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And the Male Is Not like the Female: Sunni Islam and Gender Nonconformity

Mobeen Vaid



This article contains many extensive notes, rendered here as end notes. Click here to download a PDF version in footnote format for easier reading and navigation of the notes.

“And the male is not like the female” [1]

I. Introduction

In April 2015, Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Bruce Jenner declared publicly his formal reconstitution as a transgender woman during an interview with Diane Sawyer. Having suffered years of gender dysphoria, Jenner had learned to repress his inhibitions but now felt the suppression disingenuous. Rather than persist in this masculine impersonation, Jenner announced that, moving forward, he would go by the name Caitlyn, be addressed by the feminine pronoun “she,” and dress the part as well. As a member of the notorious Kardashian family, Jenner’s announced gender modification quickly became the subject of intense public debate: Should gender dysphoria be accommodated or treated? Is gender a socially constructed set of roles that only arbitrarily aligns with biological sex, or are gender and sex one and the same? And how should society seek to create space for transgender persons, if it should do so at all?

The impact of Jenner’s public pronouncement cannot be understated. Dubbed as a “turning point”[2] for the transgender community, Jenner’s interview with Sawyer was watched by an estimated 17 million people,[3] making it the most watched 20/20 interview in over 15 years, the most watched interview on any network for a non-sports Friday night in over a decade, and the ninth-most watched interview in television history.[4] In its wake, political controversies have emerged over transgender accommodation in the public space. Perhaps the most pronounced has been related to North Carolina’s bill mandating individual bathroom use according to sex as identified at the time of birth and not gender identification.[5] Passed into law in March 2016, North Carolina’s bathroom bill was immediately met with severe public backlash. Citing the “climate created by the current law,” the NBA pulled the annual All-Star Game from North Carolina, relocating it to the transgender-friendly city of New Orleans.[6] Thereafter, more than 100 executives from top companies jointly signed a letter expressing their opposition to the “anti-LGBT” legislation North Carolina had ratified.[7] Progressive celebrities, politicians, and cultural critics all quickly joined the fray, entrenching opposition to the “bathroom bill” as a cause célèbre of the political and cultural left. Under the weight of mounting pressure, North Carolina lawmakers approved legislature repealing the controversial “bathroom bill” in March 2017, just one year after the bill’s enactment.[8]

The North Carolina case is merely the most visible in what has become a ubiquitous stream of executive litigation and public debate negotiating the future of transgender persons, their concomitant “rights,” and the varying ways in which those rights must be honored by private citizens and public institutions. Indeed, as recently as this past April (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court remanded a transgender rights case back to lower courts,[9] while the Virginia Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to Fairfax County’s transgender policy.[10]

In light of the foregoing circumstances, a conversation has commenced concerning the position of Islam as it relates to the phenomenon of transgenderism. Drawing from hadith reports speaking of the mukhannath (effeminate male), some writers have asserted congruities between legal discourse related to the mukhannath and transgender persons who also exhibit characteristics that diverge from their constitutional anatomy. Moreover, existing “third-gender” communities in Pakistan (‘hijras’) and Indonesia (‘warias’) have only served to intensify this confusion. The current paper, therefore, attends to the topic of gender nonconformity in Sunni Islam. I will begin by establishing terms and conceptions indigenous to the Islamic tradition, then proceed to synopsize the salient legal and moral questions that have occupied scholarly writings about gender obscurity. Finally, drawing from the legal and moral questions examined in the paper, I will conclude with a synopsis of Islam’s position as it relates to the various forms of gender nonconformity countenanced by Sunni jurists.

II. Elucidating Terms

The words mukhannath and khunthā are both derived from the triliteral Arabic root kh-n-th which denotes various meanings. Works of lexicography generally explicate the root kh-n-th by using the terms takassur and tathannī, which can both be rendered as “pliability,” “languidness,” or “suppleness.” In a hadith narrated by both al-Bukhārī and Muslim, ʿĀʾisha (ra) reports that during the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) last moments, he rested with his body falling limp into her lap (inkhanatha fī ḥijrī), using the cognate inkhanatha to describe his limbs as having become flaccid, or limp, in her lap.[11] Other definitions speak of an inversion, as one may invert the mouth of an animal skin used for drinking (ikhtināth al-asqiya),[12] a practice that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) forbade.[13]

Of the two categories of gender ambiguity drawn from the root kh-n-th, only the term mukhannath appears in hadith reports. In some reports, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is recorded as cursing “effeminate men and mannish women (al-mukhannathīn min al-rijāl wa’l-mutarajjilāt min al-nisāʾ).”[14] A number of the “cursing” reports include additional instruction to “evict them (i.e., the mukhannathūn and the mutarajjilāt) from your homes.”[15] In a hadith reported in al-Ṭabarānī, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) describes as cursed in this world one whom “God has made a man then he feminized himself and imitated women.”[16] In another “cursing” report, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) states that “three will never enter paradise,” including the “mannish woman” (al-rajila min al-nisāʾ) as one of the accursed three categories.[17] In other reports, a mukhannath man named Hīt[18] is said to have had permission to sit in the private assemblies of women—until, that is, he revealed the physical features of one of the women to a man in the company of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) whilst suggesting her to the man for marriage.[19] Upon hearing Hīt’s depiction of the woman’s physical features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) forbade him from the women’s assemblies and, in some reports, banished him to the outskirts of the city. In one hadith related by al-Bukhārī, al-Zuhrī (d. 124/741) remarks as a matter of opinion that one should not pray behind a mukhannath unless absolutely necessary.[20] In a report recorded in the Sunan of Abū Dāwūd, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) encounters a mukhannath who has dyed his hands and feet with henna. Upon witnessing the man’s dyed limbs, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) inquires of others as to why the man has done this, to which they respond, “He imitates women.” Afterwards, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) decides to banish this man to a town called Naqīʿ.[21] In yet other reports related in the Sunan of Ibn Mājah and al-Tirmidhī, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) specifies a punishment of twenty lashes for falsely accusing someone of being a mukhannath.[22] Finally, in a few lesser-known hadith collections, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is described as “not entering homes in which a mukhannath was present.”[23]

The foregoing reports inform legal works which, drawing from them, delineate three categories of gender atypical individuals: (1) al-khunthā al-mushkil (the ambiguous khunthā); (2) al-mukhannath al-khilqī (the congenital mukhannath); and (3) al-mukhannath ghayr al-khilqī (the affected, or non-congenital, mukhannath). The following sections elucidate this trifurcation.

III. al-Khunthā al-Mushkil (The Ambiguous Khunthā)

An “ambiguous khunthā” is “one who possesses both male and female organs, or one who possesses neither and urinates from an opening in the body.”[24] Citing as evidence Qurʾānic verses stating that God “created the two mates—male and female” (al-Najm 53:45) and “dispersed from both of them (i.e., the male and the female) many men and women” (al-Nisāʾ 4:1), scholars have maintained that there only exist in reality two discrete genders. Accordingly, they have generally viewed it as desirable to ascertain the true gender of the ambiguous khunthā whenever possible. Though various methods of gender determination have been registered in the books of fiqh, the most frequently mentioned signifier of gender has been the organ by which urine passes: if it be the penis, then the ambiguous khunthā is regarded as a male, and if it be the meatus, then the ambiguous khunthā is regarded as a female. If the place of passing urine is anatomically ambiguous, gender can be established by way of secondary features after the onset of puberty such as the growth of a beard, menstruation, the appearance of breasts, and related anatomical developments. It should be noted that once gender is established, the individual is then regarded as either male or female and no longer “ambiguous,” as the qualifier “ambiguous” (mushkil) refers to the indistinctness of gender only so long as the individual does not have a clearly established gender.

Relative to mukhannathūn (discussed below), the cases of ambiguous khunthās are uncommon. Given that the ambiguous khunthā includes both those without any genitalia whatsoever, as well as hermaphrodites/‌‌intersex persons who possess both male and female sex organs, it is important to distinguish between the two.

Absence of Genitalia

The complete absence of genitalia corresponds to what is clinically referred to as agenesis—penile or vaginal, depending on the gender. Despite the absence of critical male or female sexual organs, agenetic individuals generally possess an otherwise normal male or female anatomy. Accordingly, Islamic law regards the presence of discernable male or female anatomical characteristics as sufficient for establishing gender even in the absence of sexual organs. Should genital agenesis be coupled with indeterminate anatomy (such as the lack of both male and female hormones, distinctive male and female features, etc.), then the person would be subject to the same set of considerations outlined in the following section concerning intersex individuals.

