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Article from Australia on Disability and Islam

via: www.icv.org.au

By Sheikh Isse A. Musse
Imam, Islamic Council of Victoria

The Quran has next to nothing to say about physical handicaps and disabilities as such.

Whenever it refers to disability it does so in a figurative sense, as, for example, in the reference to the "deaf, dumb and blind" who reject Allah's offer of guidance and thus never return to the Right Path.

The Quran offers one exception to this strictly spiritual definition. This is where the Quran directly contrasts both the physical and the figurative aspect of disability:: "...it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the eyes which are in the hearts that grow blind'

So we find in the Quran and the Hadith - that are the authenticated and authoritative recorded statements of Prophet Muhammad - have little to say directly about the fact of disability.

Against that background, Islam sees disability as morally neutral. It is seen neither as a blessing nor as a curse. Clearly, disability is therefore accepted as being an inevitable part of the human condition. It is simply a fact of life which has to be addressed appropriately by the society of the day.

Disability is however recognized by believers as finding its ultimate meaning and explanation in the context of Allah's determination of events and for His ordering of His creation. Thus, it is a phenomenon that is seen as integral to the Divine law.

A fundamental proposition of Islam is that it teaches us to respect all human life, however it presents itself and to value the potential of every individual. One very special Islamic statement which is relevant to this point reads: "The living draw their sustenance from God: the most beloved to God is the person who serves the needs of the creation."

Therefore, the Muslim community as a whole is enjoined to be accepting of all people regardless of their disability. And we are required to support them in addressing their problems.

In acting this way, we seek to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who was once quoted as saying: "... No one has ever been awarded a bounty better than patience and submission." On another occasion, Allah's Messenger met a woman who complained that she was suffering from epileptic fits. She expressed concern that her body would become exposed during such episodes. (You will note that her modesty was important to this woman living in the time of the Prophet, as it still is to a Muslim woman today!)

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, offered the woman two choices. He could either pray to Allah that she could have access to paradise if she patiently resigned herself to her condition, or he could ask Allah to heal her. She opted to continue to bear her condition with patience, but also asked the Prophet to pray that her body might no longer become exposed to the view of strangers

This story brings out three important points. First, it illustrates the value of forbearance on the part of the person with the disability. More important, it affirms the right of individuals to draw attention to their special needs and to speak out for their rights as a matter of social justice. Finally, the story points to the important role of advocacy and the support which the wider community is expected to provide to the individual.

But, as you will know, Islam is anything but an individualistic faith. We are truly a faith community, or rather, an ummah, in which everybody interacts with everybody else and in which everybody has a place. And everybody has a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability. This explains why the Quran always addresses humankind in the plural form of "all you who believe"

A vivid example of the Islamic principle of inclusion is illustrated in the story of Julaybib, one of the contemporaries of the Prophet. Julaybib was a man who suffered rejection by the Muslims both because he suffered from a severe physical disability and lacked any tribal ties, hence no means of support. Even though they shared the same faith their Arab cultural baggage was still tainting their Islam.

When Julaybib fell in battle for his faith, there was no one who was prepared to give him a decent burial. So, the Prophet himself dug Julaybib's grave and placed him in it, proclaiming: "this man is of me and I am of him." This humane gesture of the Prophet was a powerful demonstration of the principle of inclusion. It was a dramatic act of advocacy, in word and action, on the part of a community leader day to educate his people about the importance of accepting others for what they are.

But I want to make clear that the question of leadership is not simply one of them helping us. Too often disabled people are thought of as simply clients. I am afraid even some of our Muslim scholars have fallen this trap. They have sought to sought to exclude disabled people from leaderships roles both on the grounds that people would not accept them and on the basis that their contribution would be somehow be flawed.

However, a leading Muslim jurist Spain in the twelfth century, Ibn Hazam, advocated that disability would not be an impediment to becoming a leader of the ummah. And indeed, the history of Islam is full of people who overcame their disabilities and served their community competently. A well-known case is the man to whom Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, delegated responsibility in his absence for governing the city of Madinah. This man was legally blind.

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