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PESHAWAR: The transgender community on Friday condemned the ban on its members to go to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah or other religious rituals.

The condemnation came during a news conference organised by the Trans-Action Alliance of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an organisation working for the rights of transgender persons, at the Peshawar Press Club.

The transgender persons complained the Saudi government had directed its diplomatic missions around the world to turn down visa requests of transgender persons.

Say restriction worst kind of discrimination against them

They said the Travel Agents’ Association of Pakistan had also been told not to facilitate the transportation of transgender persons to Saudi Arabia for any reason whatsoever and specifically for Umrah.

Qamar Naseem, a transgender rights activist working with Blue Veins Organisation, said it was condemnable that Muslim transgender persons were denied the right to visit the Holy Places in Saudi Arabia just because of their gender.

“If a transgender person has a Computerised National Identity Card showing him a man, he can go to Saudi Arabia but only those who secured CNICs after getting their gender recognised by the government are now at the risk of losing their right to visit Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage,” he said.

Accompanied by many transgender persons, Farzana Jan said it was ridiculous that the Saudi government had deprived Muslim members of her community of their right to visit the Holy Places in the country.

“Haj and Umrah are what all Muslim men, women and transgender persons keenly wish to visit Saudi Arabia for and therefore, it is highly unethical for the Saudi government to ban transgender persons from entering the country,” he said.

Farzana asked why the Saudi government wanted to stigmatise her community.

“It seems that Saudi Arabia wants to push us into a life of sin,” she said.

Zaiba, another transgender person, said she was a devout Muslim like Muslim men and women and so she had a right to go to Saudi Arabia for Haj or Umrah.

“Why has Saudi Arabia banned us from the pilgrimage?”

Arzoo, a transgender person who works at a government organisation, said she was deeply hurt after learning about the Saudi ban.

She said transgender persons were discriminated against at home, workplaces and society at large but banning them from visiting the Holy Places was the worst kind of discrimination and it was like stopping them from following own faith.

The transgender persons said they would formally write to the Saudi embassy in Islamabad to clarify its government’s position on the ban.

Published in Dawn November 26th, 2016