The Missing Muslims: Living With Disability

Everyone knows that Islam’s first Muezzin was black, Bilal Ibn Rabah, Radi’Allahu ta’ala ‘anhu. But did you know that the second was blind? I’m going to tell you more about that in a moment, but first, we’re gonna do a little tafseer.

The Prophet frowned and turned away

Surah Abasa

Because there came to him the blind man (interrupting).

how do you know that he wouldn’t have benefited?

Or that he wouldn’t be reminded and would then benefit from the reminder?  

 

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And the one who thinks he doesn’t need any of this,

you address him instead

It’s not on you, whether or not he chooses to benefit from this message.

You know this story already, right? This is the beginning of Surah Abasa, Once upon a time, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was trying to talk to the leaders of the Quraysh, and a blind companion of his interrupted him.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away from the blind man, returning his attention to the Quraishi leaders. Allah gently admonished the Prophet for his mistake, and then went on in the Surah to remind mankind of our humble beginnings, our careless existence, and our inevitable end.

The blind companion is relegated to a footnote in our teaching of the Qur’an, and few people know his name.

His name was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Abdullah was the first cousin of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), and he had been blind from birth.

He was among the earliest acceptors of the message and outlived the Prophet ﷺ. From his life we know that Awareness, Inclusion, and Accommodation of people with disabilities and special needs is not a modern addition to Islam. It is built into the Sunnah and Seerah itself.

You see Surah Abasa is nothing less than a divine message of Disability Awareness.

The one who came to you running-

Who feared Allah in his heart-

Him- you neglected him.

Kalla- No. This is a reminder.

So let whoever wishes to be reminded of it.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away, and even though Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) never saw that frown, Allah did. And through Surah Abasa, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent him a message.

From there on out, the Prophet made it a point to smile whenever he saw Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, regardless of whether Abdullah would ever see that smile. He specifically sought Abdullah out and asked if there was anything he needed. Years later he still addressed Abdullah with words of humility “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me.”

Allah rebuked the Messenger for neglecting a Muslim with a disability, and it was preserved in the Qur’an to be a perpetual reminder for anyone in danger of making the same mistake. Whoever comes to seeking knowledge of the deen is entitled to it. Everyone deserves the chance to develop a relationship with Allah. There is no excuse for sidelining anyone who comes seeking Islam.

Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum may be a footnote now, but at no point was he on the sidelines of our history. When Muslims began travelling outside of Makkah to spread the message of Islam, two men reached the city of Yathrib first. One of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

When Yathrib became Madinatul-Munawaara, and the Messenger established the first Muslim community, two men were appointed to give the call to prayer. One was black and one was blind.

One was Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and one of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). May Allah be pleased with them both.

When the Messenger of Allah travelled from Madina to the peaceful conquest of Makkah, he left one man in charge of the community. In this critical time of his absence, that man was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

How many of our masajid have anyone with a disability giving the adhaan or leading the salah? How many of our masajid have ANYONE with a disability on the board, and our Prophet left a man with a disability in charge of Madinah itself.

As an Ummah we pride ourselves on how many languages the Qur’an has been translated in to, how many of our masajid keep a copy in Braille?

We give lectures in every language- except sign language.

We post on our masajid doors- Allahumma Aftahlee abwaabe rahmatik. Oh Allah, open for us the doors of your mercy, but we hold the same doors shut when it comes to Muslims with disabilities.

 Some may say where are these disabled Muslims? I don’t see any in my community.

First of all, a disabled Muslim is not just a Muslim in a wheelchair. A disabled Muslim may be blind, hearing impaired, intellectually challenged, autistic, or having any number of conditions that make their ability to attend the masjid without accommodations a significant challenge.

Second of all, maybe the reason why no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid is because they are forced to wait beside the door – rain, shine or snow, Fajr, Asr, or Isha – until someone comes to open it for them.

That is assuming, of course, that there’s even a ramp for them to reach the door. And one on the sister’s side too. Maybe no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid because they can’t do wudu in your bathroom or fit their chair through the musalla door.

Having said that, there’s more to inclusion that just a ramp and door. If no one with a hearing impairment comes to your masjid, maybe it’s because they understand precisely ZERO of the khutbah unless you interpret it into sign.

