People across the world and throughout time have suffered from various life altering disabilities, some of which are more handicapping than others. In the Muslim world, there is a feeling of embarrassment within families with disabled children. By no means is this specific only to the Muslim world, and in fact, the world at large has been guilty of mislabeling people that are hindered by disabilities as liabilities and nuisances to society. This article hopes to elucidate the Islamic perspective of benefiting and helping those that are hindered by disability.
Islam came with the intention of protecting people, rich and poor, weak and strong, and those unable to care for themselves. It is part of the Maqasid, (the principle goals upon which Islamic law stand to protect) that God’s law aims to benefit people regardless of their physical or mental state. “Generally the Shariah is predicated on the benefits of the individual and that of the community, and its laws are designed so as to protect these benefits and facilitate improvement and perfection of the conditions of human life on earth” (Kamali).
What are these principal goals of which Islamic law works to protect? They are religion, life, wealth, progeny, and intellect. Almost all of these five objectives affect those who are faced with disabilities. It is Islam’s objective to make the lives of those with disabilities bearable regardless of what they suffer from. One of the ways in which God facilitates ease for the disabled is by making it a communal obligation upon the people to serve those in need. On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may God be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said:
God (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection: “O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not.” He will say: “O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?” He will say: “Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not.” He will say: “O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds?” He will say: “Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink.” He will say: “O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds?” He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me” (related by Muslim).
This narration establishes a communal obligation on the greater community to assist those that are in need. This narration is further reinforced with verses such as:
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in God , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous” (Quran 2:177).
The point to derive here is that it is an obligation upon the greater community to benefit those that are in need. Unfortunately, historically and even today, the disabled community has largely been looked upon as a liability and as a community unable to provide any benefit. One of the negatives of our post-modern world is that those who are deemed inefficient and unable to bring with them financial capital are seen as valueless instead of pathways to Divine pleasure. It is paramount to realize that one being disabled does not inherently lessen their value in the eyes of God. In fact, it may be that a person is disabled or handicapped in some capacity and their worth in the eyes of God is exponentially higher than one who has full capacity of their body and mind yet their soul does not function as it should.
One need not look far for examples of exemplary individuals during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who suffered from various disabilities yet their worth was great.
Narrated 'Ata bin Abi Rabah: “Ibn `Abbas said to me, ‘Shall I show you a woman of the people of Paradise?"’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This black lady came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, 'I get attacks of epilepsy and my body becomes uncovered; please invoke God for me.' The Prophet (peace be upon him) said (to her), 'If you wish, be patient and you will have (enter) paradise; and if you wish, I will invoke God to cure you.' She said, 'I will remain patient,' and added, 'but I become uncovered, so please invoke God for me that I may not become uncovered.' So he invoked God for her” (al-Bukhari).
We see in this narration that this woman was promised paradise for her patience; the one who attains paradise is no doubt one who has attained the pleasure of God and as such is valuable and loved by God. Her worth cannot be questioned.
Another example is shared with us in the Quran when God corrected the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he made the mistake of ignoring the questions of a blind man in an effort to call diplomats of a neighboring village towards Islam. This event is documented in the following verses:
The Prophet frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man, [interrupting]. But what would make you perceive, [O Muhammad], that perhaps he might be purified or be reminded and the remembrance would benefit him? As for he who thinks himself without need, To him you give attention. And not upon you [is any blame] if he will not be purified. But as for he who came to you striving [for knowledge], While he fears [ God ], From him you are distracted” (Quran 80: 1-10).
This reminder is paramount as it aims to correct the behavior of all people, that one should not turn away from those that we perceive as disabled, but instead give them our full attention. Abu Huraira reported God's Messenger (peace be upon him) as saying:
Verily God does not look to your faces and your wealth but He looks to your heart and to your deeds” (Muslim).
Problems Facing Disabled People(s)
Unfortunately, people on various levels of the handicap spectrum face a mountain of problems. One of the greatest of these is finances. The world around us has become increasingly deaf towards those who are in need and as such left them to find alternative means of sustenance on their own. It is already very difficult for many among us to live and to sustain our families and ourselves. If this is a problem for those who have full operation over their minds and bodies, what then of those who do not?
There is also the problem of mockery and social discrimination. In the Quran we are told:
O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent - then it is those who are the wrongdoers (Quran 49:11).
In this verse, God equates ridicule with sinful behavior. Young people with disabilities attend various schools throughout their lifetime and suffer emotional trauma from the immense amount of mocking and sometimes physical abuse they receive from fellow students. This mistreatment stays with many of these individuals for the rest of their lives.
In the religious sector, many suffer from not receiving the proper attention to worship their Lord. For example, individuals without the ability to use their legs are given dispensations within their prayer to perform it while sitting or even while lying down if they are unable to get up (Ashmawiya). This however does not carry over to the mosque that may not have created adequate pathways for people wanting to worship. For example, though Islamic law lifts the obligatory duty of some of the disabled community to attend events such as the Friday sermon, it is still upon the community to provide a means for those with disabilities to worship in their places of worship. Unfortunately, there are times when the greatest culprits against the disabled community is the religious community, or those with strong cultural or flawed understanding of disabilities which then negatively impact some community members. Though the religion itself may stand firmly against the actions of such people, their actions trickle down into the community and cause long lasting emotional pain.
There exists a plethora of means to lighten the burden carried by both the disabled community and those that care for them. The issue is that it takes necessary planning and some initial sacrifice to see these things come to fruition.
The recommendations include:
1. Providing services for the disabled to connect them to the religious community;
2. Providing financial outlets;
3. Creating awareness.
In some communities there may be those that are deaf and are unable to benefit from the Friday sermon, and so it should fall on the community to provide services to those members of the community. Weekly there may be a class held in the mosque in which sign language services are provided during the class. For the blind community there may be braille added to the mosque doors to assist with navigating the premises or books that explain the faith and its tenets.
In many cases the issue is a financial issue as mentioned above. At times people believe that those with disabilities such as autism cannot be productive members of society. The reality is that the autism spectrum is vast and that, with the proper assistance and placement, someone can find a means of financial sustenance that suits them. Historically there have also been endowments created for a plethora of means such as for orphans or for injured animals. The creation of an endowment to train, care take or provide resources to disabled people could be massively beneficial to many people.
The most important step needed is spreading awareness about disabled people(s), whether it be autism, mental retardation, ADD/ADHD or the various other disabilities. By understanding these disabilities better, the community will be better trained to provide assistance to those that have them; families will be more loving and caring to their children afflicted by these disabilities, and act in accordance to the Divine law. This paper can be used to highlight any specific disability and brainstorm solutions for assisting those that are afflicted by a disability. Although Islamic scholarship have and will continue to highlight specific disabilities and rulings concerning specific people, this however is meant to cover the general principles behind Islamic law regarding those with disabilities and also how we as Muslims can assist our fellow Muslims suffering from such issues.