In Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, a first of its kind madrassa – or Islamic school – for transgender students opened last week, welcoming 40 students through its doors. Called the Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa the school will eventually have 150 students enrolled.

Known in South East Asia as Hijras, the Bangladesh government in 2013 first announced the recognition of a third gender category in its gazette with a single sentence.

“The Government of Bangladesh has recognised the Hijra community of Bangladesh as a Hijra sex.”

A significant step forward for the transgender community that was further bolstered when in 2019 Bangladesh first allowed parts of the transgender community to vote under their proper gender identity.

Today, the government estimates that there are 15,000 hijras in Bangladesh. Though human rights groups believe the figure to be closer to 1.5 million.

While addressing students school founder Abdur Rahman Azad said, “We often blame the hijras 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?”

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 One student of the school, 27 yearold Nishi, said that after teachers found out about her gender identity as a child, she was expelled from school, adding that she “left home when I was five to six years old. 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 shared her hopes that one day she would be able to find a job where she could utilise these skills.

“I want to learn something before entering the job market. I won’t need to look around for a livelihood then.”

Despite the recognition of Hijras in 2013, the announcement on voting in 2019 and the opening of the Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa Bangladesh as a country still has a long way to go. As witnessed in 2016 when Xulhaz Mannan founder of Bangladesh’s only LGBTQI magazine was hacked to death in the country’s capital.  

This reality was described by another transgender woman, in an interview with the AFP that “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?”

Aside from traditional Islamic teachings from the Quran, the school will offer a separate department that will offer students technical education. It is believed to be  the first Islamic School of its any kind anywhere in the world.

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