Pakistan's first madrassa for transgender people: An article of faith and a labour of love

Just as she became a teenager, Rani Khan was thrown out of their house by her parents. They could not stand to raise a transgender offspring. Her fate was no different from other transgender people in Pakistan, who are driven to the streets by their own families and have to resort to begging, dancing or prostitution to survive. 

After living on the mean streets and begging for a living for four years, she joined a group of transgender people who made a living by dancing at festive occasions. One night, she saw a deceased transgender friend in her dream who exhorted Rani to do something to improve the lot of their community. It took her the other half of her life and all her life savings but Rani, now 34, set up a religious school (madrassa) for the teansgender people to help assimilate the community into the mainstream. 

The Pakistani parliament recognised the third gender and accorded people from the teansgender community several rights in 2018. Despite this, the community largely remains marginalised. The government data from says there are 10,000 transgender people, though NGOs working for them say the numbers could be around 300,000 given the country's population of 220 million. Social stigma against them is so strong that madrassas don't allow transgender people even though there is no official decree against it. 

Rani herself became inclined towards religion after losing the close friend mentioned above. She also started attending a madrassa, and praying at the mosque regularly. However, when she offered prayers wearing men's clothes on the men's area, she realised the others around were very careful to maintain distance from her. It was this discrimination that led her to work towards setting up a madrassa dedicatedly working for transgender people. 

This school was started in December 2020 in Islamabad. Along with religious studies, the students here also learn skills like sewing and embroidery, giving them a way of earning a livelihood in a dignified manner. 

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