Rethinking Waria Discourse in Indonesian and Global Islam

Farihatul Qamariyah | CRCS | Thesis Review

Two Warias are reciting the Qoran in  Public Discussion at the Pesantren of Waria Yogyakarta
Two Warias are reciting the Qoran in Public Discussion at the Pesantren of Waria Yogyakarta

The discourse of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans gender identities) is being contested everywhere lately in global discussion. Identity, gender, and human rights have generally provided the frame work for debate. The issue of LGBT is also critically regarded as a significant case within religion.  Scholars such as Kecia Ali and Scott Kugle are attempting to reinterpret and rethink Islam as a religion which is commonly understood as a blessing for all of mankind, in which contextually this religious essence also can accommodate diversity that extends to the acceptance of LGBT Muslims. Another example of this rethinking is the CRCS Student’s, Hary Widyantoro, thesis Rethinking Waria Discourse in Indonesian and Global Islam which examines the collaboration between Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic University activists and Waria santri at the Pesantren Waria al-Fatah which is located in Yogyakarta.

This research looks at the collaboration of scholar activists from Syariah and Law Faculty of Nahdlatul Ulama University of Jepara and waria santri (students of Islam who are born male but identify as feminine, terms discussed below), in rethinking and reconstructing the subjectivity of waria in Indonesian Islamic, thinking through the engagement of activities including in the space of social structure and religious lives. Significantly, this study can be a critical instrument in the field of both gender and religious studies, to examine how these scholar-activists are creating new ways of seeing waria from Qur’an and hadith and of teaching Islam to them as the subjects rather than objects of research. Moreover, it shows the process of rethinking which can offer an alternative view and hope for those who are not associated in the binary gender of male and female. The research questions which are raised up are: how do the scholar activists of Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic University of Jepara rethink the waria subject position? How did they develop the idea of religious partnership with the Pesantren Waria al-Fatah Yogyakarta? And what kind of waria discourse that the scholar activists suggested to provide a room for waria in social and religious lives?

It is clear that the discourse of LGBT however is not only talked over in the stage of global, but also at a local level such as in Indonesia. To see the case of waria santri in terms of transgender discourse and the activism of NU scholars in the act of collaboration, the author utilizes the theoretical application on Boellstorff’s idea on global and local suggestion and Foucault’s on the term of subjectivity as well as power relation in his genealogical approach. In analysis, using waria as the chosen terminology in this case marks their identity as a local phenomenon rather than transgender women to use a global term. This term became the primary term for this group after it was used by Minister of Religious Affairs Alamsyah in the 1970s. While taking the framework of Boellstorff on subjectivity and power relation, it helps the author in figuring out and understanding completely on how Muslims activists from NU University rethink of waria discourse, and how it is discussed by Muslims activist and the waria in the Pesantren. Additionally, subjectivity becomes the key point where the author can examine the role of waria based on the activists’ perspectives as a subject of their religiosities and of the truth of their beings, rather than only objects of views.

Waria as one of the local terms in Indonesia represents an actor of transgender in LGBT association that often experience such discrimination and become the object of condemnation. For waria, Identity is the main problem in the aspect of gender in Indonesian law. For instance, Indonesian identity cards only provide a male and female gender options, based on the Population Administration Law, and by the Marriage Law (No. 1/1974). By this law, they will have some difficulties to access the public services. Another problem regarding the social recognition, waria is perceived as people with social welfare problems, based on the Regulation of the Ministry of Social Affairs (No. 8/2012) that must be rehabilitated as a kind of solution. Furthermore, in the religious landscape, the content of fiqh (an Islamic jurisprudence) does not have much discussion on waria matters when compared to male and female stuff. Briefly, these are the problems that the scholar activists seek to answer.In the local course of Indonesian context, scholar-activists at Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic University of Jepara (UNISNU) educate Islamic religion to transgender students at the Pesantren Waria al-Fatah as the act of acknowledging their existence and their subjectivity to express identity and religiosity within ritual as well as practice.

Addressing this complicated context, the questions of transgender discourse represented by santri waria in this research is not only about the constitutional rights but also attach their religious lives in terms of Islamic teaching and also practice. While what the scholars identify as “humanism” is the basic framework in dealing with this issue, the universal perception of humanism in secular nature is different from the Muslim scholars’ understanding the idea of humanism when it relates to Islamic religion. Referring to this discussion, the NU activists have another view point in looking at waria as a human and Islam as a religion with its blessing for all mankind without exception. Hence, this overview leads them to rethink and reinterpret the particular texts in Islam, and then work with them in collaboration.

