So, our favorite Mohammad Hijab released another podcast in November last year and it was a pretty interesting one. He interviewed a 17-year-old Muslim trans-woman named Aliyah. Aaliyah is a transgender Muslim.
Now I know you are already asking yourself: Why stick to this religion that doesn’t support LGBT rights and by extension doesn’t support your existence? But it’s not my business why she believes in Islam. Like I’ve said a number of times, I don’t care what you believe. What I care about is how you treat others. So here are my thoughts on this conversation.
The conversation starts with a very respectful tone. Here is an excerpt of how the conversation started.
[Mo Hijab] So Aliyah, as far as we know from looking at your social media your Twitter, and other accounts, you’re transgender. You identify as a transgender.
[Aliyah] A transgender woman, yes.
[Mo Hijab] Yeah. So can you just tell us your story? Like what happened growing up? When did you make this decision? Was it a decision to be made in the first place?
Now, before getting into my response to his podcast, I want to first start by defining the term transgender, and how gender dysphoria is a recognized condition which we should acknowledge and respect in our society.
Please Note: I want to acknowledge that I am not an expert on this topic and I apologize if I say something hurtful or offensive in advance or if I misspeak about transgender issues. Feel free to leave a comment. Also, The issue of transitioning as a pre-teen, allowing transgenders in sports, transgender washrooms, and other such issues are separate and I am not tackling them here. Here we are simply discussing adult transitioning.
According to the NHS, Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity*
Another website defines it as
“a deep internal sense that the gender of their body does not fit with the gender they identify with. This distress can range from manageable to debilitating, causing problems with family, friends, school performance, as well as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and in the worst cases, suicide.
It is not ‘just a trend or a phase’. Gender dysphoria is a serious and persistent condition, psychiatrically distinguishable from other issues of gender-expansive expression or confusion, or sexual orientation that may normally occur during childhood or adolescence. This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.*
Simply put, when someone’s internal identity or self-expression does not align with societal expectations and characteristics associated with their biological sex, that person is recognized as trans. They are not ill or confused or “misguided”; they’re normal, self-aware human beings and deserve to be treated as such.
[Mo Hijab] Right, so when you felt homosexual urges or whatever it may be growing up did you ever say to yourself that… Did you ever identify as homosexual at least to yourself?
[Aliyah] Yes, Yes.
[Mo Hijab] So now post let’s say transformation now that you’ve decided to be trans, do you consider yourself homosexual or do you consider yourself straight?
[Aliyah] I consider myself a heterosexual woman.
[Mo Hijab] Right, so your sexuality has changed?
[Aliyah] I wouldn’t say sexuality changed. I would say the label to the sexuality changed because homosexual means a man that is attracted to a man but I am no longer a man.
[Mo Hijab] That’s quite interesting because a lot of people think this is kind of a sticking point for a lot of people. So a lot of people say, “I’m born gay and there is no way of changing uh changing that.” So in your model, in a sense you can change it. If you change your gender you change your sexuality as well?
[Aliyah] Well, I wanted to go back to when you said,”When I decided to be trans.” It wasn’t like It’s not that I changed something. It was more of discovering the fact that I am trans.
It seems like Hijab was looking for a gotcha and he didn’t get it here. Because some transgender individuals are also attracted to the same sex they were born into. Easy enough to understand, at least for me. She didn’t change her sexuality. She is still attracted to men, but she is now calling it something different, i.e. the label changed. Yet he is focused on establishing that one can “control” or “change” their sexuality at will.
Unfortunately, not surprising at all considering how alternate sexualities and gender identities are depicted as a self-controlled personal failing in Islam. Well, that or the good old shaytan at work here.
There is no evidence for this claim. Sexuality is stable from puberty on. Whatever you are at puberty, there’s no turning back. Muhammad obviously didn’t know this. And it wasn’t part of his great plan of having a gigantic ummah with lots of babies.
[Mo Hijab] So let me ask you a question. Why do you associate long-haired mammals, human beings with femininity for example?
[Aliyah] I just do. Like either there can be an argument that it’s a social role because you know I saw it on TV and I wanted it and you know it was whatever was in the media. But to me it’s just like what I want. Like I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just like natural
[Mo Hijab] Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Here’s what I’m saying. A couple of months ago I decided I wanted to grow my hair a lil bit. It’s not because of lockdown. I don’t have a problem if my hair grows much longer. For me, I don’t really associate necessarily long hair with femininity. It’s more prominent among females. I am not denying that part. If someone wants to have long hair I don’t think that’s a calling for transgenderism. I think that’s just a calling for having long hair right. You can enjoy having long hair and be a male.
