One such figure is Claire Renee Kohner, a prominent MtF who has been featured on HuffPost Live and has written about transgenderism and her story for the New York Times, the Advocate, Bustle, and other publications. Kohner’s story is an important one in that it does not whitewash the difficulties of transitioning, which can often involve serious complications. In a response to the question “What are the most serious negative side effects of gender reassignment surgeries?” Kohner narrates:

I nearly died.

I remember sitting in the examination room of my chosen GRS doctor and going through the risks; as he listed off what could go wrong, I was happily daydreaming about my upcoming surgery and willfully nodding my head,
ignoring what he was saying because, “Hey! My doctor is one of the top GRS surgeons in the US, what could possibly go wrong?”

Who knew that I’d eventually be answering this question as what’s considered a “worst case scenario” patient?

Out of respect for everyone involved, names of people and cities will be withheld from this post. I also want to make sure people reading this understand that I have no regrets and what happened to me will probably not happen to you; however, you need to pay attention to what the risks involved are and how you can deal with them should they arise.

My other disclaimer is to those who would use my story as a means to deter anyone of us from seeking and having the surgeries we need in order to stay alive. This is not some cautionary tale but more of a “please know that this is a major surgery and that all surgeries come with a risk” tale.

[. . .]

It was a typical operation that took ten hours in the operating room and a couple more in the recovery room; nothing was out of the ordinary and for all intents and purposes, it was a successful procedure.

By the second day I was eating solid food, by the third I was walking, and by the 12th of October, I was to be released to a hotel near the hospital for another week to keep me near the facility should something go wrong.

I was 600 miles from home, but my wife of 22 years was by my side. I slept most of the days and changed my bandages. Around the 14th of October we were noticing a significant amount of clear liquid draining from one of my sutures; I should also note that every time I took a shower, I would faint.

I was scheduled for a checkup on the 16th of October and was due to go home on the 19th. At my follow-up appointment, the doctor noticed that one of my sutures was opening up, but given its location to the frenulum, this was common.

The 19th of October arrived and with one quick final checkup at the hospital, I could go home. The suture had opened a little bit further by the 19th and I was running a fever when I arrived. There seemed to be a level of concern by the doctor and his staff, and within an hour I was heading back in to the operating room for a quick mend and I was told I would be heading home on Saturday, the 20th of October.

I woke up in the ICU with a temperature of 104 degrees surrounded by a team of doctors. Still Friday the 19th, a pick line was inserted into my jugular vein so they could inject morphine strait into my bloodstream. My consciousness and pain were being regulated until they could figure out what was going on.

I was awakened around 5 p.m. on the 19th and was told they had to go back in to figure out what the next steps were. I signed the release forms, was injected with morphine and woke up hours later with the team from infectious diseases, my doctor, a gastrointestinal specialist and a doctor that specializes in cardiovascular systems present.

My wife was crying and I asked if I was going to die. Every doctor was silent, then I got the “we are doing everything we can” speech. Still, no one knew what was wrong and I’d have to go in for round three. I was given all of my outcome options—none of them good—and was asked if I wanted to see a chaplain. I remember hearing the nurse say, “Can I give her more morphine?” and the doctor replied, “Not till she signs these waivers.”

I woke up Saturday morning and said to my wife, “It’s time for you to go home.” We have three kids and the household was deteriorating by the amount of stress being put on our kids by neither of us being there. Grandma was babysitting and she could no longer deal with what was happening. This meant I’d be alone in the hospital 600 miles from home. DO NOT EVER DO THIS!!

I had three surgeries that Friday and a surgery on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week. Yippee! I got to skip a Thursday surgery but was back in on Friday, the 26th.

[. . .]

At the end of the day, I spent a total of seven weeks in the hospital, I walk with a cane, have lost my sense of taste and I’m going through EMDR therapy for the trauma I experienced.

Another transgender individual who has written about his experience is Todd Whitworth, an FtM who describes his transition and life in the following terms:

I take self-administered testosterone injections intramuscularly every two weeks. I’ve had a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy including removal of the cervix. Additionally, I’ve had a double mastectomy with chest contouring so that my chest has a more masculine appearance. I’ve been happy with the results, and I feel fortunate in that regard.

I do, however, still know that I am not a biological man. I am happy with the fact that I walk through the world being perceived as male. However, biology reminds me every day that I’m not.

I still experience dysphoria with my genitalia. However, I’ve chosen not to have any genital modification because I do not find the options available for a female-to-male transsexual aesthetically o[r] functionally desirable.

These cases and others support the idea that some form of gender transition can sometimes serve, at a minimum, palliative purposes for those who experience extreme forms of anxiety, depression, and suicidality as a result of gender dysphoria—notwithstanding the heavy risks and ongoing medical and other complications often attendant upon such procedures.

IV.  Islam and Transgenderism A.  Islam and Gender

The Islamic conception of gender is predicated on a set of probative passages in the Qurʾān and instructions of the Prophet (ﷺ) explicating commands, prohibitions, rights, and obligations. Most of the time when revelatory texts instruct believers, the address is not gender-specific. The universal application of verses and prophetic commands is expressed by way of the masculine plural (“O you who believe”: yā ayyuhā lladhīna āmanū)—the masculine plural being the conventional way of addressing a group consisting of both men and women, in contrast to the feminine plural, which is exclusive to women. Thus, believing men and women are commanded to exhibit piety, obey God, request forgiveness for sin, and observe ritual prayers and fasting. Likewise, both men and women are told that they originate from a single soul (nafs wāḥida), namely, Adam. From Adam, Ḥawwāʾ was created (specifically from the rib, according to hadith sources), and from them numerous subsequent generations were born. Al-Ṭabarī states that this anthropology serves to remind human beings of their common origin such that the rights of each person would be preserved and wrongdoing averted.

God, however, makes a clear distinction between men and women, and this division is described as a cosmic pairing that reflects His creative will such that not only humans but also creation writ large exist in complementary pairs. In the Qurʾān, God says, “And of all things We created pairs, that perhaps you may be mindful” (Q. al-Dhāriyāt 51:49). Men and women are described elsewhere as dissimilar (Q. Āl ʿImrān 3:36), and God reminds us of His munificence in that He “grants to whom He wills female [children] and grants to whom He wills males” (Q. al-Shūrā 42:49). In Sūrat al-Najm, God says that “He creates the two mates—the male and the female—from a sperm drop when it is emitted” (Q. al-Najm 53:45–46). Al-Jaṣṣāṣ comments on this passage, stating that it “encompasses all, and this indicates that one cannot be devoid of being male or female, and that the hermaphrodite [too] is not devoid of being one of the two, even if his case is indeterminate to us.”

Occasionally, verses and prophetic statements address either men or women specifically and, in so doing, delineate particular responsibilities or prohibitions that apply exclusively to one sex or the other. A number of these distinctions reflect physiological differences, such as the rulings related to growing a beard, what is forbidden or permitted during menstruation, and what comprises the ʿawra (that part of the body that must remain covered), all of which are necessarily distinguished by gender. Aside from rulings specific to male vs. female physical embodiment, there is the previously exposited discussion of gender nonconformity in Islam in part 1 of this study, which centers on the categories of the khunthā (hermaphrodite / intersex individual) and the mukhannath (effeminate male).

Islam’s treatment of gender is principally anchored in biological composition. Men and women simply are as God made them, with deep biological differences that inform their behavior in social settings. This elemental fact is evidenced in many places, perhaps none clearer than in the discursive surrounding gender determination for the intersex individual (khunthā). All scholars have premised the gender determination of the khunthā on genital function, with supplementary consideration given to subsequent physiological development upon puberty. The disjunction between behavior and mannerisms, on the one hand, and otherwise unambiguous biology, on the other, is addressed in legal discussions of the mukhannath (effeminate male) and the mutarajjila (manly female), and although certain contingent dispensations are provided for the dispositionally (khilqī) nonconforming (with an emphasis on the lack of moral culpability for said dispositional traits), behavior does not override biology when it comes to the ascription of gender. The presence of gender clarity for the anatomically unambiguous is, in fact, the Shāfiʿī school’s justification for refusing a dispensation (allowed by the majority of scholars) for the effeminate male (mukhannath) to remain in the company of women, arguing that such a male, though effeminate, nonetheless retains the potential to marry women upon whom he would enter and therefore should not be permitted to remain with women in confines where they do not observe hijab.

Revelation and its concomitant gender-specific ordinances are in keeping with normative behavioral tendencies derivative of biology. Accordingly, instructions for men to take care of women, protect their households, provide maintenance, play a more pronounced role in religious leadership, and related injunctions accentuate qualities that normally emerge inherently within the male, while interdictions against khalwa (seclusion with a member of the opposite sex), physical contact with non-maḥrams (with some disagreement over the shaking of hands), and recommendations to fast mitigate iniquitous and immoral aspirations that arise from the male libido. Likewise those obligations and prohibitions that apply to women. The outcome is the promotion of a life of feminine and masculine virtue, with a great deal of permitted variation to account for individual male and female differences. Far from confining men and women within narrow stereotypes, revelation allows for latitude, presenting as heroes saintly men and women who took on various tasks in the path of God (though these variations are principally bound up in what is normatively feminine or masculine). Men, for instance, more frequently assume positions of political leadership and are judged for discharging their contingent authority either responsibly or recklessly, just as they are often warriors and, on occasion, even obligated to enter into combat (dereliction from which is sinful). God’s prophetic messengers—all male—were commanded to preach in public capacities, often at great personal risk, and the Children of Israel are rebuked in the Qurʾān for their frequent killing of the messengers sent to them by God. Women, on the other hand, are often mentioned in the Qurʾān in capacities that are domestic and familial in nature. Some receive glad tidings of children miraculously conceived (e.g., Sarah, Mary), whereas others are mentioned for their relationship to their husbands (e.g., Āsiya, the wife of Pharaoh).

Islam’s confirmation and accentuation of gender differences raises the question of how it judges those situations involving gender dysphoria. As we have noted above, individuals with GD not only experience psychosocial alienation because their anatomy conflicts with their impulses, desires, and deep-seated inclinations, but they may also, in fact, construe themselves as being the opposite gender. In some senses, the Sharīʿa offers considerably more latitude than what is normal in modern society, at least insofar as contemporary Western norms create conditions that foment alienation through a limited and parochial notion of masculinity and femininity. Conventional cultural norms surrounding masculinity, for instance, are often associated with forms of “macho” behavior, with caricatured representations of well-sculpted men who engage in sexual dalliances with attractive women and fight recklessly in high-stakes combat scenarios (e.g., James Bond, Rambo, the Terminator). Men who do not subscribe to these representations or who shun such interests in favor of preoccupations that are, say, artistic in nature are often viewed as less manly. But such representations, if held transhistorically, would almost certainly implicate some of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) own Companions. Some, for instance, were regarded for their size and strength, but others were thin and short. Some earned valorizations for their efforts on the battlefield, while others were praised as belletrists. Some were eminently wealthy, and others lived as renunciants. Moreover, much of what the Prophet (ﷺ) instructed and practiced himself breaks modern Western stereotypes of masculine behavior, such as the vocalizing of brotherly love, exhibiting platonic affection for members of the same sex such as hugging them or holding them by the hand, and kissing children on the cheek as an act of benevolence and kindness. It remains a common convention in certain Muslim societies today for men to hold hands while walking, a practice that would certainly carry sexual undertones and suspicions of homosexuality in the contemporary West.

Similar variability exists when we observe female Companions. The Prophet’s (ﷺ) wives differed in their demeanor, behavior, and interests. Some inclined towards charity (such as Zaynab), whereas ʿĀʾisha famously transmitted the Prophet’s (ﷺ) teachings after his passing, going on to become one of the chief narrators of hadith. The Sharīʿa’s constraining of gender-specific behaviors is not for the purpose of dictating uniform masculine or feminine archetypes as much as it is for the purpose of imbuing the natural characteristics of men and women with virtue while allowing for the materialization of a spectrum—provided that no cultural or social norm contravenes one’s moral duty (such as a male’s obligation to discharge qiwāma over women in his care, for example). While the Sacred Law accommodates those gender atypical mannerisms (gait, voice, etc.) that come to a person naturally, it prohibits deliberate imitation of the opposite sex in behaviors and affects that go beyond this limit. Such affects may include things like cross-dressing, “social transitioning,” taking on a different name belonging to the opposite sex, men wearing makeup in an unmistakably feminine manner, or women affecting a deliberate and unmistakably masculine experience. At its root, the desire to engage in such behaviors is located in one’s psyche, and the ultimate antidote to this—in tandem with appropriate psychological interventions where needed—is to find comfort and peace in the body in which God has created one, seeing in it perfection, beauty, and an opportunity to attain closeness unto Him.

B.  Sex Reassignment and the Sharīʿa

The first cases we see of scholarly engagement with the prospect of sex reassignment date to the late twentieth century. Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1409/1989), the Shīʿī jurist and leader of the Iranian Revolution, discussed sex change operations as early as 1967, while Egyptian mufti and Shaykh al-Azhar Jād al-Ḥaqq (d. 1417/1996) wrote a fatwa about them in 1981 in response to a question from the Malaysian Centre for Islamic Research. Khomeini apparently endorsed such surgery within certain parameters. Jād al-Ḥaqq responded by sanctioning corrective surgeries to reveal buried or otherwise “hidden” sexual organs, whether male (maghmūra) or female (maṭmūra). He did not, however, sanction sex change surgery, and he explicitly forbade the prospect of men changing into women and vice versa in light of the various hadith that speak of Allah’s curse falling upon “men who take on the semblance of women and women who take on the semblance of men.” The issue again rose to prominence in the Muslim world one year later, in 1982, when Sayyid, a male student at al-Azhar University in Cairo, underwent sex change surgery after extended consultations with a psychologist and took on the name Sally. Following the surgery, al-Azhar insisted that “Sally” would neither be allowed to enter the all-female medical school nor be readmitted to the male medical school. “Sally” pursued the matter, which resulted in wide media coverage and, eventually, the involvement of the courts. When Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭanṭāwī (d. 1431/ 2010), who succeeded Jād al-Ḥaqq as Shaykh al-Azhar, was consulted on the matter in 1988, he issued a fatwa—drawing on Jād al-Ḥaqq’s—in which he reiterated the permissibility of surgically repairing hidden male or female sexual organs, stating that “it is obligatory to do so on the grounds that it must be considered a treatment when a trustworthy doctor advises it.” Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that the fatwa was actually non-committal insofar as it “evaded the question of whether the diagnosis of psychological hermaphroditism was acceptable from the point of view of Islamic law.” As a result, both sides in the conflict appealed to Ṭanṭāwī’s fatwa in support of their own positions.

In 1989, the Muslim World League’s Fiqh Academy discussed sex change surgery and declared it prohibited except in the case of the anatomically ambiguous intersex person (al-khunthā al-mushkil); as such, the Academy did not endorse the concept of psychological hermaphroditism. This has come to be the practically unanimous position among Sunni Muslims. A more recent fatwa authored in 2011 by Mufti Zaynul Islām Qāsmī, the vice-mufti of Darul Uloom Deoband, has concurred with this position of Sunni scholarship. In his fatwa, he includes a number of responses to common arguments used by proponents of sex reassignment surgery while taking specific aim at the 2004 ruling of a secular Kuwaiti court permitting such surgery on the basis of necessity (ḍarūra)—a ruling overturned on appeal within the space of a few months. Mufti Qāsmī’s responses include the following:

  • A reply to those who appeal to the legislative maxim “necessities make the unlawful lawful” (al-ḍarūrāt tubīḥu al-maḥẓūrāt) to argue for the permissibility of transition surgeries. Mufti Qāsmī refutes the applicability of this maxim on the grounds that absolute necessity, in the legally relevant sense, cannot be faithfully or sufficiently proved. This is more so given that the individuals in question have lived, perhaps with some measure of anxiety, for several decades in the body in which they were born. Moreover, the mufti argues that a claim of necessity does not categorically render things permissible in any legal or moral system. If one were to make an exception to permit something impermissible on the basis of inherently subjective internal anxieties that are navigable and manageable, then any number of impermissible desires would have to be accommodated as well, thus opening the door to moral anarchy. Here, the mufti glosses Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī’s qualification of the maxim as requiring existential circumstances that outweigh the sin in question. He also appeals to another maxim, namely, that “harm cannot be removed by means of another harm” (al-ḍarar lā yuzālu bi-l-ḍarar). Sex reassignment surgeries, he argues, would violate this maxim in light of the substantial harms inherent in the surgery—a surgery that may or may not succeed in mitigating individual dysphoria but that also introduces any number of complications, impairments, and problems for the individual, both in this life and the next.
  • Mufti Qāsmī notes as well that a proper and complete sex change is, in fact, impossible from a conceptual point of view. Surgeries themselves merely make for cosmetic alterations, but they cannot cause, for instance, a biological male to menstruate or to bear children. The (subjective) psychological experience of one possessing an internal disposition that departs from his or her phenotype cannot override (objective) biology, as we would then have to entertain any number of claims asserted on the grounds of potent feelings alone.
  • Arguments that appeal to mental illness are likewise considered inapplicable in this circumstance. Individuals who suffer addictions, for instance, also possess a type of ailment, but the state of the drunkard and the habitual fornicator, Mufti Qāsmī points out, is not alleviated by intensifying their sinful activity and relaxing their moral obligations. It is the same in the case of the dysphoric individual, whose suggested cure of sex reassignment stands to intensify the underlying illness rather than treat it.

The fatwa concludes by attending to the question of one who has already undergone sex reassignment. In this case, the fatwa recommends a detailed account authored by the individual who has gone through the surgery chronicling his or her experience alongside a report from a reliable Muslim physician conversant with the procedure. From there, individual verdicts can be dispensed by a judge as to whether such a person should be treated under the Sharīʿa as a man, a woman, a dispositionally effeminate male (mukhannath), or an ambiguous hermaphrodite (khunthā mushkil).

Like the Muslim World League and Darul Uloom Deoband, the top clerical body in Indonesia, the Indonesian Muslim Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI), issued a fatwa on the local waria community (warias are biological men who impersonate women). Issued in October 1997, the fatwa states, inter alia, the following:

  • Because warias are, biologically speaking, unambiguously male, they cannot be regarded as an alternate gender.
  • The behavior of the warias in imitating women is prohibited (ḥarām), and they must exert efforts to return to both the appearance and the behaviors (dress, affected mannerisms, etc.) proper to their natal male sex.

The MUI fatwa concludes with an appeal to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs to mobilize efforts to guide and assist warias psychologically alongside a second appeal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to dissolve a prominent waria organization (HIWARI MKGR).

In Shīʿī Iran, things took a different trajectory, apparently due to the influence of psychologist ʿAlī Akbar Siyāsī’s pivotal work enunciating a dual conception of human identity that comprised badaniyyāt (anatomy) and nafsāniyyāt (feelings, thoughts, and reactions). This bifurcation apparently “provide[d] a way to address transsexuality as a psychological condition in Islamic terms.” In 1987, the Iranian Ministry of Justice, in response to a query from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran, asserted that sex change surgery was religiously permissible (citing Khomeini’s writings as support), and the government moved to legalize it. Notwithstanding, the matter remains controversial among Shīʿī jurists. For instance, the prominent jurist Ayatollah Jaʿfar al-Subḥānī maintains that sex change surgery is prohibited except in the case of the khunthā mushkil (concurring, in essence, with the Sunni consensus as expressed by the Muslim World League fatwa). He interprets Khomeini’s endorsement of such surgeries as referring to the purely hypothetical case of a total sex change being possible. Al-Subḥānī points out that in reality, this could only happen by a divine miracle; all that surgery is capable of is a false and superficial change that does not alter the actual gender of the patient.

Both Sunni and Shīʿī opponents of sex change surgery support their position—namely, that of default prohibition for other than necessity in the case of the khunthā mushkil—on the basis of the following:

  1. Qurʾān 4:118–119, which describes “changing God’s creation” as a Satanic act
  2. Hadith prohibiting mutilation of the human body (muthlā)
  3. Hadith prohibiting imitation of the opposite gender
  4. The fact that gender transition surgeries are fraught with scientific uncertainty regarding long-term effects and that anecdotal evidence suggests that they often do not bring notable satisfaction to patients
C.  Islam and Transgenderism Today

Given the aforementioned considerations, what conclusions can be drawn that account for the complexity of gender dysphoria, hormone therapy, sex reassignment, and related issues tied to the question of contemporary transgenderism?

Having sought counsel from a number of scholars on the matter, the steady conclusion we have found revolves around the subject of changing God’s creation, a prohibition known in works of fiqh as taghyīr khalq Allāh. This prohibition is based on several proof texts from revelation, including the verse of the Qurʾān in which Satan vows to misguide humanity by, among other things, “commanding them so that they change the creation of Allah.” This verse is coupled with a number of probative hadith in which the Prophet (ﷺ) speaks of God’s curse falling on those who “change the creation of Allah.”

When viewed alongside prophetic reports about the curse on those who deliberately imitate the characteristics of the other sex, as well as revelation’s consistent and unmistakable classification of human beings as constitutionally and dispositionally either male or female, these texts support the inherency of gender as an immutable fact of our creation, notwithstanding the exceedingly small population of the khunthā mushkil, intersex individuals whose gender is completely ambiguous both anatomically and genetically. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that the Sharīʿa acknowledges and accommodates those who are congenitally nonconforming in gait, speech, and other such behaviors but does so while upholding the reality of their underlying sex and, in fact, maintaining the vast majority of sex-specific sharʿī rulings (e.g., inheritance, marriage) on the basis of biological sex rather than internal disposition or outward behavior.

The argument for sex alteration on the basis of necessity (ḍarūra) remains unsubstantiated. The prospect of sex change surgery, hormone therapy, or puberty suppression successfully resolving suicidality and other symptoms of gender dysphoria is far too subjective, with post-transition studies reporting a persistence and, at times, even an intensification of suicidal ideation, self-harm, and other forms of anxiety and personal trauma. The conceptual and ontological impossibility of a true and complete sex change further buttresses this conclusion, as surgeries and related medical interventions at most yield cosmetic alterations that may succeed as strictly palliative measures. Ultimately, gender dysphoria—provided that intersex syndromes and disorders of sexual development have been ruled out—is a mental disorder, not a physiological abnormality. As such, it is something that requires proper psychotherapeutic care as well as familial and social support, not radical medical interventions carried out on a healthy, unambiguously male or female body.

Some of those experiencing gender dysphoria may fall partially into the categories of takhannuth (male effeminacy) and tarajjul (female mannishness). We recall that these categories refer specifically to innate mannerisms beyond a person’s conscious control. As such, they have always been distinguished from tashabbuh (lit. “seeking to resemble”), which involves the deliberate imitation of the opposite sex (traditionally manifested in things such as cross-dressing). As it stands, the primary manifestations of contemporary transgenderism—including sartorial and social transitioning, hormone therapy, and/or surgical interventions—fall into the category of tashabbuh, the ruling of which is one of prohibition. Dealing with transitioned or transitioning individuals in the community will require careful consideration by a qualified scholar who is aware of the person’s circumstances, communal arrangements, and related factors—though sharʿī rulings on sex-specific matters (such as marriage, inheritance, leading the prayer, etc.) would apply in conformity with the person’s biological gender.

V.  Conclusions

Our research on transgenderism began over two years ago. In the intervening time, developments have occurred that have dramatically raised the stakes of the debate, particularly as it pertains to social and pedagogical reforms directed towards children. The United States Supreme Court has recently interpreted Title VII protections to extend to sexual orientation and gender identity (with amicus briefs having been filed both in support of and opposing the motion by different Muslim groups). Meanwhile, a school county in Minnesota is being sued by a family alleging discrimination for not allowing their socially transitioned child to use the bathroom corresponding to his/her gender identity (the student is apparently using a single-occupancy restroom, though such a compromise is alleged to be “isolating”), while a school district in Chicago, after a contentious hearing, recently passed a measure providing transgender students unrestricted access to the locker room of their choice. The list could go on, and hardly a week passes without news of a new county deliberating similar measures. Adding LGBT-themed books to school libraries and incorporating teachings into curricula that depict gender as a subjective social phenomenon have become staples of this culture war, and suburban districts throughout the country are moving forward with LGBT affirmation as central to their institutional commitments. Teachers, counselors, school administrators, and others are rapidly being coopted into this program, and anything short of full-fledged “affirmation” is henceforth regarded as latent bigotry that must be expunged from civil society.

The existing political atmosphere, characterized by an arguably unprecedented level of polarization that is regularly exacerbated by radical partisans, leaves little room for negotiation and reasoned compromise, so the discourse becomes more totalitarian, more tribalized, and zero sum. “Silence is violence” tells us that sitting out is irresponsible and morally reprehensible, thus pressuring those with conflicting moral views into cultural conversion. The now common appeals to “complicity” charge those with deeply held values opposing the LGBT agenda of sharing the blame in crimes committed by radical actors. If one is opposed to reforming school curricula in conformity with the latest LGBT pieties, then one shares in the deaths of innocent gay and trans citizens (“People are dying and here you are worried about a few books at the library that could have saved real lives!”). Over time, such rhetoric coerces all into either submission or silence.

