By Samihah Dharamsi
Addressing Disability in the Muslim Community: Now and in the Coming Decade
The 2001 Census revealed the group with the highest level of disability in the UK is in fact the Muslim Community, with almost a quarter of Muslim females (24 per cent) and one in five Muslim males (21 per cent) as having a self-declared disability. So why are we so reluctant to accept these situations and tackle them?
Having personally experienced first-hand the negative stigma associated with disability within Muslim communities, I have witnessed many who considered the belief that those who are disabled are either being punished by God, or their parents are being punished for unjust actions committed during their lifetime. Such attitudes not only divide the community and create a hierarchical system, by making some feel they are inferior to others and therefore not equally ‘loved’ by God, but also make those suffering with a disability hide themselves through the fear that they will not be accepted – not only by society, but within their place of worship. They feel ashamed to be who they are. It is these kinds of ideologies that skew our views on such circumstances, which are in essence a blessing.
Religion aside, whilst growing up, most of us have been told to accept people for who they are and treat each other equally. I feel this principle should be adopted by everyone, but even more so within a religion. Most people who have a religious affiliation consider it a haven, a place of unity and a place of belonging. This bond is usually strengthened when someone is suffering, be it mentally or physically. Many people look for an explanation or a helping hand; so where do they turn? Usually to a religion, where they look for inspiration or comfort, and perhaps some guidance. Why then should these people be shut down for something that is not within their control?
The Quran states:
[16:5] And He created the cattle for you; you have in them warm clothing and (many) advantages, and of them do you eat.
[16:6] And there is beauty in them for you when you drive them back (to home), and when you send them forth (to pasture).
There are some people who believe that we should hide disabilities as opposed to dealing with them. On one level, this can lead to the unfair of exclusion and seclusion of individuals due to their disabilities. On another level, this may even indicate to the promotion of euthanasia or abortion. The Quranic verses above illustrates Islam’s teaching of the sanctity and value of human life, such that God has created other creation in its service. Furthermore it emphasises the beauty behind creation, even on the level of basic cattle.
All human life is sacred and beautiful and each form of suffering has a benefit. Helping the disabled can be seen as a chance to promote cohesion. Accepting something that is percieved as not the ‘norm’ opens our minds and enables us to accept everything as a blessing from God. It is a chance for us to learn from one another. Seeing others suffer should consequently make us more grateful for what we have been blessed with.
Ibn Sina, a Muslim philosopher, talks about how Islam teaches us about self-realisation in the face of suffering. Certain challenges help us gain self awareness and allow us to appreciate genuine happiness. It separates us from the luxuries of this world and helps us value the true necessities. The real blessings from God.
Another Muslim philosopher, Ghazali teaches in his book, ‘The Ninety Nine Names’, that suffering contains inherent goodness. He claims that although suffering is evil, the broader picture proposes goodness. To illustrate his claim, he highlights that ‘The certain amputation of a hand is an evident evil, yet within it lies an ample good: the health of the body. If one were to forego the amputation of the hand, the body would perish as a result – a worse evil still.’ (Ibid) Here, God did not intend evil for the sake of evil but because there is some good in it.
In 10 years I would like to see these view points strongly enforced within Islamic Centres. I would like to see us as individuals deviate from views of how disabilities are allegedly punishments from God and, rather, adopt a more understanding and tolerant attitude, which can then be reflected upon society. Moreover, I feel there is a profound need to facilitate the mobility access that the disabled may require as well as the efficiency of communication within centres. For example, easing Mosque entrances by creating more ramps can enable uncomplicated wheelchair access and endorsing the need for a greater number of sign language interpreters to translate lectures and Friday sermons can go a long way.
In order to achieve this however, there is the need for more Imams and lecturers to address the taboo topic of disability. To rectify any misconceptions of Islam’s view on disability, true teachings regarding disability should be taught, as well as advocating the crucial need and rewards of charity work. How charity is not just about giving spare change to a bucket collector we see at a train station, but can take many forms, such as merely listening to one talk about a disability they may or may not have, must be highlighted.
I feel that once there is understanding and acceptance within society, everything else will rationally follow. People will naturally help the disabled and give them the support they greatly need and deserve. There will be stronger unity and deeper diversity.
We have seen the world through our own eyes. Let us now look at the world through the eyes of the disabled.
Samihah Dharamsi is currently studying Law at the University of Warwick. She is a member of the MCB Youth Committee as Regional Representative for South London and Coordinator of the MCB Youth Committee Disabilities Campaign.
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