Wait, so are you trying to say that there are NO other internal psychological factors and tendencies contributing to a trans person’s identity OTHER than the desire to have long hair? How dumb and simplified can you make it? She was just sharing one example of how she felt like she wanted to be more womanly, and to her, having long hair was an example of that. I mean doesn’t Islam say you have to wear a hijab to cover that long hair? Isn’t that part of the beauty of a woman, Hijab?
There is an interesting tension here though. Some feminists want to reduce the importance of gender roles in our society, allowing more flexibility in what women can do and men can do, what women dress like and men dress like, and so on. Yet some trans activists want to keep the gender roles. Because if gender roles are less relevant, then you could just call yourself a man and look like a woman and the distinction is meaningless. There’s no need to transition.
Personally, I think gender roles are valuable for the most part and are here to stay. This doesn’t mean we can’t create space for those who are gender-neutral or don’t fit in a traditional gender role, but we do acknowledge that gender roles are important to many people, transgender individuals included.
Many of them believe in strict gender roles. Women do womanly things, men do manly things. It’s just that they don’t want to be in the role they were born in. And then we should remember that different cultures tend to have different roles for men and women. Sometimes they have more than two gender roles. So there’s no reason to be so uptight about this.
[Mo Hijab] So when we started talking about what is a man and what is a woman when I started mentioning a woman as a person who is giving birth in a hospital who is 9months pregnant, can they identify as a man? The argument of biology now right seems to contradict this notion.
Mohammad Hijab needs to understand the difference between being female and being a woman. He’s taking a scientific biological term, in this case, “FEMALE”, which has fixed biological characteristics such as carrying a womb and giving birth and using it interchangeably with a socially constructed gender identity, in this case, “WOMAN” that is prone to flux and fluidity.
Being male or female is just about describing a specimen’s biological makeup, just like you can have male and female dolphins or puppies or horses. But, do we assign gender roles to dolphins and puppies and expect them to behave in different ways? Then why should a human being’s biological makeup determine the identity they have as a person, whether it’s liking a specific color, doing or not doing makeup, liking girls or boys, and so on and so forth?
I mean just because a human being gives birth to a child doesn’t mean that you get to assign all these other roles and expectations exclusively to them if they would prefer to identify differently. Again, debating about whether there should be gender roles or not is a different question. The real discussion here is whether these roles must be tied to you by birth. I think not.
[Mo Hijab] Someone is like a white person. He’s got a good salary and he’s got a big house and he’s come out of Harvard or something like this right. So everything is going well from the material sense for that person and they come out and say, “I identify as black. And I want to have all the privileges that black people have. To what extent would you accept this?
[Aliyah] Ah Not at all. Like there’s no reason like why? Like you can’t. Do they have racial dysphoria? Is that like is that the same thing that scientist have cracked down on it? That numerous doctors and professors and educated people across the world have vouched for support for? No. That’s just someone looking for attention.
Mohamed Hijab repeats this “transitioning race” thing multiple times. This is another lame conservative trope. How is this even related to the topic of gender identity? Your race is something that is determined 100% by your biology and there is ABSOLUTELY NO role of other psychological and social factors here.
Gender, on the other hand, is socially created and reinforced in different ways throughout different cultures. For example, did you know that men in the African Aka tribe look after their babies while the women hunt? These babies are even suckled by their fathers for comfort, They also cook and indulge in care-work while the mothers are out hunting or setting camp.
What more proof does one need that gender roles are not innate but are socially created and vary with each culture? So, I hate to break it to you Hijab, what you are trying to do is forcefully classify gender expression and gender identity into the same category as a race by DOWNPLAYING some rather crucial social and psychological aspects that determine one’s gender identity.
This is the problem with Islam though. It sneaks in its own cultural values and claims its superior. It doesn’t even wanna admit that these are cultural values. Interestingly, Aliyah had earlier mentioned the aspect of brain anatomy and psychology when she talked about being born with an XY set of chromosomes, but still having an inclination towards femininity and the traditional concept of womanhood.
Sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. This is where the role of psychology and other social influences also come into account.
Of course, there is NO denying that biology CAN play a role in determining the types of traits and habits we are drawn to and identify with, but we can establish that gender identity is not JUST a matter of biology, but also socio-psychological factors that are equally, or perhaps, even more important.
To compare this with the race analogy is inappropriate because unlike gender, race is strictly determined by our biology, not our psychology nor any social factors. Although whichever traits or aspects people may associate with a certain race is a product of social construction, your race is determined, innate, and cannot be affected by psycho-social factors.
You aren’t expected to behave differently as a black or white person. Well, I guess in some cultures you are, but this is a problem. This is a bad thing. Your gender on the other hand isn’t fixed, is socially constructed, and is influenced by an endless spectrum of psycho-social factors.