In this study, we have taken great care to examine the various threads related to transgenderism. It is by no means comprehensive, but as a work geared to providing Muslims meaningful insight into the debates of the moment, the paper has sought to offer a substantial amount of material drawing on a wide range of research on the topic. This includes research highlighting gender dysphoria and contemporary debates over its origins, historical developments, controversies, and medical treatments. We have also reviewed recent treatments of sex change surgery by Muslim scholarly authorities and offered a concise presentation of their ruling (ḥukm) on it.

Though such an articulation is critical for Muslims, it is ultimately inadequate insofar as it does not offer nearly enough for those on the ground. The reality is that for the vast majority of people in the Muslim community, including imams, therapists, physicians, and parents, the topic of transgenderism represents uncharted waters. The majority of counselors and therapists in the Muslim community attend to domestic disputes such as rocky or failing marriages, child–parent tensions, eating disorders and related anxieties, and domestic violence. Some may occasionally find themselves dealing with Muslims who struggle with same-sex attractions, though even this bears little correspondence to individuals who have come to hate their own bodies, their genitalia, their identity, and how God made them—a boy or man whose few moments of ease arise when he wears makeup or dons female undergarments or begins to wear hijab outside the house, a girl or woman who agonizingly “chest binds” to suppress the protrusion of her breasts in order to appear more masculine. How can we minister to such people in a way that does not aggravate their alienation, trauma, and personal despair without violating our core commitments as a moral community or entrenching their dysphoria further? Herein lies the million-dollar question.

It goes without saying that notions of gender fluidity are inherently relativistic, and this phenomenon is but a microcosm of the larger moral relativism prevalent in the contemporary West. Bearing this in mind, it becomes vital to address the notion of experiential knowledge as far as the topic of gender identity is concerned: “I have experienced this, and this is true for me. Until you have felt what I have felt and seen things through my eyes, don’t come and tell me otherwise.” No amount of rational discourse or rhetoric would make a difference in a context where emotions are volatile and traumas are involved, coupled with relativistic assumptions about the world devoid of any clear or fixed frame of reference. Absent revelation and a God-conscious discourse, people have the freedom to experiment across the spectrum and see what “works for them” at a given point in time. In other words, there are no limits to how a person may choose to manifest and express his or her own notions of sexual orientation or gender identity if there are no proper, objective foundations to fall back on. It follows from all this that proper individualized care for a person struggling with gender dysphoria must account for that person’s collection of experiences, emotional attachments, traumas, and individual perceptions, together with an integrated frame of reference necessary to build proper and sturdy foundations. Such a feat is, quite evidently, very challenging.

Some will no doubt propose to enhance the current focus on psychotherapy. If current trends persist, however, few counselors will be in a position to offer anything other than “affirmative therapy,” particularly if desistance is treated the same way so-called conversion therapy for homosexuality has been treated by clinical authorities. If at some point this prospect materializes in full, desistance therapy may well be formally outlawed as a practice in certain jurisdictions. Muslim chaplains, physicians, school administrators, counselors, and others would then find themselves in correspondingly difficult circumstances. Imams may retain greater professional latitude, though young Muslims are increasingly turning away from imams, treating them with suspicion, and are thus unlikely to take instruction from them on matters that, for many in the postmodern West, have become fundamental to their psychosocial identity. Within such a milieu, it will be nearly impossible for parents of children experiencing GD (as well as for adults experiencing GD) to find any reasonable guidance that does not reflexively commit to so-called affirmative care as a starting point. Parental and personal discomfort with such a prospect will be interpreted as bigotry and discrimination, old-world attitudes that are out of step with modern values of equality and tolerance.

This is all very alarming indeed. Short of independent bodies that can counteract the pressures of the prevailing discourse, Muslim families and their youth will forever be at the whim of the unpredictable shifts of liberal social sensibilities. In the meantime, families dealing with such issues will be largely on their own. There are some steps that can be taken in such cases, though these are highly discretionary and depend on the context and the individual in question. One may enlist help from family members, for instance, but care must be taken as such efforts can fracture relationships and lead to a deterioration in the integrity of the family altogether. Individuals experiencing GD must be approached with care, empathy, and understanding. In some cases, more of a “tough love” approach has been cited by some transgender individuals who ended up desisting from transitioning (bearing in mind that such an approach must be handled with emotional maturity and patience). The difficulties faced by an individual with GD should not be underestimated, and those struggling with such a condition should never be ridiculed or ignored. In light of the late Joseph Nicolosi’s theory regarding gender nonconformity, it would be prudent in a great many cases to examine factors such as abuse and childhood traumas, as these will need to be addressed for the affected individual to find wholeness and personal contentment. Almost all cases would benefit from a radical reduction in usage of the internet and social media, particularly venues that promote transgender ideology (which should be avoided altogether). It may also prove helpful to provide support groups of individuals of the same sex who can offer continuous emotional, spiritual, and psychological support and follow-up. More drastic measures may need to be considered if such problems persist. For example, it may be necessary to find a new physician if the existing primary care provider has been complicit in encouraging transitioning (particularly at the pediatric level). If the individual and/or his or her family is under the influence of counselors, lobby groups, or peer pressure, then it may be beneficial to relocate to another district, county, state, or region.

In the meantime, the Muslim community must invest in the resources necessary to help minister and care for those suffering from severe cases of gender dysphoria. There is a pressing need for counselors and therapists who, supported through Muslim community patronage, can practice their professions independently in accord with Islamic principles and an accurate appreciation of the medical studies and statistical data. Also required are imams capable of navigating transgender discourse in order to help parents understand what public schools are teaching their children and to administer appropriately to Muslims suffering from gender dysphoria and their families. In short, counseling, treatment, and guidance on these matters should ideally involve a multi-disciplinary approach involving religious scholars, counselors, therapists, imams, and medical professionals, all of whom would possess adequate knowledge of gender dysphoria in its various aspects and are firmly grounded within a normative Islamic framework. Finally, robust curricula must be developed for the teaching of an Islamic sexual and gender ethic, one that authentically draws on the Islamic legal, ethical, theological, and spiritual traditions while bringing them into conversation with the fraught agendas of gender fluidity and contemporary trans activism. Much of this work has not even started and in other cases remains severely underdeveloped.

In the end, there are no easy answers. Gender dysphoria will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future, and the number of cases will continue to rise as the social phenomenon of transgenderism grows. It will be essential to understand the complexities of the discourse, our religious obligations, and our moral imperatives and to develop robust and well-rounded therapeutic interventions as we look ahead. We ask God to help us undertake this task. Amin!

And Allah knows best.

 

Appendix A: The Culture-Behavior-Brain (CBB) Model

An emerging theory of the brain’s interaction with cultural conditions may serve to offer an added explanation of the modifications to brain structure observed in studies of transsexuals. The theory was inaugurated with a paper published in 2015 synthesizing over one hundred studies and formulating what is known as the Culture-Behavior-Brain (CBB) model. The CBB model is an integrated framework which posits that culture, behavior, and the human brain dynamically interact with and influence each other in ways that are more explicit than previously understood.

The process of CBB modifications begins with an idea assimilated into a social setting. The more deeply entrenched the idea, the more it permeates a cultural understanding of the phenomena associated with it. Consider the emergence of “sexual orientation” in the nineteenth century or the coining of the term “religion” as a discrete concept that came into being in the sixteenth century. Prior to the introduction of these concepts, the manner in which the underlying phenomena associated with them functioned, as well as how people conceived of them, differed dramatically. Thus, the introduction of “religion” did not merely describe what already existed; it created a sphere of activity that could be detached from other institutional forces and that has come to shape how we now construe world affairs (i.e., the place of religion in the world) as well as the organization of society (i.e., religion vs. the state). The permeation of the concept of “sexual orientation” has had a similar effect by providing a discrete identity and cultural script such that someone who merely experiences same-sex sexual attraction comes to conceive of that attraction as definitional to his or her sense of being and corresponding self-worth. The idea of transgenderism, though a much more recent phenomenon, has had much the same effect in establishing a new taxonomy for gender nonconformity and providing a cultural script through which particular feelings are understood and subsequently acted upon. What CBB tells us is that once these cultural scripts establish themselves as uncontested understandings of specific happenings in the world, the brains of those experiencing phenomena derivative of that understanding actually alter in structure due to the brain’s inherent plasticity. Once this happens, the modified brain guides individual behavior to fit specific cultural contexts. Hence, culture, behavior, and the human brain interact dynamically through mutual connections, each influencing the other and changing continuously in the process. Human genes are integral to this process too, as they lay the groundwork for the structure and function of the brain as well as for behavior.

Given the myriad brain studies on transsexual and transgendered individuals and their conflicting results, and in light of the CBB model posited above, the following question must be raised: Are the supposed brain changes in transgender individuals part of the etiological factors leading to transgenderism, or are they a result of the interaction between the brain and a culture that accepts, nurtures, and pushes
for transgenderism (be that on a micro or a macro level)? And if they are in fact a byproduct of acculturation, does CBB offer a robust paradigm through which this change can be explained?

This very question is taken up in a paper published by Mohammadi and Khaleghi in 2018. After examining a multitude of brain studies along with their (often conflicting) results, the authors urge us to look at these studies differently. As we have noted, studies on genetic influences for transgenderism have not furnished reliable results, and this absence of genetic substantiation has been buttressed by the lack of organic differences in the brains of adolescents with and without gender dysphoria. The congruence of adolescent brain phenotype with natal sex has been accounted for by the lack of sociocultural awareness. In other words, it is argued, children lack a substantial appreciation of their own behaviors, likes, and dislikes—let alone an appreciation of transgenderism and what it entails—at a stage of their lives where their integration into existing gender roles is still an ongoing process. It is only after puberty that a full internalizing of regnant cultural conventions tends to occur and, as a consequence, the distinctions between brain phenotypes become more evident. According to this model, brain changes emerge depending on the strength and length of habituation after initial exposure to the psychosocial phenomenon of transgenderism.

This may also explain why many of the brain studies are contradictory, given that such changes rely on a myriad of external variables. In other words, when a biological male experiencing gender dysphoria elects to regulate his lifestyle based on a female gender identity, it is expected that the brain will adapt to this belief and corresponding lifestyle with time. Consequently, changes first in the function and then in the structure of the brain will occur.

Now, it is crucial to understand that brain plasticity works both ways: just as the brain can learn new ideas and beliefs and change accordingly, it can also, in principle, unlearn said ideas and beliefs and change back to its original state (or something close to it). Therefore, an individual experiencing gender dysphoria who is socialized within a setting that teaches transgenderism as an explanation of gender nonconforming thoughts can nevertheless unlearn the cultural script he or she has been taught, thereby attenuating prior brain changes and returning the brain to a state more congruent with his or her natal sex (which would, in turn, help further abate nonconforming thoughts). Though further study is needed, CBB may provide an initial framework for therapeutic efforts and support the idea that an effective cognitive reorientation—such as through cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, for instance—may be of help to those struggling with gender dysphoria. Such efforts, however, would have to be brought into conversation with Islam’s ontology of human existence, which recognizes that our physical being is inextricably tied to our psychic and spiritual realities.

 

Appendix B: Intersex Persons

Intersex is a term that refers to individuals born with sex characteristics that do not fit within physiological definitions of male and female sex. In other words, such individuals have variations in their genitalia, sex hormones, and/or chromosomes, leading to gender ambiguity. It is necessary to differentiate intersex persons from transgender individuals: while the latter experience gender dysphoria and have problems with gender identity on account of subjective personal experience, the former are objectively proved, through medical examinations and tests, to have an incongruence between their genetic sex and the physical manifestations thereof. This section expands on the etiology and manifestations of intersexuality and ties this in to the discussion of gender dysphoria.

A.  Phenotypic sex

During fertilization, the sperm adds an X (female) or a Y (male) chromosome to the X chromosome already present in the ovum (female egg). This results in an embryo with either XX sex chromosomes (a genetic female) or XY sex chromosomes (a genetic male). During embryogenesis, two sets of ducts develop that give rise to the human reproductive system: the paramesonephric (also known as Müllerian) ducts eventually develop into female internal reproductive organs (uterus, fallopian tubes, and the upper third of the vagina), while the mesonephric (also known as the Wolffian) ducts eventually develop into male internal reproductive structures (epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, and ejaculatory ducts). Up until approximately the seventh week of gestation, primitive sexual organs are not distinguishable between males and females. These organs develop later into either testes or ovaries, depending on the subsequent stages of embryogenesis.

Female sexual development is the default development in humans, whereby the paramesonephric ducts develop and the mesonephric ducts degenerate. However, if the embryo is genetically male, the Y chromosome (through the SRY, or testes-determining, gene on the Y chromosome) aids in the testes development process, suppressing the development of the paramesonephric ducts and stimulating the development of the mesonephric ducts. Hormones such as testosterone, produced by specialized cells in the testes, are necessary for the full development of the internal and external male reproductive organs. By birth, the typical baby can be visually distinguished as male or female, with internal and external sexual organs congruent with the child’s genetic sex.

Along the path of normal embryonic development, however, some problems can occur that impede this natural scenario. Such occurrences are classified as disorders of sexual development, or DSD. These disorders can be chromosomal: some human embryos do not have the normal set of 46 chromosomes (i.e., some may have an extra or a deficient number of sex chromosomes). Other disorders are not chromosomal: individuals may have the normal set of 46 chromosomes and, hence, from a genetic perspective are unambiguously females (46,XX) or males (46,XY), but due to issues with pathways of the sex hormones, discrepancies can arise whereby the external genitalia do not match the genetic sex and internal organs. As a result, some individuals can be genetically male but born with female or ambiguous external genitalia or genetically female but born with virilized (that is, masculinized) or ambiguous external genitalia. Upon suspecting disorders of sexual development, physicians nowadays order a series of tests that determine a person’s genetic makeup as well as the presence or absence of internal sex organs to arrive at a proper diagnosis whenever possible.

B.  Psychosexual development

Money et al., in 1955, proposed the concept of psychosexual development. As shown by animal experiments, sexual differentiation is not completed with the formation of the sex organs; rather, the brain also undergoes sexual differentiation consistent with the other characteristics of sex. This paradigm suggests that in the case, e.g., of males, androgens (male hormones)—either directly or via local conversion into estradiol (a female hormone)—organize the brain in early development, while pubertal hormones, at the time of puberty, “further activate and reorganize the already organized brain, resulting in the expression of masculine behaviors.” Two peaks for testosterone, in mid-pregnancy and during the first three months after birth, are thought to organize and entrench the neural circuits in the brain for the rest of a male individual’s life. It seems that rising testosterone levels during puberty then activate and reorganize these pathways. Traditionally, psychosexual development has comprised three domains: (1) gender identity (sense of belonging to and identification with one’s gender and people of the same gender), (2) gender role behavior (behaviors and traits designated by society as appropriate for males or females; the specifics of these are culturally and historically bound), and (3) sexual orientation (a person’s responsiveness to sexual stimuli, mainly the sex of those to whom one is sexually and/or romantically attracted). It can thus be seen that human sexual differentiation is a multidimensional and sequential process.

Any perturbation occurring during the complex process of sexual differentiation described above can lead to a misalignment between chromosomal, gonadal, and phenotypic sex, classically defined as a disorder of sexual development (DSD). In individuals with DSD, the three components of psychosexual development we have mentioned—gender identity, gender role, and sexual orientation—may not always be concordant or aligned. As sexual differentiation of the reproductive organs takes place earlier in human development (namely, in the first two months of pregnancy) than sexual differentiation of the brain (which occurs in the second half of pregnancy), these two processes may be influenced independently. So, in the case of ambiguous genitals at birth, the degree of, e.g., masculinization of the genitals may not always reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain.

Psychosexual development thus appears to be a complex and long-term process affected by brain structure, genetics, in utero and postnatal hormones, environment, and social and familial circumstances. Arguably, after ruling out intersex syndromes and biological factors that may have contributed to DSD, it becomes evident that a person’s environment, including social and familial circumstances, plays a crucial role in appropriate psychosexual development, accounting for the majority of DSD cases with misaligned components of psychosexual development.

C.  Selected intersex syndromes

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). The most common DSD, congenital adrenal hyperplasia consists of an autosomal recessive disorder that leads to deficiencies in key enzymes involved in the pathway of steroid hormone production in the adrenal glands. Depending on what role the enzyme plays and the severity of the block in production, disease presentations in affected individuals can vary. Many forms of CAH exist, the most common of which is 21-hydroxylase deficiency, which may present during infancy as a salt-wasting adrenal crisis, or later during childhood as early precocious puberty and virilized external genitalia (in females) due to high levels of circulating male sex hormones, or androgens. Another form is 17-alpha-hydroxylase deficiency, in which the production of sex hormones is impaired. Genetic females thus lack female secondary sex characteristics at puberty, while genetic males have ambiguous genitalia with undescended testicles and can therefore be confused for females.

Androgen insensitivity syndrome. Also known as testicular feminizing syndrome, androgen insensitivity syndrome describes an X-linked genetic disorder occurring in genetic males whereby a defect in the androgen receptor results in the body’s not responding to testosterone in the way it should, resulting in a variety of disease manifestations. In the complete form of this syndrome, a genetic male appears as a typical female, with breast development and female external genitalia; such individuals live as females and are unaware of their condition until puberty, when they fail to menstruate. In the mild form, a genetic male has normal male external genitalia, accompanied by infertility and/or enlarged breasts. Finally, the partial form of this disorder is marked by a spectrum of undervirilized external male genitalia. Depending on the precise form of the syndrome, issues related to sex assignment, removal of the testes (due to the risk of developing tumors), fertility, and psychosocial outcomes must all be taken into account in the treatment process.

5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This autosomal recessive disorder occurs in genetic males, whereby an enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone—a potent androgen responsible for male sexual development during the fetal period and later during puberty—is lacking. The deficiency in this androgen leads to various forms of undervirilization of the external genitalia in genetic males (ranging from feminine or ambiguous genitalia to a micropenis). Most often, these individuals are raised as females until they reach puberty, where an increase in the levels of androgens leads to the development of some male secondary sexual characteristics, such as increased muscle mass, deepening of the voice, development of a male pubic hair pattern, and a male-typical growth spurt.

Aromatase deficiency. Aromatase is an enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of estrogens (female hormones) from androgens. Aromatase deficiency is an autosomal recessive disorder that results from a gene mutation leading to maternal virilization during pregnancy (the fetal androgens can cross the placenta and lead to symptoms in the mother), as well as fetal virilization of the external genitalia. Genetic females are thus born with virilized or ambiguous genitalia, with high levels of circulating androgens.

Klinefelter syndrome. This refers to a genetic male with an extra X chromosome (i.e., 47,XXY). Klinefelter syndrome is reported to occur in 1 in 600 male births, approximately sixty-four percent of which remain undiagnosed throughout life. Typical characteristics include a eunuchoid body shape with tall and long extremities, female hair distribution, enlarged breasts, cognitive and developmental delays, and infertility.

Turner syndrome. Unlike Klinefelter syndrome, where a genetic male has an extra X chromosome, in Turner syndrome, a genetic female lacks an X chromosome (hence, she is 45,X). This occurs in 1 in 2,500 female births. Females with Turner syndrome generally have short stature, a short neck, and a broad chest and are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular, skeletal, and autoimmune diseases. Almost all females with Turner syndrome are infertile.

True hermaphroditism (ovotesticular disorder of sex development). This is a very rare congenital anomaly characterized by the presence of both testes and ovaries in the same individual. Most commonly the individual would be a genetic female (46,XX).

D.  Clinical management, gender reassignment, and
medico-surgical interventions

There are many other conditions and syndromes that exist under DSD, but from the few selected examples, one can appreciate that chromosomal or hormonal imbalances can often lead to a wide variety of physical presentations where the regular definitions of male and female do not quite fit. Nowadays, in newborns found to have virilized or ambiguous genitalia or any secondary physical signs or symptoms typical of patients with such disorders, a set of tests is usually ordered to reach an appropriate diagnosis. Procedures such as a blood test to check for circulating estrogens and androgens, karyotyping (observing the complete set of chromosomes in the individual to determine any chromosomal abnormalities), and an abdomino-pelvic ultrasound are quick and easy tests that can serve as a starting point for further investigations.

Of course, not all these disorders are diagnosed at birth, as some of them may only manifest during adolescence. Whether at birth or later in life, gender uncertainty is quite unsettling and may result in psychosocial and familial problems. Factors that influence the determination or assignment of gender include the diagnosis itself, genital appearance, surgical options, fertility potentials, and the need for lifelong hormonal replacement therapy, as well as cultural, familial, and, of course, religious considerations. Sometimes the person’s gender is quite obvious, as in the case of genetic females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, where more than ninety percent of patients live as females (in congruence with their biological gender). Biological males with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, assigned as females in infancy, will usually identify as females. In cases of ovotesticular disorder (that is, true hermaphroditism), issues to consider include fertility potential based on differentiation and development of the genitalia, as well as the degree to which the genitalia are, or can be made, consistent with the chosen sex.

Other than surgical interventions called for depending on the individual diagnosis, individuals may require hormonal therapy to induce puberty (including secondary sexual characteristics, a pubertal growth spurt, and optimal bone mineralization), as well as psychosocial support for psychosexual maturation.

E.  Intersex, gender dysphoria, and transgenderism

It has been suggested that gender dysphoria is, in a sense, a subset of DSD, one limited to the brain and without the involvement of the reproductive tract. According to DSM-5, gender dysphoria is a condition characterized by a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and one’s biological sex, associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The overlap between gender dysphoria and DSD lies in the possibility of experiencing discomfort in the discrepancy between one’s sex as determined at birth and one’s gender identity, which can eventually lead to a request for sex reassignment. The difference between DSD and gender dysphoria, however, lies in the consideration of biological sex indicators: sex chromosomes; sex-determining genes; genitalia; systemic sex hormones during fetal development, puberty, and adulthood; and secondary sexual characteristics. In gender dysphoria, all these biological indicators point in the direction of one’s biological sex, while one’s gender identity points in the opposite direction. In DSD, the misalignment also involves these biological sex indicators. This distinction has also been emphasized in DSM-5.

Gender identity problems and subsequent gender reassignment may occur later in life in persons with DSD, the context of which is different from that of non-DSD individuals. The question of how gender assignment at birth should be decided in cases of individuals with DSD so as to minimize the later development of gender dysphoria and gender change is very controversial and subject to ongoing debates in clinical management policymaking circles. Such gender identity problems are not universal, and when they develop, they may not occur before adolescence or even adulthood. Female-to-male is more frequent than male-to-female gender change in DSD patients; likewise, gender change is more common in syndromes with relatively high androgen exposure, suggesting an indirect influence of androgens on gender identity development. Hence, there are very marked variations between syndromes of DSD with respect to the prevalence of individuals who are not satisfied with their assigned gender and who eventually choose to undergo gender change.

 

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The post “And the Male Is Not like the Female”: Sunni Islam and Gender Nonconformity (Part 2) appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Day of the Dogs, Part 12: Love and Affection

30 December, 2020 - 07:15

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11

“I wish it was different.” – Omar

Through the Gate

HALIMA COVERED HER FACE AND BEGAN TO CRY. Water dripped from her soaked sleeve dripped onto her chest, beading her gray sweater. Hani, lost in rage, lifted his hand to strike her again.

Omar felt the blood rush to his face as he was seized with fury. He could not bring himself to strike Hani, but he stepped forward and seized the man’s shirt, driving him backward toward the gate. Hani was bigger and stronger, but Omar had the advantage of surprise. Hani shouted in confusion before he found his footing and put hands on Omar in return, taking Omar’s throat in one hand.

Omar’s air supply was cut off. He gagged, but pushed Hani even harder, forcing him a step back. One of Hani’s feet caught on the edge of the footpath that led from the driveway to the front door, and he crashed to the ground, landing flat on his back. From the way the big man was gasping for air, Omar knew he’d had the wind knocked out of him.

Instead of helping him, Omar strode quickly to the gate, unbolted it and flung it open. Then he returned to Hani, gripped one arm and pulled him up. As the bigger man gasped for breath, Omar dragged him out onto the sidewalk, then slammed the gate shut before bolting it.

Metal front gateAs Hani banged on the gate, Omar strode into the house, grabbed Hani’s suitcase, wheeled it out to the entrance and called out, “You better catch your suitcase! It’s coming over the top.” With that he hefted it to his shoulders, and with an effort threw it up and over. From the grunt and ensuing thud, he guessed Hani had caught it, then fallen to the ground again.

He was done with Hani. He knew that already. No investment, no friendship, no nothing. He didn’t care that he’d known him since childhood, didn’t care that the man had helped to save his life once. He had zero tolerance for abusers. It was an absolute, utter deal-breaker.

