R'11 Day Six: Accessible Mosques, Inclusive Communities

Last year during Ramadan, I blogged about praying at the NW Musallah and seeing a young lady with Downs Syndrome sitting on the side, quietly keeping to herself. She didn't participate in prayers, but kept herself busy with books and activities she had brought from home. I started 'Salaaming' her each time I was there, since I always ended up praying right beside her. When I started praying Taraweeh at the same mosque this week, I was delighted to see her again, and guess what? I've ended up praying besides where she was sitting the past three nights she has been there.

So then I started thinking about Islam's rulings around individuals with disabilities and prayer and participation. I somewhat knew the answer deep down, but I wondered if there was a fatwa concerning this realm, since the number of Muslims with disabilities has increased and there's a greater need to ensure that they are included in the mainstream community.

Naturally, I did a Google search, and found an association called the 'Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities' (CAM-D), which contains information pertaining to individuals' participation in Islam with mental and/or physical barriers. After reading through the links, there's articles around the MANY difference accommodations to wudu and prayer that can be made to suit an individual's needs, which promotes their participation in religious worship. Furthermore, there are articles around advice when traveling for Umrah or Hajj with someone who has a disability. The link is as follows: http://www.camd.ca/default.asp?id=disability_and_islam#articles

To be honest, I don't know if this area has been explored within our community to the degree that it should. Not that I'm surprised, it's only been recently that Muslim allied health professionals have been trained, and so perhaps now the time is right to start something to address this growing concern.

This topic also reminds me of my brief work stint at an outpatient neuro-rehab clinic in Boston. I came across a gentleman (we'll call him Billy) who not only had a recent upper extremity amputation, but also was completely visually impaired (apparently, something had gone wrong during the amputation). He was in his late 30s and had suddenly been struck with two major life hurdles. I also recall he was of African descent, but his exact homeland escapes me. Billy was a religiously devout Christian and lo and behold, the one thing that kept him going was his ability to participate in religious practice. So once Billy moved into a supported living environment, I did home visits with him to set things up in a way that was accessible and meaningful to him. One of the things he really wanted was to listen to religious tapes which he said calmed him down. So we worked on positioning a CD player close to his bed so he could access it. He often spoke about his spirituality, both from a Christian and Islamic perspective, since he had been equally exposed to both faiths back home. Billy had recently endured an amputation and completely lost his vision, so he expanded on how he was dealing with this, his dreams for the future, how he gets through his days, etc. I remember that the hardest thing to do was to leave Billy sitting alone in his room once the one-hour home visit was complete. We became quite close, not only because he was on my caseload and I saw him everyday, but I was determined to set him up with what he needed to live a meaningful life. And he was the only client of mine who actually pronounced my name correctly, since he had been exposed to many Arabic names back home!! By the end, he was mobile at home and we had set him up with more specialized resources through Perkins School for the Blind. Inshallah, I really hope he's doing well.

That was a major digression, but one that shows that regardless of the physical or cognitive capacity of an individual, participation in religious activities can provide comfort and a sense of connection with both a higher being and the community. The young lady I mentioned above is only one example. We need to encourage families to include members who may have disabilities into the community, and provide them with the support needed to participate. This support should not only go to the individual in need, but also to the family themselves.

There's a lot of work needed to be done to create accessible mosques and inclusive communities. It's time we roll up our abayas, shalwar kameezes, jelabas and thowbs, and start addressing a need that is in dire need of being addressed.

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