[Mo Hijab] I understand. But if someone is very sympathetic towards black people’s struggle someone who has practically immersed themselves
[Aliyah] Right and in the culture of black lives matter and they feel from this experience that they genuinely are a black person. They believe they’re a black person. So would you respect them and would you call them a black person?
[Mo Hijab]if they could call themselves a black person?
[Aliyah] No because that is insulting to the actual experiences and oppression that black people face. .That white person isn’t gonna feel those things, has never felt those things so for what reason are they black? Is he serious?
He is desperately failing to make a point here. Except that he absolutely cannot differentiate between a biological and social phenomenon. I have to say, the way Aliyah deals with this guy’s questions full of ease and confidence is commendable. I mean it’s really not that complicated, is it?
[Mo Hijab] But I am talking about someone who doesn’t have XXY who does have XY chromosomes just XY right and that individual could they ever have the same experience as a woman who has monthly menstruation who has XX chromosomes who has given birth or and or who has the exact physiology of a woman, has estrogen in her body and all of those things. Do you think that someone who is XY can have those experiences exact experiences?
And this guy is hell-bent on sticking to the XY and XX explanations as to the only determining factor of a person’s gender identity, completely ignoring everything else. Here is Aliyah’s answer:
“I don’t think that they can be the exact experiences as a cis woman but I do not think that being a woman is dependent on menstruating and… But to say that like when I go out and I get street harassed, I get catcalls, and when I go out into the society as a woman I am treated as a woman. So I do think that in most aspects yes.”
[Mo Hijab] Yeah Yeah Yeah, I agree. Okay, say for example we go back to our white man analogy or our comparison. Let’s assume that the man is not fully white. That he has one grandparent who is actually black. So do you think that now the man has an entitlement to call himself black?
[Aliyah] I do not think that I am the person to speak on that considering I am not black myself. I don’t think that it’s appropriate for me to speak on black experiences
[Mo Hijab] I will accept it, but what if he has a great grandparent?
[Aliyah] It’s still not my place to answer that. What the hell is this guy even getting at??
[Mo Hijab] If race is a social construct then racism becomes a social construct right? Likewise, if we say sex is a social construct then sexism is a social construct as well, and so on and so forth. So and if the penis is in some way a social construct then rape becomes a social construct. So the social construct thing has no end, right? Which is why it is important to bring sanity back in the conversation with biology right?
WRONG! Wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to digest. The consequences that people suffer as a RESULT of their biology are not social constructs, they are active undertakings in RESPONSE to the things that we OURSELVES have socially defined in certain ways. Society defined certain races and genders as inferior. Does that make racism and sexism a social construct? No, it makes them very real forms of discrimination against what we arbitrarily assigned social meanings too. And don’t even get me started on what he said at the end.
[Mo Hijab] And if a penis is in some way a social construct then rape becomes a social construct I think I’ll agree on the need to bring sanity back into the conversation and so when we talk about what is a man and what is woman, what is a male and what is a female I would submit to you that the strongest way of identifying this is a biological approach But the biological approach is not the only approach.
A while later, they finally arrived at the Islamic perspective on homosexuality and trans people. When asked about the story of Lut or Lot in the Quran, Aliyah, like any other Muslim apologist does her best to define it through the lens of a gentler interpretation, where God was only condemning rape and adultery and the immoral actions of Lot’s people, NOT consensual sex between two adult men.
My interpretation of course is that the Quran explicitly condemns homosexuality, and I see that in context with the Sunnah. You can’t blame her. She’s trying to be true to her identity as a trans woman and also true to her identity as a Muslim woman. I don’t really care for these progressive Muslim or Quranist arguments.
I really think they are silly and not held by many so I’m not gonna bother arguing about it. But if you look carefully, Lot offered his daughters to the men, and he wouldn’t offer his daughters to rapists so it’s obviously an issue of homosexuality, not rape.
[Mo Hijab] Something quite interesting right? There’s a verse in chapter 3 verse 7:
“هُوَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ مِنْهُ ءَايَٰتٌ مُّحْكَمَٰتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ ٱلْكِتَٰبِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَٰبِهَٰتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا ٱلَّذِينَ فِى قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَٰبَهَ مِنْهُ ٱبْتِغَآءَ ٱلْفِتْنَةِ وَٱبْتِغَآءَ تَأْوِيلِهِۦ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُۥٓ إِلَّا ٱللَّهُ ۗ وَٱلرَّٰسِخُونَ فِى ٱلْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ ءَامَنَّا بِهِۦ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّآ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْأَلْبَٰبِ”
[Mo Hijab] this verse is saying that from this book there are 2 kinds of verses. There are clear-cut verses and these are the foundations of the book. These are the basis of the book if you like. The other verses are ambiguous. As for those individuals in whose hearts there is diversion if you like. They follow that which is ambiguous from it, seeking there from some kind of tribulation and seeking to apply interpretations and excessive interpretation to them and no one can really interpret those ambiguous verses except for God.