Halima stood staring at him with mouth agape.

Breathing hard from the fight and the adrenaline, he considered what to say. It was obvious from the casual rage with which Hani had struck Halima that it was not the first time he had done so, and would surely not be the last – unless Halima herself chose a different path. However, his own experience told him that people who were abused tended to stick with the abuser, whether out of fear, misguided loyalty, or a twisted understanding of the concept of love – at least until they experienced an event so terrifying that it outweighed all that. And he knew, having lived through abusive situations in the past, that you couldn’t force the right choice on anyone.

“I’d like you to stay with us for a while,” he said at last. “As long as you like. But I can’t compel you.”

Halima shook her head slowly. “He’s my husband. My place is with him.”

There it is, he thought, resisting the impulse to shake his head in disgust. They always choose the abuser. “Your place is where you are safe. A man who beats his wife doesn’t deserve her loyalty.”

“And that safe place is with you? Maybe Hani was right. Maybe you want me for yourself. Just because I wrote you a letter ten years ago-”

“No,” Omar interrupted firmly. “I do not. I am happy with Samia. If that’s what you think then I could pay for you to stay at a hotel.” As soon as he said this he knew it sounded bad, like he was offering her to be his mistress. He rushed on: “Or I have a better idea. You could stay with my mom. She and her husband have more room than they need. You work as a house cleaner in Colombia, right? You could work for my mom.” That sounded all wrong too, like he wanted her to serve his family. SubhanAllah, he was making a mess of things.

Halima began to weep again, clenching her hands into fists and pressing them to her temples.

Omar felt as if his heart were sinking into his feet. What should he do? “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll call Samia.” But when he turned toward the door Samia was already there, feeling her way with her cane as she walked toward them.

“It’s okay,” she told him. “I heard everything. You go inside.”

Breathing a sigh of relief – Samia would sort it all out – he hurried inside.

He nearly tripped over Nadia’s kids, who were sitting on the floor in the foyer, supposedly putting on their shoes but really having a shoe fight, wearing the shoes on their hands and boxing. Fairy hit Jameel on the head, and he began to cry.

“That’s enough,” Omar said. “No more shoe fighting. Fairy, apologize to your brother.”

“Sorry,” she said insincerely, sticking out her tongue.

Nadia was in the kitchen, totally ignoring her kids as she packed up a tray of food to take home.

“You leaving?”

“Heck yeah. My Fijian heart can’t take any more excitement.” For no reason that Omar could see, she raised her voice to a shout: “IT’S GETTING LATE! IT’S TIME FOR EVERYONE TO GO HOME!”

Omar stared. “You’re going mental, Nads.”

Nadia whispered fiercely as she pointed toward Nur’s room. “The psycho is in there with your boy.”

Bouncy Ball

Shaking his head at Nadia’s drama, he headed to Nur’s bedroom. He found Ivana and Nur sitting on the boy’s small bed, playing what Nur called bouncy ball. This was the game, known to children everywhere, where you bounced a ball against the wall and caught it. Ivana tossed the ball, it bounced, and Nur caught it. Berlina sat on the floor wagging her tail and moving her head back and forth as she tracked the ball.

“That’s twenty in a row,” Ivana said.

“We’re getting so good, aren’t we auntie?”

“We could be in the bouncy ball Olympics.”

“Papá ,” Nur said. “Wasn’t I good today?”

“Yes you were.”

“What reward do I get?”

“My love and affection.”

“Okay.” Nur tossed the ball to Berlina, who proceeded to gnaw on it, growling victoriously. The boy came to his father and wrapped his arms around his waist.

Omar was touched, and for a moment felt his eyes grow wet. “Hey, I’m kidding. What reward would you like?”

“Apam balik.”

The Malaysian pancake. “We don’t have any, but there’s ice cream in the freezer.”

“Yay! Come on, Berlina.” Nur bounded off his father’s lap and ran to the kitchen with the dog on his heels.

“Don’t give the dog any ice cream!” Omar called after Nur.

Sitting on Nur’s bed, elbows resting on her knees, Ivana watched him go. The strange, profoundly sad look on her face caught Omar by surprise. He had never seen her display any emotion besides anger, boredom or sarcasm.

“What is it?” he asked.

Still looking in the direction Nur had gone, she said, “He reminds me of my son, Vladimir.”

Omar blinked in surprise. “You have a son?”

Ivana met his gaze levelly. “I did. He died of pneumonia when he was four. Before I met Fuad.”

Omar was taken aback. “I’m sorry.”

Ivana held up a hand. “I don’t need sympathy. Anyway I heard your loudmouth friend. I will leave now. I’m trying to be a better wife to my beautiful love. I really do love him, you know.”

Omar shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “That’s good.”

Ivana snorted. “Restrain your enthusiasm. You better come with me to get your car. You can’t leave it overnight, they’ll tow it.”

Omar was tired and his shoulder wound was throbbing. But she was right. “Just let me pray Maghreb.” He went upstairs to pray, and on the way out saw Samia and Halima praying together in the living room. Nadia was still trying to get her gremlins to put on their shoes.

Omar nodded to Ivana, and they headed out.

Torn Apart

Ivana took the surface streets and left the window open. The wind blew her black hair about her head. It was a muggy tropical night, and Omar thought it might rain. He was exhausted, but found himself thinking about Ivana’s son. What a frightful thing, to lose a child. And her boy had been the same age as Nur! SubhanAllah. The thought gave him chills, in spite of the warm weather. No wonder she knew how to play bouncy ball.

It was crazy how you could think you knew someone, when in reality you had no idea what battles they’d been through, and what scars made tracks across their hearts. Maybe that was why the sages said that if you encountered something from your brother or sister you did not like, you should make seventy excuses for them.

But… she’d shot him.

Could Ivana’s history explain her insane behavior and emotionalism? Omar wasn’t a psychologist. But as he thought about what Ivana had said, something didn’t add up. Ivana was four or five years younger than him and Fuad, he knew that. She was twenty three, maybe twenty four. And she’d met Fuad years ago. How could she have had a four year old son back then?

“So Ivana,” he said as casually as he could. “You met Fuad what, like a year after you won Miss Cuba?”

Ivana gave him a hard, flat stare, and said, “You are thinking about my son. I was raped by my uncle when I was thirteen, and became pregnant from that. I entered Miss Cuba the year after Vladimir died, when I was nineteen. The contest managers did not know. All Miss Cuba contestants must be unmarried and childless. The advantage of living in a country where nothing is computerized. I met Fuad a few months after the contest. I was working as a salesgirl at a store when he came to buy a suit for his graduation.”

Omar sat with his mouth open, shocked into total silence. What did one say to a revelation like that? Finally he said, “Does Fuad-”

“No,” Ivana said, cutting him off. “He does not know.”

Omar was abashed. “Then why did you tell-”

“I see the scars on your face, arms, neck, everywhere. They are faint, but one who knows pain sees pain. You know what it is to be torn apart, then put yourself back together. And you are a man of God, like my beloved Fufu.”

The conversation ended there. When they reached Ivana’s building she departed with a mere nod of the head.

Omar did not go up to see Fuad. He got into his car, and headed to Farmacia Arrocha to fill the prescription Fuad had given him, and to buy a painkiller. His shoulder felt as if a rogue cowboy had branded it with a hot iron. The air had grown even more humid, and Omar knew it would rain soon. The air had that charged, ozone scent. A thought came to him. Ivana, being Catholic, had unburdened herself to him the way the Catholics confessed to their priests. Whatever was said in the confessional booth, he knew, was inviolable. He was no priest, but he would take her secret to the grave. He would tell no one, not even Samia.

Once he had the medications he took them immediately, swallowing the pills with a bottle of water, then headed home.

Blessed

Samia was in the kitchen, rinsing dishes and stacking them in the dishwasher. Omar gave her a kiss, and began to help.

She shooed him away. “I can tell from the way you’re shuffling your feet that you’re half dead. Go get some rest.”

She was right. He felt like a dented robot with an almost-drained battery. He prayed Isha’ in the living room, then went to Nur’s room. The boy was asleep, still wearing his pants, dress shirt and bow tie. Omar would normally have changed him, but he couldn’t do it with one arm. He settled for removing the bow tie, pulling a blanket over him, and turning off the light. Instead of leaving, he climbed into the little bed, bending his knees and tucking his elbows to squeeze in beside Nur, who turned and snuggled against him.

His eyes wandered over the bookshelf that stood against one wall. On the top shelf, plastic dinosaurs were arranged into fighting groups like little platoons. The other shelves held classic children’s books. He couldn’t identify them in the dark, but he’d read them to Nur countless times: Sesame Street books, Dr. Seuss, Go Dog Go, Alice in Wonderland, some illustrated Islamic books, and even some books in Malay. Omar couldn’t read those, so he’d make up stories to go with the pictures, and Nur would say, “That’s not what you said last time!”

Omar had suggested more than once that the family move to Malaysia. They’d visited three times and he adored it. Samia’s mom had returned to her homeland four years ago, and last year had remarried Samia’s father. Samia’s younger brother was there too. Most importantly, Omar loved the idea of raising Nur in a country where the adhaan rang across the sky five times a day.

Strangely enough, it was Samia who vetoed the idea. Puro Panameño had been good to them, she said. Omar’s mother had trusted them and changed their lives. It wouldn’t be right to abandon her.

Whatever. His mom could replace them in a second. And… he couldn’t explain it. He loved his mother, but there was a part of him that did not trust her, and never would. Did that make him a sinner? He treated her well, he was a dutiful son. But he always held a part of himself back. He wasn’t even comfortable having her living across the street. On the other side of the city would be better.

Everything considered, though, he was tremendously blessed, and he knew it. Allah had been kind to him, and had given him a sweet life.

The mattress of Nur’s little bed was firm, and even with the split AC humming quietly in the corner, the room was warm. Nur’s body was like a heater pressed against him. He drifted in and out of sleep, until he heard Samia’s soft voice: “Honey? Are you in here?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Lying on Nunu’s bed. You must be deep in thought.”

“What do you mean?”

“You only sleep here when you’re trying to work things out in your head.”

Was that true? Omar had never realized that.

“Come on. Let Nunu sleep.”

Omar rose wearily and went with Samia to the living room, where they sat on the sofa, Samia snuggling into him. With the high ceilings, this room was always the coolest in the house. Samia smelled of the papaya shampoo she used, plus food scents and a bit of sweat, but it was not unpleasant.

A Treasure

“Halima’s gone,” Samia commented.

“I see that,” Omar said sourly. “Let me guess, she went back to Hani.” Of course she did. Didn’t women always stay with their abusers? This fact baffled and angered him.

“I don’t understand,” he went on, “why anyone would allow herself to be treated that way. Why would she allow her children to be treated that way?”

“What are you talking about? Halima doesn’t have any children.”

Omar frowned. Why had he said that? “I know, I mean-’

“Anyway, that’s not what happened. She went with Nadia. She’ll stay with her for a few days, then she’s going back to Colombia, but to her parents, not to Hani. She said to thank you.”

“Did she tell you I fought with him?”

“Honey, I know you very well. Whatever you do is what needs to be done. Are you finished with Hani now?”

She did indeed know him well. “Yes,” he said.

“Permanently? What if he changes? Gets anger therapy, or makes it up to Halima somehow?”

“I don’t care. I’m done with him.”

“You’re an odd duck.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some people you forgive, even if they mistreated you, like Tameem and Mahboob. Others you never forgive. You nurse that grudge like a baby.”

“No I don’t. Like who?”

“How about your mom?”

He scowled. “I don’t have a grudge against my mom. Anyway I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Okay, buster.”

Omar smiled.

“Why are you smiling?”

It didn’t surprise him that she knew he was smiling. She’d told him before that she could hear the saliva crinkling in the corners of his mouth.

“It’s a sad smile. I wish it was different between Hani and Halima.”

“Of course.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I asked her how she and Hani got together. She dodged the question. Said something about running into each other at a cafe.”

“Maybe that’s what happened.”

“Back in high school everyone thought you and Halima would end up married.”

Omar shook his head. “I’m sure no one thought that.”

“Yes, everyone did. You two had chemistry.”

Was she serious? Omar pressed his lips together, examining her face. “Why are you saying this?”

“Do you have any regrets?”

SubhanAllah. Some other time he might have silenced her with a kiss. But he perceived that her question was serious. “You know that ayah in Surat an-Najm?” he asked. “‘Fabiayyi aalla’i rabbika tatamaaraa’?” Ever since she’d recited this surah to him in the hospital, after the dog attack, it had been one of his favorites.

She nodded. “Then which of your Lord’s blessings do you deny?”

“Right. I deny none of them. Just before you came into Nur’s room, I was thinking about how blessed I am. The greatest of all those blessings is you. I wouldn’t choose anyone else in all of this great, blue earth. You are a treasure.”

She made a soft, surprised sound, then kissed him, running her fingers through his hair, taking care as always to avoid his ear. “I’m worried about your injury. You should go to the hospital tomorrow. I can’t believe that lunatic shot you. When I think about what might have happened…” Her voice caught, and Omar knew she was about to cry.

“Hey.” Omar rubbed his hand in a circle on her back. “I’m fine, alhamdulillah. It really is quite shallow. Hey, by the way, where did those flowers come from? The heaven lotuses?”

“Is that what they are? SubhanAllah, they’re strong. Señor Melocotón brought them.”

Mister Peach

Omar grinned. He’d been back many times to visit the owner of the Reymundo is My Guide shop, since that day twelve years ago when he first met him. The day the two women had tried to mug him. Everyone in the neighborhood called the old man Tio Melo, and it was funny to hear Samia call him Señor Melocotón. Mister Peach. Like a character in a Roald Dahl book.

Weiqi or Go game board.

“During these visits they’d play weiqi…”

During these visits they’d play weiqi, the Chinese board game Melo had begun teaching Omar the day they met, and talk about football, politics and food. Tio Melo always asked about Omar’s family, and enjoyed hearing stories about Nur. Occasionally Omar brought Melo one of Nur’s drawings, and the old man taped them up inside the shop. Tio Melo had spent some time in China when he was young, and sometimes he talked about that. But aside from that, the old man was reticent about his personal life, and Omar didn’t push him.

“Did he say what they were for?”

“For your father’s birthday.”

Omar’s grin faded. Was today his father’s birthday? He wasn’t actually sure. This was not the first time Tio Melo had brought gifts to the house. He sometimes brought flowers for Omar and Samia’s anniversary, and cupcakes or small toys for Nur’s birthday.

“Omar,” Samia said seriously. “Why don’t you just ask him?”

He knew what she was referring to. His own father’s father abandoned the family when Omar’s father was two years old, and was never seen again. Even though Omar had met Tio Melo by seeming chance, the man had named his shop after Omar’s dad, and showed an inordinate interest in Omar and his life. He’d been generous with Omar from day one. The kind of interest and generosity a grandfather might show to his grandchild.

Furthermore, he was the right age to be Omar’s grandfather, and he had the right look. His skin color was the same as Omar’s father, as was his lean, wiry form.

“I did, once. He said that he’d never wanted kids. He was too much of a wanderer.”

Samia grunted. “That’s a non-answer. Exactly what a man might say who had abandoned his child. What about the name, though? Don’t you know your grandfather’s name?”

“Of course. His name was Santiago Francisco Bayano Benjumeda. But that’s all I really know. I know plenty about my grandmother, though. Her name was Mei Zhang, and she was the daughter of a Chinese merchant. She was ostracized by her family for marrying my grandfather. Papá claimed she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She spoke four languages, she played a traditional Chinese instrument called the pipa, and she personally made all the family’s clothes. But she never spoke about Santiago. Papá said she had a terrible sadness that deepened as the years went by. She died when Papá was nineteen. The doctors called it a heart attack, but my father always believed it was heartbreak over her husband’s disappearance.”

Samia stroked his arm. “That’s sad. Maybe it’s best to leave some mysteries unsolved.”

Samia was ready for bed, and told him to come as well. But he wasn’t ready to sleep. She departed with a whispered admonition not to stay up too late.

Omar sat in the darkness, thinking. Samia might be right about leaving mysteries unsolved. Right now Tio Melo was a friend. But if he was actually Santiago Francisco Benjumeda Bayano, then he was the man who’d abandoned Omar’s father, and left his own wife to die of heartbreak. Omar didn’t know if he could continue being friends with such a man.

A distant peal of thunder rolled by overhead, reminding Omar of the mountain elves bowling in Rip Van Winkle – one of the books on Nur’s bookshelf.

What did he need a grandfather for, anyway? He had a wonderful life. In fact, his life was so good it sometimes frightened him. He feared he didn’t deserve it, and that some unexpected disaster might come along and take it all away. Or that on Yawm Al-Qiyamah, when he was resurrected to stand in judgment before Allah, the Almighty would ask him, “What did you do to earn the blessings I gave you? In a world where so many suffered, how did you justify my gifts?”

The Harpy Returns

Thunder again, louder now. The sound rolled across the sky like a heavenly bulldozer, then faded.

He remembered long ago when Sensei Alan had said, “If you end up happily married with kids, you will still be you. So who are you, alone, in the universe that is your soul?”

How would Omar answer that now? He was a Muslim, husband, father, and a marketing executive at a makeup company. Was that good enough? The world didn’t need more makeup. It needed saving. The world needed lions of Allah, walking the path blazed by the sahabah, the righteous mujahideen, the truth-telling ulemaa, the ascetics and the callers fee sabeel-illah. It needed front line doctors, refugee care workers, human rights activists, environmentalists, teachers. The world needed men and women willing to sacrifice everything. What had he sacrificed? There was his karate class for the Centro youth, in which he sacrificed time and effort to teach these kids to defend themselves and their families. But was that enough? He felt a deep unease when he considered these things.

A supercharged flash of lightning shone through the windows, illuminating the house for a split second. Uncomfortably close, that one. A second later a massive crack of thunder split the sky. Samia and Nur would sleep through the storm, Omar knew, but Berlina would be anxious.

Pattering noises sounded on the roof as a spatter of rain fell. The patter became a steady timpanic rhythm as the rain thickened, and then a full-throated orchestral roar. Even inside the house Omar could smell the rain: earthy, charged and sweet. He loved that smell. The wind rose, and whined through the eaves.

Labrador retrieverHe heard the padding of feet, and Berlina came down the steps alone. She usually slept at the foot of the bed, beside Samia, but she nuzzled his hand now, seeking reassurance against the storm. He rubbed her head and ears, and the gentle animal curled up atop his feet, her body warm and compact.

He thought about the Venezuelan refugees camped in the field across from the Centro. The old man with the cane, the proud woman, the thin black-haired woman with the boys and their deflated soccer ball. How would they cope in this rain? Would their tents and lean-tos hold up? What a frightening thing not to have a proper roof over your head in a storm. On impulse, he raised his hands and whispered a dua’ for those Venezuelans.

“Wheeoooooooh! Wheeoooooooh!” A high-pitched screeching came from outside. Like a combination of a whistling being blown and a child screaming, it was like nothing Omar had ever heard. Berlina raised her head and pricked her ears, and Omar felt the hairs on his arms stand on end.

“Wheeoooooooh!”

Berlina was on her feet, growling, and Omar too was up instantly, heading for the front door. Though the sound frightened him, he felt compelled to discover its source. What if it was a creature or person in pain?

He snatched a flashlight from the windowsill above the kitchen sink, and Berlina’s leash from the coat rack by the door. Snapping the leash onto Berlina’s collar, he opened the front door. The gusting wind pushed him back as a liquid wall of rain drenched him from his curly hair to his bare feet. Nevertheless, he pushed out into the tropical thunderstorm.

Night rainBarefoot, his feet slipping on the rain-slick grass, he shined the flashlight through the downpour, looking for any sign of what might have caused the sound. He saw nothing but wind lashing the mango and guava trees, and rain splashing in the fountain and on the walkway. The flashlight illuminated the drops as they fell, making them look like thousands of tiny diamonds, each visible only for an instant.

Berlina did not bark – she was too well trained for that – but she pulled on her leash, leading him toward the single towering eucalyptus at the front of the yard.

He aimed the beam of light up into the tree, playing it along the branches and through the leaves. As he moved past a high branch, he spotted a shape – an unusually large shape – then lost it in the blackness. What was that? A man hiding in the top of a tree, on someone else’s property, in a thunderstorm? That would be insane. He moved the beam back and found the shape again. Yes, a short, wide-bodied man huddled in the deep gloom, wearing a gray mask and a black cloak pulled tightly around himself. Omar’s body stiffened in a rush of fear. Was it a jinn, come to visit him like the spectre of his own tortured past?

Then the man turned his head slightly, and Omar saw his – no, its – full profile. Jutting forehead, sharply hooked black beak, crest of tall dark feathers atop its head.

It was a harpy eagle.

He recoiled, taking a backward step. Everything his mother had once told him about this strange creature came back to him: the águila arpía was the sorceress of the forest. Her cry was a harbinger of the approach of war and death. If she looked directly at you, it meant you would face a terrible trial. Maybe you would survive, maybe not.

As if responding to his fear, the harpy let out a frightful, piercing cry: “Wheeeeeeeoooooooh!”

For the first time in many years, he was transported back to those horrifying, agonizing moments on the Santa Clara road, when two enraged dogs had tried to tear his body to pieces. Not again, he thought. I can’t go through something like that again.

Except that the harpy was not looking at him. It was looking across the street, in the direction of his mother’s house, with a fixed and seemingly purposeful gaze. His mother’s house.

Maybe in response to the eagle’s cry, or maybe sensing Omar’s fear, Berlina could not restrain herself any longer and began barking furiously. The bird shook itself, sending water flying. Then it spread its wings, hopped off the branch and soared into the cascading sky.

Lightning boltA colossal bolt of multi-pronged lightning joined sky and earth, lighting the world in electric blue, and for an instant Omar saw the winged colossus climbing high, its great wings beating the air.

Then came a sound like a cosmic gun being fired in a battle beyond human understanding. The thunder nearly deafened him, the sound booming across the city relentlessly, following nature’s imperatives with neither forbearance nor rage. The thunder was a Muslim, following the lightning as it was commanded to do.

Barefoot in the sheeting rain, and with Berlina at his heels and her leash in his hand, he dashed across the street toward his mother’s house.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 13:  Never Be Your King

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 12: Love and Affection appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Khadimah of The Quran: Shaykha Mariam Niasse

28 December, 2020 - 16:59

“[W]hen I barely knew how to speak Wolof, my mother tongue, I had been enrolled in a school to learn Arabic and the Qur’an. As it turned out, the school had no classroom. Schooling took place in the yard of our family home in Dakar, and the teacher was none other than my own mother [Shaykha Mariam Niasse]. Part of a clerical family, my mother started her own school as soon as she got married to my father and settled in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, in 1951. Between 1959 and 1961, I attended the Quranic school exclusively. It operated five days a week; Wednesday afternoons, all day Thursday, and Friday mornings were times of rest. Thus, after I enrolled in the Clemenceau School in 1961, I had to commit to two systems of education. The French school was important because it led to the award of a degree and recognition, and the Quranic school because it shaped its students sense of belonging to a Muslim personality.

Like my siblings, I pursued Islamic and Western education simultaneously. I woke up around 6 am to perform the first of the five daily Muslim prayers and then to study a set of verses of the Quran at home; at 7:45 am, it was time to walk to Ecole Clemencaeu. At noon, the beginning of the break at Clemenceau, I returned home to resume Quranic studies and have a brief lunch. At 2:45 pm, it was time to walk back to Clemencaeu. The school day at Clemenceau ended at 5pm. But at 5:15 pm, when I arrived home from Clemencaeu, I would right away resume Quranic studies until the Muslim prayer of Maghreb, or sunset, around 7pm. Right after the prayer, I would do my public school homework with the help of my older siblings, I would have a short fifteen minute break for dinner and would go to bed between 10 and 11 pm after completing my homework. On Saturdays and Sundays and during the other school holidays such as Christmas and Easter (two weeks each), and over summer break (three months), I studied the Quran full time.

When did I rest? Only at night! There was no other time to rest. My greatest childhood regret is never having learned to play soccer, a very popular sport in urban Senegal in the 1960s.”

This was the environment that Ousmane Kane, the son of Shaykha Mariam Niasse, was cultivated in, as he recalls in his book, Beyond Timbuktu. Today, he is a professor of Islamic Studies and African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. It is in meeting this man at the beginning of my graduate studies that I was exposed to the life of his mother, and to the life of his luminary family.

Born on December 24th, 1932, Shaykha Mariam Niasse returned to Allah on December 26th, 2020, at the age of 88. She spent her life immersed in Quranic education, producing tens of thousands of huffaz (those who have memorized the Quran) within her Quran school in Senegal.

