World’s first exclusive mosque for transgenders (hijras) comes up in Bangladesh

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI—Transgenders in Bangladesh have set up their own exclusive mosque after they were prohibited to pray in community mosques. Transgenders are called Hijras in Indian sub-continent

The world’s first exclusive mosque for transgenders is located on the banks of Brahmaputra river north of Dhaka and close to Mymensingh.

The Bangladesh government donated the land for the mosque after reports of the transgenders being prohibited and thrown out of mosques and not being allowed to pray came to light. The humble structure – a single-room shed with walls and a tin roof – named ‘Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid’, is a new community hub for transgenders, who face insult, rejection and discrimination not just in Bangladesh, but also in the entire Indian sub-continent.

Following the steps for empowerment of transgenders taken in India, Bangladesh has given the rights to the community to identify as the third gender for all legal and official purposes. A law to this effect was passed in 2013. Bangladesh even has a transgender elected as a Mayor in 2021 and a large number of others have entered politics at different levels.

A graveyard has also been built adjacent to the mosque to facilitate burial of transgenders, as a large number of incidents of the mosque committees not permitting burial of these people were reported in the past. The funds for the mosque were raised through donations by the community members.

The mosque has opened with the promise of worship without discrimination, as the transgenders have started enjoying greater legal and political recognition in the Muslim-majority nation. Transgenders are confident that no one can disallow them from holding congregational Namaz, just like other Muslims. They were earlier told to pray only at home and not come to the mosques.

Members of the third gender continue to struggle for basic recognition and acceptance and they are generally deprived of property and marriage rights in Bangladesh. They are also often discriminated against in employment and are much more likely to be victims of violent crime and poverty than the average Bangladeshi.

A section of Bangladeshi citizens has opposed the recognition of transgenders in school textbooks and organised rallies to demand that the government abandon its plans to include them in the curriculum.

Mufti Abdur Rahman Azad, the founder of a charity group for transgenders, said the new mosque was the first of its kind in the country and the world.

A similar endeavour planned in another city was stopped in March following a protest by the local residents. The mosque’s Imam, Abdul Motaleb, 65, said the persecution of the transgender community was against the teachings of Islam. “They are like any other people created by Allah,” he said. “We all are human beings. Maybe some are men, some are women, but all are human. Allah revealed the Holy Quran for all, so everyone has the right to pray, no one can be denied,” the Imam said.

At the opening ceremony for the mosque earlier this month, Joyita Tonu, the 28-year-old community leader, spoke on the importance of providing a space free from discrimination. “From now on, no one can deny a transgender from praying in our mosque,” Tonu said and affirmed that no one could mock them.

For many transgender individuals, the mosque is now a symbol of a newfound sense of belonging. As the community endeavours to expand the mosque, the local residents have already embraced it and dispelled misconceptions about the transgender population. “They lead devout lives like other Muslims,” Tofazzal Hossain, who lives nearby, observed.

The mosque has emerged as a beacon of hope, illustrating the faith’s capacity to transcend societal barriers and foster genuine understanding. The unassuming structure represents inclusion and acceptance in Bangladesh, which separated from Pakistan in 1971 despite the religious affiliation.

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