Hannah Pia Baral of Australia blogs about her visit to Pesantren Al Fatah, the Islamic study transgender group

One of the best things about ASPBAE conferences is the opportunity to connect and engage with local communities.  This visit was part of the ‘Learning Exchanges with Local NGOs in Yogyakarta’ session on Day 2.

A handful of us (from Pakistan, Solomon Islands, Indonesia and Australia) took up the opportunity to visit Pesantren Al Fatah (Islamic Study Group for Transvestite/Transgender Community).  We all had our own reasons for visiting Pesantren – some were keen to find out how the transgender community’s expression of faith reconciles with Islam and others hoped for a better understanding of transgender people in general.  On our way there the group had the opportunity to discuss our own understandings of the LGBTIQ community.  It was great to be able to openly share our thoughts and perspectives with each other as we have all come from different countries, cultures and faiths.

Shinta Ratri, Chairperson, shared with us that the community was established to facilitate the needs and interests of this transgender community and provide them a space to worship and study their religion.  Pesantren was founded after the 2006 earthquake when they realised that there was an increasing need for people to re-connect with Islam.  The group has 35 members ranging from teens to members in their late 50’s.  Members hail from different regions in Indonesia – Medan, Surabaya, Jakarta, Makassar, Semarang and Yogyakarta.   Some members have come specifically to Yogyakarta to become a part of this group.  Their activities involve routine activities (prayer, reading of the Koran and religious comprehension) and non-routine activities (charity work, specific events such as Muslim Festivals i.e. Eid Day).  Non-Muslim members have also joined the group, supported the activities and have taken away the positive message of the teachings.

Acceptance from their families was not the biggest issue for the members of this community.  Access to prayer areas was their biggest struggle where spaces are usually divided into separate spaces for men and women.   The members of the group believed that as human beings they have the right to pray and have faith.

Pesantren has given this transgender community a place where they are accepted and where they can have the freedom to practice their faith in a nurturing and safe environment.

20th of November was the annual observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).  TDoR is an opportunity for communities to come together to honour the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.  It feels particularly fitting that we had the privilege of visiting this community at this time.

We thank the officers and members of Pesantren for warmly welcoming us and for spending precious time with us. We shared stories with each other, we laughed, and we got teary at times.  The visit ended with a delicious shared lunch prepared by the community.

We left with our hearts full of appreciation for this transgender community of faith. We hope that Pesantren continues to grow in strength and find the recognition they seek and deserve to have.

Note:

  • Special thanks to Dina Lumbantobing (ASPBAE Executive Council; PESADA) for providing the translation during our visit.
  • This blog post was written with contributions from Nashwa Shakeel (Pakistan) and Dina Lumbantobing (Indonesia).
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