By Prarthana Mitra
Masjid Syed Gauhar Ali Shah Qadeem located in New Delhi’s Rangpuri area is a 68-year old mosque that is frequented by local worshippers, pilgrims and tourists. With its white and green facade, towering minarets, a sprawling courtyard and the sound of daily azaan emanating from its loudspeakers, it is ostensibly like any other mosque.
Except for the fact that transgender women clad in white kurtas and colourful keffiyehs can be seen within its compound, offering their Jumma Namaz, the holiest prayer of the week for devout Muslims.
Here’s what happened
Situated in a bustling part of the national capital, the mosque recently made news by allowing transgender Muslims on its premises, to offer prayers alongside men.
Founded in 1950 by Haji Qamar Khan and his brother Haji Gauhar Khan to create a place of worship for miners and labourers in the locality, the mosque has made history by opening its gates to at least 20 transgender people who assemble here every Friday to pray among mostly male worshippers.
Mohammed Iqbal who has been at the helm of the shrine for 18 years, told Vice India, “Everyone has the right to pray to their creator. I always try my best to take the message of God to everyone, whoever it is”, adding, “Islam is about uniting everyone, not creating divisions.” Iqbal often visits transgender households to make sure they feel included in the congregation and at religious events.
Why you should care
The trans worshippers are usually greeted with a warm welcome on their weekly trips to the mosque but are sometimes stared down at like objects of amusement and anomaly. For hijras in India, that is not something new. However, the move which allows their admission into a religious space allows them to reclaim their rights to practise faith openly and is undoubtedly a huge leap from Islam’s conservative views with regard to homosexuality.
However, Natasha, a transgender woman who identifies as a Sunni Muslim and visits the Rangpuri mosque regularly, pointed out, “Koran mentions us and gives rights similar to every other descendant of Prophet Adam,” she said in an interview with Vice. “In the book, we are called by a beautiful Arabic term ‘Mukhannathun’”— men who resemble women. “But most people here use words like hijra and ‘chakka’”, she added.
In a similar battle in neighbouring country Pakistan which founded its first LGBT-friendly mosque in 2016, human rights activist Nadeem Kashish told the Express Tribune, “[…] 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.”
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