Maybe no one with autism comes to masjid because your congregants shamed them for what they didn’t know were autistic behaviours. Maybe they don’t know what autism is. Maybe you never told them.

Maybe, just maybe, the Muslims going through the kinds of trials that you’ve never dealt with – let alone imagined- don’t come to your masjid because you’ve made it impossible for them to do so. Maybe they are cut off from the community because the community has cut them off.

Whether it’s a physical access issue, a social stigma, or that look people give when they think disability is contagious- something significant in your community may be excluding a significant part of your community.

Some may say- Ok, this disability awareness thing is very nice, MashaAllah, but we have more important things going on in the Muslim community right now. Have you turned the news on recently?

I’d like to give you some context for when Surah Abasa was revealed.

Surah Abasa was revealed in Makkah, and as we know, the Makkan period for Muslims was anything but awesome. It was terrible. The Muslims were dealing with torture, humiliation, death, and even assassination attempts on the Messenger himself.

In this dire situation the Prophet Muhammad was given the chance to speak truth to power directly. He had an audience with those responsible for the oppression and therefore, those capable of stopping it.

Getting through to those Quraish Leaders could have meant an end to the unimaginable suffering entirely. Whatever you’re doing in your masjid, it’s not more important than what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself was trying to do at that time. And whatever the Prophet was trying to do at that time, Allah told him there was something important enough to interrupt even that.

We have this idea that awareness, inclusion, and accommodation for the Muslims with special needs is extra credit, and we’ll get to it as a community, once we’ve sorted everything else out.

Accommodation is not Nafl. It is fard. And Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a proof of this in not just one Surah of the Qur’an, but two.

In Surah Nisa 4:95 Allah revealed a verse stating that those who stayed at home were not equal to those who fought in His cause.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, deeply hurt by his inability to do more, came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to tell him Ya Rasulullah, I would fight for Allah if I could.

Allah then sent further revelation, completing the ayah to read:

[Nisa 4:95]

Those who stay at home- except those with a disability – are not equal to those who fight in Allah’s cause. Here Allah himself makes accommodations in the Qur’an specifically for Muslims with disabilities.

Awareness, Inclusion, Accommodation- these are part of our faith. Disability is part of our faith too. Muslim speakers all over the world open their talks with the dua of  Musa, the Prophet with the Speech Impediment.

Rabbish-rah-li sadri, wa yassirli amri

Wah lul uqdatam min lisaani. Yafqaho qawli

My Lord, open for me my heart, and make my task easy, and untie the knot in my tongue so that people will understand me.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all three Abrahamic faiths share the greatest of story of patience of who? Job- Ayyoub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), the Prophet bedridden and disabled by chronic illness for seven years.

Our religious traditions are enriched with stories of the blind, the lame, the epileptic. Allah cites examples of people with disability as Prophets themselves – models for patience, faith, and inspiration.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a true inspiration. Even though he was blind and excused- By God Himself- from participating in battle, he advocated for more.

“Place me between two rows ,” he said, “and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.”

And so Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum became a flag-bearer- literally- for the Muslim Ummah. He participated in every campaign that he could. He died as martyr in the Battle of Qadisiyah, and fell without losing hold of the standard he carried.

It would be nice if we could say the same. Muslims in the West- we consider ourselves to be a marginalized community, yet here we are marginalizing members our own community.

Our hearts ache when we hear of people with disabilities being neglected and abused by those responsible for their care. And yet – we the Muslim community- responsible for the care and the accommodation of all our members- we are neglecting our most vulnerable members.

If it sounds like I’m taking this personally, it’s because I am actually am. I was born into disability awareness the same day as my son. As expected when expecting, I made dua for him every single prayer, every single day. Ya Allah, please grant me a man of Jannah.

Ya Allah, He gave me a child with autism.

I prayed more.

I prayed so hard, so long, and so desperately to find out what was wrong with my son, and when I had an idea what it was- I prayed for it to not be wrong with him anymore.

I blamed myself. It wasn’t hard, society blamed me too. It must’ve been me picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been me not picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been that I spoiled him. It must’ve been that I ignored him.