Presence of Both Male and Female Sexual Organs

Of the two phenomena subsumed under the category of ambiguous khunthā—absence of genitalia or simultaneous presence of both male and female organs—it is this latter category of physiological androgyny to which the fuqahāʾ have paid more attention. As previously noted, the principal aim is to arrive at a concrete gender determination despite the presence of both male and female sexual organs. Before puberty, if the ambiguous khunthā urinates exclusively from either the male or the female organ, gender is established according to the organ through which the urine passes. Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223) cites this as a method agreed upon by scholars (ajmaʿa kullu man naḥfaẓu ʿanhu).[25] This preliminary step is rooted in two reports. The first is a hadith wherein the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is asked about distributing inheritance to a person with both male and female organs, upon which he instructs that the distribution be carried out in correspondence with “where the urine passes” (min ḥaythu yabūl).[26] The second report is a response given by the caliph ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (ra), in which he likewise instructs that the distribution of inheritance for one possessing both male and female sexual organs be carried out in accordance with “where the urine passes.”[27] The purported hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is recorded in the Sunan of al-Bayhaqī (d. 458/1066) via two separate chains of narration, but its authenticity has been contested. The contemporary hadith scholar Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1420/1999) has classified the report as fabricated (mawḍūʿ),[28] while al-Bayhaqī himself regards al-Kalbī, a key narrator in one of the two chains, as unreliable.[29] The second chain relies upon Ibn ʿAdī, a man about whom al-Bayhaqī says, “His chains are among the weakest chains possible.”[30] Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200) includes Ibn ʿAdī’s chains in his work on fabrications (al-Mawḍūʿāt), elsewhere mentioning that al-Kalbī was a known liar.[31] As for the report attributed to Imam ʿAlī (ra), it is recorded in the Muṣannaf of Ibn Abī Shayba (d. 235/849), and I have not come across any classical works that have questioned its authenticity.[32]

If the urine test proves inconclusive, Sunni madhhabs have differed slightly over how then to proceed in determining gender. The majority of jurists accepted secondary examinations in order to ascertain which of the two sexual organs was dominant. This included investigating whether the male or the female organ produced more urine, or in other cases, which discharged urine first.[33] Some jurists disagreed with examining the volume of urine if precedence could not be established otherwise, and this is the reported position of Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 150/772) [however, his two principal students, Abū Yūsuf (d. 182/798) and Muḥammad al-Shaybānī (d. 189/805)—known as the “two companions” (ṣāḥibān) of the school—disagreed].[34] The 6th/12th-century jurist Abū Bakr al-Kāsānī (d. 587/1191) regarded this position of Abū Ḥanīfa’s as having been from the “perfection of his fiqh.” In his treatment of gender determination, al-Kāsānī includes a report of Abū Ḥanīfa’s displeasure vis-à-vis the variant view of the ṣāḥibān. When these latter informed their teacher of their position, he retorted, “Have you ever seen a judge weighing urine?”[35] Disagreement over urinary volume examination notwithstanding, jurists frequently made use of both sequence and volume as a secondary method for determining gender (with precedence generally being given to sequence). After maturity, scholars differed over which physical development would be regarded as decisive in the event of physiological ambiguities. Some scholars regarded as definitive the form of discharge (seminal or vaginal) released upon arousal, while others took discharge into account alongside features such as the presence or absence of a beard, the size of the breasts, the presence or absence of menstruation, and related indicators. It should be noted that some scholars have also considered sexual attraction (shahwa)—in the absence of any form of conclusive biological indicators whatsoever—as a possible indication of gender, though one possessing attraction to both men and women concurrently, or one free of sexual attraction altogether, would remain “ambiguous” (mushkil) if no other features were available to establish gen­der.

Should the above methods fail, the ambiguous khunthā remained ambiguous and was not permitted to marry according to the majority of jurists.[36] A minority position is reported from Imam al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820) allowing the khunthā to make a non-retractable gender selection, after which he or she would be required to live by the conventions and abide by the rulings of the chosen gender.[37] If physiological gender can be established according to one of the methods mentioned, many current-day fuqahāʾ are of the view that surgery would be permissible to provide a corrective removal of the superfluous sexual organ.[38]

In summary, Sunni legal schools premise gender determination on the basis of a gender binary—that is, the principle that all individuals are, in essence, either male or female—and that the task at hand with respect to a khunthā is determining to which of the two genders he or she properly belongs. The principal means by which this was done in the past was by examining urination, with schools differing over how to adjudicate gender in the event that both organs passed urine. A secondary point of consideration occurred after maturity, when a khunthā would be classified as either male or female depending on how he or she developed physically. If any of these methods allowed for discernment, then the khunthā would no longer be considered “ambiguous” and instead be ascribed definitively to either the male or the female gender. If the foregoing methods failed to provide clarity, then the khunthā would remain “ambiguous” and be considered “agendered,” with marriage—premised intrinsically on the complementarity of the genders—impermissible for such a person.

IV. al-Mukhannath al-Khilqī (The Congenital Mukhannath)

Unlike the khunthā, the mukhannath has no anatomical or developmental ambiguities. The mukhannath is identifiably and unambiguously male (the conceptual analog to mukhannath for a female being the mutarajjila), who nevertheless manifests, ineluctably, the mannerisms and affectations of females. These traits may include the pitch of the voice, gait, the involuntary absence of facial hair, and related attributes that may be deemed feminine. The source of this feminine predisposition is considered by the jurists to fall well outside of any reasonable control, with the result that the congenital mukhannath is considered blameless insofar as he exhibits traits that are dispositional (khilqī) to him and that he has no reasonable ability to change.

In commenting on the hadith of “cursing,”[39] Imam al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277) states that because this is a “disposition (khilqa) upon which God created him,” the congenital mukhannath carries “no blame, no rebuke, no sin, and no penalty, and he is excused as he has no hand in that.”[40] Likewise, the Shāfiʿī jurist al-Shirbīnī (d. 977/1569-70) writes, “Whoever behaves with the affectations of women in his mannerisms and behavior, that is impermissible . . . but if that is his disposition (khilqa), then there is no blame.”[41] Ibn Baṭṭāl (d. 449/1057) states that holding a dispositional mukhannath liable for feminine affectations would be akin to holding a person blameworthy for the color of his skin or the shape of his body.[42] In his own explanation of the “cursing” tradition, Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (d. 852/1449) writes, “Blame for imitating [women] in their speech and gait is specifically for the one who does so deliberately. As for him who, rooted in his created disposition (min aṣl khilqatihi), is like that, then he should be ordered to do his utmost to leave his affectations and what he has been habituated to gradually, for if he does not do so and persists in his ways, then he will be subject to blame.”[43] Unlike Imam al-Nawawī, Ibn Ḥajar asserts an obligation upon the mukhannath to endeavor to modify those traits that can, in fact, be normalized. For example, if a man’s walk is effeminate, then perhaps he can correct that through a prolonged attempt at habituating himself to walk without feminine affectations.

The unelected effeminate mannerisms manifested by the congenital mukhannath do not, however, give license for him to take on those affectations that are avoidable. While one’s speech or gait may not be the result of conscious volition, the way one dresses or adorns himself is. Accordingly, even the congenital mukhannath is barred from adopting the sartorial appearance of women; likewise, the mutarajjila is prohibited from taking on the sartorial appearance of men. This may also explain why Imam al-Bukhārī, in his Ṣaḥīḥ, places the “cursing” report specifically in the chapter on dress (kitāb al-libās).[44] Aware of the inherent subjectivities corresponding to gender-specific dress codes in different cultures, Ibn Ḥajar mentions that it is indeed possible that a given culture display no difference between the dress of men and women whatsoever. In such a case, Ibn Ḥajar holds that the mukhannath would minimally be required to refrain from observing hijab and from covering in accordance with other requirements specific to women.[45] Likewise, al-Shayzarī (d. 590/1194) states in his manual on market inspection (ḥisba) that the mukhannath’s beard should not be shaved,[46] an instruction not altogether uncommon in ḥisba works.[47]

Commenting on the hadith of Hīt, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071) writes:

Among the jurisprudential [rulings] drawn from this hadith is the permissibility of the mukhannathūn entering the company of women, even if they are not their unmarriageable kin (maḥram). The mukhannath for whom remaining in the company of women is not problematic is [the one] known among us today by [the term] muʾannath (feminine, effeminate); he is the one who lacks sexual desire for women, nor does he indicate [to others] matters that are [private] to them. This is the muʾannath mukhannath, for whom remaining in the company of women is not problematic. But if he comprehends [the distinct] characteristics of men and women as this mukhannath (i.e., Hīt) did in recounting [what he did] in the hadith, then it is not permissible for the women to sanction entry [for such a mukhannath] into their assemblies, nor is it permitted for him to enter their company in any way whatsoever. [By comprehending the interactive relations between women and men], he is no longer [considered] from those of whom God has said “the attendants who possess no sexual desire” (Q. al-Nūr 24:31). The mukhannath is not the one specifically known for committing a (grave) sexual transgression (fāḥisha)[48] and has it attributed to him. Rather, the mukhannath is [the one who] possesses acute effeminacy in his disposition to the point of resembling women in his gait, speech, [manner of] looking (i.e., at others), tone of voice, and in his mindset (ʿaql) and behavior, and this is the same whether he possesses the blemish of sexual transgression or not.[49]

Conspicuous in Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr’s description of the congenital mukhannath is his inclusion not only of effeminate mannerisms of gait and speech, but of mindset (ʿaql) as well. Mindset did not figure into the definition of effeminacy for the majority of jurists,[50] who limited their definitions of effeminacy to discrete physical manifestations. Such characteristics included, but were not limited to, effeminate speech, gait, gestures, and related features. In this regard, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr’s definition of mukhannath represents a departure from the norm.

