Islam and People with Special Needs
Their lives may be considered trials in this world. In fact, it may be argued that those with special needs have been blessed with excellence in other abilities where one might be lacking in some areas. But isn’t that what we “normal people” also share? We can’t all be athletes or rocket scientists, or the most talented Nauha reciters.
Have you ever been on a train or a bus and felt that you’re being glared at, or worse, looked at in a weird way? Or that you’re being ignored by those around you, and people don’t really want to be seen talking to you for some odd reason? Imagine what it must be like to have to endure those emotions. Well, that’s exactly how those with special needs feel. Unfortunately we live in a world today where those with disabilities feel let down by society. We tend to marginalize them just because they are “misfits” due to some difference in abilities relative to the rest of us. We feel reluctant to make the first move in starting a conversation with anyone in a wheelchair or someone who just looks different.
What makes this minority different some would argue is their physical or mental condition or some other form of bodily anomaly, and that by definition tragically and wrongly disqualifies them from the normal treatment we’re all used to in society. We have an inherent problem of forgetting that these individuals are people like us. Behind the label and that variation in ability they possess lies a thriving soul. It is the same very brand, kind, make and model as you and I have. Allah’s teachings in the Qur’an bear witness to this fact when the Almighty states: “Every soul shall have a taste of death, and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial; to Us must you return.” (21:35)
The above verse informs us that their souls are perhaps a lot more resilient than ours. Their lives may be considered trials in this world. In fact, it may be argued that those with special needs have been blessed with excellence in other abilities where one might be lacking in some areas. But isn’t that what we “normal people” also share? We can’t all be athletes or rocket scientists, or the most talented Nauha reciters.
So if we are all basically souls on the inside, with our bodies being the medium by which we interact with our surroundings, then why are some treated different to others? The answer is not so simple. It is human nature by default to think twice when reacting to an unfamiliar stimulus, and some would argue that coming across a special needs person is indeed a life-changing experience. But worry not, we have all been in a situation where we have had to adjust our demeanor when we come to realize the person before us is in some way different. If you haven’t experienced it yet, there is sure to be a moment somewhere down the track where you may get to meet a person with special needs.
Obviously for the families of this minority, life is indeed a struggle. Aside from the person enduring the disability, loved ones go through a rollercoaster of emotions as they put up with the pain of watching the patient progress slowly daily. However, Islam teaches us to be patient. Above all, Allah promises glad tidings, countless blessings, and everlasting success to those who persevere in the face of such personal adversity. This is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an: “Surely We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” (2:155)
So how should we behave around those with special needs?
Imam Ali’s (peace be upon him) attitude towards a blind, elderly gentleman is the exemplary model of how we should conduct ourselves around these resilient souls. The Imam would descend in the darkness of the night into the suburbs of Kufa and visit a blind, homeless resident of Kufa. The man would wait patiently for the Imam’s arrival, as the Divine Ambassador would bring with him the fulfillment of a promise: a one-time meal (which some of us take for granted today). It is said that this aged man was forgotten all about by the citizens of Kufa simply because he was “different”. However, when the Imam was martyred did this man protest to Imam Hasan (peace be upon him), only to realize that his benefactor was in fact the Imam of the time. The cruelty seen back then has only gotten worse in today’s world, but the point is that the man was granted the same opportunity by the Imam’s presence, and we should endeavor to implement the Imam’s Sunnah by changing our attitudes.
What we need to do as a society is to engage ourselves more with those who appear to have some disability. Let’s try to look aside their “variation in ability” and try and tap into their inner resilience. We will make a new friend who certainly has his/her own unique and interesting personality. May Allah grant us the guidance, awareness, and knowledge to change our thinking so we deal with all humans on an equal basis and one free of prejudice.