Al-Fatah Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta is a waria boarding school that was established in 2016. This boarding school became a space for waria to express their religious beliefs and practices.
The alternative space of Al-Fatah gained many protests and attacks. In 2016, it was attacked by Front Jihad Islam and encountered with forced sealed. Furthermore, Al-Fatah also experienced stigma and discrimination because of social construction and religion’s perspective, especially waria that got discriminative stereotype in religious narrative. Their existences brought discussion and talk about religion’s progressive narrative.
The strong social construction in the community made waria to have limited space to express themselves in society. Some worked in the public sector, but most only became buskers, working at beauty salons, catering, or sex workers. Their limited choices came from the requirement condition in gender column choices. Furthermore, it also took place while they searched for a place to stay.
It only came from basic needs, but they also had other challenges in different aspects. Religion became the most challenging aspect of waria, mostly because religious leaders still tend to have not friendly perspectives. They were considered as people who were worthy to go to hell. It made waria distanced themselves in religious matters.
It showed from waria who could not read Al-Qur’an or stammered while reading it, including santri waria. Some of them also forgot to read Hijaiyah or did their religious practices. They felt hesitate to join religious activities in the community. They confessed that they felt uncomfortable with questions if they joined activities. But, this narration became a question for us “do you ever see waria join majelis taklim – a non-formal institution for Muslims to learn about Islamic teaching – in a Mosque?” or “do you ever see waria join salat in your neighborhood?” Maybe our answer will be “no”.
This became a role of Al-Fatah as waria Islamic boarding school. The existence influenced society’s opinion about waria and Islam.
I felt cynical toward waria but before I knew them
I was copying how society sees waria. I had seen them as sinners. However, this judgment was gone after I talked with waria who became santri. I tried to become an outsider while I talked with them. At the same time, I tried not to use my perspective so I could understand their complexity.
I found their story interesting, how they manage their appearance to do salat. They chose their own robe for their comfort. It will be different from one to another, such as some of them will use mukenah (for females) or sarong and pants.
Meanwhile, in Fiqh (Islam law), the clothes should be based on gender. At the same time, during salat, the sequence should follow gender order, which was an adult male in the first line and continued with boys, adult females, and girls. Nonetheless, based on Rahmah al-Ummah fi Ikhtilafi al-Aimmah, it allowed mixed gender during salat.
For waria santri, some felt trapped in the male body although they were born as a male. So, some of them were still comfortable with using sarongs and pants but reluctant to position themselves in the first line of prayer.
They said to us “We don’t care about the religious leader’s opinion about how to wear during salat. But our intention is how we feel comfortable with it because it will become a symbol of solemnity to meet God. We don’t care if it is valid or not. Let it become God’s prerogative right.”
Maybe it was only their defense, but for me, it became my turning point to witness how waria try to express themselves in religion as they got many backlashes of it. Furthermore, it became a moment for me to reflect upon their assumptions – how they are sinners, not valid, and immoral in front of societies and Gods.
If religious leaders and society omitted their judgmental perspective, did it make waria possibly become close to Gods? Or maybe it will make them come back to belief in God again?
The answer will be complicated, especially if it is not only about Fiqh, Halal, or illegitimate. It is about human rights. They have rights to do their religious practices and meet Gods. They are homo-religious like other humans and keen to be close to God.
Wallahu a’lam bi al-shawab
(Translated by Theresia)