Scholars went to great pains to distinguish the blameworthy, affected character of the non-congenital mukhannath from the irreproachable nature of the congenital (khilqī) mukhannath. Indeed, rarely does a scholar cite the cursing report without making it clear that God’s curse is exclusively upon the non-congenital mukhannath who has deliberately taken on gender atypical affectations that are not constitutional to his nature. In writing about the congenital mukhannath, by contrast, the famous Mālikī jurist Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) quotes the equally eminent Mālikī scholar Ibn Yūnus (d. 451/1059), who stated that “it is possible that [a mukhannath] be upright and God-fearing (muttaqī), for there was a mukhannath who would enter the home of God’s Messenger.”[51]

The blameless character of the congenital mukhannath constituted the basis of a number of legal rulings, some of which are synopsized below.

Sexual Relationships for the Congenital Mukhannath

Jurists often acknowledged, either explicitly or implicitly, a correlation between the behavioral idiosyncrasies of a congenital mukhannath related to gait, comportment, and speech, and the possibility—perhaps even the likelihood—that a congenital mukhannath’s sexual interest be directed towards members of the same sex. In explaining the hadith of Hīt, Ibn al-Jawzī writes, concerning the congenital mukhannath, “It is said [that they are from] ‘those who possess no sexual desire (ghayr ulī ’l-irba),’ meaning, need for women”[52]—precluding sexual desire for women, but not necessarily for men. Likewise, in his commentary on the same Hīt report, Ibn Ḥajar writes, “He is called mukhannath whether he commits sexual transgression (fāḥisha) or not,”[53] employing the very term for sexual transgression (fāḥisha) used in the Qurʾān with reference to the people of Lot (as).[54] In describing the blameworthy mukhannath, the Ḥanafī jurist Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī (d. 855/1453) writes, “Al-Qudūrī—may God have mercy on him—states, ‘Do not accept the testimony of the mukhannath.’ What is meant by this is the mukhannath whose behavior is corrupt, meaning behaving like women in their adornment and dress, imitating them in their actions and speech, and carrying out acts like that of sodomites (liwāṭa).”[55] The Damascene Ḥanafī mufti Ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1252/1836) defines the term mukhannith (with medial vowel i as opposed to a, denoting the active rather than the passive participle) as being synonymous with the term lūṭī, or sodomite,[56] though it should be noted that this was a rather uncommon vocalization of the word.[57]

Aside from these inferences of sodomy (liwāṭ), it does appear at some point that colloquial use of the term mukhannath became synonymous with maʾbūn, a term used to describe one who assumes the passive role in male-male anal intercourse. Exactly when this reinterpretation of mukhannath assumed idiomatic adoption is difficult to determine, though Khaled El-Rouayheb demonstrates its circulation in both “bawdy-erotic literature” and juristic works, including the writings of the prominent later jurists ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Ḥaṣkafī (d. 1088/1677) and Aḥmad b. Aḥmad al-Dardīr (d. 1204/1786).[58] Everett Rowson affirms a synonymous usage of the terms mukhannath and baghghāʾ (a vernacular equivalent of maʾbūn) beginning as early as the ʿAbbāsid period.[59] The famous Arabic lexicographer al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī (d. 502/1108) employs the term mukhannath in this manner in his belletristic adab[60] work entitled Lectures (Muḥāḍarāt). In this work, al-Rāghib records a story of a mukhannath who boasts, “We are the best of people, for when we speak, you laugh; when we sing, you delight; and when we sleep, you ride.” Thereafter, this purported mukhannath meets an (active-role) sodomite (lūṭī) who says to him, “I am better than you, for I am on top (in sexual intercourse) and nearer to the sky,” to which the mukhannath responds, “I am humbler than you, being nearer to the ground (i.e., during intercourse as the passive partner, or maʾbūn).”[61]

Despite this development, it is quite clear, given a full accounting of juristic and scholarly writings, that a distinction between congenital and non-congenital effeminacy was maintained, and that moral reprobation was limited to him who took on feminine mannerisms voluntarily (or, in the case of involuntary effeminacy, did not sufficiently work to mitigate those mutable dispositional affects, as per some jurists like Ibn Ḥajar). Colloquial usage only factored in juristically when examining mitigating considerations for suspending a ḥadd punishment for slanderous accusation (qadhf)—given the socially damaging effects of calling someone a mukhannath—or in belletristic literature which held no legal or theological weight to speak of.

Though the sexual attractions of a congenital mukhannath may predominate towards the same sex, scholars were unanimous in upholding Islam’s unqualified prohibition of same-sex acts. However, because the mukhannathūn—in contrast to the khunthā mushkil—are unambiguously male, they are permitted to marry and have sexual relations with females, should they so desire, within the bounds of a religiously sanctioned relationship.

The Imāma of the Congenital Mukhannath

In a tradition recorded in the canonical work of al-Bukhārī, ʿUbayd Allāh b. ʿAdī inquires of the then caliph ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān regarding the imāma (or leadership of the prayer), as prayers were being led by the very people carrying out acts of sedition against the caliphate. In response, ʿUthmān advises him to follow others in prayer, because virtuous conduct is worth emulating, and nothing is more virtuous than prayer.[62] After the narration concludes, al-Bukhārī cites al-Zuhrī as saying, “In our opinion one should not offer prayer behind an effeminate person (mukhannath) unless there is no alternative.”[63]

The use of “mukhannath” here by al-Zuhrī is understood to refer to one who has consciously taken on feminine traits, not to the one who is congenitally effeminate.[64] The impermissibility of praying behind a non-congenital, or deliberate, mukhannath corresponds to discussions surrounding the permissibility—or lack thereof—of praying behind someone who is morally corrupt (fāsiq).[65] Although many scholars regarded prayer behind such a sinner as reprehensible (makrūh), others held it as formally impermissible by default and only permitted it on grounds of necessity. As for the congenital mukhannath, his serving as an imam for prayer does not pose any legal difficulties, as there is no moral corruption (fisq) associated with his conduct.

Keeping the Company of Non-Maḥram Women (Ajnabiyyāt)

A notable dispensation provided by the majority of jurists to the congenital mukhannath is the permissibility for him to remain in the company of non-maḥram marriageable women (ajnabiyyāt) whilst unveiled, contingent on the mukhannath not possessing any desire (shahwa) for women. This permission is rooted in the aforementioned prophetic tradition in which the mukhannath Hīt sat in the assemblies of women with the tacit permission of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Additionally, the verse in Sūrat al-Nūr delimiting specific groups of people in front of whom women are permitted to unveil includes “male attendants who possess no sexual desire (al-tābiʿīna ghayri ulī ’l-irbati min al-rijāl)” (al-Nūr 24:31), a reference commonly understood to include congenital mukhannathūn amongst others (e.g., the elderly, eunuchs, etc.).[66] In a number of the Hīt reports, the Prophet’s wife ʿĀʾisha (ra) describes Hīt as having been deemed from among those males who “possess no sexual desire (for women).”[67]

A minority of jurists forbade the congenital mukhannath from staying in female assemblies, citing the same report concerning Hīt who, after relating the belly folds of one of the women to a man, was thenceforth forbidden from keeping the company of ajnabiyyāt. At the conclusion of one of the Hīt reports, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructs the women saying, “Do not allow those (i.e., the mukhannathūn) to enter into your company.” The use of the third person plural pronoun “those” (hāʾulāʾi) is interpreted by these jurists as denoting a broader normative proscription, i.e., that the prohibition applies to the mukhannathūn as a class and not just to Hīt as an individual—a position held by the Shāfiʿīs[68] as well as by jurists of the Ḥanafī school.[69]

