The authors' views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AtlantaMuslim.com. Also, the comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters
Is your local masjid accessible to everyone? I don’t mean the two handicap parking spots that are occasionally available or the one bathroom stall that is somehow always occupied. I’m talking about accessibility in your community programs.
Ramadan is a time when our community comes together for Ibaadah. So why then, are we leaving out members of our community from participating in our daily activities?
How many times have you heard someone say that JUST LISTENING to the Quran calms them down, or gives them an Imaan boost? Sure you can read the Quran but there’s nothing like hearing the recitation from your favorite Qari. What about our Deaf Muslims, who may not have the option of listening to the words of Allah?
I’m asking these questions because I’m afraid they may not have been addressed before. Alhamdulilah our communities have made such strides to develop educational and social programs to engage our congregations. Along the way, we may have unknowingly turned away people with disabilities – Deaf Muslims, people with physical disabilities, people with intellectual impairments, and others who have not felt included their own Muslim community.
Is your building physically accessible to people with wheelchairs or walkers?
Accessibility goes beyond the blue parking spaces and curb cuts. This should mean that people with wheelchairs or walkers have access to get into the main prayer hall. They should not have to climb over the mountains of shoes at the entrance, and they should not be kept to pray in the kids area. Your masjid should follow guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that you are not turning people away.
Do you provide accommodations for people with visual or hearing impairments?
Unless you have encountered this situation before, you may not have been aware of some of the accommodations needed for our Deaf and Blind Muslim brothers and sisters. In addition to purchasing Qurans printed in large fonts, you should invest in a braille Quran. For our Deaf muslims, we should arrange for interpreters at workshops and lectures so that they may get the most out of the program.
This requires a two-pronged approach. Acceptance means understanding and respect for the person with a disability, but people tend to mask acceptance as pity or belittlement.
Understanding and Respect
For those of us whose families are not originally from America, our cultures have long dictated norms for persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, those norms may hint that these people have no potential to lead a normal life. I’ve noticed that even in America, we bring those notions with us and treat people with disabilities in a similar fashion. Alhamdulillah, the U.S. has made much progress in the Disability Rights Movement. Though there is still work to be done, the biggest ideal that has come out of this is that people with disabilities have the means and capabilities of becoming productive members of our communities. What does this mean for you? Get to know that man in the wheelchair or the woman who uses a walker. Understand what they need and respect where they are coming from. Don’t make assumptions because 9 times out of 10, they will surprise you.
Thou Shall Not Pity
If you have not had much contact with people with disabilities you may be unaware of their own personal capabilities. I’ll give you an example: you hear of a community member getting into a terrible car accident. Later, you find out that this person is now “paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair”. What do you expect for this person? Most people would not have expected this person to push himself to recovery and into medical school. Most people would not have guessed that this person would have finished medical school. Most people would not believe that this person leads such an independent life. For others like this person, pity and belittlement is never what they need from their communities. Don’t expect that a person with a wheelchair needs to be pushed across the parking lot. Don’t expect that a blind person needs you to hand-hold them across the room. Acceptance is two-pronged: accept the person and their disability, and don’t assume that they can’t do something. There is no harm in asking politely if they need your assistance.
Alhamdulilah our communities are constantly hosting workshops and seminars about different topics. Saturday and Sunday school programs take up the better part of our weekends, and we find ourselves wanting to learn more and more. Who is missing from these workshops? People who need special accommodations to fully take in the information. Whether it is an interpreter they need, or simply handouts in a different format, there are ways of including people with disabilities in all masjid activities.
From a young age, if a child with a disability feels left out or unable to take part in Sunday school activities, they may fall behind and lose important Islamic education. As adults, they may feel the need to stay away completely for a fear of embarrassment. We should make an extra effort to make sure people are being included in all aspects.
I’ll take the Deaf community for example. People who are Deaf generally belong to the Deaf community where they live. These communities are made up of Deaf people who speak ASL (or the equivalent in their area) and all face similar issues. If a Deaf Muslim is not being accommodated at their masjid, they may choose to leave the Muslim community altogether and assimilate to the Deaf Community. Now more than ever, other faith groups (not Muslims) are reaching out to the Deaf community and offering sermons and workshops solely in ASL. How can we ensure that our Muslim brothers and sisters are not being led astray if we are not providing them with the means to learn and be part of the Ummah?
“He frowned and turned away when a blind man came his way. How do you know if (his heart) might be purified or recall (God) and by recollection be rectified? For those who are called wealthy, you attend to them closely and don’t bother if they are purified! Yet from one who comes to you hopeful, fearful and clearly humble, you let your attention be shunted aside.” - (Qur’an 80:1-12)
This excerpt from the Quran truly embodies the importance and respect that Islam associates with people with disabilities. In Surah Abasa, we see that Allah (swt) is admonishing the Prophet (pbuh) for ignoring and turning away a blind man. While in talks with important tribal leaders, the Prophet (pbuh) was approached by a blind man who was asking him for knowledge about Islam. Without knowing he was blind, the Prophet (pbuh) ignored him and kept talking to these important leaders. This verse was revealed to show that all of us, even the prophets, can get distracted by worldly affairs and can overlook people who need our compassion and kindness.
Next time you see someone with a disability, take a moment to talk to him or her. Ask if there are issues they encounter at the masjid and be creative in addressing them. Talk to your community members and ask them if they have friends or relatives with disabilities. Do they come to the masjid? Why did they stop coming? How can we get them back in our masjid and part of this community?
I’ve asked a lot of questions and I hope I’ve answered some. Please talk these points over with the leadership of your masjid and make changes as you see fit.This article was partly inspired by an event that will be hosted in a few days at Madina Institute. Global Deaf Muslim, an organization that aims to spread awareness of Deaf Muslims is coming to Atlanta to educate our communities on the needs of the Deaf community. I encourage you all to attend and take part in this great event. https://www.facebook.com/events/1425734701043301/
Free Weekly Emails