KARACHI: Ghazala Rafique’s “a hero’s journey” began when she initiated the idea for a church for transgenders. In the world she grew up in, she has faced, experienced, and observed injustice being part of the Christian community in Pakistan. She and her husband have bought into most of the classic stereotypes and misconceptions about female priests.
Pastor Ghazala always had a soft corner for transgenders and in Pakistan, she is trying to find Christian transgenders. As the city was struggling through COVID-19 during March 2020, she came to know that the Christian transgenders hide their last name (Christian name) because in Pakistan Christians are amongst one of the most powerless and marginalized people. According to the 2017 census, the country has about 10,418 Christian transgenders, of whom about 2,000 live in Karachi. Every Friday about 30 of them visit Pastor Ghazala in the makeshift church to perform their prayers and other religious rituals.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq inaugurated the modest church on August 14, 2020, hoping to provide some religious respite to members of the transgender community. The Journey of Pastor Ghazala interlinks the journey of transgender Nasira Gill, who was always inclined towards her religion but had to sit outside the church whenever she visited one to avoid harassment. She is helping Pastor Ghazala in the hope of finding a new direction for other transgenders within the Christian community. Nasira Gill (a Christian transgender) is not allowed to enter regular churches or touch the bible. Nasira lives with her few transgender friends who are from the Muslim community. No one was willing to pay heed to their problems, so Nasira Gill opened up to Ghazala, when she went to Saddar, Karachi, to distribute the rations during COVID-19 lockdowns, by reciting verses from the Bible. Nasira is now helping Ghazala to bring in more Christian transgenders into the Church so they can freely practise their religion. Nasira goes door to door spreading the word about the trans church.
However, Pastor Ghazala, who is taking daily steps to minimize the challenges faced by the Christian trans-community to practise the religion. She also took advice from a Muslim Imam about the rights of transgenders and related the Islamic teachings with those of Christianity, highlighting that Christian transgenders have rights in both religions.
In a casual interview with me, Ghazala shared her thoughts about the matter. “This is despite the fact that Christianity gives them equal rights to pray in churches. God has made a special place for them and they are a part of our society. We have to deal with them like our other children but over here Churches don’t accept them,” in her words.
There are many people who called Pastor Ghazala’s husband and asked him to stop proceeding with this initiative. Someone even went as far as telling him dismissively that he was setting up a church for “Hijras” (a derogatory term for transgenders).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Psalm 68:11 ESV
Every Friday, members of the Christian trans-community visits Ghazala’s residence to recite Bible and to sing religious hymns. To sum it up, Ghazala and Nasira working together and taking new measures for the betterment of their community.