She was the daughter of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, who was one of the most influential Islamic scholars of the 20th century, and considered by many to be the Mujaddid of his time. Shaikh Ibrahim founded the Muslim World League with Abu Alaa Mawdudi of Pakistan and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. He was known as the only person who could scold Egyptian President Gemal Abdel Nasser and get away with it. He also spoke out against many of Abdel Nasser’s unjust actions such as his killing of Sayyid Qutb. Shaikh Ibrahim would often take his daughter, Shaykha Mariam with him during these travels. As a result, she developed close relationships with many prominent leaders around the Muslim world. Later on in life, she would leverage these relationships to resolve conflicts between Senegal and Iran, as well as Senegal and Sudan.

Her Islamic education came at the hands of her erudite father. Her father would tell her and her sisters to leave housework and instead call upon them to study the Islamic sciences with him. She memorized and studied the Islamic sciences under her father. She eventually married his student Oumar Kane, and then established the “Dar Al-Quran Ecole Sheikha Mariama Niasse” in Dakar, a school that houses 1300 students. As a result of this, she became known as “Khadimatul Quran” (Servant of the Quran).

We ask Allah to reward Shaykha Mariam for the great service that her and her family have done to the cause of this Ummah. As we bid farewell to one of the greatest women of our Ummah, we ask Allah that she be raised to the highest levels of Heaven, and that we accompany her there. We also ask Allah that we can follow in the actions that she did on this Earth.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that “The best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

Shaykha Mariam was amongst the best. And we ask Allah that we too be included amongst the best.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun  إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ‎, 

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Day of the Dogs, Part 11: Reunion

17 December, 2020 - 03:01

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10

“Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete.” – Ivana

How Interesting Life Is

AS IVANA SCREECHED INTO A FREE SPOT in the airport loading zone, Omar immediately spotted Hani standing at the curb several meters away, amid the touts, taxi drivers and thieves. The man’s thick, muscular frame was hard to miss. His face was set in a scowl as he – in typical security guard fashion – scanned everyone around him. A tall woman in hijab stood beside him, both of them clutching the handles of their wheeled suitcases.

Omar stepped out of the car, and Ivana followed.

Woman in black hijabIt was blazing hot, with the humidity level sky high, as always. The two visitors had not seen him yet, and he studied them as he approached. Used to the cool weather of Bogotá, Hani and his wife looked flushed, like a pair of penguins suddenly transported to a tropical island. Hani’s wife wore jeans, a blue sweater and a black abayah that was open in front. Omar’s first thought was, that sweater and abayah are not going to help her here. His second thought was, huh?

He stared at the woman. Tall and lean. Wide-set green eyes, high cheekbones, and a slight cleft in her chin. A face he knew well, but one that had aged beyond what he would have expected in ten years. Crow’s feet radiated from the corners of her eyes, and curved wrinkles parenthesized her mouth. He’d once thought this woman could be a model or an actress. She was still attractive, certainly, but no one would expect to see her on the silver screen.

They saw him. Hani’s scowl deepened, if that was possible, with the wrinkles in his forehead looking deep enough to cast shadows.

“Oye, parcero,” Halima said in that Colombian slang that Omar remembered from their school days. “Qué más?”

Omar looked between the two of them. “You two are married?”

Anger flashed in Hani’s eyes. “Why do you find that strange?”

Halima looked at her husband. “You didn’t tell him about me?”

Hani’s eyes shifted left and right. “It didn’t come up.”

“You look amazing,” Halima enthused, earning her an angry glance from her husband. “Hani said your scars were nearly invisible, but I didn’t believe him.”

Omar touched his mangled ear. “Except for this.”

“Who is your beautiful friend?” Halima asked, smiling.

Omar looked at Ivana standing beside him. Her hair was disheveled from the events of the day, and her eyes were slightly puffy from crying, but these imperfections somehow only added to her attractiveness.

“She’s Fuad’s wife. She gave me a ride. You remember Fuad?”

Halima gaped in astonishment. “Indian Fuad? Nerdy Fuad from high school?”

“My beautiful love is not nerdy,” Ivana said in Spanish. “He’s a wonderful man. I was Miss Cuba. Qué bolá?”

“Eh.. Encantado.” Halima embraced Ivana and they kissed each other’s cheeks.

Ignoring this entire conversation, Hani said, “You’re late. I was starting to think you were blowing us off. Like this was all some big prank.”

Hani wasn’t joking. The man had only just arrived, and Omar already felt dismayed and apprehensive. “I’m sorry about that. I-”

“What happened to your shoulder?” Hani pointed with his mouth in the Panamanian way.

Omar noticed that blood had seeped through the bandage, shirt and sling, leaving a large, dark spot on his shoulder. Now that he saw it he detected the faintly metallic odor as well. “I got shot. That’s why I’m late, actually, I mean part of it. We also had a traffic accident.” He gestured to the car with his good arm. “You’ll see.”

“You got shot?” Halima exclaimed. “When?”

“Like forty five minutes ago.”

“Forty five minutes?” Halima’s mouth fell open. “Who shot you?”

Omar nodded at Ivana. “She did.”

Halima and Hani looked back and forth between Omar, who stood blank faced, and Ivana, who had assumed a bored posture, arms crossed, as if this rehashing of the shooting was an old argument best forgotten.

“It was his fault,” Ivana offered finally.

Halima burst into loud guffaws, tipping her head back and laughing until tears leaked from her eyes. Wiping them away, she said, “Oye, Omar. I forgot how interesting life is when you are around.”

Hani didn’t like that, and flashed his wife an annoyed look.

Mambises Cubanos

Omar tried to move things along. “Let’s get you both in the car and crank up the AC before I have to mop you off the pavement.”

In the car, Ivana asked, “Do you want to go to Torre del Cielo to get your car?”

He’d forgotten about his car. But he felt too tired to drive, and asked Ivana to drive them all to his house.

“Okay, but you owe me big time. I’m not your chauffeur.”

Cuban mambises

Cuban mambises

“I wouldn’t need you to drive if you hadn’t gone all Mambises Cubanos on me.” Omar had done a paper on the Mambí fighters in college. Cuban guerrillas who fought for decades for independence from Spain. Nearly the entire black population of Cuba – men and women alike – fought as mambises, winning their freedom from slavery in the process. In one battle, 8,000 starving mambises, armed with little more than courage, ferocity and machetes, wiped out 20,000 highly trained Spaniards.

Ivana seemed to like the comparison. She flashed a rare grin, and said, “Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete. I used to cut cane before I became Miss Cuba. So knock that over.”

Halima sat in front next to Ivana. On the road, Halima wanted to know what had happened between the two of them. But Omar was closed-mouthed because he was still angry and didn’t want to start another fight with Ivana; and Ivana refused to talk about it for her own reasons, maybe because she was embarrassed. So the two ladies chatted about being Miss Cuba (Ivana’s favorite subject), their families, and life in Cuba and Colombia, as Omar and Hani sat in back, making stilted conversation about the flight.

As they passed the skyscrapers of Costa de Este, shimmering in the midday sunglight, Hani peered out the window. “Do you live in one of these?” He said it jokingly, but Omar detected an edge of jealousy or bitterness. He was having a hard time deciphering Hani’s emotional undertones.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those glass monstrosities.” He ignored the scathing glance Ivana gave him in reply. He’d forgotten for a second that she lived in one of those monstrosities.

Happy for You

When they pulled into Omar’s driveway, he saw Nadia Muhammad’s mini SUV already parked there. She must have dropped by for one of her surprise visits. She’d gone native that way. Panamanians loved to show up unannounced. If you didn’t feel like entertaining visitors, you simply said, “I’m going to make coffee,” and you disappeared into the kitchen until they took the hint and departed. If they were a bit thick, and called out to inquire what was taking so long, you’d call back and say, “Don’t leave yet, wait for the coffee!”

On the other hand, when Panamanians actually said they were coming to your house – or any other meeting – half the time they never showed up. And if they said they were coming at, say, 5 pm, you shouldn’t expect them before 10.

Stepping out of the car, Omar pointed to a two-story whitewashed home across the street. “My mom lives there. She remarried a couple of years ago.” He went to lift the suitcases from the trunk but Hani insisted on doing it himself.

“Aren’t you coming?” Halima said to Ivana, who still sat behind the wheel of the car.

Omar realized that he must invite Ivana. Not to do so would be to treat her as if she really were a chauffeur. She would refuse anyway – she was only interested in her rich party friends – so he put a smile on his face and said, “Yes, please Ivana. Come and join us for dinner.”

Ivana frowned. “Why?”

Omar blinked. His mind was a blank. Finally he said, “Nur would love to see you.” Which was true. Nur was convinced Ivana was a movie star.

With a trace of a smile, Ivana shut off the engine and got out.

Halima admired the garden, then sat on the edge of the gently splashing fountain, dipping her fingers in the water. “Ooh, it’s so nice and cool,” she murmured. “This is lovely. I’m happy for you, Omar.”

At the door, Omar knocked with two slow raps, then three quick ones. Then he rang the doorbell. He had a key, but this gave his wife time to put on her hijab if needed. The special knock told her it was him, and the doorbell meant he had visitors with him.

The thick wooden door, like the house, was painted light blue. The door was fashioned in the shape of an arch, with a blue floral pattern painted around the edge, and was divided into vertical halves, both of which could be opened as needed. The house’s interior and exterior had all been redesigned two years ago, after Omar made a sales trip to Morocco to meet a distributor, and fell in love with Moroccan design. He’d actually brought a craftsman named Abbas back to Panama with him, and the man had spent four months working on the house before returning to Morocco.

The heavy door swung open and Omar’s wife appeared wearing blue jeans, a white scarf and a knee-length, sky blue blouse that matched the house’s color perfectly. “What took you so long?” she asked. “Was the flight delayed?”

A Colorful Feast

“Ay Dios, parcera, look at you,” Halima gushed, rushing forward to embrace Omar’s wife. She and Ivana had been speaking Spanish on the way from the airport, but now she switched into English. “You look fantastica, hermana! How you got so skinny?”

Samia touched Halima’s face gently with her fingertips, tracing the line of her jaw. Halima stiffened as though to pull away, but Omar had already told Halima and Hani about Samia’s blindness, and Halima seemed to remember this and relax.

“Halima?” Samia was amazed. “Is that really you? SubhanAllah, I can’t believe it!”

“And me too,” Hani said. “It’s true, you look wonderful.”

Samia smiled warmly. “Hani, it’s wonderful to see you again. So to speak.”

“Ivana is here too,” Omar said.

“Oh!” Samia didn’t seem to want to let go of Halima, but she did, and held out her arms to Ivana. “Is Fuad here?”

“No, only me.” The two of them exchanged the obligatory kisses on the cheeks.

Malaysian foodThey all entered the house. The heady scents of food flooded Omar’s nostrils: grilled onions, spices, meat: it made his mouth water, and he realized he hadn’t eaten since having a small breakfast many hours earlier, before martial arts class. His stomach rumbled audibly, and he rubbed his belly to quiet it.

Hani and Halima left their bags in the hallway. In the kitchen, Omar saw that Samia had prepared a Malaysian feast: upon the table, as colorful as jewels, sat platters of noodles with shrimp, veggies and eggs; barbecued chicken slathered with chili-ginger percik sauce, and laksa soup made with fish and tamarind.

Apart from the food scents, he detected the unmistakably sickly-sweet scent of tropical flowers – orchids maybe? – but did not see where it was coming from. It was a powerful scent that flirted with rottenness but managed to remain pleasant.

Nadia Muhammad stood at the kitchen counter, chopping a salad. As usual, she wore a brightly colorful shalwar khamees. She was barefoot, and wore an orange hijab – she’d begun covering only recently. Omar could hear the sound of childish play coming from deeper in the house – Nadia’s two kids playing with Nur, no doubt.

There was no sign of Nadia’s husband Shahbaz, which was not surprising. He was a successful lighting systems designer, and his specialty was rare enough that his services were in constant demand. The man was making money, but developing wrinkles and gray hair at the age of thirty.

Oh, and now he spotted the flowers, in a blue glass vase beside the kitchen window. The vase held two huge heaven lotus blossoms. With their velvety white petals curling up around nearly spherical pink ovaries, which in turn were topped with yellow filaments, the flowers looked alien and almost obscene. He’d seen heaven lotuses only in one place before, growing in a greenhouse at Florida State University. Omar’s mother had taught him to identify many native Panamanian species, and he knew that you rarely saw heaven lotuses because the heaven lotus tree – a small tropical tree that grew to about eighteen meters in height – was endangered, and even more importantly because the flowers survived for only one day before wilting and dying.

He wondered where the two flowers had come from, but he didn’t get the chance to ask, because when Nadia and Halima saw each other, they broke into shrieks of excitement. Soon all the women were speaking at once, asking questions, expressing amazement at being together again, praising Samia for the amazing banquet she’d laid out, and commenting on the beauty of the house.

Then Hani stiffened, not even blinking, as if he were a troll that had been turned to stone by the rising sun. Halima turned to see what Hani was looking at and she too fell silent in mid-sentence.

Omar saw what had turned them into statues. Internally he cursed himself for being a dummy. He should have considered that this might be a problem.

“Guys, I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “She’s Samia’s guide dog. She’s a sweetheart.”

Halima gave a nervous smile. “You are sure it won’t bite?”

“I promise,” Samia said. “Her name is Berlina.”

Hani had not moved. “I can’t believe you have a dog… I mean. You know.” He was tense, as if he might turn and run out of the house. But Halima knelt and called Berlina, and the dog padded softly to the newcomer and nuzzled her hand. She did not lick, as she had been trained not to do so.

Halima squealed with pleasure. “Her nose is cold!”

I Smell Blood

Samia halted in the midst of her conversation with Halima and Nadia and scanned the room, tilting her face slightly upward and turning one way and the other. “Is someone hurt?” she said to no one in particular. “I smell blood.”

“Oh!” Halima exclaimed. “You didn’t know?”

At the same moment, Nadia spotted Omar wearing the blood-spotted arm sling and said, “Hey Omar, what happened?”

“Omar?” Samia’s voice took on a note of panic. She held out one hand. “Come to me.” He went to her, and she immediately explored his body with her hands and discovered the sling. She touched the wet spot. “Hasbun-Allahu wa ne’m Al-Wakeel. What happened?”

Ivana flapped her lips in exasperation. She had seated herself and begun to eat before anyone else, plucking a piece of barbecued chicken from a platter and chewing it appraisingly.

“It’s only a scratch,” Ivana offered in Spanish. “My beautiful love already stitched it. He said it’s nothing. Just change the bandage. You know…” She licked her fingers. “This chicken is better than a kiss from my Fufu. But don’t tell him I said that.”

“But what happened, for God’s sake? Were you attacked?”

Halima, grinning as if she were party to an inside joke, pointed to Ivana. “She did it,” Halima said. “Ivana shot him.”

“What? That’s not funny, Halima. What really happened, Omar?”

Omar sighed. “It’s true.” He knew he should defuse the situation by saying that it was all a mixup, but he was still angry at Ivana. As if in agreement, his shoulder gave a nasty jolt of pain as Samia probed it with her fingers, trying to see how badly he was hurt. He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Don’t.”

Ivana, unconcerned, licked barbecue sauce off her fingers and smacked her lips. “It was an accident,” she said casually, repeating her earlier defense. “He broke into my house like a burglar.”

Omar could not really dispute this, so he offered up the most damning piece of commentary he could think of: “She had a golden gun.”

“Not solid gold,” Ivana clarified. “Twenty two karats.”

Nadia Muhammad been watching this exchange with a growing expression of incredulity. Now, before Samia had a chance to probe further, Nadia began to laugh.

“Oh boy,” Omar said. “Here we go.” Nadia’s laughing fits were legendary.

Her laughter grew until she was bent over at the waist, hands on knees. “It’s not funny!” Samia protested, but this only made it worse. Nadia, wracked with huge guffaws, fell to the ground, clutching her stomach. Ivana seemed delighted by this turn of events, and began to giggle as well. Hani rolled his eyes and gave Omar a scolding glance, as if to say, “Can’t you control your women?” Which Omar thought was unfair, since his woman was the only sane one in the lot.

While this was going on Omar spoke to Samia quietly, telling her what had happened, and reassuring her that the wound was minor. She was upset. “Leave it for now,” he told her. “Let’s have a good dinner with our guests.”

The children came running to investigate the commotion. Nadia’s daughter Fariel, who everyone called Fairy, and who was eight years old and a rabble rouser, was followed by Jameel, who was four and had a beard and mustache drawn on his face in black marker. From the ink marks on Fairy’s hands, Omar was pretty sure she was the perpetrator.

They kneeled beside their mom, grabbing her arms, saying, “What are you laughing about, Mum?” But they were smiling. No doubt they’d seen their mother like this before.

Nur stood behind, looking uncertain. He’d dressed up for this dinner, and looked so smart in his blue pants, white dress shirt and bow tie. If only Samia could see him. Omar called him over, pulling the boy against his side. His little body was warm. “It’s okay. You know how Auntie Nadia is. She’ll be back to normal in a minute.”

Nur touched his father’s arm sling. “Did you hurt yourself, Papá?”

“It’s a scratch. I only needed a few stitches and a bandage.” Ivana overheard this and gave him a wink, as if to say, glad to see you’re sticking to the story.

Nadia stopped laughing and saw the mess on her son’s face. Her mirth turned to pique as she seized the children’s wrists and marched them off to the bathroom, shouting the whole way.

All I Got Was This Gold Ring

Halima bent down and gave Nur a hug, and he took it like a little man, stoically. “And you, conejito, my little rabbit, you are so handsome. I think your parents must be so proud mashaAllah.”

“Thank you Auntie,” Nur said dutifully. Halima laughed in delight, as if the boy had performed some bit of magic.

Hani and Halima went to the guest room to wash up, and Omar, headed upstairs to the master bathroom to change his bandage. Seeing the wound for the first time in the mirror, he was shocked. It looked ugly and messy, with ragged edges. And it hurt worse than an animal bite. He applied a silver-based antimicrobial gel that Fuad had given him, wincing as he did so, and rebandaged the wound.

When everyone was refreshed and seated at the table, with Jameel’s face scrubbed pink and all three kids at a folding table beside them, Omar said a mealtime dua’, thanking Allah for reuniting them all. Then they dug into the hearty Malaysian banquet with relish. At one point Halima said, “I can’t believe you can cook such increible food when you can’t see.”

Omar knew Samia well enough to know she would not be offended. People made thoughtless comments like this all the time, Samia was used to it.

Labrador retrieverOmar kept an eye on Hani, worried the man might still be frightened of the dog, but he seemed to have relaxed. Halima commented again on how good Samia looked, and how she’d hardly recognized her without the “baby fat.” Omar glanced at Samia, but her expression was calm. She knew that Latin Americans tended to be very forthright about such things.

Samia explained unashamedly – speaking in English – that during her first two years at Florida State University, she struggled with loneliness and gained a massive amount of weight. Her mother was busy with work, her father was gone of course, and she had no friends at FSU. Her diabetes spun out of control. She had high blood pressure, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, and her eyesight was degrading.

“I was barely hanging on,” Samia said. “In fact I was on academic probation. Then along comes Omar, like a drill sergeant. What a pain in the neck! Made me walk laps with him on the school track. Pressured me about my diet. Study groups in the library. If I’d had a gun I would have shot him.” At this, realizing what she’d said, her smile faded and her head tilted in Ivana’s direction. An awkward silence fell. Ivana was not quite fluent in English, but she understood enough. She scowled, looking at her food.

They were rescued by Halima exclaiming, “Omar!” She waved a finger at him. Her hands were calloused from work. “Why you do that with Samia? It’s not your job to change her.”

“Actually,” Samia said, “that’s a good question. Why did you care so much? We weren’t even that close.”

“I-” Omar stammered. “I couldn’t leave you underground.”

Halima frowned, and Samia said, “What do you mean?”

Omar shook his head. “Just a dream I had once.”

“Okay… Very mysterious. Anyway,” Samia went on, “by the time he was done with me, I could have won an Olympic gold medal. Instead all I got was a gold ring.” She held up her wedding band.

Halima laughed at this, and Nadia joined in, which scared Omar for a moment – he couldn’t take another laughing fit right now – but she seemed to have gotten it out of her system.

With all of this going on, Hani ate silently, hardly looking up from his plate.

“So you got married in college?” Halima wanted to know.

“No. I graduated, and Señora Bayano hired me to manage the accounts at Puro Panameño. Omar proposed two years later.”

“But how you work when you cannot see?”

Samia gave a flick of her fingers. “Our systems are paperless now. I use assistive technology. A screen reader that can read text out loud. I touch type, I use keyboard commands instead of a mouse. Like that.”

“You have adapted totalmente, mashaAllah.”

Samia grunted. “I miss reading.” Her tone was matter-of-fact, but Omar knew this was a source of sadness for her. “I listen to lectures and audiobooks, and I have some Braille books, but the classical Islamic books are mostly unavailable in those formats.” She stood. “Let me get dessert.”

Nadia began to rise. “I’ll get it.” But Samia insisted she could handle it.

Samia set out little dishes of ondeh-ondeh, which were dessert balls made of rice cake filled with cream, and coated with grated coconut.

Tameem and Basem

“Oye, Omar,” Halima said. “Did you ever discover who did those pranks on you in high school?”

Omar looked to Samia, but her face was expressionless as she took a bite of ondeh-ondeh. “No,” he said slowly. “I never did.”

All this time Hani was silent. Omar suspected the muscular man was thinking of his purpose in coming here. Wondering when he’d get to present the business proposal. But Omar was proved wrong when Hani said, “I don’t mean to be a jerk in asking this, but do you ever hear from Tameem or Basem? I know they were bullies to you, I mean, if I’m out of line for asking-”

“No, it’s fine,” Omar broke in.

“It’s not like I want to get in touch with them. I’m just curious, you know. We were close for a while.”

“Hani.” Omar gave the man’s muscular shoulder a squeeze. It was like squeezing a rock. “I don’t mind at all, but…” He’d been hoping this subject would not come up.

“It’s not good news,” Samia finished.

Hani put down the ondeh-ondeh he’d been about to bite into. “What do you mean?”

Omar took a breath, let it out. “Basem crashed his car in a drag race on Avenida Balboa. It was years ago, like a year after high school. He died.”

“Oh.”

“Driving too fast is dangerous,” volunteered Fairy, from her place at the kids table.

“Yes, baby,” Nadia agreed.

“Then why do you drive so fast, Mum?”

“What about Tameem?” Hani asked.

Instead of answering, Omar spoke to his son. “Nunu, take your friends and go to your room. You can play video games on your iPad if you like.” The kids were done eating anyway. Nur was just pushing food around on the plate.

“Can we take Berlina?”

“Sure.”

“Yay!”

When the kids and dog were gone, Omar tapped nervously on the table.

“More bad news?” Hani asked.

Omar nodded. “Tameem is dead too.”

Hani deflated, his chest sagging. The sound that came from him was like the whistle of air escaping a punctured balloon. Omar wished this topic had not come up, but didn’t see how he could have avoided it.

“How?” Halima asked.

“You don’t want to know.”

At this Hani sat up straight, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’m not a child. You don’t have to send me to another room like you did with your boy.”

Amor,” Halima said, reaching for his hand, but Hani pulled away and made a chopping motion, nearly knocking over a pitcher of juice. “No! I didn’t come here to be condescended to.”

Omar shrugged. If that was the way he wanted it. “The whole family was murdered. Someone broke into their apartment in Punta Pacifica, tied them up, tortured Tameem’s father, then cut their throats. The police thought it was one of the Colombian cartels. That maybe Tameem’s father was laundering drug money through his construction business and dipped his hand into the pot.”

Hani sat stock still for a moment, then stood abruptly, tipping over his chair. He walked to the front door and went out.

Halima jumped up. “I will go after him.” She hurried out.

A Tree That’s Been Hit By Lightning

Omar sighed. Samia had tried to warn him about Hani, but he hadn’t listened. He eyed the popiah basah rolls. They were particularly toothsome Malaysian spring rolls filled with turnips, fried onions and bean sprouts. He’d already had dinner and dessert, but the rolls were so good. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, savory and rich. He picked one up.

“So…” Samia said. “Hany is married to Halima. That’s interesting.”

Omar froze with the roll a centimeter from his lips. “Uhh… yeah. Crazy, huh? He never told me.”

“Is she still beautiful?”

Nadia, sitting back in her chair and rubbing her belly, said, “Yeah, she’s still as hot as heck.”

Ivana sniffed. “She’s no Miss Cuba,” she said in surprisingly good English. She must be learning from Fuad.

“What do you say, Omar?” Samia wanted to know.

Tree scarred by lightningHe studied his wife’s face. Was she toying with him? She was not normally the jealous type. “Yes and no,” he said honestly. He never lied to Samia. She knew him too well. Furthermore, she could hear the difference between truth and a lie. Maybe it had to do with being blind. “She’s like a tree that’s been hit by lightning. You can see that it was lovely once.”

“Very poetic. Are you writing love poetry now? I know about the love letter she wrote you on the last day of school.”

