By: Najah Zaaeed
We live in a world in which people are increasingly facing various challenges, many of which affect their well-being and lifestyles. Unfortunately, Muslims with disabilities are sometimes faced with barriers within their own Muslim communities. Recently, the Muslim Social Research Network launched a global study to understand the needs of Muslims with disabilities in the U.S., UK and Canada. The findings will be used to educate Muslim organizations about the challenges their community members with disabilities endure and provide recommendations on how to improve services, communication, and inclusion.
Imagine being limited to going outdoors or interacting with others because you have a disability or impairment. Imagine being unable to obtain general education because the school or organization does not have the resources or staff needed to teach individuals with disabilities and impairments. Imagine wanting to learn about your faith, including how to pray and how to recite words from the verses of the Qurʾān Al Kareem, yet there is no one to teach you because there is a lack of people willing to educate Muslims with disabilities and impairments. Imagine going to the masjid, only to be directed to pray in an isolated area or shoe room, not in congregation, because the facility does not provide ease of accessibility for individuals with disabilities who have medical equipment or pets to aid them. Sometimes the challenges for Muslims with disabilities and impairments are not due to structure, but due to a simple lack of awareness from other patrons and board members. We live in a world that is filled with imagination, but we don’t realize some of those thoughts may actually take place in our own communities.
A place of worship is generally thought of as being a safe, kind, and like welcome-home to anyone, including individuals with disabilities or impairments. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In fact, Muslims with disabilities and impairments, as well as their caregivers, tend to face challenges when attempting to participate in regular congregational prayers, Islamic educational programs, holiday/ special events, or general visitations to the masjid. Their struggles also extend to gaining access, participating with or obtaining resources from other Islamic organizations and centers. Granted, the world is not perfect, and individuals with disabilities or impairments may face barriers at even non-religious facilities; as faith-based organizations missions, however, typically connect religion with improvement of society, it has become ever more important to understand impaired or disabled Muslims’ concerns and challenges within Muslim organizations.
Like many Muslims, regardless of disability, Heather Albright would visit the masjid with the hope of learning about Islam, engaging with others, and performing her obligatory prayers in congregation. Instead, she oft times found her experience to be stressful, as she was bombarded with “off the wall” questions about her blindness and her ability to learn and be independent. Similarly, Misty Bradly, a single mother who is also blind, found that many underestimated her abilities because of her inability to see.
“People didn’t realize that blind people were capable of doing things on their own,” Misty explains. Although masjid patrons are friendly, they often make Muslims with disabilities and their caregivers feel ignored, as though they don’t belong, or as though they cannot move without assistance. It is important to note that this is not the case in all masjids, as some actually promote inclusion and expect engagement of Muslims with disabilities in activities. Nonetheless, these experiences combined with the lack of resources to create, support, and sustain the inclusion of Muslims with disabilities are relevant and should be addressed.
According to Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, who cares for his aging mother losing her sight because of glaucoma, “going to pray at a masjid is hard particularly when they’re not user friendly. I don’t think we have the resources; not because they’re unavailable to us but because we don’t place enough value in it.”
Misty’s challenges associated with Islamic organizations and her disability affect how she is able to engage in her daughter’s education. Islamic school teachers failed to adhere to her request of alternative communication methods; her request to communicate and keep her informed through e-mail, so that she could use her JAWS for windows software which enables screen reading the information to her, was ignored. This was troublesome as Misty was invested in her daughter’s education, but found herself missing special events due to a lack of communication.
Muslims with disabilities are not the only one to bear the stress of the barriers they endure in their Muslim communities. Caregivers of Muslims with disabilities have witnessed similar obstacles. Nicole Epps has realized her Muslims community lacks the resources needed to provide her five year old daughter Sarah, who has spastic cerebral palsy, an Islamic education. Sarah does not attend any type of Islamic school; this is not by choice, but rather because many Islamic schools, including weekend programs in North Carolina, do not accommodate students with disabilities or special needs. Nicole is not alone; Chess Conners has four children with some type of disability. Her oldest has autism while another has a physical disability affecting her legs. Like Nicole, Chess found that the Islamic schools are not equipped to educate children with special needs.
