Maryam Khatoon Molkara was born in the suburbs of Tehran as Fereydoon. She was tortured and bullied for her feminine behavior as a boy in the early days of her life. The harshest form of retaliation towards her identity came from her own mother. She moved to Tehran and started working in a saloon. Those were the days when Iran was ruled by the Shah.
Maryam wanted a religious solution to her gender issue. In 1975 she started writing letters to Ayatollah Khomeini, who was living in exile in Iraq. She knew she was a woman, she knew she was living in the wrong body and she knew she could fix this. She went to Paris in 1978 to meet Ayatollah Khomeini in person (who was visiting France) as she couldn’t travel to Iraq because of the travel ban for Iranians at the time. She wanted to make him aware of the concept of transgenderism and have his verdict on sex reassignment within Islam. But the journey was not fruitful as she couldn’t meet him.
Maryam was working in television as a man when Islamic revolution took place in Iran. She was immediately fired by authorities and was arrested for being feminine. While in police custody, she was forcibly injected with male hormones, as prescribed by a prison doctor. Maryam shouted, but no one listened to her. Maryam had links with religious clerics in Iran and a well-known cleric, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, came to bail her out as soon as he learned of what she was going through in prison.
This incident made her stronger and convinced of her decision. Maryam wanted to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but she knew that it was by now no longer possible as Islamic revolution didn’t contemplate this possibility. But she had hope, as the country was under Islamic Sharia and Imam Khomeini was now in Iran and he was the head of state.
One fine morning, she crossed all barriers at Khomeini’s residence in Tehran and reached inside his house. Holding the Quran in her hands, she shouted “I AM A WOMAN, I AM A WOMAN.” Security officials got confused by the band wrapped around her chest, which they thought was an explosive belt. She removed it to reveal her female breasts underneath. The female security staff in the house rushed towards her to cover her with a veil as soon as they saw her female chest exposed.
She told her entire story to everyone in the room, all of her years of struggle. Ahmad, son of Ayatollah Khomeini, who was in the room listening to all this, was moved to tears. He took her to meet the Ayatollah in his compound. Ayatollah knew of Maryam as she had been trying to approach him for years. A team of government doctors was summoned and the issue was immediately discussed by experts. The discussion included the difference between hermaphrodites and transsexuals. Khomeini hadn’t heard much about the various gender conditions until then.
Maryam left Khomeini’s house victoriously. She had a letter in her hand addressed to the Chief Prosecutor and the head of Medical Ethics giving a fatwa (a religious authorization) for her and for all those like her to have their gender surgically reassigned. That one daring step by Maryam changed the dynamics and made history in Shia Islam. The fatwa is available in Imam Khomeini’s Tahrir al-Wasilah (Volume 4), a book written as a commentary on a traditional theological text, and as a guide for Shia Muslims.
Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, another Iranian Muslim cleric, approved of sex reassignment surgery. Sex corrective surgery for the purpose of bringing out one’s true gender is not only unproblematic for Islam, but wajib (mandatory).
On the other hand, unnecessary and false sex change is impermissible. Hojatoleslam Kariminia, a mid-level Islamic cleric based in Iran, is in great favor of transgender rights. He suggests that the right of transsexuals to correct their gender is a basic human right and he is attempting to introduce transsexualism into the public discourse through his research and advocacy work and remove the stigma and insults attached with transgender persons.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.