Bangladesh has made history by opening its first ever Islamic college for transgender Muslims in the city of Dhaka.
Up to 150 transgender students will be allowed to study at the college, which is called the Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa, according to The Times of India.
The college was opened on November 6, with 40 transgender people enrolling on its first day alone.
Trans students in Bangladesh will have the opportunity to learn about Islamic teaching at the college, while a separate department will also offer technical education.
Transgender woman Nishi spoke of her ‘immense joy’ at having access to education again in Bangladesh.
A transgender woman called Nishi, who is aged 27, said she was expelled from school when she was still a child after teachers found out about her gender identity.
“I left home when I was five to six years old,” she said. “I’ve stepped into a madrasa again after so many years. It’s a moment of immense joy for me.”
Nishi said she enjoys doing make-up and sewing, and hopes to one day be able to put her passions to use by finding a job where she could utilise them.
“I want to learn something before entering the job market. I won’t need to look around for a livelihood then.”
Meanwhile, another transgender woman, who was not named, told AFP: “Society treats us in the most hateful ways. We are denied any love or happiness. I cannot express our sorrows enough. Nobody would understand.
“We are not allowed in the mosques. If some of us even enter one, then people often humiliate us. As a human and a Muslim, I wonder why we aren’t allowed to be part of society?”
In an address to students, Abdur Rahman Azad, the founder of the school, said: “We often blame the hijras (transgender people) for their alleged undisciplined lifestyle. But they are not the ones to be blamed, I think.
“Rather, we as a society are to be blamed. We won’t let them attend schools, seminaries or universities. We won’t let them have a decent job. What else would they do?”
As a human and a Muslim, I wonder why we aren’t allowed to be part of society?
There are an estimated 1.5 million transgender people living in Bangladesh, and their rights have been gradually strengthened in recent years.
In 2019, officials introduced “hijra”, referring to transgender people, as an additional option on voting forms.
“From now onward, a third gender invidivual can be a voter with their own identity, as a hijra,” Abdul Baten, director of national identity registration, said at the time.
“The press has already been ordered to print the new forms. Now they can identify themselves as hijras on the national voters’ list.”