Pakistan’s first madrasa, or Islamic religious school, for transgender people has opened in Islamabad thanks to the efforts of Rani Khan, a transgender woman who wanted to create a space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to practice Islam, according to Reuters.
Khan has experienced discrimination due to her gender identity, which is why she decided to open the madrasa.
“Most families do not accept transgender people. They throw them out of their homes,” she told Reuters. “At one time, I was also one of them.”
Her family disowned her when she was 13, she said. After living on her own for several years, turning to begging and dancing at weddings to make money, Khan decided she wanted to devote time to her religion. She used her life savings to start the madrasa for other transgender people who want to connect with Islam.
“I’m teaching the Quran to please God, to make my life here and in the hereafter,” Khan said.
In 2018, Pakistan passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which allows people to register their gender identity with the government, prohibits discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, and outlines the government’s plans to encourage the participation of transgender citizens in society.
Despite this landmark piece of legislation, however, people who identify as transgender have been subjected to hate and discrimination based on their identity.
According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021, Pakistan’s penal code puts members of the LGBTQ+ community at risk of abuse through its criminalization of same-sex activities. TransAction Pakistan, a local human rights organization, reported that at least 65 transgender people have been murdered in Pakistan since the organization started collecting data in 2015, according to Nation.Pakistan. Only a handful of these cases have led to legal action.
The discrimination experienced by transgender people in Pakistan inspired Khan to use the madrasa as a safe space for people who may not feel welcome attending religious schools or praying at mosques.
Along with teaching, Khan also leads workshops in sewing and embroidering. As the school has not yet received funding from the government in Pakistan, she plans to raise funds by selling clothing made by the students.
The school in Islamabad follows in the footsteps of the Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa, an Islamic school for transgender students located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that opened in November 2020.
These two schools represent the first of their kind across South Asia, demonstrating a recognition of the rights of transgender people that could help end discrimination and stigmatization.