Beyond Binaries


Presenting at BRISMES Conference 2023 (3-5 July-University of Exeter)

My presentation at BRISMES 2023 (3-5 July-University of Exeter) was on “How to do the history of intersex in Islam: examining ‘intersex’ in premodern Shiʿi legal discourse.”


The current traditional Muslim and orientalist approaches assert that Islam is intolerant of trans-genderism or non-binary sex/gender divisions. By contrast, Islamic legal discourses on sex and/or gender are oftentimes surprisingly more flexible than one might expect. Notably, since the post-classical period (the 14th c. CE), several Shiʿi jurists have categorised indeterminate intersex people as a third nature (third sex and/or gender). However, the tendency of scholars in the West to delve into classical Islamic sources has left the post-classical and modern debates on intersex virtually untouched. This neglected idea of a third nature presents a challenge to the binary conceptions of sex and/or gender in Islamic Studies. This paper thus examines the legal assessment of intersex as a third category in Shiʿi law from the post-classical period to the early twentieth century. Employing a genealogical approach, the study will conceptualise modern intersex identity and trace it back to post-classical Shiʿi legal discourses on various similar sex and/or gender categories such as khunthā (whether determinate or indeterminate intersex) and mamsūḥ (a person who has neither male nor female genitals). Comparing and contrasting modern intersexuality and post-classical sex/gender categories related to intersex people in Muslim societies enables the study to explore the meaning of third nature in Shiʿi legal contexts and thus provide a foundation for comparison between intersex identity in Shiʿi and current international laws regarding the third sex/gender category.


*The picture was taken by Asha Ali.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.