Bangladesh opens mosque for transgender hijra community

Bangladesh Fri, March 29, 2024

After being expelled from prior prayer sessions, the transgender hijra community in Bangladesh was welcomed into a new mosque with the assurance that they would be able to worship without facing any discrimination. The modest building, a one-room hut with walls and a tin roof, serves as the minority’s new community center. Although they have recently gained more legal and political recognition, they are still subject to pervasive prejudice.

Community activist Joyita Tonu addressed the crowded assembly, saying, “From now on, no one can deny a hijra from praying in our mosque.” Adding, “No one can mock us,” the 28-year-old, whose hair was covered in a white scarf, was obviously distraught. Situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, north of the capital Dhaka, the mosque near Mymensingh was constructed on land provided by the government subsequent to the expulsion of the city’s hijra community from an established congregation.

“I never imagined I could pray at a mosque again in my lifetime,” said 42-year-old Sonia, who attended an Islamic seminary and enjoyed reciting the Quran as a child. However, she was prevented from praying at a mosque after coming out as a hijra, the term used to describe transgender women in South Asia.

“We would hear comments like, ‘Why are you hijra people at mosques?’ from others. It is best for you to pray at home. “Please refrain from visiting the mosques,” Sonia, who goes by one name, said to AFP. “It was shameful for us, so we didn’t go,” she said. This is our mosque, now. Nobody can say no anymore.

” ‘Like any other people’

Since 2013, members of the Hijra community in Bangladesh have been formally permitted to identify as a third gender, a development that has benefited them greatly. A number of them have entered politics in Bangladesh; in 2021, a transgender lady was elected mayor of a small town in the country. However, while not having the right to own property or get married, hijra still struggle to be accepted on a basic level.

In addition, they face discrimination in the workplace frequently and are far more prone than the ordinary Bangladeshi to become victims of violent crime and poverty. The inclusion of transgender Bangladeshis in school textbooks has angered hardline Islamist groups as well, sparking protests demanding the government give up on its efforts to integrate them in the curriculum.

A hijra charity’s founder, Mufti Abdur Rahman Azad, told AFP that the new mosque was the nation’s first of its kind. He said that local opposition last month forced the cancellation of a similar project that was scheduled for another city. The Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid for the Third Gender was constructed this month thanks to the labor and financial contributions of dozens of local hijra women.

In response to a nearby Muslim cemetery’s refusal to bury a young hijra woman within its grounds last year, it also features a cemetery. Abdul Motaleb, a 65-year-old imam of the mosque, declared that the persecution of the hijra community went against the principles of his faith. The cleric told AFP, “They are like any other people created by Allah.” “No one is impervious.” “Humans are what we are all.” All of them are human, even though some may be men and some women. No one may be denied the ability to pray because Allah made the Holy Koran accessible to all.” Motaleb stated that the faith and resilience of the hijra could serve as a lesson for other Bangladeshis.

“Since I have been here at this mosque, I have been impressed by their character and deeds,” he stated. Prejudice is already being addressed by the new mosque. For the second week in a running, 53-year-old local resident Tofazzal Hossain has offered Friday prayers there. He claimed that his “misconceptions” about the hijra group have been altered by living and praying with them.

“When they started to live with us, many people said many things,” he stated to AFP. But we now realize that not everything people say is accurate. They lead moral lives just like any other Muslim.” In order to accommodate more people, Tonu intends to enlarge the modest mosque. She told AFP, “God willing, we will do it very soon.” “Hundreds of people can offer prayers together.”

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