If you’ve spent enough time online, you may have come across several posts about things you can change in Malaysia. One of such posts that you may have come across is this…
But if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s basically an infographic on the conversion therapy for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community in Malaysia. This infographic was posted in response to the Minister of Religious Affairs, Zulkifli Mohammad’s proposal to arrest and ‘educate’ transgender people.
The infographic also mentioned that the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia’s (JAKIM) has a programme for the Muslim LGBTQ+ community called Mukhayyam. It claims that Mukhayyam is a rehabilitation camp that uses religious approach to return participants ‘to the right path’. And at the end of the infographic, Malaysians are urged to write to their respective MPs to ban this programme.
Just after this infographic was posted, JAKIM reportedly lodged a police report against Nicole Fong, who posted this inforgraphic on Twitter. JAKIM claimed that the post was baseless and false as it likens Mukhayyam to conversion therapies conducted in Western countries.
“JAKIM sees this accusation as manipulative and spiteful besides wanting to stop and prevent the freedom of religion among the Muslim LGBT community who wish to live better lives according to Islamic guidelines.” – JAKIM’s Director, Datuk Paimuzi Yahya, as quoted from Harian Metro. Translated from BM.
So, it got us wondering, how different is the conversion therapy in Malaysia as compared to other countries? But before we get to that, let’s look at Mukhayyam started out.
JAKIM’s camp was initially created to help the LGBTQ+ community find a… job?
So back in 2011, JAKIM started a programme called Mukhayyam, which means ‘camp’ in Arabic. It is a three day and two night programme that is conducted eight times a year. We tried to get in touch with JAKIM to find out from them about the programme itself but to no avail.
According to the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC), the programme was initially created to provide a ‘safe, non-judgemental space’ for the transgender community to get religious exposure. Besides that, it also served as a platform for the community to receive assistance like funds from JAKIM and other religious bodies to improve their ‘livelihood through job opportunities’.
“There was no imposition of rehabilitation and it was in this early iteration of the programme circa 2011 that MAC was involved with the sole purpose of elevating the socioeconomic status of transgender people who were bereft of employment due to discrimination.” – MAC, as quoted by FMT .
If you have never heard of Mukhayyam before Nicole’s post, that’s probably because the programme was only known within the community. In fact, participants would normally know and join the programme from word of mouth.
The programme normally attracted an average of 30 participants, majority of them are either gay or transwomen who are Muslim. Former Director of Family Social and Community Development Division at JAKIM, Zakuan Sawai claimed that although the programme is catered for the LGBTQ+ community, it didn’t seem to appeal to lesbians. He also added that JAKIM sometimes receives requests from the non-Muslim LGBTQ+ community to participate in the Mukhayyam programme.
“We also receive requests from non-Muslim transwomen. They want to participate in JAKIM’s programme but, as of now, our focus is only for Muslim (transwomen). It’s not like we don’t want to help but we don’t want to cause other issues later on considering how JAKIM is a religious institution.” – Zakuan to Berita Harian. Translated from BM.
You’d think that the programme only consists of religious and spiritual studies but Zakuan mentioned that the programme also included outdoor activities such as flying fox, snorkelling, jungle trekking, swimming and football, among others.
While some may find those activities fun, participants who had been on this programme claimed that they weren’t expecting these activities. So, most of the time, they were unsuitably dressed for activities like this.
Seeing how this programme is organised and supported by JAKIM, a federal govt agency, it may not come as a surprise that…
Other states have similar(ish) programmes…
While researching for this story, we also stumbled upon other initiatives to ‘cure’ the LGBTQ+ community like…
- JAKIM’s video on ‘curing’ LGBTQ+ (you can watch it here)
- An e-book called ‘Penghijrahan Diri Menuju Jalan Yang Benar — Strategi Untuk Mengatasi Masalah Homoseks (Self-Migration Towards the Right Path — A Strategy to Overcome the Problem of Homosexuality)’
- An app called Hijrah Diri
But we won’t go in detail into these initiatives as we’ve done that before. Just click here to find out more about these initiatives.
What we found tho were other similar programmes like Program Penghayatan Islam and Program Kembara that are conducted by state religious departments as well. We tried getting in touch with the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (MAIS) to find out more about this but like JAKIM, it has yet to respond to us.
So, with our limited research capabilities, what we found was how the names and purpose of these two programmes are pretty… generic. And these programmes aren’t just for the LGBTQ+ community – they can sometimes be catered to specific communities as well, such as the Orang Asli (like the ones conducted in Perak) and those who are visually impaired (like the ones organised in KL).
There are programmes for the LGBTQ+ community tho but they have different names like ‘Program Tautan Mahabbah Komuniti Disayangi’ by MAIS and ‘Program Dialog Mawaddah Bersama Komuniti Disayangi (Transgender)’ by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI). In fact, JAWI has been conducting programmes like this since 2005, waaayyy before JAKIM’s Mukhayyam.
However, unlike JAKIM’s Mukhayyam, programmes like this focus more on exposing the community to religious and health knowledge besides trying to prevent negative perception of the community by getting the participants involved in community service. MAIS, for instance, conducts activities such as congregational prayers, religious lectures, religious quizzes and self-reflection sessions.
And MAIS’ approach in its programme is said to be exemplary for other programmes with similar purpose.
