PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The most senior Islamic cleric in Kuala Lumpur has held a dialogue with Malaysia's transgender community, broadcasting the one-hour talk live on his official Facebook page.
Federal Territories mufti Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri took part in the "Masih Ada Yang Sayang" (We Still Care) discussion on Tuesday (Dec 19) organised by community organisation Pertubuhan Kebajikan Dan Kesihatan Umum Malaysia (PKKUM) with help from social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi.
During the dialogue, Datuk Zulkifli said he was there not to condemn, judge or punish the community but rather to find common ground.
"We are not here to find faults and we are not here to say who wins or who loses. It is our aim to talk about the good deeds that you have done in your life and how to improve yourself as a person," Dr Zulkifli said.
"Everyone has their own strengths. They should not give up even when they hit rock bottom," he said, citing the success story of J.K. Rowling, the renowned author of the Harry Potter books.
"When her husband left her with a child, she continued pursuing her dreams despite her failures," said Dr Zulkifli.
He encouraged the community to continue contributing to the society, while advising them to seek better job opportunities rather than resorting to sex work or other jobs that go against the religion.
However, a member of the audience disagreed, saying that many became sex workers not by choice but because of their circumstances.
Despite some disagreement during the dialogue, Mr Syed Azmi said he was happy that it had served its purpose, which was to create better understanding.
"The mufti was calm and receptive to differing views throughout the dialogue. I have so much respect for him as he was willing to listen and learn about the community," he told The Star. "The mufti has also invited them to his office in Putrajaya to have more dialogues. This is good progress," he said.
PKKUM, a public health and welfare organisation, said the dialogue showed that the mufti empathised with the struggles faced by minority communities in Malaysia, such as those living with HIV and Aids, and transgender people. The organisation runs a drop-in centre for women with HIV.
"Although the dialogue was heavy and the mufti was not able to answer all questions immediately, the Mufti Department assured PKKUM that it would take note of what was shared and try to find solutions to the problems," said PKKUM in a statement.
"PKKUM will be following up with the Mufti Department on the issues addressed to come up with progressive solutions that will help reduce the stigma in Malaysia," it said.