V. al-Mukhannath Ghayr al-Khilqī (The Non-Congenital Mukhannath)

Aside from those congenitally predisposed to effeminacy, the category of mukhannath includes a second class of people who, unlike the previous group, are not congenitally predisposed thereto but who choose, rather, to adopt such affectations deliberately. In so doing, this second class of mukhannathūn are subject to the curse of God as reported in the well-known hadith, “God has cursed effeminate men and mannish women.”[70] This is because those congenitally predisposed to effeminacy are seen as merely manifesting behavioral patterns that are beyond their conscious control—and, therefore, moral agency—whereas those not congenitally mukhannath who deliberately take on feminine mannerisms are subject to moral opprobrium on account of their impersonation of gender traits proper to the other sex that are not dispositional to them. Additionally, it was generally understood that many such persons affected effeminacy for the express purpose of carrying out immoral acts, typically as prostitutes offering themselves to other men as the passive partner.[71]

Scholars classified the non-congenital mukhannath as a profligate, and subsumed such persons under the profile of the morally corrupt (fāsiqūn). Accordingly, jurists differed over whether one was permitted to pray behind a non-congenital mukhannath, admit his testimony in court, eat the meat he slaughtered, or marry upright women to him. To be sure, the act of deliberate effeminacy is no grounds for anathematization (takfīr) and the non-congenital mukhannath indeed remains a Muslim, albeit a sinful one. Moreover, scholars cautioned against using the term mukhannath as a derogatory epithet, with the majority of madhhabs going so far as to regard it as a slanderous accusation (qadhf) categorized under the divinely stipulated ḥadd crimes. This classification was rooted in the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) prescription of twenty lashes for falsely accusing someone of being a mukhannath. Aside from a like slur being considered a ḥadd offense, early reports indicate that scholars disliked the term’s usage when deployed speculatively, even if done in a non-accusatory context. In one such report, the famous Successor ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ (d. 115/732) instructed his students to “repeat ritual purification (wuḍūʾ), prayer, and fasting” for having referred to a man with overtly effeminate traits as a mukhannath after his departure.[72]

VI. Conclusions Concerning Gender Nonconformity in Sunni Islam

On the basis of the above discussion, we can make a number of normative assertions concerning Sunni Islam’s position on gender nonconformity:

  1. Gender is of two discrete types: male and female.
  2. Gender is normatively presumed on the basis of unambiguous biological constitution.
  3. In the event of physiological ambiguities, either on account of hermaphroditism or genital agenesis, the Sharīʿa provides methods by which gender can be established. Should these methods fail, a minority of scholars permit the ambiguous individual to make a non-revocable gender selection, after which he or she is treated in accord with the gender chosen, while the majority continue regarding the individual as “ambiguous” (mushkil) and consider marriage impermissible for such a person.
  4. Mannish behavior (for women) and effeminate behavior (for men) are impermissible if taken on deliberately. If, however, effeminate behavior manifests in a male dispositionally (khilqatan)—hence lying outside of his conscious control—then those (unelected) mannerisms are not deemed sinful. The effeminate male (mukhannath) is required, by some jurists, to attenuate to the extent possible those traits—such as gait, voice, and other mannerisms—that may be liable to correction through conscious habituation.
  5. If male effeminacy is paired with an absence of sexual desire for women, then the effeminate male is permitted to remain in the private company of marriageable non-maḥram women (ajnabiyyāt) according to the majority of scholars. This permission is contingent on the effeminate male upholding the confidentiality of the women in question, not divulging the specifics of their physique to unrelated men.
  6. Aside from the specific permission to enter into the company of non-maḥram women, a constitutionally effeminate male (al-mukhannath al-khilqī) is regarded and treated as a man in all other respects, subject to the same Sharīʿa rulings that would apply to any other male. Accordingly, he may lead prayer, testify and bear witness as a man, and marry a woman if he so desires. Conversely, he is required to refrain from liwāṭ (sodomy) and other forbidden sexual acts, even if his lack of desire for women is accompanied by a persistent inclination towards men.
  7. It is categorically impermissible for either a male or a female to dress in a manner that conclusively imitates the opposite sex. If men and women in a given culture dress in ways that are indistinguishable, then men must at least abstain from veiling and from covering in other ways that are specific to women.

In light of the normative Islamic categories, prescriptions, and proscriptions examined above, Part II of this study will consider contemporary discourses surrounding the issue of gender identity (in comparison to biological sex), gender roles, and transgenderism with a focus on the multifarious ways in which modern discourses surrounding these topics can or cannot be accommodated given the legal, ethical, and moral boundaries established by the Sharīʿa.

And Allah knows best. 