It must’ve been that I fed him this or didn’t feed him that. It must’ve have been the evil eye- and this is a good one- it must have been that I didn’t pray enough.

No matter what people thought must’ve caused autism, I must’ve caused it, and I lived with debilitating grief and guilt in between therapy and prayers but…

But- Alhamdulillah, Allah saved me from breaking. Even when I knew other mothers who did.

I knew one mother who left. She disappeared, leaving her disabled four-year-old with his father. The father messaged me, looking for help. She had messaged him after leaving, “He’s your son. You deal with it.”

I knew one mother who shattered- losing her faith entirely. She did not believe in God anymore, she said, but she still prayed to him. She prayed that she and her son would both die in a car accident at the same time.

In Texas, the community knew a mother who had two children with autism- Zain and Faryal, but you probably never heard of her until she turned herself in for killing them both.

I’m not going to imply that their deaths could have been prevented with a really inclusive Sunday School program. Allah knows how long we get to spend on this earth and the circumstances we leave it in. I will say this though: Shaytan preys on us especially in times of fear and solitude. In the absence of a supportive community, what protection do Muslims with disabilities have from him?

When I learned that my son had autism, I was told he may never speak. Forty percent of children with autism never really do. When he finally did speak, his first word was OKAY! And to both him and us, it meant everything.

Juice was Okay. Toys were Okay. The car was Okay. We had beautiful conversations – conversations that I waited years to have – that were comprised of only one word, Okay.

I had for the first time, some hope that my son would one day learn his own name and maybe even functional speech. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, but it was because of OKAY that we were first kicked out of a masjid.

It had been an Isha Salah, the imam said AllahuAkbar and my son answered Okay.

The Imam said Fatihah and my son answered Okay.

AllahuAkbar?

Okay!

Sami’Allahu Liman Hamida?

Okay!

Rabbana Wa lakal Hamd

OKAY

No sooner did the imam say the salam did someone begin pounding – literally with two fists and outright fury-  on the wall of the ladies section. Someone was yelling. Someone was angry.

(My son answered, Okay!)

I ran back to the car with my children and cried. My husband stood in the parking lot and attempted to defuse the situation with the imam and the angry guy.

I was unmosqued for nearly six years.

Between the fear of being humiliated again and the fear of my son wandering out of the masjid during prayers, I missed hundreds of jummahs, dozens of Eids, and the immeasurable amount sisterhood and support I so desperately needed.

Our journey back to the Muslim community is too long a story for this article, but I do want to share this update. The kid who once got us kicked out of the masjid is now a regular fixture at our local masjid. He even got to call the adhan once, and remembering our relationship with other masajid before this one, it was a moment of indescribable sweetness.

The gratitude that I have for the members of our masjid is something that I’ve never fully expressed, but I often make dua for them and pray that Allah befriend them the way they have befriended my children. That Allah show Gentleness to them for the gentleness they have shown my children. That Allah love them, and increase the love they have in their hearts for my families and other families like them.

Our Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent as a Mercy to all of mankind. In following his example we too can be a mercy. Our communities can be so much more. We can do so much more.

Someone in your community has a disability and they don’t come to the masjid anymore. Whether they can’t get in, whether it’s impossible to stay in, or whether they’ve been told they’re not welcome in- they stay at home, day after day, kuhtbah after khubah, Eid after Eid, growing more isolated, more inward, and more likely to fall than if they had been surrounded by helping hands instead.

Someone in your community is afraid, because living with chronic illness is scary and uncertain. They really need someone to talk to, except they don’t know how, or who, or when. Because your masjid doesn’t have a support group for those Muslims who need support most.

If you’re looking around and thinking well, I don’t know any of these people then thank you for proving my point. Someone in your community is close to breaking and you don’t even know who they are.

Muslims with disabilities exist. That they don’t seem to exist in your community is the problem. Now, let’s talk solutions.

Start by finding one person– one single person – in your community with a disability. Ask them what you can do for them. Ask your imam to meet with them. Ask your imam to talk to the community about their disability in a Khutbah, and make sure your masjid actually has the facilities they need to attend and understand that khutbah too.

