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Bangladesh’s first transgender mosque is a big inclusive victory

In a groundbreaking move, Bangladesh has opened its first mosque specifically for the hijra, or transgender, community, offering a sanctuary where they can practice their faith without fear of discrimination.

The Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid, located in the northern city of Mymensingh, stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of the hijra community.

Funded through community donations and built on government-provided land, the single-room mosque with a tin roof is humble on the eye yet represents a significant milestone in the struggle for equal rights and acceptance in India.

‘From now on, no one can deny a hijra from praying in our mosque,’ said Joyita Tonu, a community leader, with a sense of pride and relief. The creation of this safe space comes after hijra worshippers were previously expelled from the local community mosque, facing the painful reality of being ostracized from places of worship.

The mosque’s imam, Abdul Motaleb, 65, echoed this sentiment, stating, ‘They are like any other people created by Allah. 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.’

Challenging societal barriers

Bangladesh’s recognition of the hijra community as a ‘third gender’ in 2013 was a significant step forward, but the journey towards true equality remains arduous.

Hijras still face widespread discrimination, lacking basic rights such as property ownership and marriage. They also struggle to find employment, and the most desperate among the community have resorted to begging or sex work to make ends meet.

‘People would tell us: “Why are you hijra people here at the mosques? You should pray at home. Don’t come to the mosques,'” shared Sonia, a 42-year-old worshipper at the new mosque. ‘Now, this is our mosque. Now, no one can say no.’

The establishment of this inclusive space challenges the rigid societal norms and prejudices that have long marginalized the hijra community. It serves as a beacon of hope, not only for the individuals who can now freely practice their faith, but also for the broader societal shift towards acceptance and understanding.

The struggle for dignity and recognition

The opening of the mosque is a significant step towards addressing the longstanding exclusion and discrimination faced by the hijra community in Bangladesh. It represents a hard-won victory, as the local hijra community pooled their resources and persevered in the face of adversity to create a dedicated space for their spiritual practices.

‘I never dreamt I could pray at a mosque again in my lifetime,’ Sonia expressed, recalling the painful memories of being denied entry to mosques in the past. The establishment of the Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid has not only restored her right to worship but has also instilled a sense of hope and belonging.

The mosque’s creation also addresses a deeper issue – the lack of proper burial rights for the hijra community. The land already contains a graveyard, and one plot belongs to a hijra woman who was denied burial at a local mosque last year.

This gesture underscores the thoughtful approach taken to address the diverse needs and challenges faced by marginalized groups.


A beacon of hope for inclusivity

The Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid stands as a powerful symbol of resilience and progress, challenging the deeply rooted prejudices that have hindered inclusivity across India.

Its existence serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring not only the hijra community in Bangladesh but also those in other parts of the world who face similar struggles for acceptance and equality.

As the country continues to grapple with the complexities of social and religious norms, the opening of this inclusive mosque represents a significant step towards creating a more just and compassionate society.

Predominantly, though, it is a testament to the unwavering determination of the hijra community and a call for others to follow in their footsteps, embracing diversity and inclusion as fundamental values.

The Dakshin Char Kalibari Masjid stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when a community comes together, driven by a shared vision of equality and acceptance.