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[1]wa laysa ’l-dhakaru ka’l-unthā‍ ‍” (Qurʾān, Āl ʿImrān 3:36).
[2] Haley Branson-Potts, “For Transgender Community, Bruce Jenner Interview Feels like Turning Point,” The Los Angeles Times, accessed May 28, 2017,‌lanow/la-me-ln-for-transgender-community-bruce-jenner-feels-like-turning-point-20150425-story.html.
[3] Itay Hod, “How Caitlyn Jenner Went from Icon to Outcast,” The Wrap, accessed May 28, 2017,
[4] Dominic Patten, “Bruce Jenner Interview Ratings Hits Newsmag Demo Record In Live 3,” Deadline, April 29, 2015, accessed April 17, 2017,
[5] Elena Schneider, “The Bathroom Bill That Ate North Carolina,” POLITICO Magazine, March 23, 2017, accessed April 12, 2017,‌/the-bathroom-bill-that-ate-north-carolina-214944.
[6] “NBA moves North Carolina All-Star game over ‘bathroom bill’,” BBC News, July 22, 2016, accessed May 5, 2017,
[7] Katherine Peraltak, “Updated list: Who has spoken for, against NC’s new LGBT law,” The Charlotte Observer, accessed May 10, 2017,
[8] Madison Park, Eliott C. McLaughlin, and Jason Hanna, “North Carolina repeals ‘bathroom bill’,” CNN, March 30, 2017, accessed May 3, 2017,‌/north-carolina-hb2-agreement.
[9] “U.S. Supreme Court Sends Landmark Transgender Rights Case Back to Lower Court,” Americans United, accessed May 1, 2017,
[10] Moriah Balingit, “Court dismisses lawsuit by student ‘distressed’ over schools’ transgender policy,” The Washington Post, April 13, 2017, accessed May 1, 2017,‌sgender-policy/2017/04/13/32035504-2077-11e7-a0a7-8b2a45e3dc84_story.html?utm_term‌=.2b4860927209.
[11] See Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1 ed. (Damascus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1423/2002), no. 2590.
[12] See Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿarab, 1 ed., 6 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1429/2008), 1272
[13] “Allah’s Messenger ﷺ forbade turning water skins upside down and drinking from their mouths” (nahā al-nabiyyu—ṣallā ’Llāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam—ʿan ikhtināth al-asqiya). See Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, ed. Abū Qutayba Naẓar b. Muḥammad al-Faryābī, 1 ed., 2 vols. (Riyadh: Dār Ṭayba li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 1427/2006), no. 2023.
[14] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 5546.
[15] Ibid., no. 5547.
[16] See Muḥammad al-Saffārīnī, Ghidhāʾ al-albāb fī sharḥ Manẓūmat al-Ādāb, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Khālidī, 1 ed., 2 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1417/1996), 2:131-132. See also Sulaymān b. Aḥmad al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, ed. Ḥamdī ʿAbd al-Majīd al-Salafī, 1 ed., 25 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat Ibn Taymiyya, 1429/2008), no. 7827.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Hīt is the most common name given for this mukhannath, but others have speculated that he was called Mātiʿ or Hinb. See ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Jawzī, Talqīḥ fuhūm ahl al-athar fī ʿuyūn al-tārīkh wa’l-siyar, 1 ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Arqam b. Abī al-Arqam, 1418/1997), 511.
[19] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 4069.
[20] Ibid., no. 663.
[21] Abū Dāwūd al-Sijistānī, Sunan Abī Dāwūd, ed. Muḥammad b. Ṣāliḥ al-Rājiḥī (Riyadh: Bayt al-Afkār al-Dawliyya, n.d.), no. 4928.
[22] Muḥammad b. Yazīd Ibn Mājah, Sunan Ibn Mājah, ed. Muḥammad Fuʾād ʿAbd al-Baqāʾ, 1 ed., 2 vols. (Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabiyya, n.d.), no. 2568 and Muḥammad b. ʿĪsā al-Tirmidhī, Sunan al-Tirmidhī, ed. Abū ʿUbayda b. Ḥasan Āl Salmān, 1 ed., 6 vols. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Maʿārif li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, n.d.), no. 1462.
[23] See, for instance, Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Adab, ed. Muḥammad Riḍā Qahwajī, 1 ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Bashāʾir al-Islāmiyya, 1420/1999), 236, as well as idem, Muannaf, ed. Kamāl Yūsuf al-Ḥūt, 1 ed., 7 vols. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1409/1988), 5:319.
[24] Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿarab, 1272.
[25] Ibn Qudāma al-Maqdisī, al-Mughnī, 10 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Qāhira, 1388/1968), 6:336.
[26] Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī, al-Sunan al-kubrā, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAṭā, 3 ed., 11 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1424/2003), 6:427.
[27] Jamāl al-Dīn al-Zaylaʿī, Naṣb al-rāya li-aḥādīth al-Hidāya, ed. Muḥammad ʿAwwāma, 1 ed., 5 vols. (Jeddah: Dār al-Qibla li’l-Thaqāfa al-Islāmiyya, 1418/1997), 4:417.
[28] See Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, Irwāʾ al-ghalīl fī takhrīj aḥādīth Manār al-sabīl, 1 ed., 9 vols. (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1399/1979), 6:152.
[29] al-Zaylaʿī, Naṣb al-rāya, 4:417.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī examines the probative value of transmissions containing the wording “from where the urine passes” in his Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr. In this work, he questions the hadiths that have been mentioned here, but considers this statement of Imam ʿAlī (ra) to have a sound chain of transmission (isnād ṣaḥīḥ). See Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr fī takhrīj aḥādīth al-Rāfiʿī al-kabīr, 1 ed., 4 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya: 1419/1989), 1: 355.
[33] See Abū Bakr al-Kāsānī, Badāʾiʿ al-ṣanāʾiʿ fī tartīb al-sharāʾiʿ, 2 ed., 7 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1406/1986), 7:327-330. See also Muḥammad al-Ḥaṭṭāb, Mawāhib al-Jalīl fī sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Khalīl, ed. Muḥammad Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad al-Amīn al-Shanqīṭī, 1 ed., 7 vols. (Nouakchott: Dār al-Riḍwān, 1431/2010), 6:639-643.
[34] al-Kāsānī, Badāʾiʿ al-ṣanāʾiʿ, 7:327-330.
[35] Ibid., 328.
[36] Ibn Qudāma, al-Mughnī, 7:207. See also Muḥammad b. Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn, al-Sharḥ al-mumtiʿ ʿalā Zād al-mustaqniʿ, ed. ʿUmar b. Sulaymān al-Ḥufyān, 1 ed., 15 vols. (Riyadh: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, 1422/2002), 12:73.
[37] Badīʿa ʿAlī Aḥmad, al-Jawānib al-fiqhiyya al-mutaʿalliqa bi taghyīr al-jins (Alexandria: Dār al-Fikr al-Jāmiʿī, 2011), 117.
[38] See, e.g., AMJA Fatwa Committee, “Fatwa-21701 – The Inheritance of a Transsexual Person,” accessed May 4, 2017, This is in contrast to a surgical procedure carried out to modify or remove healthy genitalia as part of a so-called “gender reassignment,” which is prohibited by the consensus of Sunni legal scholars.
[39] See section “II: Elucidating Terms” above.
[40] Abū Zakariyyā al-Nawawī, al-Minhāj fī sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1 ed., 18 vols. (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Miṣriyya bi’l-Azhar, 1347/1929), 14:164.
[41] Muḥammad b. al-Khaṭīb al-Shirbīnī, Mughnī al-muḥtāj ilā maʿrifat maʿānī alfāẓ al-Minhāj, ed. Muḥammad Khalīl ʿAytānī, 1 ed., 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, 1418/1997), 4:573-574.
[42] Abū al-Ḥusayn Ibn Baṭṭāl, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, ed. Abū Tamīm Yāsir b. Ibrāhīm, 1 ed., 10 vols. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1423/2003), 9:141.
[43] Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī bi sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, ed. Naẓr b. Muḥammad al-Faryābī, 1 ed., 19 vols. (Riyadh: Dār Ṭayba, 1426/2005), 13:381-382.
[44] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 5546, 5547.
[45] Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, 13:381-382.
[46] ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Naṣr al-Shayzarī, Nihāyat al-rutba al-arīfa fī alab al-isba al-sharīfa, 1 vol. (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat Lajnat al-Taʾlīf wa’l-Tarjama wa’l-Nashr, n.d.), 88.
[47] See, for instance, Muḥammad b. al-Ukhuwwa, Maʿālim al-qurba fī alab al-isba (Cambridge: Dār al-Funūn, n.d.), 156.
[48] Although Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr does not expressly use the term sodomy, it is likely that this is a reference to it. See following section entitled “Sexual Relationships for the Congenital Mukhannath” for a more detailed treatment of the relationship or lack thereof between effeminacy and sodomy.
[49] Yūsuf b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Tamhīd li-mā fī al-Muwaṭṭaʾ min al-maʿānī wa’l-asānīd, ed. Saʿīd Aḥmad Aʿrāb, 2 ed., 26 vols. (Morocco: Wizārat al-Awqāf wa’l-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyya, 1410/1990), 22:269-275.
[50] In my research I was unable to identify a single scholar echoing the definition furnished by Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (with the exception of those who simply cited Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr’s own statement).
[51] Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, al-Dhakhīra, ed. Saʿīd Aḥmad Aʿrāb and Muḥammad Ḥijjī, 1 ed., 14 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, 1414/1994), 12:93.
[52] ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Jawzī, Kashf al-mushkil min ḥadīth al-Ṣaḥīḥayn, ed. ʿAlī Ḥusayn al-Bawwāb, 4 vols. (Riyadh: Dār al-Waṭan, 1418/1997), 4:400.
[53] Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, 11:691.
[54] See, for example, al-Aʿrāf 7:80.
[55] Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī, al-Bināya fī shar al-Hidāya, ed. Ayman Ṣāliḥ Shaʿbān, 1 ed., 13 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1420/2000), 9:264.
[56] See here Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-muḥtār ʿalā al-Durr al-mukhtār, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1992/1412), vol. 4, 69. It should be noted that in al-Mawsūʿa al-fiqhiyya al-Kuwaytiyya, this definition is cited from IbnʿĀbidīn by way of Ibn Nujaym (d. 970/1563), though Ibn ʿĀbidīn makes no such attribution in his Radd al-muḥtār. See al-Mawsūʿa al-fiqhiyya al-Kuwaytiyya, Wizārat al-Awqāf wa’l-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyya, 1 ed., 45 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Ṣafwa, 1417/1996), 36:264.
[57] Many scholars—including those cited in this article—state that the mukhannath is explicitly not defined by the practicing of a particular sexual transgression (i.e., sodomy), and is instead viewed as an effeminate male on the basis of observable and constitutional features. The late Salafi scholar ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Bāz (d. 1420/1999) expressly repudiates what he regards as a modern misconception, namely, that the term mukhannath is synonymous with lūṭī (sodomite). Additionally, the 18th-century lexicographer al-Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī (d. 1205/1790) writes that the usage of mukhannath to refer to an act of sexual indecency was “unknown to the Arabs, is non-existent in their speech, and is not an intended use of the term in ḥadīth.” See ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Bāz, Majmūʿ fatāwā Ibn Bāz, ed. Muḥammad b. Saʿd al-Shuwayʿir, 1 ed., 30 vols. (Mawqiʿ Ibn Bāz, n.d.), 3:369 and al-Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, Tāj al-ʿarūs min jawāhir al-qāmūs, 40 vols. (Dār al-Hidāya, n.d.), 5:241.
[58] Khaled El-Rouayheb, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 22.
[59] Everett K. Rowson, “The Effeminates of Early Medina,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 111, no. 4 (1991), 685-689.
[60] The term adab here should not be confused with its colloquial and classical usage denoting moral refinement. In the medieval period, a genre of writings under the heading adab comprised works anthologizing poetry, prose, maxims, religious invocations, and more. For a fuller treatment of the subject, see Francesco Gabrieli, “Adab,” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., accessed June 21, 2017, See also Encyclopædia Britannica, “Adab,” accessed May 1, 2017, https://www.britannica.‌com/art/adab-literature.
[61] al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Muḥāḍarāt al-udabāʾ wa muāwarāt al-shuʿarāʾ, ed. ʿUmar al-Ṭabbāʿ, 2 vols. (Dār al-Arqam, 1420/1999), 1:277-278.
[62] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 663.
[63] Ibid.
[64] See al-Mawsūʿa al-fiqhiyya al-Kuwaytiyya, 11:63 as well as 36:267. See also Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, 2:578, where Ibn Ḥajar states that al-Zuhrī’s statement is intended for the one who impersonates women deliberately and not the one who resembles women in his mannerisms dispositionally.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Ibn Qudāma, al-Mughnī, 7:104. See also al-Ṭabarī’s Tafsīr, in which he cites a report from the Successor ʿIkrima (d. 105/723) explaining “attendants who possess no desire” as meaning “a mukhannath who does not experience arousal.” Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān, ed. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī, 26 vols. (Cairo: Dār Hajr li’l-Ṭibāʿa wa’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 1422/2001), 17:270.
[67] See, for example, Muslim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, no. 2181.
[68] See, for example, al-Bayān fī madhhab al-Imām al-Shāfiʿī: “It is not permissible for a eunuch to see the body of an ajnabiyya. Ibn Ṣabbāgh stated, ‘unless he be aged and enfeebled such that his sexual desires have gone. And [this is] likewise for the mukhannath.’‍ ‍” The eminent Shāfiʿī jurist Abū al-Qāsim al-Rāfiʿī (d. 623/1226) reports both the position permitting the mukhannath who lacks sexual desire to see ajnabiyyāt unveiled, as well as the dominant view reported here. In explicating the dominant position of impermissibility, al-Rāfiʿī notes in his al-Sharḥ al-kabīr that the marriageability of the mukhannath factors into the treating of him like any other male (at least in this regard). For details, see Shams al-Dīn al-Ramlī, Nihāyat al-muḥtāj ilā sharḥ al-Minhāj, 8 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1404/1984), 6:187, as well as Abū al-Ḥusayn Yaḥyā b. Abī al-Khayr al-ʿImrānī, al-Bayān fī madhhab al-Imām al-Shāfiʿī, ed. Qāsim Muḥammad al-Nūrī, 1 ed., 13 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Minhāj, 1421/2000), 9:128. See also ʿAbd al-Karīm b. Muḥammad al-Rāfiʿī, al-ʿAzīz sharḥ al-Wajīz (al-maʿrūf bi al-Sharḥ al-kabīr), ed. ʿAlī Muḥammad Muʿawwaḍ and ʿĀdil Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Mawjūd, 1 ed., 13 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1417/1997), 7:473. Also Abū Zakariyyā al-Nawawī, Rawḍat al-ṭālibīn wa ʿumdat al-muftīn, ed. Zuhayr al-Shāwīsh, 3 ed., 12 vols. (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1412/1991), 7:23.
[69] See Muḥammad al-Sarakhsī, al-Mabsūṭ, 30 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, 1414/1993), 10:158 and Muḥammad Jamāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī al-Bābartī, al-ʿInāya sharḥ al-Hidāya, 10 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, n.d.), 10:36-37.
[70] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 5546.
[71] See Robert Irwin, “Futuwwa: Chivalry and Gangsterism in Medieval Cairo,” Muqarnas Online 21, no. 1 (2004), doi:10.1163/22118993-90000062, 165.
[72] Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar al-Kharāʾiṭī, Masāwiʾ al-akhlāq wa madhmūmuhā, ed. Muṣṭafā b. Abī Naṣr al-Shalabī (Jeddah: Maktabat al-Sawādī li’l-Tawzīʿ, 1412/1992), 316. See also Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, al-amt wa ādāb al-lisān, ed. Abū Isḥāq al-Ḥuwaynī, 1 ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, 1410/1989), 126.

