Islamic views on disability.The increasing awareness of the Muslim residents in the United States is but one component of the continuing need to appreciate the ongoing diversity of our population. The reality is that, "the lives of people with disabilities are shaped by their racial and ethnic status, their religion, and their first language." (1) It would therefore be fundamental to develop an understanding of the Islamic views on disability if we are to provide services for their population with special needs.
Unfortunately, the Census Bureau is unable to provide information regarding the affiliations with the various religious denominations of individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious affiliations in its demographic surveys or decennial census. Public Law 94-521 prohibits the Bureau from asking questions on religious affiliations on a mandatory basis; however it may collect information about religious practices on a voluntary basis. (2)
Based on reviews of available survey data provided by Muslim organizations and mosques, the "... highest reasonable total number of Muslims in the United States is 2.8 million." (3) Other estimates of six million or more Muslims are not supported by empirical data. "Such numbers may best be understood as 'spiritual' numbers, rather than actual numbers." (3)
In Great Britain, Muslims have the highest rates of disabilities, including almost a quarter of Muslim females (24%) and 21% of Muslim males. Jews have the lowest rate of disabilities (13% for both sexes). Christians have the second lowest at 16% for males and 15% for females. (4)
"The word 'disability' cannot be found within the Qur'an or Hadiths (religious texts of Islam), but the concept of Muslims having inabilities or special needs and how they interacted in society can be found throughout the history of Islam." (5) The belief of Muslims is that individuals are created with different abilities and disabilities with the objective for a Muslim to focus on their abilities and show gratefulness rather than focus on the disability. "A Muslim has the right to improve the situation of their disability through prayer, medical, educational and advocacy resources." (5) (See the March issue of EP Magazine for a general discussion of religion and disabilities. (6))
There are allowances for Muslims with disabilities and the aged to be exempted from some of the Islamic practices such as prayers, fasting and performing hajj--the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God. (7)
Due to the diversity of medical conditions and disabilities, "... it is a preferred practice to refer to a Muslim religious leader to determine what (if any) exemptions of Islamic practices are placed upon a person with a disability or the aged ... The community as a whole is enjoined to be accepting of all people regardless of their disability and Muslims are required to support them in addressing their needs ..." (5) Caring for a family member with a disability is viewed as being highly rewarding. In general, Muslim care providers prefer to remain with the individual in need at all times and prefer to have activities that involve the whole family.
In Islam, the body is a gift from God and needs to be looked after and not abused. Keeping the body healthy is part of one's religion. Any illness is to be received with patience and prayers and Muslims are strongly encouraged to seek treatment and care. Essentially, "... Islam sees disability as 'morally neutral.' It is neither a blessing nor a curse ... It is simply a fact of life which has to be addressed appropriately by the society of the day." (8)
Nevertheless, there are contrary reports regarding the experiences of Muslims with disabilities. "Families caring for people with severe disabilities receive very little support from their religious communities. Muslims with disabilities also feel excluded from learning and engaging in spiritual and social activities." (9) "... Muslims with disabilities remain isolated, and families caring for people with severe disabilities receive no support from their religious community." (10) "There is currently no outreach or attempts to reach the disabled community." (11)
Many issues involving an individual with a disability, e.g. questions involving aborting a fetus with a severe disability, often are referred to an imam (an Islamic leader, often the leader of a mosque and/or community) or scholar for a fatwa. (Sharia, the body of Islamic religious law, forbids any transgression against the life of a fetus. (12)) Note: fatwa is a religious opinion based on Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwa is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be, depending on the status of the scholar. Western media frequently uses the term incorrectly to specifically mean an Islamic law pronouncing a death sentence upon someone who is considered an infidel or a blasphemer, whereas the term's correct definition is significantly broader. (13)
"A Muslim is instructed to approach the disabled with compassion, for Allah has compassion for them and grants them ease in their servitude to Him." (14)
ISLAM AND SPECIFIC DISABILITIES
In addition to the general emphasis on providing for Muslims with disabilities, the Islamic literature is rife with examples stressing the difficulties faced by these Muslims in relation to the obligations of Islam.
