PETALING JAYA, Aug 9 ― Amidst the furore and heated exchange on both sides over the topic of LGBT which has dominated headlines, independent preacher Ebit Irawan Ibrahim Lew has a different approach.
In a casual sit-down with a group of transwomen broadcast live over his Facebook page, the Chinese Muslim preacher’s effort to bridge the rift between Muslim conservatives and the community has gone down well with many Malaysians.
The video, centred around matters of religion and gender identities, has earned almost 10,000 shares and viewed nearly 500,000 times at the time of writing.
Ebit, clad in a baju melayu and white skullcap, was shown chatting with at least five transwomen at a restaurant one evening.
A key theme of their conversation revolved around the transwomen’s personal stories, and how they navigated their gender identity alongside their religious practices.
“If we want to repent, that’s between us and God.
“Whether or not God receives our repentance, it’s up to Him. We don’t have to force others to do so,” one of the transwomen who identified herself as Mak Ika said.
Another, called Kak Barr, emphasised the humanity of the “mak nyah” community ― as they are called in Malay ― speaking about their jobs and contributions to local industries.
“Some are salespeople, some open eateries, some are business-oriented, some become makeup artists, and some work in the entertainment industry,” she said.
“A lot of us are doing are running businesses but people only see the negative side of ‘mak nyah’. I’m not making generalisations but a lot of people are quick to condemn us without getting to know us.”
She also touched on the detrimental effects of online harassment from social media users.
“Social media has become a tool for people to bash people like us. We have feelings too,” she said.
Ebit followed up on her comment by talking about the importance of positivity and compassion on social media platforms.
“Life is too short to be hateful towards others,” he said in his closing statement towards the end of the chat.
“We are nowhere near perfect, but we should do whatever we can in our capacity to be better.”
In Malaysia, Muslim transwomen are subject to persecution from Muslim authorities, from state Shariah enactments that criminalise “cross-dressing” ― and in recent months have been the targets of rising hate speech.