Mobeen Vaid is an activist in his local community, regularly delivering khutbahs and volunteering with Muslim non-profits. He is a student of traditional islamic sciences, and is a contributing writer for MuslimMatters.



  1. Avatar

    Yusuf Smith

    July 24, 2017 at 3:16 AM

    السلام عليكم

    Aside from the non-permissibility of adopting the mannerisms of the other gender, another issue that makes the purported switching of gender problematic in Islam is the deception it necessarily involves, particularly in the early stages: someone adopts a feminine persona with a woman’s name, wears female clothing (often more so than many real women do) and then expect others to refer to them as a woman, and woe betide anyone who refuses. Nowadays the prevailing dogma is that you don’t have to even intend to have surgery – you can be a “non-op” transgender person and be no less a woman than someone who is actually female, which we are now informed is a “social construct”! Lying is known to be haraam in Islam other than in specific circumstances, but these people put words like real, true etc in quote marks.

  2. Avatar

    Ibn Khalid

    July 25, 2017 at 12:54 PM

    Asalaamu Alaikum,

    Thank you for this wonderful and deeply researched article! May Allah bless you and and your family, insha’Allah.

    I had a question: could you define, or point to sources that define “Mannish” or “Effeminate” behavior, or is that something to be defined by local scholars based on local, normative definitions? If the latter, than it seems to me the practical application of these ideas, especially in western societies, is akin to kicking a football at a moving goalpost.

    If a brother/sister goes to an Imam or a Mufti and expresses their gender dysphoria while asking for guidance, what guidelines should that person use outline the boundaries of appropriate behavior (aside from the obvious don’t engage in homosexual sex, don’t spend time with non-mahram persons of the opposite gender, etc.) If, in order to avoid the Curse of Allah (may Allah be pleased with all of us), the brother or sister needs to be less “womanly” or “mannish” respectively, what framework can scholars use to define that for their society, particularly when those definitions are so fluid?

    For example, my friends and I are not homosexuals, nor do we suffer from Gender Dysphoria. We’re also practicing Muslims, Alhamdulillah. However, we are incredibly affectionate with one another. Hugging, jokingly blowing kisses, declaring our brotherly love openly in ways that would most certainly be considered “effeminate” by even modern standards. I’ve never met any scholar who would consider this unacceptable behavior, but if you asked 100 people, most would consider it “effeminate”, which by the logic of this writing, would make it impermissible…at least until it became normatively male or unisexual behavior.

    I hope my example illustrates the practical issue here. What is “effeminate” in one society is not in another, even among things that are generally considered permissible. I think this is an important issue for Islamic Scholarship to explore so that we can give community leaders and advisors frameworks to help them navigate this complex issue.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      July 25, 2017 at 11:11 PM

      Salam Ibn Khalid,

      I pray you are well and thank you for the thoughtful question. The fluidity of mannish and effeminate constructions would certainly obscure what those two things entail in a given society. The congenital mukhannath is one whose effeminacy is dispositional and reflected in his actual conduct (namely gait and voice). One who impersonates those traits (by consciously taking them on) would belong to the category of accursed individuals, and the principle characteristic outside of those that have been mentioned (i.e., gait and voice) is dress and associated adornment (i.e., think lipstick, etc.). Certain things like declaring one’s love is rooted in the Shari’a, even between two people of the same gender – The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “If one of you loves his brother, let him tell him.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2392).

      Aside from that, some conduct may not necessarily fit within the category of impermissible takhannuth, but may, however, be viewed as “unbecoming” according to custom and circumstance. Scholars referred to such conduct using the term “khawarim al-muru’a,” or those things which are regarded as unsuitable for a person in a given situation/environment, or perhaps just seen as undignified. It is my sense that some scholars may view some of your groups conduct as fitting into this latter category of activity, but again I’m not sure as I dont know you or your friends. I am certainly not equipped to provide you a definitive response, and I would encourage you to find an imam that you consider trustworthy, socially aware, and willing to provide you honest feedback if you are indeed concerned about your conduct and wanting to please Allah. That desire and concern itself is praiseworthy, and I ask Allah to reward you for it. Allah Knows Best.

      Sorry for not being of more help, and thank you for the kind words. May Allah bless you and your family as well, and may he reunite us and your friends in Jannah. Ameen.

  3. Avatar


    July 25, 2017 at 1:40 PM

    Aside from the summary you provided, our system of behavior is prescriptive for behavior, not descriptive. Its really interesting that they had a method to determine one’s gender.
    Both here obviously differs from a lot of modern thought. Interesting.

  4. Avatar

    Deborah Elaine DeWitt

    July 27, 2017 at 8:51 AM

    For more than 1200 years, Islamic Scholars encouraged female circumcision. Did the practice of female circumcision remove gender ambiguity literally?

    • Avatar

      Yusuf Smith

      July 27, 2017 at 3:08 PM

      No, because female circumcision is not the same as surgery performed on ambiguous genitals (which was widely performed by surgeons in western hospitals on nearly all such children until very recently, intended to make them look more normal).

  5. Avatar


    August 6, 2017 at 10:47 PM

    JazakAllah khair for this article! Desperately needed especially in today’s times.