“What?” Nadia interjected excitedly. “Halima wrote you a love letter? Why did I never know about this?”

Omar slowly set down the popiah basah roll and leaned back in his chair. Hadn’t he thrown that letter away years ago? Or was it in a box at the bottom of the closet? “How did you know about that?”

“She told me back then, when she wrote it. She used to talk about you. Did you arrange this whole meeting with Hani just to see her again?”

He stared at her, trying to read her expression, but her face was as unrevealing as a brick wall. “Samia,” he said sternly. “How can you even-”

“Hah!” Samia squealed, pointing at him and grinning. “I got you. I wish I could see your face right now.”

Relief flooded through Omar as his cheeks grew hot. “You dummy!” Picking up his cloth napkin, he threw it across the table at Samia. It flapped through the air and hit her in the chest.

“Attacking a blind woman!” Samia cried. “That is the lowest of the low.”

“I’ll do more than attack you.” Omar rose from his chair and went around the table. His wife lifted her arms to him and he bent forward to embrace her with his uninjured arm, taking in her scent, somewhere between clean and spicy, due to the cooking no doubt.

“Oh my God,” Ivana said, still practicing her English. “Too much lovey dovey stuff.” She stuck out her tongue in a gagging motion.

“Seriously,” Nadia agreed. “Get a pushbutton.”

Samia disengaged herself from Omar’s embrace and pointed a finger in Ivana’s direction. “Ivana Maxiel Santiago Domingo. Just so you know, if you had killed my husband, wallahil-atheem, I would have killed you too.” Her face had gone white, and her arm shook.

“¿Por qué me culpan todos?” Ivana raised her hands to the sky as if supplicating the Creator. “Omar break into my house. I shoot him by accident, okay? I tol’ you Samia I’m sorry.”

“No, you never said that.”

“I tell you now, I’m sorry, lo siento, fue un accidente. You want me to go, I go!” She flung her arms out, knocking over her empty water glass, and stood.

“No. Come here.”

“Why? So you kill me?”

“I’m not going to kill you, idiota. just come here.”

Looking at the floor like a chastened schoolgirl, Ivana went to Samia. “¿Que?”

Samia reached out and pulled Ivana to her, and embraced her. Ivana stiffened for a moment, then put her arms around Samia. To Omar’s amazement, Ivana began to cry. Samia patted the beauty queen’s back until her sobs subsided.

A Crucible of Fate

“Well, this was all fun,” Nadia said. “Where did Hani and Halima go, anyway?”

Omar snorted. “They’re walking back to Colombia.”

“Really?” Samia asked.

“No, I don’t know. I’ll go see.”

“Say hasbun-Allahu wa n’em Al-Wakeel.”

Omar said it.

It was dusk outside, though it seemed later than it was due to the heavy cloud cover that hid the fading light of sunset. He found Hani and Halima in the front yard, sitting on the edge of the fountain. Hani rested his elbow on his knee and his cheek on his fist, while Halima rubbed his shoulders.

“I’m sorry I told you all that,” Omar said.

Hani did not look up. “Do you ever think about that day?”

Omar didn’t have to ask which day. “Not really.” Which was true. What happened, happened. He was grateful to Allah for everything.

“I do. All the time. And now… Tameem and Basem.” Hani shook his head. “Man. It’s like we’re cursed. Like that day was a judgement. It was a hammer that struck us all, and either forged us into something better, or shattered us. No, you know what?” He shook one finger at the ground as if lecturing the grass. “Not the day, but what we did on that day. What each of us did on that day has damned us.”

“You’re overthinking it, hermano. It was a thing that happened. Part of our Qadar. Not some crucible of fate.” Though inwardly he wondered. Was there something to what Hani was saying? Was it possible that your actions on a single day of your life could shape the remainder of your existence? Maybe so, but certainly that had nothing to do with Basem and Tameem’s tragic deaths. Did it?

“Did you bring me here just to humiliate me? Show Halima how rich and happy you are? The life she could have had with you?” Hani said, still looking at the ground.

“Hani!” Halima exclaimed. Then, to Omar, in Spanish: “I’m sorry, brother. He gets like this sometimes, you cannot take it personally.”

“Don’t apologize for me!” Hani barked. Without warning he stood and struck Halima, backhanding her across the face. The blow had the clapping, meaty sound of a hard hit. Halima cried out, reeled and almost fell into the fountain, saving herself only by putting one arm fully into the water.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 12:  Love and Affection

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 11: Reunion appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Addressing Common Questions About The COVID-19 Vaccine | Dr Farhan Abdul Azeez

16 December, 2020 - 06:23

The information below is based on what is known as of writing this post on December 15, 2020. References to trials unless otherwise specified are to the Pfizer vaccine which has been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA.

Q: Does the Pfizer vaccine prevent you from getting COVID-19?

A: This may come as a surprise, but we do not know.

To further elaborate, we need to discuss Infection vs. Disease. Infection simply refers to contracting the virus. Disease refers to developing symptoms from the virus. The first important note from the Pfizer trial is that it did not look at infection, but rather, disease. Put in other words, it did not look at whether the vaccine prevents you from contracting COVID-19, but whether you would get sick from COVID-19.

What about the famous the 95% efficacy rate quoted? That refers to 95% efficacy against disease (i.e. did people become symptomatic from COVID-19), not infection. The trial showed that the vaccinated group had a reduced the risk of developing disease from COVID-19 by 95% when compared to the placebo group. Which is fantastic results.

If you are interested in the raw numbers, 8 out of 18,198 participants who received the vaccine went on to develop disease from COVID-19 (0.04%), whereas 162 out of 18,325 in the placebo group developed disease (0.88%). (Of note, “efficacy” is a term used in an ideal clinical trial scenario whereas “effectiveness” is what plays out in the real world. There tends to be a slight drop, but the vaccine is still expected to be very effective at preventing illness from COVID-19, even if a little less than 95%.)

Q: Does the vaccine prevent transmission of the virus?

A: This again may come as a surprise, but we also do not know.

The trial did not look at transmission. And if the vaccine does not prevent you from contracting the virus, it stands to reason that if you were to get the virus, you would still be infectious and can spread it. We do know that the vaccine is effective at preventing illness from COVID-19. But that gives rise to a possibility of increasing the number of asymptomatic carriers as the vaccinated population increases. This can of course, paradoxically further drive asymptomatic spread, which at current estimates is already about 40-50%. That is a huge concern. Which brings us to the next question…

Q: So if I get vaccinated, can I stop wearing masks and social distancing?

A: The unfortunate answer is no. At least not yet.

The above two points – not knowing whether the vaccine prevents infection or transmission – has significant implications. Namely, vaccinated individuals would need to continue to wear masks and social distance to avoid further spread to populations with whom the vaccine has not yet reached or is not effective for.

Take for example our African American brothers and sisters. This year has been somewhat of a national reckoning on race relations, and has also highlighted racial disparities. We have seen COVID-19 affect the African American community disproportionately. Yet, they are also understandably less trusting of the medical community and particularly vaccines. A vaccine itself isn’t a solution if vaccination doesn’t occur. What is concerning is ending up with a situation where certain populations are not vaccinated while also being at higher risk for severe illness from the disease. If the vaccinated population lets their guards down and stops taking precautions, this can lead to further exasperation of an already vulnerable population’s disease outcomes. Again, this is more of a concern if the vaccine does not prevent transmission, which is still unanswered.

Bottom line, vaccines will not be the golden bullet that you wanted to get back to normal life, at least not in the next 8-12 months until enough people get vaccinated or we confirm that it stops transmission. In the meantime, think of the vaccine as a supplement to masking and social distancing, as much as it hurts to say.

Q: How long does immunity last?

A: We simply don’t know. At least four months for now. I pray much longer. Time will tell. There is a possibility of needing a booster every X months or years. We just have to wait and see.

Q: What are the risks in receiving the vaccine?

A: This is a loaded question and requires a little more than just a list of side effects. It is rightfully the source of hesitancy about receiving the vaccine. However, I believe it should not be posed in a vacuum, but rather framed as “What are the risks in receiving the vaccine versus not receiving the vaccine?”

Let’s address issues surrounding the vaccine first. Vaccines inherently do have risks of adverse events, some common and some not so common. It also must be acknowledged that this method of using an mRNA-based vaccine is new (although it has been researched for years), and therefore, there may be things discovered in a few years that were not anticipated. Further, the virus itself causes systemic (i.e. widespread in the body, not just isolated to one organ) illness, the exact mechanism of which is still not fully understood. And if the virus itself is not well understood, what then can be said about the effects of a vaccine meant to combat it?

We have good data on the common side effects and understandably not so good data on the rare side effects. Regarding the latter, say there is a relatively rare side effect that occurs in 1 in 100,000 people. The trial enlisted just shy of 44,000 participants, of which half received the vaccine and half received placebo. It is possible that this rare side effect may have been observed in the approximately 22,000 people who received the vaccine. But it is also possible that it has not. It is only one event we are looking for and it simply may not have happened yet.

Another issue is time. Researchers have two to four months of observational data from the participants in the trial (depending when they enrolled and received the vaccine). While it is true that most side effects occur within six weeks of receiving a vaccine, we do not know about the rare long-term effects. Similarly, we do not know what the body would do when encountering the virus multiple times (which is a definite possibility in the midst of a raging pandemic). For example, will it mount a hyper-immune response that can end up being detrimental? Time will tell.

There is also less data available on minorities, as 81.9% of the trial participants were Caucasian. It would have been helpful to see a more diverse trial population to flush out potential adverse events not otherwise seen based on genetic composition of different races.

As for the common side effects, they are similar to what is caused by the flu vaccine: local injection site reactions (84.1%), fatigue (62%), headache (55.1%), muscle pain (38.3%), chills (31.9%), joint pain (23.6%), and fever (14.2%). Reassuringly, date from Moderna’s trial of just over 30,000 participants (which also uses mRNA-based technology) has shown strikingly similar results in terms of efficacy, side effects, and lack of serious adverse outcomes.

As alluded to earlier, the risks of the vaccine is only half the equation that one must consider. The other half is the risk of not getting the vaccine. Over 16 million people in America have had confirmed infection of COVID-19, and the number actually infected is likely significantly higher. As of this writing, COVID-19 is taking the life of someone in this country approximately every 30 seconds. For the survivors, while many recover fully, others – including those with no or very mild symptoms – are left to live the remainder of their lives with long term damage to their blood vessels, lungs, heart, brain, and other vital organs. We are still discovering the true extent of what damage this virus causes, with the unfortunate reality that more detrimental ramifications are still left to be uncovered.

Having said that, we have a vaccine that has been shown to be 95% effective in reducing one’s chance of developing disease from COVID-19. While there may be some risks with the vaccine, there certainly are tremendous, potential deadly, risks of not getting the vaccine and contracting COVID-19.

It is worth noting that healthcare workers are being prioritized to receive the vaccine first, but it has not been mandated upon us. The vast overwhelming majority of physicians are voluntarily taking the vaccine as soon as it is made available to them (administration will be starting this week). For the general public, this prioritization serves as additional time to gather data about any potential adverse outcomes prior to the vaccine being made available to them.

Further, there will be continuous, ongoing data collection after the vaccine rollout. Existing mechanisms for reporting adverse outcomes from vaccines remain in place such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS, www.VAERS.hhs.gov). The CDC is introducing further measures including a program called V-Safe in which every vaccine recipient will receive a text message daily for the first week with a survey link to submit any symptoms experienced, and weekly thereafter for six weeks. If a medically significant adverse event occurs (predefined to include numerous conditions including autoimmune disease, seizures, bleeding disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and many others), telephone follow-up and staff-entered input into the VAERS database. This database will have continuous rapid cycle analysis being performed to evaluate for safety concerns. The vaccine can always be withdrawn if the need were to arise.

Q: Should we be concerned at how quickly this vaccine was produced and released?

A: There were some key differences in the process of developing a vaccine for COVID-19 compared to the standard operating procedure of developing vaccines. For one, federal regulators were involved from the beginning in designing the trial; as opposed to having a company such as Pfizer develop the trial, then propose it to regulators, only to be sent back to the drawing board to adjust certain things. This saves significantly on time.

Secondly, a major factor in the length of time it takes to develop a vaccine is limited resources. In the case of COVID-19, there was massive investment in these trials, on the scale of billions of dollars. Imagine trying to run a trial with a budget of $10,000 versus $1 billion, or a team of 10 people working on developing a vaccine versus a team of 10,000 people. So much more can be accomplished and expedited with a larger budget, from research, manpower, recruiting participants, and so on.

Thirdly, we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has brought world economies to their knees. There are no weekends, holidays, or days off in a pandemic. Researchers have been working around the clock.

Another factor working in favor of vaccine development is presence of the disease itself. If researchers were working on a vaccine to combat a disease that is rare, it would take exponentially longer to meet the requirements to produce statistically significant data. However, in this case, the virus is so endemic and widespread, that is not a problem. Typically phase III trials have about 10,000 participants. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, trials have recruited over 30,000 participants. Pfizer’s trial had just shy of 44,000 participants.

The primary concern of some experts is the length of observation for adverse events of participants in the trial, which stands currently at two to four months. However, in the midst of a global pandemic with current global loss of life from confirmed COVID-19 occurring at least once every eight seconds, at some point, a line must be drawn somewhere. Knowing that most adverse events occur within six weeks, the data available at this point is, while cannot be considered conclusive, is reassuring. Ongoing surveillance and monitoring however must continue and measures are in place to do just that as mentioned in the previous question.

Before moving on, it bears mentioning, there is a legitimate concern among many whether the decision to grant Emergency Use Authorization to the vaccine was due to political pressure. While I certainly cannot speak to the motives of any expert, it is reassuring that an independent, external committee, composed of top scientists across the country with no conflict of interest, voted to approve its use. A full list can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/media/144232/download?fbclid=IwAR274Do2mPHCglzvI_zikx6sWo8oThvUaQn1gaXY1PV_WQIQpsSPKBb9Wwo 

Q: Does the vaccine change your DNA?

A: If you forwarded WhatsApp messages saying that it does, ask God for forgiveness and stop lol. The answer is NO! It is an mRNA vaccine, not a DNA vaccine (nor a live virus vaccine, meaning you are not being injected with a part of the virus).

Let’s quickly have a short discussion on Messenger RNA (mRNA). In normal cellular function, mRNA is released from the nucleus into the cytoplasm where it goes the cell’s protein manufacturing plants (otherwise known as Ribosomes) to produce proteins. Think of it as an instruction booklet for what the ribosome is to produce. Now, mRNA is a very labile molecule that gets broken down fairly quickly. That’s part of the reason why the vaccine needs to be stored at such cool temperatures. To successfully get into the cell, scientists put the mRNA inside a lipid capsule (acting like a force shield) that allows it to be taken up into the cell when it makes contact with the cell surface. Once in the cell, the mRNA goes into the ribosome and which then follows the instructions to produce the proteins that will be excreted from the cell.

mRNA has no ability to go back into the nucleus, where DNA lives. Therefore, mRNA has no access to the DNA. Think of the nucleus as a fortified castle. So fortified in fact that if molecular scientists want to access DNA within the nucleus, they need to administer electric shocks to the cell in a process called electroporation to allow the nucleus wall to be permeable enough to be accessed. So yeah, a very labile molecule like mRNA has no chance to get in there. Basically, the vaccine has as good of a chance of turning you into Spiderman as it does of changing your DNA.

Q: Ok, if the vaccine doesn’t change our DNA, how does it work?

A: Our immune system learns by exposure. In the case of the vaccine, once the mRNA gets into the cell, it goes into the ribosome and uses the cell’s own mechanism to construct proteins that will be excreted from the cell. These proteins being created are identical to the Coronavirus Spike protein that is released had it been infected by COVID-19. The body recognizes it as the virus without it actually being the virus and mounts an immune response to it. Once exposed to the real virus, the body will be ready to fight it off.

Q: How long does it take for the vaccine to be effective?

A: As mentioned above, our immune system learns by exposure. Sometimes, the body needs multiple exposures to mount an adequate response. In the case of this vaccine, researchers found that after one dose, the efficacy was approximately 52%. Benefit is seen about 14 days after receiving the first dose (the body does take some time to mount an antibody response). However, after receiving the second dose 21 days after the first, efficacy went up to 95% seven days after that (i.e. 28 days after receiving the first dose).

In other words, if you receive the vaccine as scheduled, one dose on day 1, and one dose on day 21, by day 28, you would be significantly protected from developing disease from COVID-19.

Q: Does the vaccine contain aborted fetal tissue?

No. There is no component of fetal products within this vaccine. Zero. None. Not a trace. Not even 0.001%. Nothing. No amount of citing random WhatsApp messages, unrelated vaccines, or your random doctor uncle changes that fact.

As for the actual ingredients, rather than listing out several chemical compounds here that will make sense to no one save a select few, I will refer you to the FDA fact sheet: https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download.

For those readers who are interested in whether the ingredients are considered Halal, I would refer you to the position statements released by the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) () and Wifaqul Ulama in the UK . They have both stated that the vaccine is Halal.

In Summary

  • We know the vaccine is very effective at preventing disease from COVID-19
  • We do not yet know if it prevents actually getting infected with COVID-19
  • We do not yet know if it prevents spreading the virus
  • We still need to maintain precautions after getting vaccinated for the short-term future until enough people get vaccinated
  • The vaccine reaches peak effectiveness on day 28, after an individual receives the first dose on day 1 and second on day 21
  • There are possible risks with getting the vaccine, and there are significant risks with NOT getting the vaccine. You must decide for yourself what is most beneficial.

May God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, the Healer, cure the ill, give comfort to those suffering and in pain, and lift this pandemic from our lives. May we take this pandemic as a lesson to return back to our Creator and recognize the true purpose of our existence. May we be more caring and loving, more equitable in our dealings with others, more valuing of the relationships we have, and more attentive for the world we live in. Ameen.

Additional Links:

  • Pfizer Study: https://www.fda.gov/media/144245/download?fbclid=IwAR3RqVgP7tAcHKj5-oWhrPqhkkDPvDekJZ60UXCisFlJb5iOoY6uil9hBRI
  • FDA Letter of Approval: https://www.fda.gov/media/144412/download?fbclid=IwAR2lfDqs2BOdBCwsAu2MFbyEbDBt5zZL8uOFHGAoS5SRhf_YZvpEfMPIgVc
  • FDA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers: https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download?fbclid=IwAR2X5ho0WnfinULa3_tACQVJDBnOv8XqSQ6DD-syL_E6Qe0JhEWGgcoo1rg

The post Addressing Common Questions About The COVID-19 Vaccine | Dr Farhan Abdul Azeez appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Podcast: How NOT to Talk to New Muslims | Shaykh Abdullah Oduro

15 December, 2020 - 04:24

New Muslims face many obstacles in their journey to Allah, and would you believe, old Muslims can be one of them? What are some of the ways that seasoned Muslims inadvertently turn New Muslims away from the Deen, and how can we avoid them? We talk to Shaykh AND convert Abdullah Oduro about culture, homogeneity, and the reality of American Muslims and their struggles integrating into the existing community.

New Muslims face many obstacles in their journey to Allah, and would you believe, old Muslims can be one of them?Click To Tweet

“A lot of people become Muslim, and still are Muslim, but a lot of them don’t know the basics of their faith. They don’t know how to make wudu. They don’t know Faatiha – they can’t recite Faatiha and they’ve been Muslim for ten, twenty years and have Muslim children.”

Shaykh Abdullah Oduro obtained his degree from the College of Islamic Law from the University of Madinah in 2007. He is also the founder of KnewU,  a non-profit organization for new Muslims. He is currently the Imam of the Islamic Center of Coppell and a research scholar with Yaqeen Institute. He is a native of Ghana and a naturalized Texan.

“Converts and young Muslims, their experiences are very much similar in not knowing the religion, not knowing the first pillar of Islam, not really understanding tawheed. Why do I have to go to Saudi Arabia and go around a black box. What does that even really mean?”

“I remember my mentor, he told me he used to walk around in a thobe with the kohl. The guys in the hood where he used to be there were looking at him like man, what happened to you bro? Why are you wearing a dress and mascara, man? What’s up with that? Why would you convert to a religion that makes you wear a dress and mascara?”

The post Podcast: How NOT to Talk to New Muslims | Shaykh Abdullah Oduro appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Scholars, Speakers And the Culture of “Edu-Tainment” Part 2

12 December, 2020 - 05:17

Part 1

15. As to the question of charging extortionate fees and exorbitant honorariums for teaching or da‘wah – a serpent that is now in the garden – with what good faith can that be justified? Of course, what is or isn’t exorbitant is up for discussion. Of course, large organisations will have greater overheads. Of course, quality produced books, translations and media productions are more costlier. Of course, we have a collective duty to assist the ulema‘. And of course, we must thank those organisations that have helped up the ante in terms of the ethos of excellence and professionalism they have brought to the teaching and da‘wah. All such matters are, hopefully, not in question. It’s simply that while many have sacrificed well-paid jobs in secular arenas for a lesser (or even no) salary in the Islamic field, some teachers and preachers are acting rather unbecomingly when it comes to the question of financial remuneration. And that’s a shame; if not shameful. Is it even lawful for event organisers funded by the public to misuse monies given to them on trust by forking out such sums on such speakers? Or to do so without public knowledge of how their money is being misspent?

16. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned a golden rule concerning taking payment for acts of worship. As part of his reply about whether or not it is permitted to charge a fee for performing pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf (hajj al-badal), he wrote: ‘He may take [payment] to [help him] perform the pilgrimage; he may not perform the pilgrimage just to take [payment] (an ya’khudh li yahujj la an yahujj li ya’khudh). This applies to all wealth one takes so as to undertake a righteous action.’21 Then he states: ‘There is a difference between one who makes religion his goal and the world his means, and one who makes the world his goal and religion his means – the likes of this [latter person] will have no share in the Hereafter.’22

17. Ibn Taymiyyah’s words apply to taking money for teaching or da‘wah too. There’s a big difference between someone who puts receiving money at the heart of his da‘wah affairs, and one who, although in financial need, puts it at the periphery. Again, what a difference between one who says: “I won’t do a talk unless I’m given such and such a sum of money,” and one who says: “I can’t do a talk unless I’m given some money.” If the intention is corrupted by money matters, if the niyyah isn’t solely for Allah, the act is invalid and sinful – and every person is a vendor of their own soul. Indeed: ‘Two ravenous wolves let loose amongst some sheep do less harm than craving after wealth or status does to a person’s religion,’23 said the Prophet ﷺ.

A few more concerns related to the seemingly apparent corporatisation of the da‘wah need to be queried, beyond the insatiable drive to maximise personal profits:

18.  With a corporate model of da‘wah, there’s a danger of seminars and courses being designed as consumer products, and the need to put out more and more products just to keep revenue flowing in. At what point is the role of money to help deliver courses, and courses to help deliver money? Now this doesn’t apply to organisations offering a clearly structured curriculum or syllabus, but to those that are mainly in the business of delivering courses or seminars. Al-Hasan al-Basri, rahimahu’Llah, said: ‘The penalty meted out to the scholar is death of the heart, and death of the heart causes a person to seek this world by means of actions intended for the hereafter.’24 As for how one inoculates the heart from corrupting its sincerity, Imam al-Ghazali said: ‘The remedy for sincerity consists in breaking the gratifications of the soul, ending the craving for this world, and being singularly devoted to the Hereafter such that it dominates the heart. By this, sincerity becomes possible.’25

19. Scholars and preachers who fuss over their first class travel arrangements, or their five star food and accommodation; or who design and sell courses with a desire other than the rida of Allah; or who are in the habit of turning certain topics whose essence could be explained in an hour and should be done so for free, into lucrative weekend courses – may give out the “wow” factor to their young audiences, but are unlikely to illumine hearts; unless their hearts are illumined with ikhlas to Allah, mindfulness of His scrutiny, taking significant steps in the direction of zuhd, and being sincere to the public with regards to extracting money from them. As for those who invite such DIY da‘is or celebrity speakers, they too may be answerable in the divine court for bending to the hype and not being truly concerned about the wealth or spiritual welfare of the seekers and servants of Allah.

