Pesantren are boarding schools run by Islamic scholars set up in the 1930s. There are thousands across the country, especially in Java, and are often involved in commenting issues or current news.
The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is the best-known pesantren organisation, but Bahtul Masa’il has made front-page news for a number of its initiatives, like its recent ban on pre-marital pictures and its fatwas against Facebook and pregnant women smoking.
This time, Java and Madura Island transvestites and transsexuals have become their target. According to Bahtul Masa’il, touching women’s hair is haram, i.e. forbidden, when done by men unrelated to the women by blood or marriage.
“Hair belongs to a woman’s most private organ and should be covered. That is why, no she-male should be allowed to touch any vital organ belonging to women who are not their wife,” said Abdul Manan. That is because under Islamic law, waria (transgendered people) are male.
The Indonesian Muslim Clerical Council (MUI) has chosen not comment the matter. Its leaders in West Java are playing down the issue, saying, “It is not a big thing to comment.”
In response to the fatwa, transsexuals and transvestites have organised protests, stressing that the ruling is discriminatory and might end up relegating to the “margins of society” a group of people already facing major hurdles in society.
According to figures released by Irma Subechi, from the Surabaya Transvestites Association, 25 per cent of 670 warias work in show business or beauty salons.