Intersex in Islamic medicine, law, and activism

Authored by: Indira Falk Gesink

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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Premodern Muslim authors recognized the existence of a third sex, khunthā, or intersex. Dictionaries, jurists’ rulings, medical manuals, Qurʾan interpretations, histories, and biographies all testify to widespread acknowledgement of intersex as one natural outcome of conception. Jurists differed on whether the khunthā’s intersex status would always resolve at puberty into male or female, producing two lines of legal reasoning, but the dominant strand elaborated rules to integrate adult intersex individuals into a social scheme that assumed binary sex. The khunthā also figured in polemics against Sufi gazing cults, and in histories and biographies as a problem the resolution of which demonstrated one’s wisdom and superior reasoning. Widespread tolerance for the khunthā’s sexual ambiguity provides a rich body of premodern precedent on which intersex activists may draw.

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