Why Nayyab Ali puts her life on the line to protect trans Pakistanis


In the basement of a residential building in a developing part of Islamabad, a dozen or so transgender women are sitting in a circle on the floor. Not one of them is a stranger to personal tragedy; each has been the victim of violence and exclusion. There is Naina, whose neighbor tried to have her killed over a domestic dispute; Rabia, whose landlord made her beg to earn her keep; and Mehak, who was abused as a child by one of her cousins. That they are able to tell their stories without reticence or insecurity has much to do with their immediate surroundings. Here, in the Khawaja Sira Quran School, they are under the protection of Nayyab Ali – one of Pakistan’s most prominent and influential trans activists. Ms. Ali founded the school as a space where members of the Khawaja Sira – a centuries-old term that has come to describe transgender and third-gender communities in Pakistan – could come together and learn the Quran in a safe environment. It also doubles as a shelter where transgender women can stay if they are left with nowhere to go, something Ms. Ali describes as a frequent occurrence.

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