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Devoutness cuts across gender

In a community often consigned to a limited number of demeaning jobs, Nanni Jameela’s story tells a story of respect

By Sarfraz Memon |
PUBLISHED October 31, 2021

Most people don’t take the transgender community seriously as many of the transgender people earn their livelihood through entertainment and begging or selling their bodies for money. Ranked so low on the human denomination scale that violence against them or mistreatment of them often doesn’t inspire much sympathy either.

In this landscape of pigeonholing of the transgender community, Nanni Jameela is the ultimate anomaly. She is a Quran teacher and so far has taught Quran to more than hundred thousand boys and girls during last more than 45 years of her life.

Born a transgender, she says she is contended with the creation of Almighty Allah and states, “What if I was born a dog or cat or any other animal? I am thankful to Almighty Allah for making me a human being. I was not born as transgender by choice, rather it was the will of the creator and I am happy with it,” she says adding, “I am teaching the Holy Quran to the children and I think it’s a big reward for me by Almighty Allah.”

Though heartbroken due to the negative attitude of the people quite close to her, the 80-year-old transgender Jameela, most popularly referred as Amma Jameela, Nani Jameela or Nani Madrassa Wali, lives in Sukkur and teaches the Holy Quran to children.

Born in March 1941, in Syed Mohammad Yakoob Shah’s household in Pishin Balochistan, Jameela never fit in at home or at school, as she neither felt comfortable at home with her siblings who had the society’s accepted genders of boy and girl and nor at school because her class fellows and school fellows used to mock the way she used to walk and talk. So when an elderly eunuch, Pasham Fakir, offered her a different life, she ultimately yielded and followed him.

Jameela continued to live in what she now describes as ‘sin’ until May 1970, when one of her elder brothers died while offering resistance to the robbers. “This proved to be a turning point in my life after which I started learning the Holy Quran from my neighbor,” said Jameela. She told that, “my father had two wives: my mother was from a Syed family, while my stepmother was from a non-Syed family,” she said. “My mother died when I was four and my aunt looked after me for two years after which my father sent me to live with my stepmother in Ranchore Lines, Karachi.” Jameela’s stepmother sent her to an all-girl middle school near their house, but the young eunuch left school when she was in grade three.

After dropping out of school, she helped her stepmother with domestic chores. “When I was 10 years old, a eunuch named Pasham Fakir came to our house and asked my mother to hand me over to him but my mother refused.” She said that Pasham kept coming back for her and they used to talk outside the house. “Then one day I just went with him without telling my mother,” she said dolefully. Pasham took Jameela to his house in Garhi Yaseen near Shikarpur and she began her ‘training’ as a eunuch. “I lived with him for three years but I wanted to get away because I didn’t like his company,” said Jameela. “Luckily, the fakir took me to Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s shrine for the annual Urs celebrations, where eunuchs come together from every part of the country.” This is where Jameela met her new guru, Fakir Ameer Zadi, also known as Saboo. “He looked quite decent so I told him I wanted to go with him,” she said. Saboo talked to Pasham and after paying Rs5,000, Saboo adopted Jameela.

Saboo took Jameela to Sukkur, where he lived in a double-storey house in Makrani Muhalla. After sometime with Guru’s permission Jameela purchased a house at Takkar Muhalla Sukkur for Rs4,000 in 1970. “I knew how to read Urdu, even though I had dropped out of school. One day I was reading the newspaper when I came across news of my elder brother Syed Muhammad Rasool’s death,” she recalled, her eyes filling up with tears. Rasool used to run a car showroom on Tariq Road, Karachi, and was murdered during a robbery. Jameela said she rushed to Karachi to reunite with her family but they had left with her brother’s body for Pishin. “His death proved to be a turning point in my life. Afterwards, a neighbour taught me how to read the Holy Quran. With Allah’s grace, things just fell into place for me after this.”

