While an official statement has not been released by the Saudi Arabian government, media reports say the conservative Muslim country is refusing visa applications from transgender people who want to make a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
Qamar Naseem, an activist with Trans Action KP, told Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper that the country’s refusal to discuss the issue is only resulting in more confusion.
“We fear that if this ban has not been imposed yet, it will be in the near future. Homosexuality and cross-dressing are punishable crimes in the kingdom and there has been an ongoing debate in the country since the start of 2016 on whether to bar transgender people from entering the country or not,” Naseem said.
Religious scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi told the newspaper that the government has no right to ban transgender people from making the pilgrimage. The country is the custodian of holy sites and is responsible for their upkeep, but is not religiously tasked with deciding who can or cannot make the journey to worship there.
“In Islam, how can one person stop another from performing their religious duties?” Ghamidi asked. “During Ottoman rule, transgender people were part of the administration of Masjid-e-Nabvi and were responsible for opening and closing different doors and cleaning the holy mosque.”
Sometimes called the “minor pilgrimage,” the Umrah pilgrimage is similar to the more well known Hajj pilgrimage. The Hajj, required to be performed by all Muslims at least once in their life, has to be performed during a specific time of year and involves many more rituals. The Umrah can be performed at any time of year and can typically be completed within a few hours. The pilgrimages can be performed separately or in combination with each other.
“Transgender people are conscious, rational human beings. Physical differences don’t make them less of a human and they should be treated equally,” Ghamidi told the paper. “It is the house of God and everyone should be allowed to come and see it; there is no reason to stop anybody.”