Historic Transgender Islamic School Opens in Pakistan

Keshav Agiwal
Staff Writer

A young transgender woman opened the first transgender-only madrasa in Islamabad, Pakistan. A madrasa is an Islamic religious school where students can pray, learn the teachings of the Qur’an, and discuss other Islamic subjects. Rani Khan, the founder of the school, explained to Reuters that in a dream, her transgender friend who passed away was in a great state of agony, begging her to do something for the transgender community. The dream changed her life and inspired her to use her life savings towards creating this two-room school.

While Pakistan does not restrict transgender people from praying in mosques or attending regular religious schools, Khan says that members of the transgender community still face discrimination because of their gender identities. Pakistan recognized transgender people in 2018 after passing the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. Though the act hopes to encourage the incorporation of transgender citizens in society, they often have to resort to begging, dancing at events, or sex work for survival, CBS News reports. Many families still do not accept their transgender relatives, who are often kicked out of their homes, just as Khan was when she was 13.

In recent months, Pakistan’s community has shown greater tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community. Khan’s madrasa sparked discussions on many social media platforms, as it is one of the very few Islamic institutions with the goal of bringing the transgender community together through faith.

ABC Australia explains that though the government has not agreed to give aid to the school, some officials explain that they will help these students find jobs. Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told Reuters that he hopes to see schools like Khan’s open in other cities and believes these schools will be a great step to help the trans community integrate into society. Without government aid, Khan devised a plan to raise money to run her school. She told the Global Citizen that she is teaching her students to sew and embroider, allowing them to create and sell clothing.

The transgender-only school is following in the footsteps of a similar school in Dhaka, Bangladesh called Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa, which opened in November 2020. The trans community in Bangladesh faces problems similar to those of the trans community in Pakistan. Similar to Khan’s madrasa, the school in Bangladesh aims to prepare transgender people to enter the job market by teaching them language, mathematics, and vocational training, New York Daily News explains. Both of these schools represent the start of recognition of trans rights and the hopeful end to discrimination against transgender people in South Asia.

The impact of these schools is already beginning to show within the transgender community. Students have expressed a sense of peace and happiness from reading the Qur’an and learning at these schools. A student explained to Reuters that while she was looked down upon for her gender, “this school is a beacon of hope.” Abdur Rahman Azad, leader of the school in Bangladesh, explained to New York Daily News that Islam does not discriminate and treats everyone as a human being, so transgender people should enjoy these same rights.

Though there is still much work to be done for the transgender community, Dr. Ali Riaz, a professor and author of books on Islam and politics in Bangladesh, told CBS News that he saw these schools as a “positive” step forward, but “not enough.” Dr. Riaz noted that “the conversations have to be started, awareness increased, until people accept them as a normal part of the society, as is happening around the world with LGBTQ rights.”

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