26 Feb 2016

Transgender madrassa closes due to death threats

The director of the world’s first and only Islamic boarding school for transgender women has confirmed that her madrassa, on the Indonesian island of Java, has been forced to close following violent death threats from Islamist extremists.

The authorities in the city of Yogyakarta ordered its immediate closure, apparently bowing to a campaign of intimidation by members of a group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Front – even though local police had pledged to protect the school. The Jakarta Post newspaper quoted a local official who cited concerns about security and public order.

Ibu Shinta Ratri, 53, the director of the al-Fatah madrassa told Channel 4 News that she and her students were safe but that the school’s activities had been “temporarily suspended”. She added that she was “mentally exhausted” by what had happened.

Her madrassa, which had offered religious instruction to more than 40 transgender women, known in Indonesia as “waria”, featured in a Channel 4 News report earlier this month.


Since it was set up in 2008, the school had come to symbolise the traditional tolerance of Indonesian Sunni Islam, which contrasts with the views of more hard line strains recently imported from the Middle East. Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population – about 210 million – most of whom are considered moderate.

About 20 members of the Islamic Jihad Front raided the madrassa last week and threatened to kill members of Indonesia’s LGBT community unless the government closed it down. A document released by the group said it had declared war on efforts to legitimise the institution.

“We demand that all government institutions eradicate the LGBT disease,” it said. “LGBT is an evil attempt to destroy national morality and if the state does not act, then we will burn LGBTs, stone them or drop them from a height.”

This threat mimics actual murders carried out by so-called Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, where Indonesian jihadists number among an estimated 30,000 foreign fighters. The group has thrown many men “convicted of homosexuality” to their deaths from the roofs of high buildings.

There are 210-million Muslims in Indonesia. Most consider the transgender community as sinners and deviants

Calls from the Islamic Jihad Front for LGBTs to “repent” and “return to human nature” on the Islamic path have been echoed by Indonesian government ministers in an increasingly shrill and vitriolic campaign targeting the LGBT community.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was quoted as saying that the LGBT community is even more dangerous than nuclear weapons because “it skews the mindset of our nation away from our base ideology”. Last month, the Minister for Higher Education called for LGBT students to be barred from attending Indonesian universities.

In January, a jihadist attack in central Jakarta – reportedly inspired by Islamic State militants – killed eight people, including the four attackers. Yesterday, the Australian government updated its security advice for those intending to visit Indonesia. “Recent indications suggest that terrorists may be in the advances stages of preparing attacks in Indonesia,” it said.

The transgender madrassa had enjoyed the support of Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which boasts 50 million members. Earlier this month, the madrassa director met with leaders of the NU to seek to formalise the status of waria within Indonesian Islam.

miller5The madrassa operated openly, in defiance of more conservative Muslim views on gender. The Imam of the Yogyakarta Grand Mosque, Abunda Faruk, is a member of the rival Muhammadiyah movement, which is headquartered in the city.

He told Channel 4 News:  “If people are not living according to the teachings of Islam, they need to be educated instead of being shunned. What the waria are doing is against Islam. Men who are dressed as women, women who are dressed as men – this is prohibited in Islam.”

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