Sheikh Musa, The Crossdressing Sufi

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Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, often involves a journey towards the Creator. Sufis, or practitioners of Sufism, typically shun worldly matters to focus on their spiritual connection with God. They believe that love and compassion are fundamental to building this relationship, while also strengthening their faith and devotion.

However, in worldly contexts, the term ‘love’ often refers to feelings towards the opposite sex, with same-sex love seen as deviant or a condition needing correction. Yet, ‘love’ itself cannot be arbitrarily confined to opposite-sex relationships.

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Language constructs are deeply rooted in society, making it difficult, if not impossible, to change certain meanings. These entrenched constructs also permeate Sufism, where love and compassion are sometimes interpreted similarly.

The recognition of Sufi figures is often rigid, predominantly highlighting heterosexual identities. Stories of Sufi figures with diverse sexual identities are marginalized, reinforcing patriarchal tendencies within Sufism (Syaikh, 2002: 12).

Amar Alfikar (2023) notes that the author of the famous poem ‘al-I`tirof,’ Abu Nawas, was a homosexual. Alfikar also suggests that various Islamic spiritual ceremonies involve individuals from gender minorities. This indicates that Islam’s love and compassion extend beyond specific genders, and the religion should offer a safe space for all, including gender minorities.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, there is a unique Sufi tradition involving gender minorities in its ceremonies. The shrine of Bari Imam (d. 1705), Syed Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi Mashhadi, a 17th-century Sufi from Punjab, hosts annual commemorations attended by a diverse congregation, including third-gender individuals. The ceremony prominently features gender minorities expressing androgynous, crossdressing, and transgender identities in prayer.

Amar Alfikar’s work “Queer Menafsir” (2023) recounts the story of Sheikh Musa Sada Suhaq (d. 1449), a Sufi from Gujarat and founder of the Sada Suhagiyya order. He visited the shrine of Sheikh Nizam al-Din Awliya before embarking on the Hajj. Witnessing sex workers and homeless women singing and dancing at the shrine, he harshly rebuked them.

During his Hajj, Sheikh Musa received a spiritual revelation that prevented him from visiting the Prophet’s tomb in Medina. Feeling unworthy and remorseful for his earlier rebuke, he returned to the shrine of Sheikh Nizam al-Din Awliya. There, he dressed and adorned himself like a woman, dancing beside the shrine to express his regret and seek forgiveness.

This act brought Sheikh Musa profound spiritual enlightenment, leading him to continue wearing women’s clothing. He earned the title ‘Sada Suhaq,’ meaning ‘eternal bride.’ In his final wishes, he requested to be buried with the glass bangles he wore, and his followers continue to honor him by visiting his shrine in crossdressing attire.

These unique stories highlight the often-overlooked narratives within Islamic history, especially regarding gender minorities who face stereotypes and subordination. Fundamentally, Islam teaches love and compassion for all, including gender minorities.

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