Rani Khan stands every day with a long white shawl on top to give lessons in the Qur’an, in Pakistan’s first transgender religious school, which she created using all her savings.
This school is an important landmark for the LGBT community in Pakistan, the conservative Islamic country in which transgender people face ostracism, although there is no official restriction on attending religious school classes or praying in mosques.
While a number of transgender people were swaying back and forth as Quranic verses were recited with their heads covered, Khan, 34, said, “Most families do not accept transgender people. They expel them from their homes. Transgender people resort to the forbidden.”
She added, “At one point I was one of them.”
Defeating her tears, Khan remembered how her family disowned her when she was thirteen and had to beg.
At the age of seventeen, she joined a transgender band that was engaged in dancing at weddings and other occasions, but withdrew from it to return to her religion, after seeing in one of her dreams a transgender friend and former dancer begging her to achieve an achievement for the transgender community.
Khan studied the Qur’an at home, and went to religious schools, before opening her two-class school last October.
Khan explained how the school provides a place for converts to worship, study the Islamic religion, and repent from previous actions. She said, “I know the Qur’an for the sake of God for my life in this world and in the hereafter.”
She says the school has not received any aid from the government, although some officials have promised to help female students find jobs.
Apart from some donations, Khan learned sewing and embroidery, hoping to earn some income for the school by selling clothes.
The Pakistani parliament recognized the third sex in 2018, and granted its members basic rights such as the right to vote and choose the sex in official documents.
However, transgender people remain on the sidelines in Pakistan, often forced to resort to begging, dancing and prostitution to earn their livelihood.
The Pakistani census in 2017 recorded about ten thousand people, although rights groups say the number may exceed 300,000 among the country’s 220 million people.