While a lack of special education teachers prevent Muslims with disabilities from learning about Islam in traditional settings, it is still possible for many to participate in activities and engage in programs offered to everyone at the masjid. Unfortunately, many Islamic centers are not disability friendly due to infrastructure, a lack of resources, such as visuals for individuals that may be hard of hearing or visually impaired, or the simple lack of awareness on how to treat and accommodate people with disabilities from an Islamic perspective. Addressing this last concern would prevent misunderstandings regarding the permissibility of someone with special medical shoes, equipment, or pets entering the masjid.
Mohammad Yousef is very familiar with the treatment of Muslims with disabilities by fellow Muslims and with accessibility barriers in Islamic centers and masjids. Although Mohammad is a well-educated engineer and founder of the organization, EquallyAble, he still finds himself having to defend the use of his medical shoes and leg brace in the prayer area. Mohammed’s organization aims to create awareness and advocate on behalf of Muslims with disabilities. Similarly, Chess feels accessibility, especially in Islamic centers or masjids that have multiple levels, can create barriers for people wishing to attend yet can’t due to a physical disability.
I “never really felt accepted in the community, because of how my children are,” explains Chess, who has felt a difference in the treatment of her and her children by others in her Muslim community. Chess feels that community members can sometimes make parents feel as though their child has a disease, rather than a disability. She remembers how someone found out about her second child’s incident and quickly informed others at the masjid. Chess believes education about disability is key, because people don’t realize the emotions individuals with disabilities may experience, especially if they have negative interactions with others. Chess wants parents to understand that “your child isn’t going to catch autism by being around my daughter.” Chess is not alone; Nicole shares, “kids don’t understand,” and parents do not help their children comprehend that people with disabilities may not be that different and may want to play and participate in activities just like any other child. Children with disabilities should “feel included, that it’s a disability but not a handicap.” Other children, such as Misty’s, are taunted by their fellow peers because of the parent’s disability. Sometimes Misty’s daughter is told “your mom can’t do that,” leaving her own child to wonder what her mother is capable of doing on her own. Misty now finds herself reminding her daughter that she is independent and able to care for herself.
All individuals interviewed stressed the importance of breaking down the stereotypes surrounding disabilities, specifically Muslims with disabilities. In addition to ease of access, many wish for improved Islamic education and resources for individuals with disabilities.
Learning about Islam
While some caregivers, such as Nicole and Chess, opted to teach their children about Islam at home, others continue to visit the masjid because they still want to feel as though they are a part of the community and learn something about Islam. Heather wanted to learn versus of the Qurʾān, yet cannot read it; instead of doing nothing, she decided to search for the Qurʾān in braille and was eventually able to get a copy.
Learning how to read the Qurʾān in braille presents its own challenges. Although a Qurʾān in braille is available, it is important to understand that even Islamic texts in braille require one to be educated on how to read it, explains Norma Hashim of the International Union of Braille Quran Services. The IBQS is comprised of 13 organizations in thirteen countries with hopes to grow. Braille phonetic is based on sounds and most braille Qurʾāns found in places such as Saudi Arabia have words that are shortened, which non-Arab speakers would most likely not understand or even pronounce correctly. The braille Qurʾān offered by the Malaysian Braille Association, whom Norma is also associated with, offers the longer braille version of the Qurʾān, which can be understood.
As technology and research advance, the opportunity for Muslims with disabilities to address their needs increases. Many Muslims with disabilities have used their impairment as a resiliency, developing organizations to create awareness and solutions. Although some may look for organizations to advocate on their behalf, “in general you need to be your own advocate and talk to the Imams and people and explain to them why this is different,” says Mohammad Yousef, of EquallyAble. Rabia Khedr, executive director of CAM-D (Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities), is blind and knows all too well the stigmatism that is associated with impairments. Amazingly, Rabia and her fellow peers at CAM-D have come a long way to establish their organization, which started off as a resource and advocacy center. They will soon be launching a project called Deen. Interestingly, CAM-D faced many challenges from Islamic organizations during their initial years of establishment. According to Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, who is also a board member of a masjid in central New York, “I find the challenge is getting Muslims to be sympathetic!” The internal struggles and recognition and leadership within Islamic organizations hinder their ability to address their Muslim community’s needs. This is one of the reasons CAM-D board members decided to be a stand-alone organization. In part, doing so allowed them to serve a greater community, advocate on behalf of individuals with disabilities, and make recommendations that are built on the needs of Muslims with disabilities, regardless of an Islamic organization’s affiliation.
