​Former transgender crafts coffins, tombstones for Malaysia’s LGBTQ community

S. Mahfuz
Alor Setar, Malaysia
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Muhammad Asrul Abdul Kadir, 38, formerly known as Jun, shows a photo of himself when he was a transgender (left) alongside a recent image, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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​​Muhammad Asrul assembles plywood pieces to create a coffin at his workshop in Kedah, Malaysia, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Muhammad Asrul displays a completed coffin in his living room, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Stickers of recently deceased people are affixed to a mirror in Muhammad Asrul’s workshop, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Muhammad Asrul applies a polishing liquid to the surface of the completed grave fence at his workshop, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Muhammad Asrul loads a grave fence into a van for delivery in Kedah, Malaysia, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Muhammad Asrul and his friend install a new headstone on a grave, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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Muhammad Asrul cleans a grave that has been replaced with a new headstone as loved ones of the deceased look on, Feb. 9, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

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A portrait of Muhammad Asrul Abdul Kadir, Feb. 9, 2024. [S.Mahfuz/BenarNews]

A former transgender woman in Malaysia has taken on the task of making coffins and headstones for LGBTQ people who are often not given a proper burial because their families have shunned them.

Muhammad Asrul Abdul Kadir, 38, also is skilled at bathing and shrouding bodies under Islamic tradition. He operates a workshop in Alor Mengkudu, a village in Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah state in this majority-Muslim country.

Muhammad Asrul said family members rejected him when he became transgender so he moved to Kuala Lumpur in his 20s and worked in the sex trade. His mother’s death in 2016 was the turning point when, he said, he decided to return home and resume life as a man.

People have not fully accepted him and even called him crazy for learning how to build coffins, he told BenarNews.

Muhammad Asrul, who is frequently summoned by hospitals to collect the bodies of HIV or AIDS patients, said he had borrowed money from loan sharks to buy wood to craft coffins and to help families who could not afford funeral arrangements. 

His skills extend beyond those used in his workshop. 

“There are bodies, including those from the transgender community who were unclaimed by families, so I take responsibility and manage them all. Handling the body is the most sobering time,” he said.

​​With no one willing to teach coffin-making, Muhammad Asrul eventually took matters into his own hands, learning independently and through online tutorials.

“[M]y interest in the art of crafting coffins and headstones has been there since childhood, observing others creating them,” he said.


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