Minister wants to ban Malaysian from social media after ruckus in Mecca over gender issue

Nur Sajat (right) previously revealed that she was born a hermaphrodite and raised as a man, but preferred doing women's activities. PHOTO: NUR SAJAT/INSTAGRAM

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa threatened on Tuesday (Jan 4) to ban the social media accounts of a cosmetics entreprenuer for wearing women's attire while performing an Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca, as other voices jump into the controversy to defend or reprimand Nur Sajat, who is said to be a man.

Datuk Seri Mujahid said he made the request to ban Ms Sajat to Internet regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) at a meeting on Monday (Feb 3) in his office in Putrajaya.

Ms Sajat raised a huge ruckus among Muslims in Malaysia by dressing up in women's prayer clothes in Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities in Saudi Arabia.

"I will take firm steps over the action of Muhammad Sajad Kamaruz Zaman, who uploaded photos and video of him wearing women's prayer garments when in Mecca which circulated widely on the social media and led to discomfort among Muslims," he told reporters, referring to Ms Sajat's name that is apparently registered with the National Registration Department.

"Immediate action will be taken by MCMC," Mr Mujahid said, adding that the commission has the power to stop sensitive contents that could spark unrest.

The Internet was set alight in Malaysia after pictures and videos of the 34-year-old entrepreneur wearing a white women's prayer garb in Mecca, and a black outfit in Medina, were posted on her social media accounts. The postings attracted more than 5,000 comments, mostly condemning her decision on wearing the women's clothes.

The minister said on Monday that Ms Sajat's actions could tarnish Malaysia-Saudi Arabia ties as it is an offence for a man to dress like a woman in the conservative Islamic kingdom.

Accompanying the controversy on social media was a copy of her alleged passport showing what is apparently her current picture with the name Muhammad Sajjad Kamaruz Zaman, and stating her gender as male.

Ms Sajat has repeatedly denied that her identity card carried the name Muhammad Sajjad.

She has long been accused of being a man, although she has maintained that she is a woman. She is well known in Malaysia for selling skincare cosmetics and women's shapewear like girdles.

In 2016, Ms Sajat revealed that she was born a hermaphrodite and raised as a man, but preferred doing women's activities.

The controversy raised questions over Islam's stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, cyber bullying, and even the role of the 20-month old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government that had promised a New Malaysia when it came to power.

Following PH's stunning win in May 2018, Mr Mujahid has been advocating Islam as a progressive force.

Three months after that electoral victory, he met transgender advocate Nisha Ayub at the office of powerful Islamic agency, Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim). Mr Mujahid had said then that Malaysia should become "inclusive and compassionate".

But much has happened since then.

PH is struggling to retain support from Malay-Muslim voters, the two biggest Malay parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia have formed a close alliance, and this had contributed to PH losing in five by-elections in constituencies with a Malay majority.

Thus the call by Mr Mujahid to ban Ms Sajat on social media is a sharp about-turn on his earlier stance.

Others this week tried to take the middle ground in the controversy.

Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said that while a man wearing women's clothes is wrong, the person should be counselled not condemned.

"We need to advice him (Muhammad Sajad) in a good way. I just don't agree with the public saying that he is cursed by God," he told reporters on Monday.

Kelantan Mufti Mohamad Shukri Mohamad said the worship of a "transgender" Muslim remained valid even though the individual had changed his or her physical form.

Meanwhile, a previously unheard-of group called Justice for Sisters said it is worried about Ms Sajat's safety in Saudi Arabia amid the controversy.

It is not clear if she has left the kingdom. Muslims typically perform the umrah pilgrimage for between 10 days and two weeks, visiting both Mecca and Medina.

"The real concern is not the telekung (prayer garment), but her safety and security, the breach of privacy and the lack of rights and evidence-based response by the government on this matter," the non-governmental group said in a statement.

"Several documents, including a copy of passport and travel documents, which allegedly state Sajat's deadname (assigned name at birth that the person no longer identifies with) were doxxed, or shared publicly, on social media and the media without consent... sparking harmful online comments and a shift in the way in which the media describes Sajat," it said.

Justice for Sisters added: "We are concerned that the reactions and calls for investigation against Sajat and her friends, who are trans women, place them under adverse risks. Saudi Arabia criminalises trans people based on their gender expression or based on their attire," it said.

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