20. Possibly of greater concern is the culture of self promotion, and not being able to point others to more learned and spiritually rooted shaykhs. Groups will do this due to hizbiyyah, or the revenue loss it entails if their own speakers aren’t the public’s port of call. Individual souls will usually do it out of vanity (‘ujb), ostentation (riya’), craving fame and status (hubb al-ri’asah), or some other inglorious nafsi reasons. Consider this Ghazalian wisdom: ‘How many an act has man troubled himself with, thinking it to be sincerely seeking the Face of Allah. Yet it contains deception, the harm of which he cannot see … Those subjected most severely to this trial (fitnah) are the scholars. Most of them are motivated to profess knowledge for the [mere] pleasure of [their] mastery, the joy of [gaining] a following, or of being lauded and eulogised.’26 He then gives this example: ‘So you see a preacher who advices people about Allah and counsels rulers. He is overjoyed at people’s acceptance of him and his utterances. He claims to rejoice in having been chosen to help the religion. But should one of his peers who preaches better than he appear, and people turn away from him, accepting the other, it would displease and distress him. Had religion been his true motive, he would have thanked Allah for having spared him this weighty [duty] through another.’27

21. Compare today’s self-promotion with the attitudes of our venerable salaf. Of how those of them who were less travelled in knowledge and spiritual realisation deferred to those who were more rooted or well-travelled. Indeed, even the well-travelled ones would desperately avoid giving fatwas whenever possible, especially if they could pass the buck on to someone else. Ibn Abi Layla, a famous successor (tabi‘i), narrates: ‘I met one hundred and twenty Companions of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, from the Ansar. There wasn’t a man among them who was asked about something, except that he loved that his brother would suffice him [by answering].’28 In another narration: ‘… Whenever one of them was asked about an issue, he would refer it on to another, and this other would refer it on to yet another; until it would return back to the first person.’29 Al-Bara’ said: ‘I met three hundred of the people of Badr. There wasn’t any among them, except that he wished that his companion would suffice him by [giving] the fatwa.’30 And Bishr al-Hafi said: an ahabba an yus’ala fa laysa bi ahli an yus’al – ‘Whoever loves to be asked isn’t from those who should be asked.’31 So let no vacuum be left, and no ego promoted.

Our final issue concerns an alleged celebrity culture of sorts which surrounds certain speakers and preachers. Here, let us remember these few points:

22. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘He is not of us who does not honour our elders, have mercy on our young, or know the rights of our scholars.’32 In Islam, the scholars have always been held in great esteem and affection by the masses. Be it as guardians and teachers of sacred knowledge, or as mediators between the wider public and the ruling elite, or as wise, pious sages of the ummah, the masses have often thronged around individual ‘ulema and showered them with huge amounts of love, honour and esteem. That type of celebrity culture encircling the ‘ulema has not been absent from Muslim history or its societies. One hadith states: ‘Indeed, when Allah, blessed and exalted is He, loves a person, he calls to Gabriel saying: “Allah loves so-and-so, love him too.” Gabriel then loves him. Gabriel then proclaims in Heaven: “Allah loves so-and-so, so love him too.” The angels in Heaven then love him. Thereafter, acceptance of him is placed into [the hearts of] those on earth.’33 So whilst fame, for many, comes about by them actively craving attention, for others it is brought about because of Divine love and Heaven’s grace – especially in the case of the ‘ulema and awliya. Just because some scholars and preachers are famous doesn’t mean they’ve craved or fuelled such fame.

23. While fame has always been around, our current celebrity culture is pretty much a modern phenomenon. It is said that fame is when people know who you are; celebrity is when people know what you’re doing. Social media has given fans the opportunity to connect with their interests, crushes and idols in an unprecedented way. Fans and followers become ever more absorbed in the lives of their favourite celebrities, to the extent it becomes increasingly hard to draw a line between what is appreciation and what is obsession. The flip side of the fandom frenzy is that celebrities carefully craft public profiles on social media in order to garner fans and following, so as to sell their particular brand to people. And if not that, then it is to seek validation and adulation and assuaging the ego by publicising their lives, careers, views and talents. In fact, it can reasonably be argued that the egotistical promotion of the self is not a byproduct of social media, it is inherent to the institution itself!

24. For Muslim scholarly engagement on social media, ikhlas must be key. As scholars or da‘is maintain profiles on platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – posting fatwas, advice, anecdotes, smidgens of religious wisdom, glimpses into their personal lives, or even the occasional scholarly selfie! – they must guard against being taken on an ego trip, and against acts of narcissism. Online followership can lead to toxic levels of self-conceit (‘ujb), given the tsunami of unrelenting flattery showered on the posts. pictures or preaching of popular scholars and da‘is. A man was once praised infront of the Prophet ﷺ, to which he repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Woe be to you! You have slit the neck of your companion.’34 In another hadith, he ﷺ stated: ‘If you see people lavishly praising others, throw dust in their faces.’35 The logic why ‘you have slaughtered him, due to your praise of him’36 is fairly straightforward. For such flattery, lionisation or adulation, writes al-Munawi, all too often ‘gives rise to delusion and arrogance,’37 and can become an addiction and lead to one’s spiritual downfall.

25. Contextualising the above hadiths, Imam al-Nawawi said: ‘As for praising a person to their face, there are some hadiths which judge it permissible or recommended, and others that judge it prohibited. Scholars hold that the best way to reconcile between them is to say: If the one praised has perfect faith (kamal iman), firm conviction (husn yaqin), spiritual discipline (riyadat nafs) and complete gnosis (ma‘rifah tammah), such that he will not be subjected to temptations, nor become conceited because of it; and neither will he be played by his ego, then it’s neither forbidden nor disliked. But if any of these things are feared, then praising him [to his face] is severely detested.’38 Al-Baghawi seems to have hit the nail bang on the head as far as the condition of most of us are concerned. He said: ‘In general, praise and compliments of a person [directly to him] is disliked (makruh). Seldom is the one who praises safe from lying in his praise, and seldom is the one praised safe from conceit (‘ujb) which seeps into him.’39 Hence we should all try to balance between words of appreciation and encouragement, and those that are praise, flattery or likely to be spiritually ruinous.

26. Some insist that, ‘The knowledge should be what inspires us, not who the speaker is or isn’t.’ As true and as ideal as this is; in reality, it’s also a failure to appreciate what it takes to motivate people. Revelation teaches that familiarity, eloquence, charisma and the art of persuasion do have their place in the da‘wah and do make a difference to the receptivity of hearts and souls; as do sincerity, humility and the realisation that it is Allah who ultimately guides, not us. Indeed, Allah has gifted some people a fuller share of such qualities than others, and has made souls attentive to the words of some more than others: That is the favour of Allah; which He gives to whom He wills. [62:4] Of course, with Allah’s favour comes the eye of envy (hasad) – and many of the criticisms levelled against scholars or da‘is is nothing but envy. And of course, with the favour of sacred knowledge comes immense responsibility and trials.

27. Having a large following is a trial (fitnah) for the one being followed more than the followers. If audiences are regularly coming away from talks of particular scholars or da‘is feeling merrily entertained, or overwhelmingly wowed; but are not coming away with feelings or remorse for wrongdoings, a desire to repent and reform, or a yearning for Allah and the afterlife, there’s something truly amiss with the speaker’s intention, learning, or ability as a guide – however popular they may be and however large their following. An Arab poet has said: awradaha sa‘d wa sa‘d mushtamil/ma hakadha ya sa‘d tuwradu’l-ibil – ‘Sa‘d came in while leading them. O Sa‘d! That’s not the way you bring in camels.’ Let not scholars or callers fill hearts with frivolity, but with fear of Allah. Let them not inspire audiences to roll over in fits of laughter, but to repentance and hope. Let them not plunge Allah’s servants deeper into the dunya, but help raise their gaze to Allah and the akhirah. To do otherwise is just not da‘wah – it is not calling to Allah in any meaningful sense of the word.

28. Thus far in the blog, I’ve cited wisdoms and rulings from some of Islam’s classical and contemporary legalists and pietists. Let me end, however, by quoting, not from a scholar, but from Shelina Janmohamed – author and commentator on Muslim social and religious trends. Speaking of Generation M – young, urban, middle-class Muslims, committed to practicing Islam and being fully immersed in the modern consumerist culture – she remarks: ‘Since Islam is supposed to be about self-effacement, and our Generation M individuals aspire towards modesty and humility, the almost cultish popularity of religious scholars can be confusing.’ She then cites from Safia Latif who observes: ‘We love our Muslim scholars so much so that we jump at the first chance to follow their lives and they indubitably mean well in their efforts to reach and relate to a tech-savy generation,’ concludes Safia. ‘But we must question the psychological and sociological impact of this culture on our collective Muslim ethos.’40 I think that more or less sums things up.

29. Finally, we ask Allah to protect all our scholars, shaykhs and da‘is; increase them in sincerity, understanding and goodness; continue benefitting our ummah with them; and help them be exemplars of learning, depth and piety, as well as courage, character and compassion. We ask Allah, too, that He help the wider public sort out the wheat from the chaff with regards to scholarship; steer them away from worldly scholars to scholars of the hereafter; inspire them to yearn for the company of the truly learned lovers of Allah; and shield them from callers to frivolity and amusement, who crave for fame and seek only to buttress their own egos.

Allahumma jammilna bawatinina bi’l-ikhlasi laka wa hassin a‘malana
bi ittiba‘i rasulika. As’alu’Llaha’l-‘azim rabba’l-arsha’l-‘azim
an yaj‘alana wa iyyakum mimman yastami‘una’l-qawla
fa yattabi‘una ahsanahu. Wa akhiri’l-
da‘wana ani’l-hamduli’Llahi
rabbi’l-‘alamin.
Amin!

1. Al-Harawi, Dhamm al-Kalam, 1:14-15. Al-Albani declared its isnad as sahih, despite it containing Muhammad b. Tafar b. Mansur. For a discussion about how such a verdict was reached, cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), 6:1:40-42; no.2510. I extend my thanks to Dr Abdul Haqq Baker, an old and dear friend, for alerting me to this hadith.

2. Al-Bukhari, n0.3461.

3. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alimiyyah, 2013), 8:77.

4. Bakr Abu Zayd, al-Madkhal al-Mufassal (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1997), 1:73. Ibn al-Salah and Ibn al-Qayyim have said something similar. See: I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2003), 6:99-101.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.

6. As explained by al-Tufi, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Rawdah (Beirut: Mu‘assasah al-Risalah, 1988), 3:663-64.

7. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami‘ (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), no.212.

8. ibid., no.213.

9. As in his advice to one of his sons, Laftat al-Kabad ila Nasihat al-Walad (Beirut: Dar al-Muqtabas, 2013), 60.

10. Al-Khatib, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi, 1:232-33.

11. Al-Bukhari, no.5737.

12. ibid., no.5149.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.1473; Muslim, no.1045.

14. Ahmad, no.23357; Abu Dawud, no.3416. The chain contains Mughirah b. Ziyad and al-Aswad b. Tha‘labah who have been disparaged by hadith critics such as al-Bayhaqi and Ibn Hajr. Despite that, al-Albani graded the hadith, with its supporting chains, to be sahih. The details are given in: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), 1:1:513-17; no.256.

15. At-Tirmidhi, no.2917, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan.’

16. Ibn Majah, no.714; al-Tirmidhi, no.209, where he said: ‘A hasan sahih hadith. The people of knowledge have acted by this hadith and disapprove that a mu’adhdhin take a wage for giving the adhan.’

17. See: Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alimiyyah, 2013), 6:42. Ibn Hajr notes the basic objection against the allowance of taking a fee – namely, that the allowance has been abrogated by the prohibition, and that the word ajr, “wage” in the first hadith means thawab, a spiritual reward – and argues the majority case, thus: [1]: While the “allowance” hadiths are undoubtedly authentic, the same cannot be said for the “prohibiting” ones; for they are not free of defects in their chains. [2]: Even if they are sound, the prohibitions in them are not categorical. [3]: The claim of abrogation is highly speculative and therefore invalid. [4]: To interpret the word ajr as thawab, given the context of the hadith, is far-fetched and therefore invalid.

18. Nayl al-Awtar (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1993), 5:344-45.

19. See: Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, Ma‘arif al-Qur’an (Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif, 2008), 1:207-8; in his discussion of Qur’an 2:41.

20. ibid., 1:208.

21. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 26:19.

22. ibid., 26:20.

23. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2376, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

24. Quoted in al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 1:221; and its like is in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1165.

25. Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, 9:70.

26. ibid., 9:70-71.

27. ibid., 9:71. I based my translation of these passages on A. Shaker (trans.), al-Ghazali, Intention, Sincerity and Truthfulness (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2013), 62.

28. Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, no.21; Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.2201.

29. Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.2199.

30. Al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1996), no.1076.

31. ibid., no.1084.

32. Al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.421. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.5443.

33. Al-Bukhari, no.7485; Muslim, no.2637.

34. Al-Bukhari, no.6061; Muslim, no.3000.

35. Muslim, no.3002.

36. As said by Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh Riyadh al-Salihin (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2015), 1476.

37. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 1:362.

38. Al-Nawawi, al-Adhkar (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 448.

39. Sharh al-Sunnah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983), 13:151.

40. Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World (London & New York: I.B.Tauris, 2016), 200.

The post Scholars, Speakers And the Culture of “Edu-Tainment” Part 2 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Open Letter To The UN Secretary-General On The Coercive Transfer of Rohingya to Bhasan Char Island

4 December, 2020 - 00:25

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

As a human rights activist who has been campaigning for Rohingya rights since 2012, I am writing to express my alarm at the current transfer of Rohingya refugees to the Bangladeshi remote island known as Bhasan Char.

As I write this letter, more than 900 Rohingya have been taken away by bus from their communities in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and are due to be shipped to Bhasan Char in the morning. The figure of 4,000 to be taken there imminently has been mentioned in the media, although there are also reports that the plan is to relocate 100,000 in total, which is unimaginable.

I have learnt that Rohingya who did not want to leave were told that their names were on a list and so they had to pack up and go. They were given no choice. Those who objected were met with violence and there are reports of Rohingya having their teeth knocked out. Families have been torn apart in this process, with cases of parents even separated from their children and husbands from their wives.

There were already more than 300 refugees currently being held against their will on the island after they were rescued from traffickers. These refugees have begged to leave the island and have reported cases of sexual assault and rape. Some refugees went on hunger strike to leave the island and were severely beaten when they refused to eat. They have reported jail-like conditions with up to 5 people living in a 50ft square room. I have looked at the layout of the buildings on Google Earth and found that it looks very cramped, like a concentration camp.

I feel that this way of treating any human beings is despicable. That the Rohingya are survivors of genocide and are being left without protection in this way, fed propaganda and false promises of that they will be educated, allowed to work and build better lives on this island, is a tragedy.
I call on you to do what you can to halt this atrocity from taking place, to stop the boat sailing in the morning, and to ensure that all Rohingya currently trapped on this island are returned as a matter of urgency.

I have included some links below to recent reports on this situation, but most importantly I ask you to listen to the cries of these families as they are separated and their loved ones taken away from them. The woman in the video is shouting ‘film this, they’ve stolen our relatives!’

https://twitter.com/

/status/1334532022686117888

We cannot let this happen.

Sincerely,

Jamila Hanan Feature image by MUD2020 https://www.fortifyrights.org/bgd-inv-2020-12-03/ https://www.hrw.org/…/bangladesh-halt-rohingya… https://www.amnesty.org/…/bangladesh-halt-relocation…/ https://www.theguardian.com/.../rohingya-refugees-allege… https://www.theguardian.com/.../rohingya-refugees-allege… Channel 4 news report: https://www.facebook.com/6622931938/videos/417064986118825/

The post Open Letter To The UN Secretary-General On The Coercive Transfer of Rohingya to Bhasan Char Island appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Day of the Dogs, Part 10: The Girl With the Golden Gun

3 December, 2020 - 04:34

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9

“You going to rob me some more? Next time I shoot you for real!” – Ivana

Could You Be Loved

Could you be lovedOnce his family was settled at home, Omar showered and changed, prayed ‘Asr, then headed to the airport. He’d hardly driven a block when his phone began to play Bob Marley’s Could You be Loved, which was what he’d assigned to Fuad as a ringtone, because Fuad should be loved, but wasn’t.

Omar debated whether to answer. Occasionally Fuad just wanted to catch up. But more often he called when he was perplexed, in a funk, or outright despairing over Ivana’s antics. Which was part of what friends were for, but Omar didn’t have time right now. Hani and his mystery wife would arrive in an hour.

He answered anyway, and knew instantly that this was a bad one. Fuad was shouting, not at him but at someone else, in passable but heavily accented Spanish: “Cálmate mi amor! Por favor!”

There came in the background the sound of something being smashed or shattered.

“Fuad?” Omar said.

Now Fuad sounded angry. “Was that my Latin American Association of Epileptologists award? It better not have been, you Cuban werewolf!”

Ivana screamed something that Omar could not understand. Then another SMASH.

In the background, a moaning sound rose in pitch until it became a wail. Por Dios, what was happening there?

Fuad’s voice became pleading. “I apologize baby, you are not a werewolf, you are a luscious Caribbean mango, a juicy mamey sapote -”

“Fuad!” Omar said, more loudly. And again the loud moaning sound.

Ivana screaming. SMASH.

“No, mi amor, I know those are round fruits, I’m not saying that you are fat, I meant to say a sweet Cuban banana-”

“FUAD!” Omar bellowed.

Fuad finally heard him. “Oh, Omar. As-salamu alaykum brother. How is your day proceeding? All is well, I trust?”

Omar shook his head. “Is she drunk again?”

“No, she quit drinking.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s true! But she imagines I was regarding a woman at the mall with prurient interest, but I assure you, Omar, I-”

“I get the picture.” Approaching the on-ramp to the Corredor Sur, Omar ran one hand through his hair. “What do you need from me?”

“Well, I am locked in the bathroom. Ivana has a knife. It’s merely a kitchen knife, so I cannot speak to the degree of its sharpness-”

“You want me to call the police?”

“I cannot,” Fuad said in a reproving tone, “call the police on my own wife. Can you please come and calm her down? And disarm her? The door code is -”

“Have you changed it since last time?” Omar snapped. He didn’t have time for this.

“Eh, no.”

“Then I know it. Are you safe?”

“As I said, I am locked in the bathroom, so yes, but -” He was drowned out by another moan.

“What on earth is that noise?”

“Oh, that’s Taj Mahal. He’s trapped in the bathroom with me.”

Taj Mahaj was their cat. Poor creature must be terrified. “I’ll be there shortly. And try calling her sugar cane. Nice and skinny.” He hung up. Shaking his head in disgust, he put the pedal down and sped toward Costa del Este. Fuad and Ivana had been married almost five years now, but it was always the same. Fuad spending money he didn’t have, Ivana never satisfied, the two of them fighting like jaguars and eagles. A thousand times, Omar had been on the verge of telling Fuad to divorce the crazy drunkard and be done with it. But Islam taught that it was evil to come between a husband and wife. So the words had never escaped his tongue, not even once.

After all, it wasn’t like anyone was being beaten, or committing adultery. There were things, in Omar’s view, that were deal-breakers. Things that should rightfully end a marriage. But constant arguments, excessive greed… well, who was he to say? If Fuad loved her and could put up with that, then it was up to him.

The drama sure was a headache, though.

Throw Her Off The Balcony

Fuad lived in a luxury apartment on the thirty fifth floor of an oceanfront highrise called Torre del Cielo. He made good money in his practice, but he still hit up Omar a couple of times a year, asking to borrow money to pay off his credit cards.

Torre del Cielo was two exits south on the Corredor Sur – on the way to the airport, luckily. But what would Omar do when he got there? He didn’t relish the idea of taking on a knife wielding lunatic, even if she was the former Miss Cuba. He’d studied knife defense in karate, but had never attempted it in reality. And Sensei Alan had always said, “The first truth of knife defense is that you will get cut.” Being slashed by a beauty queen would be just as painful as being slashed by a Japanese samurai. Fuad’s fancy apartment wouldn’t look nice with Omar’s blood splashed all over it.

French dessertsAs he was about to jump onto the Corredor, he spotted a new French boulangerie that had opened in a small shopping center. Maison San Francisco. He’d taken his family there once, but had not repeated the experience because although the food was delicious, the prices were exorbitant. It gave him an idea, however. Ivana loved anything European and expensive.

He swerved across two lanes of traffic, eliciting a cacophony of blaring horns, and came in hot, screeching to a stop in the small parking lot. Inside Maison San Francisco, he ordered a box filled with half a dozen stunning treats: eclaire au chocolat, opera cake, tarte framboise, tarte au citron and more. Wincing as he paid the bill, he then hurried back to the car, and gunned it onto the Corredor.

He glanced at the car’s digital clock: Hani and his mystery wife would arrive in one hour. Hani didn’t seem like the type to take it kindly if Omar arrived late. He’d probably take it as a personal insult.

“Could you be loved?” sang Bob Marley’s voice from his phone. “Don’t let them change ya, oh! Or even rearrange ya! Oh, no!”

“I’m on my way, Fuad.” Omar said without preamble.

“Oh. Eh… you must promise me that you will not hurt Ivana. Just get the knife away from her.”

“No, Fuad,” Omar said dryly. “I’ll throw her off the balcony.”

“Please be serious, brother. She is so precious to me. I could not bear it if-”

“She’ll be fine if she hits the water in a streamlined position.” Though this was not true, of course. The coastal waters here were shallow. She’d break every bone in her body.

“Omar!”

“As-salamu alaykum, gotta go.” He ended the call.

Allah is One

Ten minutes later Omar pulled into the parking lot for the Torre del Cielo. Two young women carrying shopping bags with designer labels were heading into the building. One was a dark-skinned Afro-Latina wearing mirrored shades, the other a short blonde. Omar walked behind them. The barrel-chested doorman, looking like a preening dove in an ivory-white double-breasted uniform, opened the door and greeted them all with a cheerful, “Buenas tardes.”

The Afro-Latina gave the doorman a nod, but the blonde scowled as if to say, “How dare you speak to me?” Typical upper class Panamanian rabiblanco arrogance. On impulse, Omar opened the bakery box and gave the doorman a strawberry tart. What was one less? Five was as good as six. The man smiled from ear to ear. With such enthusiasm that one would have thought he’d just won a trip to Paris, he said, “Gracias señor Bayano.”

Omar shared the elevator with the two young women. They pressed the button for 30, and Omar hit 35.

“Good afternoon,” Omar said, merely being polite.

The blonde ignored him, took a tube of lipstick from her purse and began to apply it while gazing into the mirror on the wall of the elevator. Recognizing the lipstick, Omar smiled. It was made by Puro Panameño, but was part of the company’s luxury line, marketed under the name Printemps Paris, for all those wealthy Latin Americans who thought a Panamanian-made product was beneath them. This particular shade was made with a dye from muntingia calabura, a Latin American berry that was strangely known locally as the Chinese cherry. That little stick cost $139, Omar knew. The blonde could ignore him all she liked, but her money was still in his mother’s pocket.

Perhaps thinking he was smiling at her, the Afro-Latina removed her shades, flashed Omar a smile in return and said, “Hi, I’m Maria.”

Omar gave his name.

Maria nodded to the bakery box. “Sweets for your sweetheart?”

“A bribe for a knife-wielding Cuban psycho.”

“Sounds exciting.”

The blonde said, “Why are you talking to this moron? He could be a serial killer.”

Purely on impulse, only wanting to mess with the blonde a bit, Omar said, “Allah is One.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted saying them. Allah’s name was not to be taken lightly, or used to provoke someone else. He knew better. Allah’s names – all of them – were to be revered and contemplated. But he could not take the words back, so he made his face a blank and gazed resolutely at the elevator door.

Confirming his mistake, the blonde gave a disgusted grunt. “See what I mean? A nut.”

“What do you mean by that?” Maria wanted to know.

SubhanAllah. He hadn’t actually meant to initiate a da’wah session. Aware that the elevator had almost arrived at 30, he kept it brief: “It means God is One God. No son, no saints, no partners. We owe Him everything: gratitude, love, worship. And we are all absolutely equal in His dominion.”

The elevator came to the 30th floor, and the doors opened. The blonde stepped out, but Maria held the doors open with one hand. Her face bore a strange expression of intrigue and wonder, as if she’d just seen a mythical beast prancing by. “I want to know more,” she said.

“Do you have a phone?”

Maria took out her cell phone, and Omar gave her the number of the Muslim Community Center. “Call that number after 6 pm. Ask for Fatima.”

As the elevator rose quietly to 35, Omar found himself moved by the look of wonderment he’d seen on Maria’s face. He knew that he himself often took Islam for granted. It had always been a part of his life. But Maria had acted as if he’d just opened a door and shown her a glimpse of Paradise. All because of a few sentences he’d uttered. He had started out blurting by blurting out something true, but out of context and unfounded by the situation. Basically he’d been a dummy. Yet Allah had used him as an instrument, in spite of himself.

The blonde, on the other hand, had been utterly uninterested. The human heart was an astonishing thing. It made you wonder how many other people were out there, seeking a bit of truth, hungering for a ray of light to show them the way.

A Scene of Mayhem

Omar stood outside the front door. It was quiet inside. He’d come here in a frustrated, almost angry mood, ready to lay down the law with the crazy Cuban, even wrestle her to the ground if necessary. But after his experience with the young woman in the elevator, he felt suddenly humbled. He would reason with Ivana. For all her flaws, she was an intelligent woman. She’d always used her intelligence to manipulate others, or so it seemed to Omar. But maybe she would respond to kindness.

Fuad’s door possessed an alphanumeric keypad instead of a traditional lock. The code, Omar knew, was REINA, meaning queen – Fuad’s nickname for Ivana. This translated to 73462. Omar punched it in.