  6. Avatar

    zaynab elbustan

    August 24, 2017 at 6:54 PM

    he Body of the Condemned Sally: Paths to Queering anarca-Islam:


    The ‘case’ I investigate is of Sayyid-Sally, an Egyptian transsexual medical student at Al-Azhar University, a pre-eminent institution for Islamic religious studies, who was expelled in 1982 because of her gendered identity. In this article I examine Al-Azhar’s position, judicial edict, or Fatwa, regarding Sayyid-Sally. For even after the revelation of Sayyid-Sally’s identity, her sex change operation and even after Al-Azhar admitted the existence of the category of the “Hermaphrodite” in certain Islamic legal interpretations, heteronormative gender orientations were still re-established and re-worked by Al-Azhar. I make the case that Al-Azhar’s position corresponds to a binary logical order which makes distinction between Natural Hermaphrodite and Un-natural Hermaphrodite. Sayyid-Sally was tolerated at best, even when 9 years later the Administrative Court of Cairo repealed Al-Azhar’s decision of expelling Sayyid-Sally. I argue that Anarchism as a political and philosophical orientation, can uniquely inform Islam, and move the debate beyond a practice or mere tolerance to help develop a doctrine of acceptance. I do this to help open-minded (non-essentialist/non-dogmatic) Muslims and anarchists better understand each other, and therefore to more effectively collaborate in the context of what Richard J.F. Day has called the ‘newest’ social movements.

  7. Avatar


    February 5, 2019 at 12:32 AM

    Looking for part 2 and not finding it. Mind linking it here?

  8. Avatar


    March 9, 2019 at 11:56 PM

    I have a few questions which I would greatly appreciate being answered as I have not been able to find anything anywhere else.If a male wanted to have a more pleasant look like a younger male is this considered haram since a younger male is also less masculine? What would the legality be of one who has a more masculine than average body, who does not dress nor act like a member of the other gender but attempts to make this body less masculine by reducing/limiting the growth of his more outstanding characteristics (thick beard,muscular appearance,etc.)I’m not sure if this falls under the scope of this article or if it is an appropriate question to ask you, but if it’s not could you direct to where I can find the answers to my questions?

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#Current Affairs

Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians

Raashid Riza



On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.

It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.

Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.

In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.

Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.

Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.

Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead

Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.

Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.

However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.

Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.  Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.

Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.

It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.

I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.

I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.

I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah

Raashid Riza is a Sri Lankan Muslim, the Politics & Society Editor of The Platform. He blogs here and tweets on @aufidius.


Continue Reading


Our Plastic Planet

Abu Ryan Dardir



We travel through time and see the different times as a race that we have advanced through. A few of those times were identified by the materials used or that were life-changing. The stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. If our time was to be identified, it is undeniable the plastic age.

Chemically, plastic is made up from organic compounds like such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. When plastics were first introduced, it was a life-changing compound that littered homes (then the world). Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. It makes visiting beautiful sites created by Allah, disappointing. What does pollution, specifically plastic, has to do with our role as Muslims? and to what capacity?

Before understanding that, we have to see how plastics impact life on Earth.

Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.

One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).

Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.

These are just a few examples, the list is much longer. Before I go any further, I want to express my opinion first, as an environmental activist. Your individual actions in dealing with pollution are your duty as a Muslim, but the change we need for our survival needs to happen on an international level.

Abu Zarr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).”

This simple hadith resonates with us due to the magnitude of its influence. Moving an obstacle is charity, we associate money with charity and tend to forget that other actions that can count as charity. What does removing an obstacle has to do with plastics? As I mentioned earlier 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic. That is a disturbance to other living creatures. As we remove the obstacles from the path of many creatures, we can work on ourselves to avoid putting it there, to begin with. This also relates to point number three of how many living creatures are impacted by our negligence. Not just plants and animals, but people as well. You can take a moment to google images of plastic in our world and see that they aren’t just neatly packed in garbage bags or recycling bins.

Imaams al-Bukhari and Muslim reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said: “There is a reward for service to every living creature.”

These are violations we commit and deeds we are prevented from by participating in this plastic culture. More importantly, we are harming ourselves and contaminating useable drinking water. Earlier I wrote an article about water its right upon us.

God’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) expressed this in the following way:

“It is a fact that in the next life you will render their rights to those to whom they are due. The hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation from a horned sheep that butted it.” Muslim, Birr, 60.

Our actions in this modern era echo around the world. My polluting habits may cause harm elsewhere. My spending habits may entice more harm than good. It may seem extreme, but science proves that we are all connected in a delicate chain or balance, a balance set by the wisdom of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). More importantly, it is documented from the words of the Prophet. An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings be upon him, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586

When water gets contaminated it is then rendered useless, depriving millions of basic survival. There are plenty of freshwater reserves completely useless due to toxic pollution from plastic manufacturing.

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَمْرٍو، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ السَّمَّانِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ

عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏”‏ ثَلاَثَةٌ لاَ يُكَلِّمُهُمُ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَلاَ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِمْ رَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى سِلْعَةٍ لَقَدْ أَعْطَى بِهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا أَعْطَى وَهْوَ كَاذِبٌ، وَرَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى يَمِينٍ كَاذِبَةٍ بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ لِيَقْتَطِعَ بِهَا مَالَ رَجُلٍ مُسْلِمٍ، وَرَجُلٌ مَنَعَ فَضْلَ مَاءٍ، فَيَقُولُ اللَّهُ الْيَوْمَ أَمْنَعُكَ فَضْلِي، كَمَا مَنَعْتَ فَضْلَ مَا لَمْ تَعْمَلْ يَدَاكَ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ عَلِيٌّ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ غَيْرَ مَرَّةٍ عَنْ عَمْرٍو سَمِعَ أَبَا صَالِحٍ يَبْلُغُ بِهِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.‏

As narrated by Abu Huraira:

“The Prophet said, ‘There are three types of people whom Allah will neither talk to nor look at, on the Day of Resurrection. (They are): 1. A man who takes an oath falsely that he has been offered for his goods so much more than what he is given. 2. A man who takes a false oath after the ‘Asr prayer in order to grab a Muslim’s property, and 3. A man who withholds his superfluous water. Allah will say to him, Today I will withhold My Grace from you as you withheld the superfluity of what you had not created.” [Bukhari: 2370]

We do not want to be guilty of withholding water from other directly or indirectly. With the advanced technology and the thousands of websites providing information, there are plenty of ways to determine if your daily habits have an impact on others well being.

We only manage to recycle 5% of the plastic wasted, and 90% of the pollution in the ocean is plastic. Are we asked to recycle? Is it just good practice or a practice is preferred?

Asked about what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to do in his house, the Prophet’s wife, `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), said that he used to repair his shoes, sow his clothes and used to do all such household works done by an average person.

Recycling and reusing is a critical part of conserving and protecting what we have. You can start with yourself, but your goal is to expand these actions to other families, communities, countries. If the action is sincere this would bring us closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Saheeh Muslim)


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Optimism in Times of Adversity: How The Prophet Did It

Shaykh Abdullah Waheed



A man passed by al-Miqdaad ibn al-Aswad raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), one of the most distinguished Companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The man said, “How lucky your two eyes that witnessed the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)”. Ibn al-Aswad profoundly responded by saying,

Why should anyone wish to witness a scene that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not wish him to see? He does not know what it would have been like if he had witnessed it or which party he would have been among if he went back in time.

By Allah! Allah’s Prophet saw people who were thrown right into Hell, so you should thank Allah that you were spared such a trial and were honored by firm belief in Allah and his Prophet”.

As human beings, we all struggle with adversity especially in societies which are driven by competition and materialistic pleasure. This drive creates difficult expectations, labels, and stigmas that breed unhealthy communities which spur widespread stress and pain. As Muslims, many of us struggle to define our role and place in societies where Muslims are the minority. We are horrified and worried when atrocities seem to occur so often solely because of the faith we believe in, such as in Burma or Central African Republic. Across the world, many countries with Muslims as the majority population are crippled by war such as Syria and Yemen. Our faith is abused by twisted minds to create chaos. In addition, random terrorist attacks in Mali and New Zealand have us wondering whether we will be attacked at our local masjid, or even in public settings such as offices and schools.

Our Ummah has always faced adversity and we will continue to do so as we struggle to be on the path of Islam. However, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given us the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as a guide to this Ummah on how to deal with adversity and keep our optimism. His life is a means for us to be inspired and motivated to strive for excellence. Indeed, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was tested more than any other prophet that preceded him. The rapid spread of Islam and the change it brought to the world was built upon a prophet and his companions who endured an extraordinary amount of adversity, all in order to provide a means of salvation for the generations that would come after them.