Go and visit them. And don’t do it because you pity them, do it because you need them. Do it because Allah expects you to, and if you don’t help them, then what answer will you give Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) when he says on the Day of Judgment, “Oh My Servant, I was ill and you didn’t attend to me.”

And you’ll be like Ya Allah, how could you be ill? How could I attend to you?

And Allah will answer back, You knew my Servant was ill, and you didn’t attend to them. If you had, you would have found Me with them.

You want to be with Allah in the next life? Go seek Him out in this one. Seek out the disabled in your community the same way the Companions of the Prophet did, competing with each other to travel farther and work harder in the service of those who needed help.

You want Allah to love you? Then love those that He loves. Allah tests those that He loves. Find those most tested by Him, and maybe – just maybe- if one day they don’t find you in Jannah, they’ll ask about you there.

9 / View Comments

9 responses to “The Missing Muslims: Living With Disability”

  1. Anissa says:

    Amazing article – yes it’s time for the Muslim community to take a lead – autism affects nearly 1 in 70 people and of course there are other disabilities like Down syndrome etc. ALL our masjids and centres should have day cares for kids with special needs so that families can be part of the community. Further it is the RESPONSIBILITY of all Muslims to take especial care of these families – help them out as they are so busy !!!! I think our Islamic centres also need to think about adults with disabilities – eg building Muslim care centres for such adults – parents are always scared what will happen to their kids when they pass on – what a noble task if the Muslim community makes a plan!

  2. Anissa says:

    Sister Zeba – how do you manage your other kids and teach them about their brother and how to look after him ?

    • Maymoona says:

      Slm my dear Jazakallah for sharing. This is a much needed discussion. May Allah grant aafiyah to you and all those struggling in any way

  3. Mahenoor says:

    Salam Sister!!! I felt like you are telling my story. I have two boys with ASD. They are blessing from Allah SWT. Through them we are guided to the straight path. Even though some people blamed me for my sons being Autistic …… they say it’s a punishment. Some say Jinn posses them . But Me and my husband think that
    Our boys make us better Muslim and better human everyday .
    We also trying for few years to have a Sunday program in the masajid so that special need kids can have the opportunity to learn about the Deen but we couldn’t do it yet. Our point is if they can learn about Halloween or Christmas at school they will definitely will be able to learn about Eid or Ramadan . There is lack of awareness in the community and also within the family.

    • Maryam says:

      Salaams sister Mahenoor – to be raising two special boys surely means Allah loves you and your husband – he does not burden a soul more than the soul can bear and tests people based on their Iman! As for the people who said things like you are being punished – then they do not know who Allah is – Allah SWT is Rahman and Rahim and loves us more than our mothers. May Allah bless you and your family abundantly in this dunya and akhirah – sending special love to your boys – they are blessed to have amazing parents like you.

    • Maryam says:

      Sister – please listen to this khutbah – people who say things like Allah is punishing you do not understand our Deen – Allah loves you and know you can pass his tests with flying colours inshAllah- and when you inshAllah get to Jannah you will rejoice for the opportunity Allah gave you in this dunya https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DiWUOM6VJm4

  4. Taoheedah says:

    What a post! May Almighty Allah reward Sis. Zeba for this. I had the good fortune of listening to her talk on disability at TDC 2017 and it was brilliant. I pray all who read this take it to heart and act upon it in our various masajids. She’s so right, we as a community hardly think of the hardships those with disabilities face in our communities. Her tafsir of Surat ul Abasa really makes it hit home. Sadly, I am yet to see any sign language interpreter in any of the khutbahs I have attended so far in North America. This piece should be a wake-up call. I hope we all are able to commit to making our communities more inclusive going forward.

  5. Allen says:

    Or sufism, not sure why author left Sufism as a form of misguidence ?

  6. Latifa says:

    Subhannallah. Feels like yesterday I was listening to your talk at TDC 2017 about the missing muslims and how you met a little boy that had ASD while you were pregnant. My little boy under the age of 2 has just been recently diagnosed and all I keep mumbling is Habiyya Allah wa nimal wakeel. I pray Allah strengthens our backs so that we may bear the load he tests us with.

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