“The findings of yesterday’s dialogue concluded that the issues of welfare, spiritual guidance and health should be given attention, and the approach used by MAIS’ Al-Riqab Rehabilitation Department in guiding transgender to live better lives according to the tenets of Islam can be used as a model to emulate.” – JAWI in an official statement. Translated from BM.
Sounds pretty okay so far. So, how did arguments stating that conversion therapies in Malaysia are scarring to the LGBTQ+ community? Well…
The Mukhayyam programme has changed over the years
In recent years, there have been claims that the modules used in the Mukhayyam programme has changed. One of the participants of this camp, Melati, claimed that the programme has even changed its name to ‘islah mukhayyam’.
We tried to find more about ‘islah mukhayyam’ but we only found a post by a blogger on his experience in joining the programme and an official statement from Terengganu State Assembly on the programmes conducted for youths in Terengganu. One of them is apparently ‘islah mukhayyam’.
According to MAC, the programme has deviated from its original purpose and has been using a more rehabilitative approach.
“In its later iterations, the programme deviated from its original intent. It was when rehabilitative and reparative components were introduced that MAC dissociated itself from the Mukhayyam programme.” – MAC to FMT.
This may be why the infographic mentioned in the intro claims that Mukhayyam is a rehabilitation camp. But just a quick note, rehabilitation camp or approach here doesn’t equate to the programme functioning like a rehabilitation centre (we’ve covered that in a separate article).
Anyways, JAKIM’s new alleged rehabilitative approach is just one of the methods used around the world to ‘correct’ LGBTQ+ people’s sexual orientation and/or gender identities. This is known as conversion therapy – counseling and psychotherapy to attempt to eliminate individuals’ sexual desires for members of their own sex.
And, as it turns out, Malaysia is said to be one out of many other countries practising conversion therapy. At the time of writing, only nine countries are either seeking to or have already banned this therapy.
Based on a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), other conversion therapy methods include…
- Electroshock therapy
- Chemical therapy
- Psychotherapy and counselling
- Exorcism and spiritual or miracle cures, among others.
And some of these practices in other countries are forced upon the LGBTQ+ community. In China, for instance, there have been reports of multiple abusive aspects of conversion therapy such as forced medication, coercion and even physical abduction. This happens in public hospitals and private clinics although China doesn’t officially acknowledge LGBTQ+ as a mental illness or a crime.
The US, on the contrary, may use similar methods to Malaysia which is through a conversion camp known as the Journey to Manhood. However, unlike JAKIM’s Mukhayyam, Journey to Manhood is available in other countries as well such Poland and the UK.
With so many countries practising conversion therapy, we can’t help but to wonder…
Does this mean conversion therapy works in ‘curing’ the LGBTQ+ community?
In current days, LGBTQ+ is becoming accepted in many parts of the world and the reverse is being seen as discrimination. You can click here to see how the community is treated in various countries in the world.
However, there are still those who believe that being LGBTQ+ is a choice and that it can be changed through methods like conversion therapy. And this can be seen in Malaysia with JAKIM reportedly mentioned that it managed to ‘cure’ 3,000 LGBTQ+ people.
Although JAKIM and other religious bodies may present statistics to show the success rate of their programmes, MAC still believes that LGBTQ+ people do not require rehabilitation to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation or gender identities.
“(Conversion therapy is rejected) also for its harmful effects on an individual resulting in emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma without any of its desired ‘curative’ outcomes.” – MAC to FMT.
Reports by ILGA, Human Rights Watch and Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy on conversion therapy, for instance, cited several side-effects to the therapy such as prolonged psychological harm on LGBTQ+ persons and difficulties in getting access to mental healthcare. This may be why several LGBTQ+ right groups have been calling for a ban on Mukhayyam.
For instance, in 2019, Numan Afifi, President of LGBT rights group Pelangi Campaign, claimed that Mukhayyam is apparently a ‘state-sponsored violence’ through its ‘corrective therapy’. JAKIM has since denied this allegation by coming up with an official statement clarifying what it does in this programme. You can read more on this statement here.
At the time of writing, Nicole along with 15 rights groups have come up with a statement clarifying that JAKIM has taken the infographic out of context.
“It is misleading for JAKIM and others who have lodged police reports to say that the post likened the state-funded Mukhayyam camps to other methods of conversion therapy. On the contrary, the post provided an overview of conversion therapy as well as the various methods of conversion therapies known and practised around the world by state and non-state actors.” – A joint statement, as posted on JFS website.
Meanwhile, a number of representatives from local LGBTQ+ community who have participated in Mukhayyam programmes came forward to defend JAKIM. These representatives, who came from NGOs that aim to educate the public on the LGBTQ+ community like Hirah Republique and Islah Movements, claimed that, unlike conversion therapy in other countries, JAKIM’s programmes are not violent and they were not forced to participate in those programmes.
Despite that, Nicole still has a pending police report against her and there’s a chance JAKIM may take further action. However, throughout the years, there have been a lot of other cases and claims like this, some of which have been taken to court. You may have heard of the cross-dressing case that happened in Negeri Sembilan or how two women who were caned for having lesbian sex in Terengganu.
Having said that, this is just one chapter of what might be a neverending book about the position of the LQBTQ+ community in Malaysia, especially Muslims.