Many Muslims know the basics of the Prophet’s life such as his birth in Makkah, the migration to Madina, some of the battles, and the conquest of Makkah. However, if one were to read the Seerah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in-depth, one would be astonished to the sheer amount of trauma, pain, and grief the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) experienced. He was subject to intense verbal/physical abuse, public humiliation, family deaths, and more. Depending on the physical and emotional toll, we know different people are more or less sensitive to adversity. For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the adversity of establishing the Deen was immensely troubling as he had the purest and softest of characters. In addition, the prophets who came before him were comforted in knowing that they had a successor. Some of them were their children in Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). But the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had no prophet to follow him, therefore his Message would be the last that mankind could benefit from.

The Quran says in Surah al-Ahzab:

مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مِن رّ‌ِجَالِكُمْ وَلَكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيّـِينَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلّ‌ِ شَيْءٍ


Muhammad is not the father of (any) of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And God has full knowledge of all things. (Verse 33:40)

To proclaim the Divine Message to a resistant society has shown through the history of the Prophets to yield hardship and extreme difficulty. To be the final messenger was an increased burden. One example was when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was praying in front of the Kaaba and a member of the Quraysh named Uqbah ibn Abu Mu’ayt placed the intestines, dung, and feces on the back of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) while he was in sujood. The weight of the filth was so heavy that the Prophet could not get up until he received the assistance of his daughter Fatima raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), who was a pre-teenager at the time. How hurtful must that scene have been for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? How did he deal with the humiliation the leaders of his city displayed in front of his child? How disheartening must have it been for his resolve to establish the worship of Allah?

This type of treatment was a regular occurrence in the pre-Hijrah era of Islam. Eventually, the treatment spurred into a boycott against the Muslims and the Hashemites who were the Prophet’s clan. According to Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings:

A document was drawn up according to which it was undertaken that no one would marry a woman of Hashim or give his daughter in marriage to a man of Hashim; and no one was to sell anything to them, or buy anything from them. This was to continue until the clan of Hashim themselves outlawed Muhammad, or until he renounced his claim to prophethood.

In those three years of boycott, many of the followers of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) such as Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) lost their statuses in society. Public humiliation, poverty, malnourishment, torture, molestation, and even murder were perpetrated against the small community of Muslims around the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). There are narrations which talk about the fact that they would hear the cries of babies going to sleep at night. They buried so many children and babies at that time who died due to disease, malnourishment, and starvation. They could hear the mothers crying who had buried their babies the day before. It was a time of great suffering and sacrifice.

Shortly after the ban was annulled, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) increased the test of His beloved Messenger at a time called ‘Ām al-Ḥuzn (عام الحزن), the Year of Sadness. In 619 AD, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the wife of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for 25 years passed away. When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was in shock after the first revelation descended, it was Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who comforted him and consoled him. She was one of the first believer, mother of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) children, and a caretaker to the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) cousin Ali and adopted son Zayd (RA). She was his main confidante and his closest friend. Her death was considered to be the greatest personal tragedy to the Prophet (SAW). In fact, his later wife ʿĀʾishah bint Abī Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said that she was never jealous of the co-wives of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) except for Khadijah who had passed before she had wed the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who would usually stay quiet in disputes with Aisha, stated when ʿĀʾishah voiced her upsetness at the Prophet’s lingering love for Khadijah:

Make this clear Aisha, you are not better than Khadijah. She believed in me when no one did and she testified to my truth when people said I was a liar. She gave everything she had to give me support.

Shortly afterward, Abu Talib, the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) uncle and chief tribal protector in Makkah passed away. Abu Talib had been the caretaker of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) after the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) mother and grandfather passed away. But the situation before the passing of both these allies to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was poor and it was now going to become unbearable. Abu Lahab, another one of the Prophet’s uncles and one of his bitter enemies, arose as chieftain of the Hashemites would not give the Muslims adequate protection.

When adversity brought the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to his knees, he put his trust in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and continued to push forward. It was in this moment of desperation that the Prophet was sent his ultimate test; the Day of Taif. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) described the Day of Taif more testing than the Battle of Uhud. In his desperation, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) traveled to the nearby city of Taif in order to seek the city’s protection. When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) met with the three leaders of the city, they feverishly rejected him and decided to turn the public against him. The representatives of the community gathered the youth, slaves, and others and to stone the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and Zayd ibn Harithah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). The people of Taif purposely targeted the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) feet, severely damaging them. His blessed body was profusely bleeding and the crowd pursued both the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and Zayd ibn Harithah for an excruciating three to six miles until he settled in a private orchard. It was in this moment where all hope had vanished. Now pushed to his extreme limits of endurance, he raised his hands and called out to his Lord:

اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي وقلة حيلتي وهواني على الناس

ياأرحم الراحمين أنت أرحم الراحمين

أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي

إلى من تكلني إلى عدو يتجهمني أم الى عدو ملكته امرى

إن لم يكن بك غضب علي فلا أبالي ولكن عافيتك هي أوسع لي

أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أضاءت له السموات و الأرض

وأشرقت له الظلمات وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والأخره

أن ينزل بي غضبك أو يحل علي سخطك

لك العتبى حتى ترضى ولاحول ولاقوة إلابك

To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive.

Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord.

To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me?

As long as you are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face. I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy.

I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course against incurring your wrath or being the subject of your anger.

To You, I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. Everything is powerless without your support.

When we struggle with adversity, calling out to our Lord is one of the last things that comes to our mind. Even if it does, we struggle to motivate ourselves to learn how to make dua to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and we struggle to raise our hands. The amount of sincerity and power of this dua to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was so great that Jibril 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) came down to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and reported that the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) appeal shook the heavens. Here, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) seeks only the pleasure of his Lord and he will do whatever he can to fulfill his Lord’s pleasure. However, the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) only comes with Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) own support and we should be seeking it with every trial or tribulation that we face.

There are three lessons that we can take away the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) dealt with adversity. First, how can we sincerely put our trust in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to give us guidance when we have little to no relationship with our Lord to begin with. Therefore, the struggling believer must consistently engage in self-reflection. He or she should be asking, “Am I praying my five daily prayers?”, “Am I consistent in my prayers?”, “How much attention and effort do I give my five prayers?”, “Do I engage in the remembrance of Allah in my daily actions?”, “How often do I ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for help”, “Am I trying to learn what is halal and haram?”. “Am I trying to inculcate more good deeds in my life?”, “Am I trying to leave sinning?”, “If I am still struggling in my relationship with Allah (SWT), am I reaching out to someone more learned?”, etc. These are the first things we need to be fulfilling in our struggle to be optimistic. If we still need help, we should not have fear in asking a professional such as a counselor or mentor.

Second, we need to be active in making our society a better place. The prophets were not just scholars, but they were changer-makers. They sought to make society a better place. Not only is our duty as Muslims to others who are struggling, but it alleviates a lot of burden on us when we help others. We are reminded of the hadith,

“Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter.”

Lastly, be comforted in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) everlasting control over all the affairs of humanity and beyond. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was there before us, when we die, and for eternity. Everything is in accordance with His Will. When we set our intentions right and make sacrifices in our lives to please Him, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will replenish the believer with something equal or better. After this painful period in the Seerah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gifted His devout Messenger with two things, the miraculous journey of the Isra wal M’iraj and the story of Prophet Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). The story of Prophet Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was sent down to show the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he was not the first prophet who experienced difficulty. In Surah Yusuf, the Quran reminds us that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is عَلِيۡمٌ and حَكِيۡمٌ, the All-Knowing and All-Wise. In the verses of the Surah, these words were mentioned before the adversities in Yusuf and Yaqub’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) life, during the adversity, and after Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had rewarded Yusuf and Yaqub for their resolve. There is light at the end of every tunnel of adversity and only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can give us the guidance to get there, we only have to turn to him.

We ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to grant us the ability to maintain our optimism in our adversities. We ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to grant us an understanding of Islam so that we may help others overcome their adversities. We ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to relieve the adversity of the Ummah.


Shaykh Abdullah Waheed was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, MI. Shaykh Abdullah commenced his studies at the age of 10 in Toronto, Canada where he went to memorize the Quran.  He completed the memorization of the Holy Quran by the tender age of 12 and then went on to study in the 7-year extensive Shariah program in Toronto, Canada. Shaykh Abdullah then continued his research and studies, which took him on global journeys, such as Pakistan, Kuwait, and England.

Shaykh Abdullah specialized in Tafseer of the Quran. Sheikh Abdullah spent years to study the details and beauty of our Holy book since understanding and mastering the language of Holy Quran was always the primary goal.

Shaykh Abdullah is serving as an Instructor at Miftaah institute and is also the Director of Islamic Affairs at Flint Islamic Center. Shaykh Abdullah travels across North America for khutbas, workshops, and seminars. He is known for his motivational and enthusiastic style of speaking which leaves the audience focused and learning.

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