In 1973, Jameela began teaching Quran to her neighbour’s child, four-year-old Aasia. “Since she proved to be a brilliant student, other neighbours started sending their children to my house to learn,” she said. The number of students grew day by day and went up to 450, who she used to teach in seven different shifts without any charge. “I started teaching when I was 32 years old and at that time people used to call me Khala Jameela. Then it became Amma Jameela and with my growing age, people started calling me Nani Jameela”, she said. Jameela added that her neighbours have always respected her, irrespective of their age or gender. A student’s mother sends Jameela two meals a day and offers to wash and iron her clothes. Since she teaches her students free of charge, their parents give her money and clothes as gifts. Jameela said she was lucky enough to perform Hajj four times and Umrah once. According to her, she had seven siblings, out of which her younger sister died at the age of four, while her six elder brothers died one after the other. “My nephews are well settled in Pakistan and abroad and use to send money from time to time, which I spend on the welfare of elderly transgender, besides helping out poor and needy neighbors”, she said. She further said that, she also give gifts to her girl students at the time of their marriage. “It would be safe for me to say that I have taught the Holy Quran to three generations and will continue till the last day of my life,” she says while thanking Almighty Allah for choosing her for this noble cause.

“I teach in groups for an hour each and the children start coming at 10 am until 5:30pm,” she said. There is no age limit for female students but Jameela said that she does not take boys older than 10 because she does not believe in intermingling of “older boys and girls.” “Allah created me the way I am, but nowadays being a eunuch has become a profession,” she regretted, adding, “teenage boys turn into fake eunuchs by taking hormonal injections and this is a big sin.” If you meet thousand eunuchs, Jameela added, you will seldom find a real fakir. The most disturbing part in Amma Jameela’s story is the girl, whom she adopted at the age of five, brought her up, educated and married her off and so much so that, transferred one of the portions of her two storey house in her name. That girl, after marriage, fraudulently sold the house without even informing Amma Jameela and thus rendered her homeless. However, one of my neighbours provided me space in her house, where I started living, besides teaching the Holy Quran to the children, she told.

“I don’t know how my nephew come to know about my problem and visited Sukkur, met me and bought me a plot measuring 120 square yards in Mustafa Colony at Bhutta Road Sukkur and constructed ground plus one house and handed it over to me,” she said. “Now, I am living in this house and performing my duty of teaching the Holy Quran to the children but now due to my old age and some ailments I cannot sit for a long time and therefore, have reduced the number of children to 40 and shifts to three only.”

“One of my neighbours sends me breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the parents of the students, who complete the Holy Quran give me new clothes and money,” she said. “Besides this, if I fall sick, the doctors in the neighborhood visit my house, give me a check up and give medicines free of cost, what else I need in this old age, she asked. Talking about her new house, Amma jameela said that she has officially transferred it to the Edhi Foundation, who will take over it after her death.

While I was sitting with her, one of her old students Bano came to visit her from Shaheed Benazeerabad along with her three children. Talking about Nanni Jameela she said that, she used to learn the Holy Quran from her in the mid 1990s and was married in 2008 and went to Shaheed Benazeerabad. “Nanni Jameela loves every student of hers like a loving and caring mother and I have never seen her become angry with any one”, she said adding, “I remember clearly Nanni Jameela gave me gift of washing machine on my marriage. Bano handed over a shopping bag full of fruits and some money to Nanni Jameela, which she accepted with thanks.

Another student Rafia, who is learning the Holy Quran for last four months says, “Nanni teaches us with utmost dedication, never scold any students on their repeated mistakes, rather hold them in her arms and repeats the word many times. “Now a days Nanni is not feeling well and is under treatment, but still she gives us her full time”, she said. Her neighbors including, Noor Mohammad, Ayaz Ali, Khan Mohammad and others when asked about Nanni Jameela they said, “she is no less than a blessing for our neighborhood. She is so loving and caring that, our children feel more than safe with her and keep visiting her even after their time is over. She always helps poor and needy without even letting others know.”

Yet another student of her, Yousuf Ali is learning the Holy Quran with her for the last six months and is revising it, after completing once. “Nani Jameela is very loving and caring and never beats us when we make any mistake, he told. She never gets irritated, even if we keep on asking same word many times,” he said.

Another student Abdul Qayoom has started to learn the Holy Quran couple of days ago. “Nanni Jameela is teaching the Holy Quran to my elder sisters and now I have joined them, too,” he said. When asked about the number of her students throughout those 45 years, Nanni Jameela said, “I don’t remember the exact number, but am sure that it might have crossed one hundred thousand and is still going up. I am proud that my students are spread throughout Pakistan and almost all of them keep in touch with me from time to time.”