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Pakistan opens its first madrasa (school) for transgender students


This is Pakistan’s first madrasa/school for trans people (Picture: Reuters)

Pakistan has opened its first transgender-only madrasa, or Islamic school, funded by founder Rani Khan with her own life savings.

The madrasa is an important milestone for the LGBTQ+ community in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, where transgender people have faced ostracism.

Currently, there is no official restriction on them attending religious schools or praying at mosques.

Rani, who teaches Qur’an classes, said: ‘Most families do not accept transgender people. They throw them out of their homes. Transgender people turn to wrongdoing.

‘At one time, I was also one of them.’

Holding back tears, the 34-year-old recalled how she was disowned by her family at 13 and began begging to survive.

At 17, she joined a transgender group, dancing at weddings and other functions, but quit to connect with her religion after a dream.

Rani dreamt a deceased friend and fellow dancer pleaded with her to do something for the community.

Rani studied the Qur’an at home, and attended religious schools, before opening the two-room madrasa in October.

She says the school has not received aid from the government, although some officials promised to help students find jobs.

A group of students reciting the Qur’an (Picture: Reuters)

‘I’m teaching the Qur’an to please God, to make my life here and in the hereafter,’ Rani said, explaining how the madrasa offered a place for transgender people to worship, learn about Islam and repent for past actions.

Along with some donations, Rani is teaching her students how to sew and embroider, in hopes of raising funds for the school by selling clothing.

Pakistan’s parliament recognised a third gender in 2018, giving trans individuals fundamental rights such as the ability to vote and choose their gender on official documents.

Nonetheless, trans people remain on the margins in the country, and often have to resort to begging, dancing and sex work to make a living.

Rani started the school with her life savings (Picture: Reuters)

The madrasa could help students assimilate into mainstream society, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told Reuters.

‘I’m hopeful that if you replicate this model in other cities, things will improve,’ he said.

A religious school for transgender people has opened in Dhaka, the capital of nearby Bangladesh.

Bangladesh also recently appointed its first trans news reader.

Last year, a Christian transgender group started its own church in Pakistan’s bustling southern port city of Karachi.

Pakistan’s 2017 census recorded about 10,000 transgender people, though rights groups say the number could now be well over 300,000 in the country of 220 million.

‘It gives my heart peace when I read the Qur’an,’ said one madrasa student, Simran Khan, who is also eager to learn life skills.

‘It is much better than a life full of insults,’ the 19-year-old added.

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