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Mukhannathun in Islam

By Shafiqah Othman

“Men acting like women?”
“This is a sign of the End Times!”

DISCLAIMER: I have written this in hopes that it will enlighten some people on the Islamic standpoint of LGBT. This is merely one opinion out of the thousands of voices out there, and I am not writing this to go against classical or mainstream interpretations. This is written to richen opinions on this particular topic, and I am only sharing what I have learnt, read and have been taught. I am not a religious scholar, I am merely a girl with a curious mind. Wallahualam. Please read this post with a light heart and an open mind. I apologize beforehand if this post is offensive to anyone. May God bless us always with His mercy and guidance.

For the longest time, I have been taught in school that LGBT is a sign that the end of the world is coming. I have been told that it is a creation of the newer generation, hell-bent on setting others astray, and I have been told that homosexuality is obviously forbidden because of the story of Prophet Lut.

Because LGBT is a generally taboo topic within the Muslim community, not many people talk about it, question it, or even bother to learn about it. While I do agree with the notion that the Qur’an is a text for all times, I don’t believe in taking it literally, and I’d prefer learning the asbab-an-nuzul before jumping to conclusions.

I have written about homosexuality and Islam here, but in this post I will talk about it again, this time only shorter for easier digestion.

Mukhannathun مخنثون

Mukhannathun is the classical Arab for what would be now known as transgender women. It generally means “effeminate ones” or “men who resemble women”. The singular term for this word would be mukhannath. Although they cannot be said to represent modern gay men, they are however the historical equivalent of the queer community that we have today.

A fact not known to many people is that the mukhannathun have always been a part of Islamic history, and was around even during the time of the Prophet PBUH. Even if people do know this, not many know that they were actually accepted within the society, especially in regards to music and entertainment, and are known to be companions of women.

Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 32, Number 4095:
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin:
A mukhannath used to enter upon the wives of Prophet. They (the people) counted him among those who were free of physical needs. One day the Prophet entered upon us when he was with one of his wives, and was describing the qualities of a woman, saying: When she comes forward, she comes forward with four (folds in her stomach), and when she goes backward, she goes backward with eight (folds in her stomach). The Prophet said: Do I not see that this (man) knows what here lies. Then they (the wives) observed veil from him.

Though this hadith shows that the mukhannath was then not allowed within the premises of the Prophet PBUH’s home, the reasons vary and are still being debated. However, he was never cast out of the home for the sole reason for being effeminate.

Regardless, this hadith is significant as it goes to show the acceptance of the mukhannathun within the society. As many people know, a woman’s place in the home is a sacrosanct place for Muslims as it is a place where women can unveil in privacy, thus most unrelated persons or men are not allowed. The fact that the mukhannath was allowed into the home in the first place shows that they were accepted socially.

Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41, Number 4910:
Narrated AbuHurayrah:
A mukhannath who had dyed his hands and feet with henna was brought to the Prophet. He asked: What is the matter with this man? He was told: Apostle of Allah! he affects women’s get-up. So he ordered regarding him and he was banished to an-Naqi’. The people said: Apostle of Allah! should we not kill him? He said: I have been prohibited from killing people who pray. AbuUsamah said: Naqi’ is a region near Medina and not a Baqi (in other words not referring to Jannat al-Baqi’ cemetery).

In the hadith above, it shows the Prophet PBUH prohibiting the killing of a mukhannath. Though he was banished from Medina, this goes to show that the Prophet PBUH still respected this person as a human being to spare him his life, and the fact that he was a practicing Muslim and allowed him to carry out his religious deeds. This is a big difference from the mistreatment of transgender people now where most Muslims prohibit them from practicing their religion, or tell them that there is “no point” in praying. However, we should not jump to conclusions and assume that he was banished for the sole reason that he was effeminate, as it was not explicitly stated if the man was mukhannath min kalqin or mukhannath bi al-takalluf (which shall be explained more later).

To read more about the hadith above, do click here.

Hadith collector and scholar, An-Nawawi, has categorized mukhannathun into two categories, and that is:

  • Mukhannath min kalqin: These are men whose feminine traits are innate and he did not put it upon himself. Therein lies no guilt, no shame and no blame, as long as he does not use his characteristics for illicit acts, or exploit it for money.
  • Mukhannath bi al-takalluf: These are the men who act like women out of immoral purposes, and his feminine traits are not inborn. To An-Nawawi, this is sinful and blameworthy.