So you’re saying that Allah purposefully put “ambiguous” verses into the Qur’an and the Quran also claims to be error-free and to be mudin i.e. crystal clear, and when people try to interpret those “ambiguous” verses to the best of their knowledge i.e. the verses that you said only God and NO ONE else, knows the meanings of, they’re automatically sinning? Gotcha. This is one of the most clever get of jail cards ever. Muhammad wrote a book and then said nobody knows the meaning except God in those cases.
[Mo Hijab] I mean if you think about the act of homosexuals. I’m sorry to put this into a vivid format for you but actually having sex a man having sex with a man for example where the penis is going into the rectum repeatedly to the point where it’s it could it could even injure the other person. And It’s actually very painful. I mean It’s quite a selfish act
It must be very painful. It’s very painful, is it? I hope you’re not speaking from experience. Because that’s haram 😉. Even straight sex can be painful for the man or especially for the woman. It’s all part of the dynamic of sex. Pain and pleasure to some extent. Even with men and women, some like anal, some don’t. You must decide what works in your relationship. Is it not a stretch to confine someone’s entire experience of being gay to one SINGLE sexual act and use that as the basis to declare same-sex love as wrong? Is there not more to being in a relationship than sex?
Also, I am not sure what he is on about when he asserts that gay sex is a selfish act. Sex should be enjoyable for both parties otherwise why are you doing it?
[Mo Hijab] Islam is about submission. It’s about submitting to one God. He knows what’s best for you for example if you had if you have a problem right if your stomach started hurting very badly right and you started vomiting or whatever and your skin started to change color maybe you started to become a lil bit darker okay after you had gone to the black lives matter protest, what would you do after that?
You would go to the doctor right. I was just joking about that I have no idea why he said you get darker and go to a black lives matter protest after you get stomach pain. That just seemed like an unnecessary racist dig. Disgusting and stupid comment from Hijab.
[Mo Hijab] At the end of the day you know it’s for your best interest because you’re convinced that the doctor is competent and knowledgeable to the extent where you’re not. And I’m saying this to you that when you’re truly submissive to God, you have to be convinced that he is competent and knowledgeable to the extent where you’re not right? And that’s why submission is a very powerful and beautiful thing.“
No, it’s not. It’s called manipulation, brainwashing, and gaslighting, and there is absolutely nothing beautiful about that. This “the doctor knows best” analogy for obeying God is so overused and exhausted by Muslims. I mean, if you ask a Muslim apologist to justify anything controversial or problematic in their religion, this is their favorite go-to argument and by this point, it’s just sad.
[Mo Hijab] Do me one favor okay. Okay, do me one favor review this conversation and the questions that we’ve had yeah? And make a prayer called the istikhara prayer Yeah, you know istikhara? it’s called istikhara
[Mo Hijab] and ask Allah to guide you to the right path
[Aliyah] I know I ask Allah that every single…
[Mo Hijab] Ask him one more time. And ask him
[Aliyah] I know. I will do it, but I think we should all be asking Allah to guide us.
[Mo Hijab] Of course, of course. I will make dua Aman for you okay. And you do that for me as well.
[Aliyah] And I will do that for you as well
[Mo Hijab] Yeah yeah yeah I have said that already. See I said it before you said it okay? Listen if you’ve got any questions please send them to me yeah?
Can religious people stop acting so arrogant all the time? Like, sure, even if you did sort of humanizing her, minus all the inappropriate jokes, you’re still condescending to her choices and identity by making it sound like she is “on the wrong path” and that you and your God know the right path for her. I mean that’s just offensive.
The comments of course on this video which are highly filtered Muhammad Hijab style are all pretty negative. Most of them kept referring to Aliyah as “he”. One of them with nearly 700 upvotes made a threatening comment about “Let him try going to the pilgrimage and sees what happens to him”
Another one was mocking and said, “I identify as a table.” This is stupid because the table is not a gender. And there’s no social role of being a table. And like I said, many transgender people including the activist Blair White are against the idea of unlimited genders. These are separate issues
So here are my final thoughts: I think it’s high time that these conversations become normalized in the Muslim community and credit on Hijab for trying despite the backlash he got. Given his stance as well as his audience, I feel like he did a good thing by giving Aliyah a platform to express her views as a Muslim trans woman, even if he kept pushing the XY chromosome argument or the “what about transitioning race” argument, or even at times making it seem like he’s schooling her.
You can find Aliyah on Twitter @thetransmuslim. I’d like to give my support to Aliyah. I am including a link to her transition fund. Being an activist, she is putting herself out there and she’s in a very difficult position getting heat from both sides, so please check it out and support her if you can. I’m sure she will appreciate it.