The Mosque and (In)Accessibility

Recently a friend of mine sent me a 25-minute video in the mail titled “We Will Not Be Hidden” about disabled Muslims and the (lack of) accessibility in mosques. Most of those who spoke in the video made points I had heard; then one woman mentioned that she would love to actively contribute to her spiritual community and attend important meetings, but could hardly even ever participate in regular activities because she is deaf.

A realization struck me: of course I was aware of the complaints of disabled Muslims elsewhere—but I had subconsciously believed, all these years, that the reason we don’t have ramps or accessible restrooms in my own community is that we didn’t need them because there were no disabled Muslims.

That this is a sudden recognition, something that should be the most obvious and logical thing the world, is shameful. Of course I never see disabled Muslims at the mosque. How would a Muslim utilizing a wheelchair reach the prayer area upstairs? What good is it for Muslim who is deaf to attend sermons that are only orally spoken? Regardless of how much they may wish to attend and participate, disabled Muslims are barricaded and in their forced absence invisible to me.

But the most disturbing part of all about the video, is a man who described his mosque as using the only accessible restroom for storage, even though he regularly attended the congregation. After he had contributed to creating the video, as my friend informed me (he knows the man), his community shunned him. All he had said is that he would appreciate an accessible restroom! He hadn’t even disclosed in the video the name of the mosque or the state in which it is located. He had to leave the state for spiritual fulfillment.

He had to leave his state. For spiritual fulfillment. Because he mentioned in a video that his mosque used the only accessible restroom for storage.

I can’t get over how outrageously heartless this is. What’s wrong with us?

“The Prophet said people with disabilities are a natural part of the Ummah,” a woman in the video stated sadly.

My how things have changed.

8 thoughts on “The Mosque and (In)Accessibility

  1. Redd

    It is even worse in the middle east. Where I live, disabled people are socially shunned. You find them walking with their families rarely in their streets and even their medical centers are placed somewhere far from city life. It is hard to respect a society that preaches islam without applying it.

  2. It’s horrific how the North American mosque landscape is desperately inaccessible. In Kuwait almost every mosque (and mall :P) has at least a ramp — but that’s as far as it goes. 

    In Canada I’ve only seen the Muslim Association of Canada take steps to be inclusive to people with disabilities — by choosing accessible venues and having (gasp!) ASL Translators for events. There’s also the work of accessibility activist Rabia Khedr. But otherwise it’s the rare mosque who has ramps, lifts, accessible doorways, accessible bathrooms, Braille Qur’ans, and alternate, accessible formats of lectures available for people with disabilities.

    The last ‘eid khutbah I attended was put on by MAC and the khateeb made a point to shame the Muslim community for not recognizing people with disabilities. He mentioned not only physical barriers to access but also attitudinal. That a person with a disability should not be ignored or treated as a second class citizen (though this is what we do by not being inclusive). And he rattled off a list of famous Scholars who had disabilities — mentioning that they were never described as being blind or physically maimed. Disabilities in the eye of the historical Muslim didn’t exist. The only thing that mattered was the person. 

    Maybe if the Muslim community started recognizing people with disabilities AS people and achnowleding the needs of the entire community the landscape would change. 

    1. And he rattled off a list of famous Scholars who had disabilities — mentioning that they were never described as being blind or physically maimed.

      Oh wow! Do you happen to have it? I can imagine it would be incredible comfort to Muslims with disabilities who are unrecognized, the way remarkable women in Islamic history are to me. That sounds like an amazing khutbah, I wish I could have seen it! I do agree that the entire landscape would change if we changed our attitudes toward people with disabilities and acknowledged their needs… a part of me believes even the barriers would be uprooted.

  3. almostclever

    This issue will always and forever irk my nerves. Sometimes I am tempted to attend mosque for the politics alone…

  4. i can not tell you how much this resonates with me. my partner is in a wheelchair and our family NEVER attends masjid. partly the physical inaccessibility, partly the exclusionary culture.

  5. Maliha

    Nahida,

    Love your blog! Have been quietly following it for a while but its wonderful to see a young Muslim woman discuss real issues that effect our community. Its refreshing to see candour and passion when addressing the problems within Muslim communities in the West.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Maliha.

  6. this resonates with me. I’m in a powerchair and my beautifucl daughter has severe cerebral palsy and in a wheelchair. we cant get into mosques. She gets stared at by the ignorant. Her Carer isnt muslim so is made unwelcome at Eid (if we could get in)
    I am so angry at this situation.

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