At the date of this writing, the fatwa has not finalized by the Malaysian National Fatwa Council (NFC) yet. However, the fact NFC is planning on issuing such a fatwa is worrisome.
Should anyone have the power to legally and socially define tomboy mannerism? If the council and the policing body have the right to persecute someone based on arbitrary definition of mannerism, what is to prevent them from turning every deep-tenored, pants-wearing, bald-headed women or every limping, french-accented, foul-body odored, six-fingered men into criminals? Bottomline is attempting to criminalize individual mannerism leaves much room for abuse. Two possible abuses can stem from empowering the National Fatwa Council to monitor and control one’s behavior and possibly perpetuating Machiavellian biases towards women.
First of all, this fatwa implies that the council will be capable of defining masculine and feminine behavior. Are Malaysians not concerned that this fatwa is going to set the precedence allowing the council and its policy body the power to criminalize behavior and regulate individual mannerism according to their biases? Who is to prevent them from regulating how one speaks, how one sleeps or what color one’s car should be in the future? There is an interesting pattern of fatwa issuance lately – the 2005 fatwa against taking part in SMS contests, the 2007 fatwa against supernatural exhibitions, the 2008 potential fatwa against yoga to name a few. The Big Brother trend may soon evade every aspect of one’s life.
The other issue is the Machiavellian impact this fatwa can have. A simple example is that the National Fatwa Council could theoretically deem argumentative, aggressive and competitive behavior as masculine in nature. Given the scenario of a wife arguing with the husband, or a women aggressively pursuing a promotion at work or a talented female student needing training resources, what is to prevent a deranged husband from reporting a wife for masculine behavior after a heated argument, old-boy networked males from denying female peers promotions or budget-short schools from prohibiting female students from competition or sporting events and using the fatwa as an excuse. Hope for a fair and just trial is just that – hope.
Another point to surface is that tomboy mannerism and sexual orientation is not mutually exclusive. Just as a woman who is masculine in appearance is not necessarily a lesbian, a feminine woman is not necessarily heterosexual. Mannerism may reflect one’s sexual orientation but it is not the only defining characteristic of one’s sexuality. Attempting to prevent boyish mannerism in women to curb homosexuality is not a very efficient way to address the situation. This fatwa will only alienate straight Muslim women who do not fit into NFC’s standards of femininity, reaffirm the social bias against transgendered Muslims and offend the sensibility of most people.
One can argue that issuing a fatwa against tomboy mannerism goes against the teachings of Islam. Gender variations exist and are legally acknowledged in advanced nations and religion including Islam.
Further example of gender variation is contained in an interpretation this Quranic verse which offers a reference to sexual orientation and gender:
42:49 “To Allah belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth. It creates what It wills. It prepares for whom It wills females, and It prepares for whom It wills males.
42:50 “Or It marries together the males and the females, and It makes those whom It wills to be ineffectual. Indeed It is the Knowing, the Powerful.”
Arabic: “Lillahi mulku us-samaawaati wal’ardhi. Yakhluqu ma yashaa’u. Yahabu liman yashaa’u inaathan wa yahabu liman yashaa’u adh-dhukura. Aw yuzawwijuhum dhukraanan wa inaathan; wa yaj’alu man yashaa’u ‘aqeeman: innahu ‘Aleemun Qadeerun.”
Scholars have interpret “It marries together the males and females” as the third gender – intersexed or transgendered. Other scholars have interpreted “It makes those whom It wills to be ineffectual” to encompass barren men and women or individuals who have no desire for the opposite gender.
One hopes that fellow Malaysians are able to see the risk and impact of such a fatwa.