While many of the parents interviewed for this article stated they would like to see disability awareness programs conducted by Islamic organizations for their community members, individuals such as Misty also express the concern of basic accessibility challenges at masjids and Islamic events. Misty shares, “a lot is culture, while we have to respect, and they need to learn more about disability and capabilities of disabled.” While Yusuf Abdul-Qadar shares similar agreement he reiterates, “the Muslim community isn’t competent enough to care about these issues, unfortunately. This is from a board member!”
Refreshingly, people like Mohammad, Rabia, and Heather are contributing to the slow, but effective changes ensuring their concerns, as well as the concerns of other Muslims with disabilities are heard and their needs are being met. Rabia says the need for awareness and advocacy is “huge and the resources are small.” Rabia and Mohammad both mention the importance of pro-activeness from Muslims with disabilities, in their communities. Mohammad goes further to mention the importance for Imams and Muslims organization board and community members to take the time to “get to know someone with a disability and understand what happens in their life and with their family members.”
The current reality is that Islamic centers across the US, UK and Canada can easily become overwhelmed with a plethora of community concerns and sometimes need to rely on information and training from third party organizations or advocates on issues such as addressing the concerns of individuals with special needs. The recent study on Muslims with disabilities is not the first research to address the needs of Muslims with disabilities, and it may not be the last as social concerns and needs are steadily changing. However, findings of the study by MSRN will be greatly beneficial to Muslims with disabilities, their caregivers, and Muslim communities and organizations overall.
If you know someone who has a disability or is a caregiver of someone with a disability, please share the following link, http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/disability, and ask them to take a few moments to complete the survey anonymously. Voicing their concerns can only improve conditions for themselves, those they care about, and those that come after them.
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.
Raising a Child between Ages 7-12
From a cognitive-development standpoint, this is called a concrete operational period, according to Jean Piaget.
(N.B: Some adults never progress beyond this phase, while 15% of kids may reach the following formal-operational phase at age 9!)
The child now (7-12) may factor in two dimensions of an object simultaneously. So, the longer cup may have less water because it is thinner. However, this is still hard for him/her to perform in the abstract realm, so, they are still uni-dimensional in that respect. Concepts and behaviors are still black and white. It is also hard for the kids in this stage to imagine and solve the structure of a mathematical problem. They cannot think contrary to facts. In other words, you can’t get them to use as a basis for an argument a question like what if the sky rains sugar instead of water?
Socially, Erikson felt that in this period kids develop industry or inferiority. According to his theory, from age six to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. If encouraged, they feel industrious and confident in their ability to achieve goals.
Based on these observations, we may recommend:
1- Using a lot of hands-on teaching, since they still have limited ability with conceptualization and abstract reasoning.
2- Continue the focus on memorization. If you want them to finish the Quran in 1-2 years, 12 and/or 13 seem to be the prime years for that. This suits some children and some families, not all. If you like a more gradual approach, you should have them start serious memorization at 7, accelerate at 10, and finish by 15-17. Not all kids are meant to memorize the whole Quran though; they can still be educated and pious. Invest in their strengths, not your dreams.
3- Use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material. Use story problems in mathematics.
4- Use open-ended questions that will stimulate thinking and help the child reach the following stage faster. Example: “What do you think about the relationship between the brain and the mind?”; “What do you think about the relationship between prayful-ness and piety?” Make sure you know the right answers!
5- More explanations will be needed, but keep them simple, and even though they should be more detailed than the last stage, they still need to be uni-dimensional. Examples: we obey God because he created us; if we disobey Him, we get punished, and if we obey Him, we get rewarded in this life and in the hereafter. Too early to teach him that “the brokenness of the disobedient is better than the haughtiness of the obedient.” Break it down. Humbleness and obedience are good, while haughtiness and disobedience are bad.
6- Encourage and praise their accomplishments, while making them aware that there is always room for improvement. Continue to encourage initiative-taking and leadership qualities, yet you may also set limits, and make them aware that they will have to always report to someone. Even if there are no people above them, Allah always is. They have to adapt to being leaders and followers at the same time, because that is the reality of all people.
7- This is still a stage of belonging and affiliation to the group, and the child will develop more or less attachment to Islam through his or her experience at the masjid and with the community.
Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj
This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.
Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.
Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.
In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.
Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.
Based on the above, here are some recommendations:
In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.
Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad . Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved .
Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.
Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”
Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.
This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad , masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)
In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.
Use illustrated books and field trips.
Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.
Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.
Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.