Pakistan has opened its first transgender-only madrasa which will teach students how to read the Qur’an and other life skills.
The Islamic school, which is based in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, was set up by Rani Khan, according to Reuters.
Speaking to the news publication, Khan, 34, described the discrimination the transgender community often faces in Pakistan.
“Most families do not accept transgender people. They throw them out of their homes. Transgender people turn to wrongdoing,” she told Reuters. “At one time, I was also one of them.”
At 13-years-old, Khan was disowned by her family and forced to beg to earn money.
Once older, aged 17, she was able to join a transgender group which involved performing at venues such as dancing at weddings or other celebratory functions.
Khan later left the group to reconnect with her religion to help support the local community and reach out to other transgender people.
In October, the 34-year-old opened a small madrasa open to the transgender community. “I’m teaching the Qur’an to please God, to make my life here and in the hereafter,” she said explaining why she chose to open the school.
While mosques and madrasas are central locations for prayer, education, and worship, there is little recognition of the LGBTQ+ community in Pakistan.
Currently, across Pakistan, same-sex marriage or relations are criminalised under the Penal Code 1860 and are deemed culturally taboo.
Khan’s religious school is a self-funded project which receives no governmental backing to stay open.
Speaking to Reuters, Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said the school could help transgender individuals contribute and adapt to mainstream society.
“I’m hopeful that if you replicate this model in other cities, things will improve,” he told the publication.
Pakistan recorded over 10,000 transgender people in 2017, while community-based organisation Khawaja Sira Society, a Lahore-based transgender rights group, believe there are close to half a million transgender people in the Punjab province alone.
“It gives my heart peace when I read the Qur’an,” a madrasa student, Simran Khan, told Reuters and added learning at school was “much better than a life full of insults”.