Since the term of collaboration becomes the key word in this research, the author gives a general framework on what so – called a collaboration in relation with the context of observation. The background is on the equal relation between scholar-activists and waria santri in the sense that the activists do not force or impose their perspective on waria. For instance, they allow waria santri to pray and to express their identity based on how they feel comfortable with the condition. In regard to the research process, the author conducted interviews and was a participant observer both in the Pesantren Waria al-Fatah in Yogyakarta and in the UNISNU campus, Jepara. He interviewed six Muslims scholar-activists from UNISNU concerning the monthly program they lead in Pesantren Waria especially about how they rethink waria discourse and its relation to religious and social lives, and another important point is on the scholars’ intention to do the collaboration. Furthermore, the author also draws on the history and programs of the pesantren by interviewing Shinta, who became the leader of the pesantren in 2014 following the death of the founder. He also made use of the Religious Practice Partnering Program’s proposal and accountability report and explored the scholars’ institution and communities where they have relation with to get some additional information about their engagement. The additional context is on the scholars’ affiliation, in this case bringing up the background of Nahdlatul Ulama as one of the biggest Muslims socio-religious organization known as Muslim Traditionalist and Indonesian Muslim Movement (PMII) which both of them apply the similar characteristic on ideology which is ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah.

To some extent, the collaboration of scholar activists of Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic University and the santri waria at Pesantren Waria Al Falah rethinks the waria subject position in both their social and religious lives. First, they rethink the normative male – female gender binary which is often considered deviant, an assumption which causes the waria to experience rejection and fear in both their social and religious lives. The same thing happens as well in Islamic jurisprudence known as fiqh, where discussion of waria is absent and, consequently, they find it difficult to express their religiosities, including even whether to pray with men in the front or women behind, and which prayer garments to put on in order to pray.

According to Nur Kholis, the leader of the program from NU University and a scholar of fiqhwhose academic interest is the place of waria in Islamic Law, one answer can be found by categorizing waria as Mukhanats, and then considering them as humans equally as others. He argues that waria have existed since the Prophet’s time considered as mukhanats (a term for the men behave like women in Prophet’s time, according to certain hadith) by nature, or by destiny, and not by convenience. Understanding waria as mukhanats based on their gender consciousness can be a gate for waria to find space in Islam and also their social lives. The following significant finding related to this context is on the genealogy of the process of rethinking waria subject position. The author argues that this rethinking is grounded in Islamic Liberation theology and the method of ahl sunnah wa al-jama’ah, as way of thinking within PMII and NU have contributed and influenced how the activists think of waria subject discourse.

The last important landscape is on the perspective seeing waria as the subject of knowledge, sexualities, and religiosities, covered by the term gender consciousness. This term is the result of rethinking and acknowledging waria subjectivity in understanding their subject position in social and religious lives.Pragmatically, this statement provides a tool of framework to recognize waria as equally with others. It can be seen from the real affiliation of several events, which are parts of Religious Practice Partnering Program, such as Isra’ Mi’raj and Fiqh Indonesia Seminar. Furthermore, this kind of recognition emerges within the global and local concept of Islamic liberation theology and aswaja that make them consider waria as minorities which should be protected, rather than discriminated.

Finally, in such reflection, the discourse of LGBT represented by waria santri, the activism of NU scholars, and their interaction in collaboration notify an alternative worldview to discern a global issue from the local context, in this case is Indonesia. The author concludes the result of this research by saying that this kind of discourse is formed through referring Islamic liberation theology, aswaja, and more specifically the term mukhanats, within global Islam. In the process of interaction, these are interpreted and understood within local context of Indonesia presented by waria case in terms of social and religious life through the act of collaboration under the umbrella of Nahdlatul Ulama and PMII, as organizations tied by aswaja both ideology and methodology. In brief, the rethinking of waria space in the context of Indonesian Islam at the intersection of local and global offers a new expectation and gives a recommendation for all people who do not fit gender binaries but they seek religious practice and experience in their lives.

Rethinking Waria Discourse in Indonesian and Global Islam: The Collaboration between Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic University Activists and Waria Santri | Author: Hary Widyantoro (CRCS, 2013)

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