People in early Islamic history acknowledged the fact that there are some individuals wherein this feminine behaviour of theirs was a natural expression, something that is commonly known today as Gender Identity Disorder. The hadith of the banishment of the mukhannath above is often cited by scholars to forbid and discourage homosexuality and transexuality, however most people have never taken into consideration the innate nature (or not) of the mukhannath who was banished, and did not think about the reason why he was banished.

In the hadith narrated by Aisha, the mukhannath in said hadith was “… counted … among those who were free of physical needs.” Overlooked by many, this has actually already been mentioned in the Qur’an, at [24:31], listed as one of the groups of people who are allowed to look at a woman’s aurat. These people are known as ghair uli al-irbat min al-rijal (men with no desire towards women).

But is it possible for someone to be born different?

In [22:5], the different stages of sperm and genes in the mother’s womb have been described and the Qur’an says that it transforms into al-musgha (a piece of flesh) which has two forms: mukhallaqah (complete) and ghair mukhallaqah (incomplete). Terms are not to be taken literally.

Technically speaking, a “normal” baby would have either XX-female or XY-male chromosome. This is mukhallaqah. However, there have been many instances of intersexed babies whereby they were born with ambiguous genitalia, as a hermaphrodite, or/and they were born transgender. Perhaps, this could be what is meant by ghair mukhallaqah.

People who are transgender have various sexual orientations depending on the individual, including a lack of sexual interest. Most transgender people prefer to define their sexual orientation based on their gender identity, but for the sake of this post, let us define their sexual orientation relative to their birth-assigned sex. Thus, it is not uncommon to see transgender males identifying as homosexual. So does this mean it is possible to be born homosexual? Definitely.

Which brings me to my next point: Where does homosexuality stand in Islam?

More than often, people will quote the story of Prophet Lut to explain the prohibition of homosexuality in Islam. It is worth noting that every time the people of Prophet Lut were condemned in the Qur’an, they were condemned for committing fahishah (despicable act).

The fahishah that was spoken of in the story of Prophet Lut is sodomy. And always, people will relate sodomy to homosexuality, thus coming to the conclusion that homosexuality is forbidden in Islam. But, sodomy is not synonymous to homosexuality.

Sodomy is a sexual act of anal sex that can be carried out by both homosexual and heterosexual people. However, not all heterosexual or homosexual people practice sodomy, due to specific reasons. Even some homosexual people find this act unhygienic or disturbing, thus choose to not engage in it.

The people of Prophet Lut were a violent bunch, and were constantly committing indecent acts, sodomy included. However, it is not stated explicitly if these men were heterosexual or homosexual. Sodomy was carried out not as a form of mutual likeness, but probably as a form of sexual violence to assert power over another male. This is demonstrated even in the animal kingdom, especially observed in lions.

It could also be said that the people of Prophet Lut were not destroyed merely because of sodomy, but also because of their resistance towards the Prophet.

A little summary of what I have explained above:


Transgender people are known in Islamic history as mukhannathun


Mukhannathun can be categorized into mukhannath min kalqin (innate) and mukhannath bi al-takalluf (constructed)


The creation of mankind can be categorized into mukhallaqah (complete) and ghair mukhallaqah (incomplete)


Mukhannathun min kalqin are born qhair mukhallaqah


Sodomy and homosexuality are not the same thing


Homosexuality is a sexual orientation


Sodomy is an act (that can be done by both heterosexuals and homosexuals)


The people of Prophet Lut were condemned for committing fahishah, not because they were mukhannathun

I am not forcing anyone to listen to me, and no one is obligated to either. I only hope that this will help open up a different viewpoint, and inspire people to treat the LGBT community with grace and kindness, for they are human beings just like us too. They deserve to be treated as equals in the society, as they too are creations of God. It is never a sin to treat people with respect regardless of who they are. I firmly believe that should be given the freewill to practice their religion, and everyone deserves a chance to get closer to God. Inshallah, ameen.

Shafiqa Othman works for Sisters in Islam in Malaysia, and with the international Musawah network.  Shafiqa attended WELDD's workshop on "Culturally-Justified Violence Against Women: Resistance and Sustaining Our Activism" in Jakarta, Indonesia in August 2014.  This piece originally appeared on her own blogspot here.

Culturally Justified Violence Against Women