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Muslim-majority Bangladesh opens mosque for transgender hijra community: ‘no one can mock us’

The humble structure – a single-room shed with walls and a roof clad in tin – is a new community hub for the minority, who have enjoyed greater legal and political recognition in recent years but still suffer from entrenched prejudice.

“From now on, no one can deny a hijra from praying in our mosque,” community leader Joyita Tonu said in a speech to the packed congregation.

“No one can mock us,” added the visibly emotional 28-year-old, a white scarf covering her hair.

The mosque near Mymensingh, north of the capital Dhaka on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, was built on land donated by the government after the city’s hijra community were expelled from an established congregation.

“I never dreamt I could pray at a mosque again in my lifetime,” said Sonia, 42, who as a child loved to recite the Koran and studied at an Islamic seminary.

But when she came out as hijra, as transgender women in South Asia are commonly known, she was blocked from praying in a mosque.

“People would tell us: ‘Why are you hijra people here at the mosques? You should pray at home. Don’t come to the mosques,’” Sonia, who uses only one name, said.

“It was shameful for us, so we didn’t go,” she added. “Now, this is our mosque. Now, no one can say no.”

Several have entered Bangladeshi politics, with one transgender woman elected mayor of a rural town in 2021.


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But hijra still struggle for basic recognition and acceptance, lacking property and marriage rights.

They are also often discriminated against in employment and are much more likely to be victims of violent crime and poverty than the average Bangladeshi.

Hardline Islamist groups have also lashed out at the