Deaf and hard of hearing: "Allah revealed to us through the holy Qur'an (that) the search and learning of knowledge is compulsory for all Muslims including deaf Muslims." (15) However, "in general (there are exceptions of course) most deaf Muslims feel that they have not received an adequate education regarding Islam." (16) Often, Muslims parents and teachers mistakenly assume that the concept of Islam, the teaching of the Qur'an and in Arabic (those who are from non-Arabic speaking countries) is too difficult for the deaf child to understand. As a result, they do not teach the children as much as if they were hearing. There are deaf people who were Muslim and converted to Christianity or other religions, mostly because many Christian churches have sign language interpreters, "... while most Mosques do not offer interpreters for any deaf people who may be in their congregation." (16) Other reports indicate increasing efforts to provide interpreters and provide needed educational programs to prepare individuals with hearing disabilities to participate in religious and general community life. (17)
Blind disability: A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Qur'anic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Muslims have revered blind clerics for over 1,000 years. "In one scene in the Qur'an, the Prophet frowns and turns away from a blind man, only to have Allah castigate him for rejecting a spiritual seeker." (18) Down syndrome: Doctors will offer pregnant women tests to see if the baby has the syndrome. However, if the test indicates
Down syndrome, there is nothing that they can do for the baby, except offer an abortion. "As I'm sure you are all aware, that would be haram (in Islam, it is used to refer to anything that is prohibited by the faith) so it is not an option." (19)
Intellectual disability: "You who believe, do not let one people make fun of another ... whenever a person is found to be disabled he is not responsible for his speech and action." (20) Islam makes a distinction between the individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental disorders, but both groups are found to be legally incompetent in the Qur'an and the Hadiths. The society is obliged to assess, assist and respect the person with an intellectual disability and give the person an equal life chance. In Islamic tradition, the best therapy is the one directed to enhance the health of the person, his psyche and spirit, in order for him to fight illness. (21) Residential care is not forbidden in Islamic society. The institution should provide for the individual's health and well-being, while the family maintains the guardianship. (20)
An increased appreciation of the racial, ethnic, and religion cultures, in addition to family dynamics and issues, is essential in providing for the care of individuals with disabilities. The ongoing diversity of our population requires that health and social service providers consider these many factors when caring for their patients with special health care needs--including Muslims with disabilities.
(1.) Stienstra D. The interaction of disability and race/ethnicity/official language/religion. Intersections of diversity seminar. Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada: University of Winnipeg, March 8, 2002.
(2.) U.S. Census Bureau. Question and Answer Center. Does the Census Bureau have data for religion? Web site: https://ask.census.gov Accessed May 16, 2008.
(3.) Number of Muslims in the United States Web site: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_islam_usa.html Accessed July 10, 2008.
(4.) National Statistics on Line. Health and Disability: Muslims report worst health. Web site: http://www.statistics.gov/uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=959 Accessed May 17, 2008.
(5.) Al Thani H. Disability in the Arab Region: Current Situation and Prospects. J Disabl and Internat Develop 2006; 3:4-9.
(6.) Waldman HB, Perlman SP, Cinotti DA. Religion and children with disabilities. EP Magazine, March, 2010.
(7.) Hajj. Wikipedia. Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajj Accessed July 9, 2008.
(8.) What does Islam say about disability? Web site: http://muslimyouth.net/print_article.php?a_id= 474&id_fk=17&id_fkis=59&id_fkt=197 Accessed July 9, 2008.
(9.) Masjid Umar. Disability--introduction. Web site: http://www15.redstation.co.uk/masj174242/intro.html Accessed July 9, 2008.
(10.) Khedr R. Putting disability on the Muslim agenda. Web site: http://www.islamonline.net/English/family/2006/05/article02.shtml Accessed July 9, 2008.
(11.) Akram A. Disabled Muslims lobby for better access to mosques. Web site: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/198/story_19887.htmly Accessed July 10, 2008.
(12.) Fatwa Management System. Islamic ruling of terminating a disabled fetus. Web site: http://infad.usim.edu.my/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article& sid=10777 Accessed July 8, 2008.
(13.) Fatwa. Wikipedia. Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatwa Accessed July 9, 2008.
(14.) Reading Islam. Muhammad and the message. Web site: http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline- EnglishAAbout_Islam/AskAboutIslamE/AskAboutIslamE&cid=1123996016772 Accessed July 9, 2008.
(15.) Wa Rahmatullah AA. Globan Deaf Muslim. Web site: http://wordpress.com/tag/global-deafmuslim/ Accessed July 9, 2008.
(16.) Muyesseroglu J. The deaf Muslim experience: education and Islam. Web site: http://edf3.gallaudet.edu/diversity/BGG/!ISLAM/Deafan~1.htm Accessed July 9, 2008.
(17.) Berke J. Religion: deaf and hard of hearing Muslims. Web site: http://deafness.about.com/od/religion/a/deafmuslim.htm Accessed July 9, 2008.
(18.) Enger B. What's with all the blind clerics? Web site: http://www.slate.com/id/2134506/ Accessed July 9, 2008.
(19.) Ummah Forum. Raising kids with Down's syndrome. Web site: Rashttp://www.ummah.com/forum/showthread.php?t=126850&page=2 Accessed July 9, 2008.
(20.) Gaventa WC, Coulter DL, edit. Spirituality and Intellectual Disability., Web site: http://books.google.com/books?id=IfT6AwMvWZ8C&pg=PA67& lpg=PA67&dq=muslim+intellectual+disabilities&source=web&ots=ujJqHM5Pnw& sig=E1Yqrzri4vu3NopP5G1WypDjt4k&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result# PPA69,M1 Accessed July 10, 2008.
(21.) Morad M, Nasri Y, Merrick J. Islam and the person with intellectual disability. Web site: http://www.haworthpress.com/store/toc/plainv/J095v05n02_TOC.txt Accessed July 10, 2008.
H. Barry Waldman, DDS, MPH, PhD is a Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of General Dentistry, at Stony Brook University, NY.
Steven P. Perlman, DDS, MScD, DHL (Hon), is the Global Clinical Director, Special Olympics, Special Smiles, and a Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at The Boston University School of Dental Medicine. He also has a private pediatric dentistry practice in Lynn, MA.
Ramiz A. Chaudhry, DDS, is part of the Department of Periodontics at Stony Brook University.