Zara Powell, Jakarta – Influential waria (transgender) figure and founder of the Al-Fatah Waria pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Yogyakarta, Shinta Ratri died on Wednesday.
As the founder of the world's only Islamic boarding school for transgender people, Shinta dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of transgender women to practice their religion and to worship according to their beliefs.
Shinta passed away at the Wirosaban Hospital on Wednesday morning after suffering from a heart attack. She was buried in the Jagalan Village Funeral Home that afternoon.
Founded in 2008 and located in Yogyakarta, Shinta's Islamic boarding school provides a safe space for waria in a time when faith and transgender identities are often seen to be incompatible in Indonesia.
With many transgender people in Indonesia finding it hard to pray at ordinary mosques where men and women are divided, Shinta wanted to provide a safe space for waria to pray and provide opportunities for them to deepen their religion.
With many Indonesian conservatives still viewing transgender people as sinners and deviants, Al Fatah briefly shut in 2016 amid threats from hardline Islamic groups. The pesantren reopened with the support of human rights groups, religious figures and local authorities.
Today, 40 students are enrolled in Al Fatah, where they are taught prayers and Quran comprehension, among other lessons. Most importantly, the pesantren serves as a safe space for trans women to exercise their right to religious worship.
In 2019, Shinta also received the Front Line Defenders Award honoring her dedication and courage as a human rights activist. The award is given to celebrate the work of human rights defenders who courageously make outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at significant personal risk to themselves.
Tributes have poured in for Shinta, with many sharing their condolences across social media.
"ASC is very saddened by the passing of our mentor and pioneer of the LGBTQIA+ movement in Indonesia as well as in the region, Ibu Shinta Ratri," was one such message posted on Twitter.
Hendrika Mayora Victoria, better known as Bunda Mayora, remembered Shinta as someone who inspired other minority communities to have the freedom to worship and be cheerful.
"She had an important role in my coming out journey," Bunda Mayora told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
"Being trans, it's not easy to have freedom of worship in Indonesia. Although she was Muslim, she inspired others to have a dialogue with our respective religious communities," the 35-year-old added.