I’ve had the idea for this post since the creation of my blog, and I’ve been hesitant to write about it because the last thing I want to do is offend anyone, especially those who know me personally. I hope you—my reader—can take my experiences as a tool for change, not as an attack of any sort, because that is not the point of this post. I hope this letter opens eyes, challenges attitudes, and acts as a catalyst for change.
I think we can agree that Allah (God) is perfect and does not make mistakes. Therefore, everything that comes from Him is perfect. That means that disability does not make me flawed. Disability does not make me broken. Disability is simply a part of who I am, and it does not overpower me nor undermine me. It does not make me an angel nor an inferior. I do not know why Allah (God) chose for me to be disabled, and I may never know, but what I do know is that having cerebral palsy gives me a unique perspective with which to see the world. I appreciate this perspective more each day, and I have come to love this part of myself. I invite you to do the same.
If you love me, all of me, this shifts your perspective. I am no longer a broken object to pity. I become a contributor to our community. And believe me, I want to contribute. However, when the only message I get from the community is that I need to be cured, I shy away. When I am stared at to the point of feeling extremely uncomfortable, I shy away. When I cannot access the bathrooms to perform ablution (ritual washing before prayer), I shy away. When I cannot access the masjid (place of worship) to pray, I shy away. When I must be separated from my mobility device because seating won’t accommodate it, I shy away. When my frustrations fall on deaf ears, I shy away. When nothing is done to rectify these problems, it sends me the message that I am not welcome at our mosque. And that hurts me to my very core because Islam is supposed to be welcoming to everyone, no matter who they are. It is a great disservice that those who are most vulnerable and in need of support cannot turn to their religious community because the very building where we congregate is not accessible to them.
When the focus shifts from healing the person to healing the community, it benefits everyone. When a person feels welcome, they feel comfortable enough to contribute, and that extends to the disabled as well. Our insights might surprise you. We can work with you to problem solve. We can help you in educating the community concerning disability. We can help in building programs for the disabled children who attend the mosque. The point is, each of us has talents that can benefit the religious community. Our disability adds a unique perspective to our contributions, and it may bring forth things you haven’t considered. It is not and should never be considered a hinderance.
So… where should you begin? I recommend talking to the disabled in your community and taking their suggestions for change seriously. To establish yourself as an ally, do not dismiss their experiences. Listen to what they have to say. Even if you cannot promise change, the fact that you are taking the time to listen means a lot. Do not be shy in following up on our concerns, taking steps to implement them yourself, and supporting us if we choose to talk to the sheiks or imams in our mosques.
It pains me to say that I don’t know if mosques will take steps to becoming more welcoming to the disabled in their communities. But the first step is voicing your concerns, and this letter is my way of doing that.
A disabled Muslim