An interesting study has to do with the phenomenon of hermaphroditism. While true hermaphroditism, where a person is born sharing internally and externally both male and female gonads (testes and ovaries), is rare, pseudohermaphroditism is more common.1 Not only is it still common today, pseudohermaphroditism was a common occurrence during the time of the Prophet Muhammad such that it is related that one particular pseudohermaphrodite by the name, Hīt (or Hanab)2 enjoyed the regular company of the Prophet’s wives.3 Their prevalence led Islamic jurists to dedicate special discussions in their law books about the ways to determine the true gender of hermaphrodites,4 their designated prayer locations in cases when the gender remains obscured,5 the dangers involved in allowing a recovering sodomite to lead the congregational prayers,6 and the appropriate percentages to be allocated to them upon the demise of their family members.7
This is extremely revealing, because it has become a common understanding among non-Muslims and many Muslims alike that Islam never envisioned accommodating people of obscured gender or those who outwardly appear to be gay in their mannerisms. The very existence of such discussions, however, manifests the dynamism of both Muslim jurists and Islamic jurisprudence to deal with new social challenges and find workable solutions for them.
The Islamic tradition is no stranger to sexually obscured members in its society being that the pioneer community confronted this phenomenon, and even accommodated the presence of those members viewing them as tolerable profusions of the Creator’s divine will even if lacking in some basic elements of perfect physiological humanity. The Prophet Muhammad himself allowed for Hīt, the pseudohermaphrodite, to spend time in the presence of his wives. One canonical report reads,
“According to Umm Salama (the Prophet’s wife): She was entertaining a hermaphrodite while the Messenger of Allah was present at home. He (the hermaphrodite) said to Umm Salama’s brother: “O ‘Abd Allah b. Abī Umaya! If Allah gives you victory in Ṭā’if tomorrow, I will point you to the daughter of Ghaylān. From the front she has four (folds of fat) but from behind she has eight (folds).” The Prophet—Allah’s blessing and peace on him—heard it say that and then said: “These are not to be in your presence.”
For further reading, see attached document.
1 Pseudohermaphroditism differs from hermaphroditism in that in the former case a child is born with both external genitalia while internally preserving the gonads of only one particular gender, male or female. A true hermaphrodite has both male and female gonads and the external genitalia of both genders.
2 Some also conjecture that its name was Māti’, the client of Fātikha.
3 Aisha said, “There was a hermaphrodite who used to visit the Prophet’s wives—God’s mercy and peace on him. And they used to consider it to be among those who were free of sexual desire. One day the Prophet—God’s mercy and peace on him—entered while it was in the presence of one of his wives while it was describing a woman saying: “When she approaches, she approaches with four (folds) and when she turns her back, she turns away with eight.” The Prophet—God’s mercy and peace on him—then said: “Do I not see that this one recognizes what is here? They are not to be in your presence.” So they barred him (from entering from that day).” (Al-Nawāwī, Yaḥyā b. Sharaf. Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1995, 7/2/134, Hadith #2181)
4 The general way the early jurists determined the gender of a hermaphrodite child was to observe from which reproductive organ the child urinated. If it urinated from its penis, it was considered to be male, and if from the vagina, it was deemed to be female.
5 In formal Islamic congregational prayers, men and women have designated prayer spaces. Men stand in the front rows while women stand in rows behind the men. For hermaphrodites whose genders were still considered obscure, a special area for them was made between the rows of men and women.
6 Many scholars discouraged allowing men known in the community as recovering sodomites to regularly lead formal congregational prayers. The aim was to prevent backbiting and negative conversation about them, so as to protect members of the community from committing sin.
7 The Islamic teachings are in most cases clear regarding the specific portions of inheritance that should be allotted to male and female heirs of a deceased person. As for hermaphrodites, jurists were led to develop a special form of computation in light of the difficulty of knowing precisely what gender they belong to.