The door swung open onto a scene of mayhem. A sofa and chair had been slashed open, and stuffing was scattered across the floor. The ruined chair was Fuad’s favorite, Omar noted. He loved to sit in that brown leather recliner while watching cricket matches.

Some of Fuad’s awards had indeed been smashed. Shards of glass and china littered the floor. Curtains had been pulled down, and the curtain rod was snapped in two, lying on the marbled floor in front of the huge sliding window that opened onto a balcony and looked out over the Pacific. A floor-to-ceiling, built-in cubby shelf normally held a variety of items, including books (all Fuad’s), statues of Catholic saints (in spite of Fuad’s protestations), and numerous framed photos of Ivana, many of them from her Miss Cuba contest win. Omar noticed that Fuad’s books had been pulled down and thrown about the room, and some even had their pages torn out, while Ivana’s things were untouched.

A minibar that stood against one wall, opposite the wall with the built-in-shelves, was bare. Omar wondered what had happened to all the bottles of wine and rum that normally stood on it. He’d told Fuad many times that he should not allow that poison in his house, but Fuad had complained that he could not stand up to Ivana.

Speaking of the devil, Ivana sat in an antique French chair carved from mahogany and upholstered in white suede. It was her favorite chair and was undamaged of course. She had not heard Omar come in. She sat in profile to him, facing the huge sliding window. An elegant, sleeveless green dress glowed against her dark brown skin, and swept its way down to her ankles. One arm was draped over the back of the chair. With her other hand she tapped her teeth softly with something Omar could not quite see – a golden pen? Her thick black hair was disheveled, and she appeared flushed. A large carving knife lay on the French side table beside her.

Carrying the box of desserts, Omar greeted her with, ¡”Acere, qué bolá”! Maybe the Cuban phrase – meaning, hey buddy, what’s up – would draw a smile and help calm her down.

Gold plated gunWide eyed, Ivana spun in the chair and extended her arm, holding the object she’d been tapping on her teeth. The midday sunlight streaming through the picture window caught the object, glinting off its smooth metallic lines, and Omar saw that it was not a pen, but a small, gold-plated handgun with an inlaid pearl handle. He might have admired its beauty, if it had not been pointing straight at him.

His karate trained in and he sidestepped to the right. He didn’t even think about it. “Getting off the track,” it was called in karate, and Omar had drilled it a million times in response to punches, kicks and simulated knife attacks.

It may have saved his life.

The Girl with the Goldie Gum

“CRACK!”

Omar had never heard a gunshot up close. Only distant reports in his neighborhood at night, back when he was young and they lived in Panama Viejo. In the movies, gunshots sounded like the roaring of cannons, or the clapping of thunder. But this gun made a very sharp, flat sound, like the cracking of a whip. A hot pain branded his left shoulder with fire. He grunted in surprise, dropped the box of sweets, and ducked behind the shredded sofa.

“Ivana!” he shouted, and his voice sounded strange to him in the muffled silence following the shot. “Are you crazy? It’s me, Omar!”

He heard a clattering sound – the gun being dropped? – as Ivana screamed, “Ay Dios! Why do you sneak into our house like a burglar?” She had that throaty, growling tone of voice that nearly all Cubans had – Omar never knew why – but it was tinged with panic at the moment.

From inside the bathroom, Fuad shouted, “What’s happening? What was that sound?”

He risked a peek over the top of the gutted sofa, and saw Ivana standing, looking angry and afraid. The gun rested on the table beside her. Picking up the box of sweets, and thinking how idiotic it was to do so, he stood. His shoulder still burned, and now something tickled his skin, like an insect running down his arm. He looked and saw a rivulet of blood streaming to his hand and dripping to the floor.

“You shot me,” he said to Ivana, half accusing, half dazed.

Ivana’s hands shot to her mouth, and her eyes went as wide as Havana Harbor. She bolted for the bathroom door, pounded on it. “Mi amor, come out! Omar has been hurt.”

The bathroom door opened instantly and Fuad dashed out, right past Ivana, and Taj Mahal streaked by on his heels, flying past in a silver blur and disappearing into a bedroom.

“Don’t let the cat out!” Ivana cried – nonsensically, Omar thought, since the front door was closed.

Fuad’s mouth fell open as he took in the condition of the apartment, then he saw Omar and said, “Oh my God.” Running to him, Fuad studied Omar’s shoulder. In that instant, his entire demeanor changed. Whereas Fuad in his personal life often seemed irresolute, hapless and frustrated, at that moment he transformed before Omar’s eyes. He stood straight, and his gaze took on a sharp focus. He pressed a hand firmly to Omar’s wound, and in a commanding voice, said, “Reina! Fetch my medical bag from the hall closet. Immediately!”

Ivana ran and returned with a large, brown leather bag with a handle and a brass clasp.

“I brought you some French sweets,” Omar said stupidly, still holding the box, which was smeared with blood now.

“That’s nice,” Ivana said matter of factly, and took the box.

“Open my bag and remove the scissors,” Fuad said. At his direction, Ivana began to cut Omar’s shirt from his body.

“Great,” Omar complained. “This shirt was a birthday present from my mom. And I’m supposed to be at the airport in half an hour. What’s the matter with you, Ivana? Why did you shoot me? Are you drunk?”

“No,” Ivana said defensively. “I quit drinking. See?” She waved a hand at the empty minibar, nearly taking Omar’s eye out with the scissors. “Because I want to be a good wife to my beautiful love Fufu.”

“Fufu?” Omar tried to laugh, but his teeth were chattering too much. Why were his teeth chattering? He said, “Why do you have a go – golden gun? You think you are some kind of Bo-Bond villain? The guh-girl with the goldie gum?” Wait, what had he said? That didn’t sound right.

“Stop talking,” Fuad said. “You’re in shock. Ivana, wrap the emergency blanket around him, but leave this shoulder bare.”

As Ivana wrapped some kind of space-age silver blanket over Omar’s head and one shoulder, Fuad activated a small digital voice recorder, set it on the table and treated Omar’s wound quickly and efficiently, narrating the whole time.

“The wound is a shallow elliptical furrow on the outer left deltoid, approximately four centimeters long, and less than a centimeter deep at the center. The proximal corner of the wound presents a crescentic margin of abrasion. The edges of the wound have small diagonal lacerations radiating away from the initial point of contact.”

To Omar he said, “It is merely a graze, brother. Not deep. You don’t even need hospitalization. I can capably treat it immediately if you have no objection. I’ll apply lidocaine to numb it, then suture it.”

Omar nodded his head. He felt warmer and had stopped shivering. The shoulder would hurt but not intolerably. He knew why Fuad did not want to take him to the hospital. The doctors would report the incident to the police, and Ivana would get in trouble. Personal firearms were illegal in Panama. Why did the crazy woman even have a gun? But he trusted Fuad. If the brother said he could treat him effectively right here, Omar believed him.

Antique wall clockAs Fuad cleaned and then treated his wound with Ivana’s assistance, Omar’s eyes wandered to the antique clock that hung on the far wall. It was white, with Roman numerals and a floral pattern on the face, with roses marking twelve and six. He saw with alarm that it was 2:20. He was supposed to be at the airport in fifteen minutes! With Hani’s temper and suspicious attitude, what would the man think if Omar was late, or didn’t show up at all? He’d take it as a deliberate snub.

Fuad bandaged the wound, then prepped a syringe, tapping on it. “Giving you a broad spectrum antibiotic. I’ll transmit a prescription to Farmacia Arrocha, you can pick it up anytime.”

Omar averted his eyes as the fat needle slid into his flesh. He’d had enough of things piercing his body for one day.

As soon as Fuad was done, Omar stood up. A wave of dizziness hit, but passed quickly. “I have to go. I have to be at the airport.”

“Not so fast!” Fuad gripped Omar’s good arm to steady him. “You are in no condition to drive. And I need to put your arm in a sling, to stabilize it so you don’t tear the sutures. I have one here somewhere.”

“I have to pick someone up. Like, now. It’s not open to debate.”

Fuad sighed. “Very well. Ivana will take you.” Ivana began to protest, but Fuad silenced her with an uncharacteristic glare and a chopping motion. “Not a word, Ivana. We will talk about all this later. Take Omar where he needs to go.”

He turned to Omar, and in a soft, halting tone, said, “I’m sorry, brother. This is all my fault. I bought the gun for her, because there was a home invasion in the building, and she was scared, staying home alone when I work late. She was supposed to keep it in the home safe. Please forgive me.”

Omar waved this away with his good arm. “Like you said, we can talk later.”

The Road!

Ten minutes later, wearing one of Fuad’s expensive dress shirts, and with his left arm snug in a shoulder sling, Omar sat in the passenger seat of Ivana’s cherry-red Renault Laguna as they sped up the Corredor Sur. Ivana could have demanded a Mercedes or Porsche and Fuad would have bought it for her, but she preferred the Renault because it was French. This was  Ivana’s definition of high culture. If it was French, she wanted it.

The car was comfortable, with a smooth, soft ride. Omar had heard that Renaults worked like a dream for the first three or four years, then started to break down in major ways. No doubt Fuad would buy Ivana a new one when that happened.

Ivana was driving dangerously as she always did, swerving around slower cars, but for once Omar did not complain. He was definitely going to be late to pick up Hani, and was feeling anxious. And the steady throbbing in his shoulder did not help.

He knew he should let Ivana focus on the road, but he couldn’t help himself. “If you’re not drinking anymore,” he demanded, “then why did you shoot me?”

“I’m sorry, okay? It was an accident. You surprised me and the gun went off. It’s your fault for sneaking like a burglar.” She waved a manicured hand dismissively. “Besides, you heard what my beautiful love said. It’s only a scratch. Don’t make a big deal.”

“What were you even doing with a gun? And you made a huge mess of the apartment, Ivana. This is not a way for normal people to act!”

Omar knew right away he’d made a mistake. Fury twisted the Cuban’s face. She rounded on him, jabbing a finger. “You should know, mister ‘no mas’ Omar.”

Omar frowned. “What do you mean, no mas?”

“I know what you tell him. No mas Ivana, leave her, divorce her, send her back. You are lucky I did not kill you on purpose!”

Traffic had slowed, and they were about to crash into the car in front of them. “The road!” Omar cried. “The road!”

With only a glance at the traffic, Ivana swerved around the slow-moving cars, onto the narrow shoulder – kicking up dust and gravel, speeding a hand’s width from the concrete wall on the side of the Corredor – then, after flashing past a long line of cars, cut back into traffic when it was moving fast again.

“I was going to kill myself!” she shouted. She slapped a hand against her ample breast once, twice, three times. “Right in my heart. He cannot divorce me! I will not go back to Cuba! I swear I will finish myself first.” She looked at Omar and her tone became suddenly soft and pleading. “You think I am using him. But I swear I love him. He is the world to me.”

She began to cry, and this was worse than anything because while Omar didn’t believe she actually would have killed herself, he had never seen her cry, never seen her vulnerable in any way. Tears ran down her cheeks, streaking her mascara. “I could not bear it, Omar. Please don’t make him leave me.” She put her head on the steering wheel and began to sob loudly, not even looking at the road. Not only did she not reduce speed, the car actually sped up, just as traffic began to slow for one of the periodic toll booths that studded the Corredor.

“Stop the car,” Omar shouted, bracing his one good hand on the dashboard, and pushing into the floor with his feet. “Ivana! STOP!”

Ivana looked up and slammed her foot onto the brake. The tires squealed, the rear end fishtailed violently, and Omar gave a wordless shout as they careened toward the back of a stopped 18-wheeler big rig. With a huge shudder, the car came to a halt only a breath away from the truck’s fender, the engine stalling and dying.

“Alhamdu-” Omar began to say.

“BAM!” Something crashed into their rear, driving them in turn into the back of the semi. Omar’s head jerked and hit the headrest, then bobbed forward. He turned and looked. An old Datsun the color of a withered lime, dented and weatherstripped, had run into them from behind.

“Oh no,” Omar moaned, clenching a fist and pressing it to his forehead. He’d never get to the airport now. “No, no, no.”

Negotiation

He and Ivana exited the car and performed the mandatory survey of the damage. The front of the Renault was badly dented, and one headlight was smashed, but the damage was cosmetic. The overall structure was intact. In the back, the rear fender was skewed, tipping to one side, but that was it. As for the other vehicles, the truck in front was totally undamaged, not even a scratch, and the little beater behind merely had a shallow dent in its fender.

Almost immediately the other two drivers were out of their vehicles and shouting at Ivana and Omar.

“Look what you did to my car!” Ivana screamed at them in return. “This is a Renault, not some piece of junk like yours.”

The driver of the big rig, a small man wearing a baseball cap with BOYD SHIPPING printed on it, waved his arms perfunctorily, going through the motions for appearance’s sake, it seemed to Omar. As if getting angry and making a scene were a social requirement in these situations.

The Datsun driver, a squat, gray-haired woman in a cheap pantsuit – the traditional uniform of the Panamanian female working class – seemed genuinely upset, though Omar could not imagine why. The Datsun already looked like a pineapple.

Ivana, not one to be outdone, hurled insults so foul they could have curdled milk.

Gold bracelets“I don’t time for this,” Omar muttered. Stepping between the three, he shouted, “Shut up! Listen.” He pointed a finger at Ivana. “This woman’s husband is a lawyer. He’s a shark. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault, he will sue you both-” here he pointed dramatically at the little truck driver, then at the woman, who shrank back – “and take everything you own. Or-” Omar smiled and softened his tone – “to avoid delay, we could give you each something, and all be on our way.”

The two drivers nodded vigorously, liking this idea.

Omar pointed to Ivana’s wrists, on which she wore – as usual – an impressive collection of gold bracelets. “That’s 22 karat gold. You each get one bracelet. That’s a lot of money.”

“Are you insane?” Ivana shouted. “It wasn’t my fault. If you think for one second I’m giving anything to these larcenous, dirty, low-class-”

Omar rounded on her and pressed his nose almost to hers, whispering fiercely. “It was your fault, fool! Now do as you’re told, or wallahi-” he touched a finger to his lips, then shot it into the air – “I will press charges against you for shooting me. You’ll be deported.”

Muttering angry curses, Ivana removed two bracelets and handed one to each driver. They departed with smiles. The gray haired woman in particular looked practically giddy with joy.

Back in the car, Omar said, “Pull onto the shoulder for a minute.”

“Why? You going to rob me some more? Next time I shoot you for real!”

“You did shoot me for real. Please, just pull over. I have something to tell you.”

Continuing to curse, Ivana pulled over. “I am not a fool,” she said, glaring at Omar.

Omar took a breath, let it out. “I know. But you do act foolish sometimes.”

“You are talking to a member of the royal family.”

“Oh, brother.” Several years ago Fuad had run a DNA test on Ivana to make sure she didn’t carry the genetic marker for epilepsy, since both parents having the gene for epilepsy increased the chances of the children having it. As it turned out, she did not have the marker, but the test revealed that she was distantly – very distantly – related to the Spanish royal family. And Ivana never let anyone forget it.

“You better show some respect, Mister Omar, or-”

He held up a hand, silencing her. “Stop. I swear by Allah, I never told Fuad to leave you. Not even a suggestion. I thought it, sure, but I never said a word. Fuad would never do it anyway. He loves you madly. He’d cut off his own hand first. So calm down, please. And by the way, I’m glad you gave up drinking, that’s a wonderful step.”

With her head tipped to one side, Ivana studied him. “You swore by Allah. I know Musulmanes don’t do that lightly, so I believe that you never told him to leave me. But I know he is planning to!” Her lower lip trembled, and her eyes welled with tears. “I saw him looking up lawyers on the computer. He closed it when I came in the room, but I saw it.”

“Ohhhh.” Omar shook his head. “He was looking up malpractice attorneys. He told me about it last week. A patient is suing him for a million dollars. From what I gather, the suit has no merit, but Fuad didn’t want you to worry. That’s why he didn’t tell you. Trust me, he would never divorce you.”

Ivana covered her face in her hands and began to weep loudly. Not knowing what to do, Omar patted her shoulder. Her skin – for she still wore the sleeveless green dress – was hot, and he snatched his hand back as if he’d been burned. Opening the glove box, he found a small pack of tissues, and handed a few to Ivana. “It’s okay,” he said lamely. “Everything’s okay.”

Ivana blotted her face with the tissues, and her crying slowed. “Alhamdu-” she stuttered, her breath catching, “Alhamdulillah.”

Omar raised his eyebrows. Since when did Ivana use Islamic phrases? “How about letting me drive the rest of the way?” Omar suggested. “I still have one good arm. And I really, really have to get to the airport ASAP.”

“No, I’m fine.” Ivana gave him a bleary smile. Another first: a smile from the Cuban princess. “We can go now.”

“No more dramatics?”

She shot him a look. “Don’t push your luck.” She put the car in gear, and, blaring the horn in a long, insistent command, pushed her way into the line for the tollbooth.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 11:  Reunion

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 10: The Girl With the Golden Gun appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Podcast: Sex, Marriage, and Mutual Obligations in Islam | Ustadh Mukhtar Ba

1 December, 2020 - 16:22

When we talk about Taqwa, we often discuss things like trusting in Allah, avoiding sin, and being mindful of our obligations. We think a lot about staying away from sex on tv, in music, on our computer screens – but what if Taqwa means thinking more about sex – with our spouses instead?

The carnal desires that exist in men or women, in young men and young women before marriage, these are completely natural. Attempting to suppress them, or asking them to ignore them is simply not reasonable. Not only is it not reasonable, it is dangerous.

The Prophet ﷺ has not asked young men and young women to suppress their desires. What he asked them was to attempt to get married.Click To Tweet

Today we’re honored to be speaking with Ustadh Mukhtar Ba, who is an advanced student of Māliki Fiqh, Arabic grammar, Seerah Nabawiyya, Hadith, Aqeeda and Tasawwuf. In this podcast, Ustadh Ba discusses his article A Primer On Intimacy And Fulfillment Of A Wife’s Desires Based On The Writings Of Scholars Of The Past.

Just because people get married doesn’t mean they need to have children. I’m surprised that’s controversial. What’s the controversy?Click To Tweet

The post Podcast: Sex, Marriage, and Mutual Obligations in Islam | Ustadh Mukhtar Ba appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Undisputed And Undefeated: 13 Ways Khabib Nurmagomedov Inspired Us To Win With Faith

27 October, 2020 - 12:38

Many fans anxiously watched UFC 254 with bated breath as Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov went head-to-head with Justin “The human highlight reel” Gaethje. The latter had just come off a spectacular TKO win against a formidable and feared fighter in the form of Tony Ferguson, beating him over 5 rounds by outstriking him with punches and low kicks.

We all knew what both would do – Khabib would go for the takedown, and Gaethje would go for stand-up striking – which fighter would prevail? Alhamdulillah, it was Khabib, in a mere 2 rounds.  We weren’t in the fight, but we are all nervous and supplicating, making du’a to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to give him another victory.

And so it was that after the win, he collapsed in the middle of the ring to cry, as this was his first fight after the loss of his father due to complications with Covid-19. He cried, and many a man cried with him, feeling his pain. Gaethje revived from his triangle choked slumber and consoled his former foe, telling Khabib his father was proud of him.

We were all sure when “The Eagle” got on the mic, he would say he wanted to fight GSP, George St Pierre, and then retire 30-0, as he had said in previous press conferences leading up to the fight.  Instead, he surprised us all by announcing his retirement at 29-0, and I couldn’t help but marvel that not only was he turning away from a lucrative final fight, but the way in which he announced his retirement reminded us of our faith, our deen, our religion, Islam.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an

“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.”

Throughout his MMA career, Khabib has proudly worn his faith on his sleeve. As he has risen to become the current pound-for-pound #1 fighter in the world and arguably the GOAT, the greatest of all time, his unwavering example as a practicing Muslim transformed him into a global phenomenon and role model for many of us by reminding us to be better worshippers, to be closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Let’s look at a few of the ways he did this:

1. Beginning with Alhamdulillah

The announcer at UFC 254 began by congratulating Khabib on a job well-done yet again by praising him, stating, “The world is in awe of your greatness once again…your thoughts on an epic championship performance, congratulations.” Khabib didn’t immediately begin talking about himself. Instead, he said:

“Alhamdulillah, SubhanAllah, God give me everything…”

After stating this, he went on to announce his retirement, his reasons for retiring, and thanked everyone who supported his professional MMA journey.

The Reminder

Alhamdulillah is literally translated into “All Praise Belongs to God”. Khabib begins by thanking Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), pointing out that his talents and abilities are a gift, a blessing from the Most High. When we have any blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we must remember that whatever our own effort, our abilities, our support, and our achieved outcomes ultimately tie back to support from our Rabb, our Lord, who controls all.

Khabib pointing to Allah

It’s not from me, it’s from Him

If you’ve ever seen Khabib point at himself, shake his finger back and forth as if to say, “No” and then point up to the sky, this is a nonverbal way of him saying, don’t think all these great things you see are from me – they’re from Allah above.

2. The Prostration of Thankfulness – Sajdat al-Shukr

You may have noticed at the end of Khabib’s victory, when the announcer states that he’s the winner of the bout, he falls into a prostration known as Sajdat al-Shukr – the Prostration of Thankfulness (to Allah).

The Reminder

Performing this is recommended when someone receives something beneficial (eg good news, wealth, etc) or if they avoided something potentially harmful (e.g. job loss, healing from a disease, etc). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would do this when he received good news. The believer should remember to be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as much as they can.

See also:

3. Establishing the 5 Daily Prayers

Khabib and I at MCA

Years ago (early 2018), Khabib visited my local masjid in Santa Clara, California (not far from where he was training in San Jose at the AKA gym). Many at the masjid didn’t know who he was, but we heard he was the #1 contender for the UFC Lightweight championship belt, at that time held by Tony Ferguson.

He did a Q & A with the community, and someone asked him a general question about what he would recommend for the youth.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing:

Take care of your prayers, if you come to Day of Judgment not take care of your prayers, on that day you will be smashed.

The Reminder

The second pillar of Islam that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to follow is to pray to Him 5 times daily. Khabib was no doubt referencing the following statement of the Prophet (saw):

“The first action for which a servant of Allah will be held accountable on the Day of Resurrection will be his prayers. If they are in order, he will have prospered and succeeded. If they are lacking, he will have failed and lost…”

 

 

Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda notes that when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) first began his mission of da’wah and faced devastating rejection from family and community, Allah told the Prophet to stand and pray. The reason for this is because when we are weak and suffering, the place to turn to for strength is back to Allah in prayer. There is no doubt Khabib’s strength came from his connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which in turn came from his 5 daily prayers.

Praying multiple times daily, consistently, can be challenging; when it was legislated by Allah to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) kept telling him to go back and ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a reduction, saying, “Your people will not be able to handle it.”

Khabib is a great reminder that no matter how high you climb in life and career, no matter how busy you think you are, worshipping Allah is the most important deed one can do, and this discipline is the most important habit to build.

4. Strong Wrestling Game

Some say Khabib is already 30-0 for wrestling a bear

In a sport that sees far more striking and kicking than it does wrestling, Khabib came to dominate the lightweight division of the UFC with a strong grappling style that is a combination of sambo (a Soviet martial art), judo, and wrestling. Famously, he outwrestled a bear when he was much younger.

During his fights, he doesn’t close out his bouts by pummeling his opponents and causing them damage as most strikers would. Most of his hits open up his opponents to being forced to tap out via submission. Even his last opponent, Justin Gaethje, noted that he was much happier to be choked out in a submission, as all he would get is a pleasant nap, as opposed to striking, which could have long-term health consequences.

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not only able to wrestle, he took down the strongest wrestler in Makkah. Rukanah, the famed Makkan wrestler, challenged RasulAllah because of his hatred for the da’wah. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) accepted his challenge and took him down multiple times, body slamming him again and again. It was said that after the conquest of Makkah, Rukanah accepted Islam.

5. Fighting / Training through Sickness and Injury

During the post-fight press conference with UFC President Dana White, it was revealed that Khabib had broken one of his toes 3 weeks before the fight. Prior to that, he had taken two weeks off upon arriving at Fight Island having contracted mumps, according to AKA trainer and coach Javier Mendez. Khabib is quoted as having told Mendez, “My toe may be broken, but my mind is not.” In addition to this, his father had just passed away months earlier, and this would be his first fight without his father present.

Mumps, broken toes, and the emotional turmoil of family tragedy

The Reminder

In addition, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has told us, “A strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone…” This strength includes strength of body, mind, and spirit; not just when conditions are perfect, but when trials surround you from every conceivable direction.

6. Relationship With His Father Khabib with his father

After defeating Justin Gaethje, Khabib went to the center of the ring and cried, and everyone cried with him. We all knew his father’s death weighed heavily on his mind and his heart, and this was his first fight without him. His father was his mentor and trainer, whom everyone could obviously see he both loved and greatly respected.

