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Pakistani activists plan to build trans-friendly mosque in Islamabad

Local trans rights charity seeks to create a space for non gender-binary people to worship free from threats or intimidation.

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Transgender people in Pakistan decorate their hands with henna for Eid in Peshawar on July 5, 2016 AFP/Getty Images

Transgender activists in Islamabad are drawing up plans to build a new mosque in a suburb of the city which will welcome people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The LGBTQ friendly space is a project from local activist group the Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (Safar), run by Nadeem Kashish.

“The main reason for building this mosque is to convey a message to our society that people who are transgender are also Muslim, they too have a right to offer prayers in a mosque, to recite or teach the Holy Quran, and to preach Islam,” Mr Kashish – who prefers to be known by the male pronoun – told the Daily Tribune.

The trans community in Pakistan is one of the most marginalised and misunderstood. Mr Kashish estimates that around 2,700 trans people are known to Safar in Islamabad alone, but official records show there are only 2,500 people registered with the authorities as trans identifying in the entire country.

As is the case all over the world, trans people face many cultural and social stigmas which make them targets for violence and murder. Men who identify as female or gay are often disowned by their families, forcing many into dancing, sex work and begging to survive. Taboos around sex leave trans people even more vulnerable to abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

Distressingly for many people, members of the trans community are often ridiculed if they try to find solace in their faith. If they enter mosques, they are told to sit in the ‘wrong’ section for women or men or simply kicked out.  The police have been called when he has tried in the past, Mr Kashish said.

“Such kind of discrimination makes us ashamed of ourselves, and we curse the moment we were born,” he said, adding that bigotry is not a part of Islam.

“We know our religion is against of all kinds of discrimination and hatred and teaches us lessons of unity, love and peace,” he added.

The new mosque will be large enough to accommodate 1,000 people at a time,  open to anyone who wishes to offer prayers and not attached to any particular sect. It will include a madrassa, or religious school. Land has already been donated, and so far seven lakh rupees (£5,400) has been raised for construction, Mr Kashish said.

The idea of trans-friendly holy spaces is still nascent in most religions, usually because of cultural stigmas rather than religious teachings.

A mosque and madrassa which opened in Yogyakarta in Indonesiain February of this year for the local trans community, known as waria, was believed to be the world’s first gender-fluid mosque.

While praised by rights activists internationally as an example of tolerance, a month later the mosque was forced to close after severe threats from a local Isis-allied jihadist group.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistan-transgender-mosque-first-of-its-kind-islamabad-a7433501.html

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