Despite efforts of experts and people with disabilities, the majority of people still look at disability as something to be ashamed of or to hide, something to get rid of or to be ridiculed – including many Muslims. The culture and wrong interpretations of religion shape the view of some Muslims on disability which often leads to misconceptions and discrimination against the disabled.
Some Muslims believe disability is Allah’s punishment or the result of black magic, due to which they either refuse treatment and special help or fall into shirk by using witchcraft as cure. However, just like in so many other cases, such behaviors do not at all represent the real teachings and values of Islam.
Islam’s View on Disability
Islam teaches that humans are created different. (30:20-23) It’s the beauty of Allah’s creation that we’re not the same – in color, mentality, and abilities -, so we need to cooperate and learn from each other.
As Allah says:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another…” (49:13)
In the eyes of Allah, humans are all equal; the only thing that makes one better than the other is the individual’s consciousness of Allah (taqwa). And, in order to develop and maintain taqwa, Allah continuously tests us. Thus, tests are not Allah’s punishments as stated in the Quran,
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good.” (5:48)
Tests come in different ways. Some might be tested by their wealth, others by unpleasant or even painful experiences, and others by their health and condition – such as having a disability.
Islam believes disability is a natural part of being a human; it’s neither a blessing nor a punishment. It assumes that people with disability “have strength and resources for their own empowerment” and emphasizes these strengths, but acknowledges their disability; and thus encourages Muslims to be emphatic and caring (but not overprotective) with others and assist them whenever they need help.
Personal Experiences with People with Intellectual Disability
So, people with disabilities are just like anyone else; they have certain weaknesses, but they have strengths as well we, “healthy” people, might lack. Doubting? Well, then you’d better get out of your comfort zone and spend some time with disabled people – just like I did when I decided to spend my required community service at an NGO with mentally disabled adults.
Personally, I have never had any problem with disabled people. Since my childhood, I have always had some kind of contact with them, especially with people who have Down syndrome. When the opportunity to volunteer at the foundation showed up, I didn’t hesitate for a minute.
The place I work at is a workplace for adults with different kinds of mental/ developmental disability such as Down Syndrome, Autism, Williams Syndrome, Asphyxia (deprivation of oxygen to a newborn infant), and others. I participate in their adult and independent life training and help the workshop leaders by dealing with those clients (as psychology calls them) who might be harder cases due to their inability to speak or limited ability to work individually.
I’ve felt welcomed and comfortable from the very beginning. Some of them questioned me nicely why I wear a scarf around my head, others were convinced I was a Christian nun, but most of them just loved my Muslim outfit while some others haven’t even noticed any difference in me. It’s because they don’t have biases like “healthy people” tend to have. They look at you as a human being and they only care about whether you are attentive and supportive towards them.
When “normal people” around me get to know that I spend a couple of hours each week with such people, they wonder how I can cope; does seeing their conditions not make me feel depressed?
Honestly, not at all. On the contrary: these innocent and usually really friendly people (like people with Down Syndrome) can give you so much energy, motivation, and positive feelings you might never get from “healthy people.”
They constantly remind you of being grateful to Allah for the blessings He has been giving you. Sometimes you might even feel jealous of them as they often see life throughout pink glasses; they are unaware of the dark sides of our world, they don’t care about media news, don’t talk about politicians, corruptions, injustice and many other issues that most people of the 21th century busy their mind with on a daily basis. And most importantly, they are granted Jannah due to their conditions.
Rights of Disabled in Islam
Allah orders us to never look down, label, or ridicule others – such as people with disabilities – because “perhaps they may be better than them”. (49:11)
According to Islam, integrating disabled people into the society is crucial in regards to their emotional and mental well-being. For a successful integration, it encourages us to have empathy and a sense of care for each other and to treat disabled people as being part and parcel of our society. Therefore, Islam grants them rights while assisting them in their needs.
In Islam, disabled people have the right to be respected (49:11) and enjoy social justice; they are to be provided with basic needs such as food and clothes (24:61) and receive treatment and rehabilitation. Disabled people in a country where the Shariah rules might receive portion from the zakat, and certain religious duties might be reduced or waived completely due to their condition.
At the same time, our beautiful religion encourages assisting the disabled to carry out their duties. They must be included in the life of the family as a full member, attend celebration on holidays, receive proper Islamic education, and even be able to marry – obviously while considering their abilities.
Islamic History: The Way Disabled People were Treated
Our Prophet (PBUH) and many other figures in Islamic history set an outstanding example how Muslim individuals and a Muslim society should treat people with certain disabilities. Among the many are:
‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: once a father came to the second caliph, complaining that his son, a blind man, was unable to reach the mosque to offer his prayers in congregation due to his disability. Omar then provided him with housing near the mosque.
`Umar ibn`Abdul-`Aziz: the notable Umayyad caliph “asked rulers of the provinces to send him the names of all those who are blind, crippled, or with a chronic illness that prevented them from establishing their prayers. When they sent him their names, he, in turn, ordered that every blind man should have an employee to guide and look after him, and that every two chronically ill persons — those with special needs — be attended by a servant to serve and care for them.”
Al-Waleed ibna`Abdul-Malik: another Umayyad caliph who “ordered the establishment of a foundation specialized in looking after the disabled. He granted a regular allowance to persons with special needs and told them, “Do not beg people.” Thereby, he made them sufficient enough to not beg others. In addition, he appointed employees to serve all those who were disabled, crippled, or blind.”
Certainly, it’s often challenging to have a disability or to live with a disabled person; but frankly, whose life is free from tests and trials? Growing up with the trauma of child sexual abuse or rape; suffering from the cruelness of an abusive husband; raising a child all alone; not being able to get out of the cycle of an addiction; losing all your wealth and finding yourself sleeping in the metro underground; suffering from poverty and hunger. Would these cases – which millions face – be any better than disability? And who defines disability anyway?
This article was originally prepared as an assignment for the course “Models & Approaches to Disability”, Bsc. Psychology, Islamic Online University. Published with excessive modification.