In the post-fight question and answer with Dustin Poirier, Khabib was asked, “What’s your message for your young fans out there who look up to you so much?” he responded:

“Respect your parents, be close with your parents, this is very important. Parents everything, you know, your mother, your father, and that’s it, and everything in your life is going to be good, if you’re going to listen to your parents, mother, father, be very close with them, and other things come because your parents gonna teach what to do.”

The Reminder

There isn’t enough space in this article to go over how much emphasis our faith places on respecting our parents. Allah says in the Qur’an:

Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully. [17:23]

7. Relationship With His Mother

Our parents ultimately want us to succeed, but also want us to maintain our well-being. Without his father’s presence, it was clear that Khabib’s mother didn’t want him continuing in the Octagon (the UFC ring). After 3 days of discussion, Khabib gave his word to her that this would be his final fight. After beating Justin Gaethje in UFC 254, Nurmagomedov announced he was retiring because he promised his mother that he would retire and that he’s a man of his word.

The Reminder

This hearkens back to a statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) about how much respect mothers deserve. A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Who is most deserving of my good company?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” The Prophet said “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet said, “Your father.”

Khabib easily had millions more to make on a journey to hit 30-0 in his professional fighting career and decided to hang it all up to make his mother happy. This is true respect and obedience, and for that matter, the love of a mother for her son and his well-being over monetary gains.

8. Respect for Muhammad Ali

When asked about the comparisons between himself and Muhammad Ali, Khabib stated that it was an inappropriate comparison. He noted that Muhammad Ali didn’t just face challenges in the ring, but challenges outside of it due to racism, and that he was an agent of change with respect to bringing about greater civil rights for African Americans.

The Reminder

In his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

From the 7th century until today, our faith recognizes that people are not judged by their race, but by their actions and the intentions behind those actions. In the video above, Khabib recognized both the wrongness of racism, and the challenge it posed along the way of Muhammad Ali’s own journey, and that his contributions to social justice transcended his involvement in sport.

9. His Conduct with Other Fighters

With the exception of the fight with Conor McGregor, Khabib always dealt with his opponents with respect. He hugs them, shakes their hand, and says good things about their accomplishments and strengths both before and after fights. In a sport known for heavy trash talking and showboating to build hype, Khabib kept his cool and his manners.

Champion vs Champion, the respect is mutual

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners.”

Maintaining good character and conduct during press-conferences was Khabib’s calling card; even when trash talkers like Tony Ferguson tried to go after him, he would still recount Ferguson’s formidable stature as a fighter.

When reporters tried throwing him a softball opening to insult Ferguson’s mental health, Khabib responded that he didn’t want to talk about Tony Ferguson’s problems if he they were real; if Ferguson truly has a problem, then we should help him, as we all have problems.

10. Fighting Those Who Dishonor Faith and Family

As mentioned above, Khabib is known for being very respectful of his opponents during press conferences. He speaks well of their strengths, shakes their hands, hugs them; he even runs up to his opponent after a fight and hugs them, consoling them and wishing them well. After his win against Poirier, he traded shirts with him and donated $100k to Poirier’s charity.

Khabib vs Dana’s boy, the chicken

The exception was the infamous UFC 229 which fans watched with years, maybe decades of pent up anger at the type of crass secular arrogance represented by Conor, waiting for Khabib to maul the mouthy McGregor. The latter had gone after his family, his faith, his nationality, anything and everything to hype up the fight and try to get under the champ’s skin. Some people lose their calm, and others, well, they eat you alive.

Khabib made it clear he wasn’t having any of that. He took the fight to Conor and choked him out with a neck crank. We then learned why he was called “The Eagle” as he hopped the cage and jumped into the audience to go after other members of Conor’s team who had spoken ill of him, giving birth to “Air Khabib”.

The Reminder

When our faith and family is spoken of in an ill fashion, it’s not appropriate that we sit there and take it. Khabib never cared when it was criticism against him, but once it went to others around him, he took flight. We as Muslims should never give anybody who tries to attack and dehumanize us a chance to rest on their laurels. We should strive ourselves to take the fight back to them by whatever legal means necessary, as Khabib did, whether it is cartoons of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or political pundits and satirists who monetize hatred against Muslims.

11. Shaking Hands and Training with Women

In numerous public instances, Khabib reminded us that our faith demands we don’t shake with the opposite gender. As one of my teachers taught us, the Qur’an instructs us to “lower our gaze” when dealing with women. If we shouldn’t even look at them out of respect for Allah’s command, how can we take it to the next level and touch them?

Extended to this is even more serious physical contact like training at the gym. Cynthia Calvillo, one of Khabib’s teammates at AKA gym, said the following about Khabib and his unit:

“It’s a little bit weird because of their religion and stuff…They don’t talk to women you know. I mean we say ‘hi’ to each other but we can’t train with them. They won’t train with women…I don’t think any other woman does.

The Reminder

The nature of interaction between men and women within our faith is more rigorous as it relates to physical and social interactions. Keeping matters professional and respectful with the opposite gender need not include physical contact. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was said to have never touched non-mahram women. It was narrated that he said,

“It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is impermissible to you.”

For this reason, the majority of scholars prohibited physical contact between men and women with some exceptions (e.g. old age). Watching Khabib maintain this practice, even in public where it could potentially embarrass him and cause undue negative attention, gives us all inspiration to deal with this issue in the workplace better. He encourages us to strive for better tolerance and awareness of different faiths and their practices rather than forcing us to conform.

12. Not Making a Display of The “Trophy” Wife

One thing you may note about Khabib if you follow his Instagram compared to other fighters is that you won’t find lewd pics of him and a significant other on display. In fact, you won’t find any pictures at all of him and his wife. Who she is is a mystery to all. In an age where many post photos with their romantic partners, and in an environment where fighters constantly post photos of their partners, Khabib again is a standout with his gheerah, his honorable protectiveness for his significant other.

Khabib and his wife

The Reminder

We are again reminded that a part of manhood is to have protective ghayrah, jealousy over one’s spouse. Ibn al-Qayyim also said, bringing in the concept of chivalry,

“The dayyuth / cuckold is the vilest of Allah’s creation, and Paradise is forbidden for him [because of his lack of ghayrah]. A man should be ‘jealous’ with regards to his wife’s honor and standing. He should defend her whenever she is slandered or spoken ill of behind her back. Actually, this is a right of every Muslim in general, but a right of the spouse specifically. He should also be jealous in not allowing other men to look at his wife or speak with her in a manner which is not appropriate.”

13. Owning His Mistakes, Looking to Be Forgiven

Finally, it should be noted there is no real scholarly disagreement when it comes to the type of fighting Khabib does in terms of its prohibition due to striking the face. Recognizing this, Khabib stated when asked if “he thinks the AlMighty will be satisfied with him for taking part in haram fights for money,” he replied, “I don’t think so.”

In an interview with the LA Times, he said:

“You go to mosque because nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, and we have to ask Allah to forgive us. This is very important mentally, to be clear with Allah. This is not about the UFC. There is nothing else more important to me than being clear with Allah. And being clear with Allah is the No. 1 most hard thing in life.”

The Reminder

We as human beings aren’t perfect – perfection is only for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). We all make mistakes, sometimes small, sometimes large, but in the end, He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is ready to forgive us if we’re willing to recognize our failings and ask to be forgiven.  Allah says in the Qur’an in 2:222:

“Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”

There are no sins so great that redemption is beyond any of us, and certainly with Khabib, despite whatever flaws in his career choice, or instances where he was less than perfect in his decision-making and affiliations, his value as a positive change maker and positive practicing role model to the global Ummah is far greater than the negatives we see from him.

Part of seeking forgiveness is the process, and the first part of that process is acknowledging the mistake: not being in denial about it, and not justifying it, just owning it. As Khabib has owned his mistake publicly, there is no need for us to try and justify it either.

We can own that there are problems with MMA and the industry, in participating as well as watching and supporting, while at the same time, we can do as Dr Hatem al-Hajj said about Muhammad Ali:

Concluding Thoughts

While UFC pundits will forever debate over the greatest of all time, there is in doubt that Khabib Nurmogomedov, the first Muslim UFC champion, will always be our GOAT.

I ask that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepts the good from what Khabib has done, rewards him tremendously for the inspiration he’s given us all to better focused on the akhirah, the next life, and continues to make him a powerful sports icon who uses his platform as Muhammad Ali did to teach Islam and exemplify it in the best way for all of us to benefit and follow.

Ameen.

The post Undisputed And Undefeated: 13 Ways Khabib Nurmagomedov Inspired Us To Win With Faith appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Politics In Islam: On Muslims Partaking In Political Engagement In Non-Muslim Countries

27 October, 2020 - 04:54

Some Muslims are convinced that participation in the elections is forbidden. Some even worry that engaging in politics might cause someone to become a kāfir, because it is a matter of walāʾ. Their argument is that participation necessitates approval of and allegiance to unbelief, and thus this makes participants unbelievers. The main verse cited to reach such a position is that Allah, the Exalted, says: “Let not the believers take the disbelievers as awliyāʾ against other believers.” The claim that this verse prohibits Muslims from partaking in political engagement in non-Muslim countries is immensely consequential to our communities, and so we should take care to understand this ayah in detail.

We must first consider the meaning of the word ‘awliyāʾ. It is the plural of the Arabic word waliy. Many English translations of the Qur’an translate this word as “friend,” causing us to understand the ayah above as prohibiting us from taking the disbelievers as friends. But this meaning would directly contradict multiple verses of the Quran and the well-established practice of our noble Messenger ﷺ.

Clearly we need to examine this verse more carefully. Most dictionaries variously translate the Arabic word waliy to mean custodian, protector, helper, or authority. Typically a waliy is someone who has responsibility, allegiance, or authority over somebody else. For example, in Islamic law, a father is titled the waliy of his children. The word wāli, which is a derivative of the same root, is also used as an administrative title such as governor or magistrate of a place or region.

My preferred English word for the Arabic word waliy is “ally.” The word is used in English to describe two separate individuals or parties who participate in favor of each other. This word best fits the Quranic context for the word waliy.

According to the Quran, Allah is the waliy of the believers, and the believers are the waliy of Allah. Allah being the waliy of the believers is consistent with the meanings of “custodian,” “protector,” “helper,” or “authority.” Because clearly Allah is all these things to the believers. But these meanings are not consistent with us, the believers, in our relationship with Allah, the Exalted and Mighty.

But the word “ally” can apply to both the superior party and the inferior. Consider two countries who are allies in defense and military matters. While one might be stronger, more powerful, and even dictate its demands to the other, they are still allies with one another. And Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is far greater than any such comparison.

So when Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) describes Himself as the waliy of the believers, it means that we seek His continual guidance, help, and protection. Our role and responsibility in this alliance is not the same, as nothing we do can ever benefit or harm Allah. Allah makes it clear that He is not in need of our protection or assistance, as He is All-Powerful and free from any weakness. We express our allegiance to him through our worship, obedience, reverence, and love. The awliyāʿ of Allah are those who dedicate themselves to perfecting these duties.

Clearly the alliance the believers have with Allah is completely unequal since there is no similarity between the Creator and the creation. While we take Allah as our ally out of our incompetence and dependence, He chooses us as allies purely out of mercy and kindness. And we desperately beg Allah to remain our ally, and to permit us to be allies of Him.

With this understanding of the word waliy, we can now better analyze the verse in question. Notice how the verse’s prohibition against taking unbelievers as allies is not unqualified; it specifies that we must not do so against other believers. We understand from this that it is permitted to make a treaty with unbelievers as long as it does not harm our fellow believers. Our beloved Messenger ﷺ himself did this when he entered Madinah and made a treaty with the two major tribes of Aws and Khazraj, and with more than a dozen minor tribes pagan and Jewish tribes. The Muslims were expecting major attacks from the idolaters of Quraysh, and so their alliance with neighboring tribes was in the interest of the Muslim community as a whole.

This immediately forces us to question the validity of the military alliance between Israel and Egypt that deprives the people of Gaza of basic necessities. It is this sort of arrangement that the verse seems to warn so starkly against. Let those who partook take heed, as the verse ends with a stark threat: “And Allah warns you of Himself.”

Muslims can be friends with non-Muslims. Muslims can ally with non-Muslims. But a Muslim may never harm another Muslim. “It is enough of an evil for a person to belittle his Muslim brother. The entirety of one Muslim is sacred to another—his blood, his wealth, and his honor.”

And to Allah belongs all good.

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

 

Quran 3:28ْ وَِريَنأَكافُِْمْؤِمنُوَنالِْخِذالَنتَتَّقُواِمْنُهْمتُقََّاليَتََّّالأَِسِمَنََّّللاِفِيَشْيٍءإْيِلَكفَلَْٰلذَُمْؤِمنِيَنَۖوَمنيَفْعََْمِليَاِصيُرَءِمندُوِنالْلَىََّّللاِالَِوإَسهُُِۗرُكُمََّّللاُنَفَْويَُحذاةًۗ

Let not believers take disbelievers as allies rather than believers. And whoever does that has nothing withAllah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence. And Allah warns you of Himself, and to Allah is the destination.

Quran 2: 25  7ِماِتإُُّظلْخِرُجُهمِمَنالَمنُوايُِذيَنآَُّّيالََّّللاُئَِكَوِلٰولََُماِتۗأُُّظللَىالُِهمِمَنالنُّوِرإْخِرُجونََّطاُغوُتيُْوِليَاُؤُهُمالَُرواأِذيَنَكفَََّهلاَىالنُّوِرَۖوالِرُۖهْمِفيْصَحاُبالنَّاَأَخاِلدُوَنAllah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into thelight. And those who disbelieve-their allies are Taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.10Quran 10:62-64َوَالُهْمَيْحَزنُوَنِهْمْيَالَخْوٌفَعلََءََّّللاِْوِليَاََّنأَِالإأ-وَنََوَكانُوايَتَّقَُمنُواِذيَنآْوُزَّال-فَِْلَكُهَوالَٰماِتََّّللاِۚذَْْلِخَرةَِۚالتَْبِديَلِلَكِلَوفِياَحيَاةِالدُّْنيَاْبُْشَرٰىفِيالُْهُماللَُمعَِظيال-ْ

Unquestionably, [for] the allies of Allah there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. Those who believed and were fearing Allah. For them are good tidings in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. No change is there in the words of Allah. That is what is the great attainment

Quran 17:111ٌّيِمَوِلهَُُّكنلْميَِكَولَُْملْهَُشِريٌكفِيالَُّكنلْميََولََولَدًاِخذْْميَتَِّذيلََِّالَحْمدُِلِلَِّْلالَوقُِيًراِْرهُتَْكبلَِۖوَكبَنالذُّAnd say, “Praise to Allah, who hasnot taken a son and has had no partner in [His] dominion and has no [needof a] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [great] glorification.”12Forty Hadith, Imam al-Nawawi, #35َ،ُكُمْسِلمَْخاهُالََرأْنيَْحِقََِحْسِباْمِرٍئِمْنالَّشِرأٌمبِمَحَراُمْسِلِْمَعلَىالُمْسِلَْوِعْرُضُّلال:

The post Politics In Islam: On Muslims Partaking In Political Engagement In Non-Muslim Countries appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Podcast: The Fiqh of FIFA | Mufti Hussain Kamani

26 October, 2020 - 04:28

It’s estimated that 3 billion people play some sort of video game, whether on a computer, console, or smart phone.  For the millions of Muslims included in this number, what’s the halal and haram of this? Is gaming a good thing? When is gaming a bad thing?

“I know a lot of kids in our community who play Minecraft to develop skills. I respect that because it’s now a tool being used for their education.” -Mufti Hussain Kamani

In this podcast, Zeba Khan talks to Mufti Hussain Kamani, a hafiz, scholar, and -surprise!- gamer, about the Islamic perspective on gaming, entertainment, and the fiqh of FIFA loot boxes.

“Do loot boxes and their contents carry any value or not? Is there a monetary value to that Messi card? If it’s all ones and zeros then you can’t technically classify that as gambling, but I believe that’s too simplistic. We live in a world of cryptocurrency. There are things that carry value beyond physical objects.” – Mufti Hussain Kamani

Is gaming halal? Are lootboxes haram? Does Mufti Hussain Kamani play FIFA, and can I join his league? Click To Tweet

The post Podcast: The Fiqh of FIFA | Mufti Hussain Kamani appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

The Khabib Halal/Haraam Ratio: Good Character, Bad Sports, And The Conundrum of Muslim Representation 

25 October, 2020 - 20:19

Note: This article was reviewed and approved by Shaykh Younus Kathrada for religious content

The Muslim Ummah has spent the last several years celebrating the rise and success of MMA fighter Khabib Normagomedov, a Muslim Daghestanti fighter who emerged to become an undisputed victor. On the day of his 29th victory, he also announced his retirement from MMA, referencing a promise that he made to his mother.

Muslims went wild in their praises, showering him with adoration, expressing their admiration of his obedience to his mother, his public demonstrations of sajdah ash-shukr after every match, his humility and remembrance of Allah, and his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at public events. Undoubtedly, these are all praiseworthy behaviours and characteristics that should be encouraged in all Muslims, especially Muslim men. 

However, there has been a near-deafening silence on the underlying problematic foundations of the entire phenomenon of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his popularity amongst Muslim men. To begin with, his entire career as an MMA fighter is considered sinful and prohibited according to the Shari’ah. It is well-known that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

وَعَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اَللَّهِ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-{ إِذَا قَاتَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ, فَلْيَتَجَنَّبِ اَلْوَجْهَ } مُتَّفَقٌ عَلَيْهِ.‏ 1‏ .‏ ‏1 ‏- صحيح.‏ رواه البخاري (2559)‏، ومسلم (2612)‏ واللفظ لمسلم، ولتمام تخريج 

“When any one of you fights, let him avoid (striking) the face.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, al-Fath, 5/215).

Scholars have agreed that any sports which involve striking of the face, and in addition, those which involve several physical harm and injury to its participants, are haraam. As per the hadith, and established legal maxim, “laa darar wa laa diraar” (There is no harming of others nor reciprocation of harm), this prohibition extends to sports such as boxing, MMA, American football, and any other sport where the athletes deliberately and regularly inflict and receive physical injury. 

On The Ropes

This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is disturbing and unfortunate that this fact has been minimized to such an extent that many Muslims – including and especially the Muslim men who are such avid fans of these sports – are not even aware of this prohibition. Perhaps most alarming is that many of those who are considered scholars, imams, shuyookh, and leaders in the Muslim community, who are aware of this prohibition, have neglected to mention these rulings even as they publicly praise those such as Muhammad Ali or Khabib Nurmagomedov for their prowess in these arenas, and hold them to be role models to follow. When even religious authorities are publicly cheering on such athletes and celebrating their victories, how can the average layman be expected to know that these sports are detested by the Shari’ah? It is a grave shortcoming that so many religious teachers and leaders have failed their fellow Muslims on a matter that has been extremely public and popularized. 

It is also necessary for Muslims to consider that the way that professional boxing, wrestling, MMA, and similar prohibited sports are conducted is a far cry from the casual (and permissible) fighting-for-sport that existed at the time of RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today, the sports industry boasts billions upon billions of dollars spent in promotional material and events that involve no small amount of music, alcohol, vulgarity, and nearly-naked women being used solely to titillate the male gaze; sponsors of teams and athletes include beer companies. 

Glutton For Punishment

Male and female ‘awrah alike is revealed, openly and blatantly, normalized as part of the sports environment. Concern over the male ‘awrah being revealed cannot be overstated when we have an Islamic tradition that emphasizes modesty for believers, male and female. The greatest of all human beings, the Messenger of Allah, was described as “… more modest than a virgin in seclusion”

(Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5751, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2320). The Prophet Musa (‘alayhissalaam) was known to be so modest that he kept his body covered at all times (Sahih Tirmidhi); the Companion ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was described as having such modesty that the Messenger of Allah himself said, “Should I not be shy of the one whom the angels are shy of?” (Sahih Muslim 2401)

Related to modesty is the reminder to Muslim women who have been watching his matches (or any other entertainment) to lower their gazes. Bluntly speaking, it does not behoove a believing woman to be enjoying the sight of half-naked men (especially the very fit, athletic, and often attractive type) to be grappling away at each other. Muslim women are certainly not immune to the fitnah caused by the flaunting of undressed men all over social media feeds and through other entertainment.

The warnings regarding zina of the eyes apply to Muslim women just as they do to men; the Qur’an has already said:

{And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and guard their private parts…} (Qur’an 24:31) 

It is unfortunate that this has been forgotten about to such an extent that even scholars have neglected to address this particular issue.

Rolling With The Representation Punches

While Khabib himself has been praised for his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at events that he is present at, we should be cognizant of the fact that neither he nor any other Muslim man (or woman) should be putting themselves in the position of being at such events to begin with. The truth of the matter is that his presence at these events was a necessary part of his career; his income, derived from this haraam sport and this haraam environment, can bluntly be considered haraam rizq, and no different in legal ruling than those who make money from liquor stores or running brothels. That Muslims have been blithely ignoring the serious spiritual ramifications of this raises the question of just how seriously we take the issue of blessed rizq in the first place. 

It is clear that many Muslim men, and in particular the religiously observant, find in Khabib a type of Muslim representation that they crave: someone who is publicly and unapologetically Muslim, who has demonstrated impressive physical skills and capability (perhaps they’re living through him vicariously?), who has displayed exemplary conduct outside the ring, who has constantly held fast to publicly and unashamedly remembering Allah and speaking of Islam. 

In and of itself, this is admirable. The Muslim Ummah has had a dearth of heroic contemporary role models, and no one can be faulted for feeling love for someone who seems to embody such laudable character and conduct. However, we cannot simply stop there. It is necessary for us to ask ourselves the question of what kind of Muslim representation is the kind of Muslim representation worth having – and how, and where, that representation takes place. 

When Muslim women have entered the public space, providing “representation” in the form of a muhajjabah in Playboy magazine, a hijab wearing model in a beauty pageant and the modeling industry, a hijabi in Olympic sports, and plenty of non-hijabis in many other areas, there has been a great deal of valid, legitimate criticism regarding the concept of “Muslim representation” and what it entails. Amongst conservative Muslims, there is a shared belief that “representation” at the cost of upholding the halal and turning away from the haraam is not representation worth having. Indeed, such “representation” comes with a significant amount of damage to the collective social and spiritual health of the Ummah: there is normalization of platforms that are antithetical to Islamic values, of dressing and conduct that go against our Shari’ah, and encouraging younger generations to engage in those behaviours and to pursue those types of careers. 

Why, then, are we not holding our Muslim brothers to the same standard? No matter how inspiring Khabib’s conduct is, no matter how admirable his public representation of his Muslim identity, his career and all that comes with it cannot be considered permissible, acceptable, or encouraged in Islam. Unfortunately, we have had many Muslim men encouraging one another to watch his matches, to the extent of arranging watch parties in the masjid! (Someone, please, answer me truly: how would RasulAllah consider the enthusiastic watching of a haraam sport in the House of Allah?)

Blow-By Blow: Izzah of the Ummah?

Furthermore, the excuses made for Khabib’s career choice are, frankly, flimsy – he has not brought ‘izzah to this Ummah in any tangible way other than making Muslim men feel good about themselves (I mean, hey, I get it, but sorry, this ain’t it); he is not “intimidating the kuffaar” (let’s be real: the kuffaar at the UFC are making more money off of him than you could ever dream of having in a lifetime); his victories in the ring are not a victory for this Ummah (please, go ask the oppressed Muslims in Burma, Somalia, Yemen, East Turkestan, Palestine, Kashmir, and elsewhere how much of a victory his matches have been for their well-being). Indeed, questions have risen regarding his public appearances with Vladimir Putin and his possible political allegiances with Russia, which has a long history of brutalizing Muslims in their surrounding regions. 

At the end of the day, Khabib Nurmagomedov is a paid athlete, whose millions of dollars come from a prohibited sport, in an industry that reeks of filth from beginning to end. He is our Muslim brother, and what should be celebrated is that he has finally chosen to leave the industry. What we should not have done, nor continue to do, is to hold his career as an MMA fighter to be exemplary for Muslims in any way, shape or form. We should pray for his guidance as a Muslim, his forgiveness for his previous sins, and remind our Muslim brothers – no matter how emotionally swayed they may be – that true ‘izzah comes not from participating in prohibited sports or careers (despite how successful one may be at it!), but from obeying the Law of Allah and His Messenger and abstaining from transgressing the boundaries laid by the Shari’ah.

Further resources on rulings:

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/10427/ruling-on-boxing

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/429082/boxing-is-forbidden-even-without-striking-the-face

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/329518/going-to-gym-that-has-yoga-lessons-boxing-and-sauna

Is Watching Boxing Allowed in Islam?

Punching or Striking the Face

The post The Khabib Halal/Haraam Ratio: Good Character, Bad Sports, And The Conundrum of Muslim Representation  appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

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