A coalition of 50 Islamic clerics in Eastern Pakistan has issued a ruling that affirms a number of broad rights for transgender people under Islamic law.
The group, which the BBC described as "part of the little-known Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat body based in Lahore," announced its fatwa, or religious decree, on Sunday. In it, the clerics declared that while unions between intersex people are not allowed, a transgender person "having visible signs" of being either male or female may get married to a person of the opposite sex. They also ruled that transgender people should be guaranteed their full inheritance from their parents, as well as be given a traditional Islamic funeral upon death.
Ultimately, the fatwa's authors declared any attempt to "humiliate, insult or tease" the transgender community as forbidden.
While not legally binding, Sunday's clerical edict does carry significant weight among the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat's religious followers, who reportedly number in the tens of thousands.
"This is the first time in history that Muslim clerics have raised their voices in support of the rights of transgender persons,” Qamar Naseem, a trans community activist, told The Telegraph. “But we have to go further for transgender people and the country needs to introduce legislation on it."
For Almas Bobby, another Pakistani trans activist, the fatwa's significance came less from its specific religious jurisprudence than the fact that it existed at all.
"We are glad that somebody's talked about us too," Bobby reportedly told BBC Urdu. "By Sharia we already had the right [to marry], but unless measures are taken to remove the misconceptions about us in society, the condition of our community will not be changed."
In Pakistan, as in the United States, the transgender community has been marginalized, misunderstood and subjected violence. But while the debate over trans rights in the U.S. has recently centered largely around access to public restrooms, Sunday's fatwa comes as Pakistan is grappling with the recent high-profile murder of Alisha, a transgender activist who was shot seven times and then given insufficient medical care at a local hospital as a result of her gender status. That attack was one of the latest in a series against trans people in Pakistan, of whom advocates estimate there are around half a million.
In 2012, Pakistan's Supreme Court granted the country's trans community a number of expanded protections and rights, although Reuters points out that Pakistani marriage law has remained ill defined on the issue, with same-sex unions still forbidden. In late 2015, Alisha and a number of other trans activists staged a protest outside the Peshawar Press Club, demanding the rights assigned to trans people by the Supreme Court be enacted on a local level.