Disabled access to Mosques must be improved

The state treasury has earmarked funds for smaller non state-owned mosques and masjids to improve accessability

The Ministry for Religious Affairs along with the Department for Health and State Treasury are announcing a joint funding initiative to assist smaller mosques and masjids in making their facilities accessible to more Muslims.

This announcement comes after census data revealed nearly 12% of the entire population within the ummah regularly missed participating in mosque activities due to a variety of difficulties they faced that were not recognised. Reema AlHwait, spokesperson from the Ministry of Health, said that many people had gone on enough without assistance and this policy is long overdue:

The fact of the matter is unless you’re disabled you won’t recognise the day to day difficulties many people in our community face. Things we take for granted like stairs or door frames can be giant obstacles for people in wheelchairs for instance. Masjids that send women upstairs to pray in effect make it impossible for elderly women to visit. Even things like baby facilities for children can be an impediment, especially for women. The number of deaf Muslims who go to Jumuah and have no idea what the Khutbah is about is also shockingly high and an issue that doesn’t have to exist. The treasury is very healthy. We have the money so It’s time we looked after all people in our community. The mosque should be the easiest place for anyone to go. Lets make that a reality.

Old mosques are often not designed with disabled people in mind. The 700 year old Al Badiya mosque for instance has a small step at the door which blocks wheelchair access.

The State Treasury has made $400M Dinars in small and medium sized grants available as part of the newly initiated Masjid Upgrade and Investment Scheme (MUIS). Imams and mosque committees looking to access these funds are requested to submit an application to the planning board within the next 4 weeks outlining preliminary concepts that could be used to improve their facilities. In particular, the planning board has specified a number of key areas that are the focus for this initiative including:

  • Improved access and wudu facilities for disabled people
  • Improved access and appropriate space for elderly and pregnant women
  • Playground equipment for children
  • Unisex baby facilities that can be accessed by mothers and fathers
  • Installation of braille signage
  • Scholarships for Imams to undergo sign language training
  • Video streaming services (so people who are homebound can follow talks/khutbah)
  • Outdoor drink taps for visitors

 

The MUIS policy is the second major investment (aimed at improving the lives of disabled people) that the Khalifa has approved. It comes less than 12 months after the creation of a new portfolio under the Ministry of Health aimed at understanding and addressing the needs of the disabled.

Train station stairs. Tarim, Yemen.
Train station stairs. Tarim, Yemen.

This portfolio, chaired and comprised exclusively of members with  disabilities, has far reaching legal powers to force mosques, businesses, educational facilities and public institutions to make changes if they are restrictive for disabled people. These powers have already been used, with enforcement orders already having far reaching and positive changes. Earlier this year the inter-Khilafa bullet train was fined for failing to install ramps and elevators at some train stations. In response, an enforcement order was made forcing train stations to be up to code within the next 6 months. Mohamed Tauhaa, a retired pensioner who lost his legs during the reformation wars that led to the re-creation of the Khilafa, is happy to see change:

I never expected the Khilafa to be so responsive to the needs and desires of citizens, especially citizens like myself who are often considered more of a problem than a resource. I lost both my legs in the war and though the government paid for my rehabilitation I was never entirely comfortable with the new cybernetic prosthetics they gave me. I know theres nothing wrong with them from a fiqh perspective, but I didn’t feel right having machines instead of what Allah gave me. I had them removed a few years ago and stuck to the wheelchair but the downside was that I had a lot of difficulty getting to places. Thanks to these policies my life has become a lot easier. I can take the train to visit my relatives and soon I’ll be able to pray at my local masjid when they build a ramp for me.

Older generation Muslims remains reluctant to adopt prosthetic technology due to historical and social stigma around disability, despite profound improvements.

While scientists continue making new discoveries in the field of human biology and medical technology, many within the Ummah still continue to live lives which are impacted by their disabilities. Early in utero intervention has dramatically helped parents protect their children from genetic and gestational injuries that can lead to disabilities. These new medical interventions are particularly beneficial due to the ongoing legacy of genetic damage that has been passed on from generation to generation following the wars and toxic exposure that Muslims endured in the 20th and 21st century.

Lack of consultation with the disabled community led to numerous failings. This school for disabled children had no ramp leaving children in wheelchairs unable to
Lack of consultation with the disabled community led to numerous failings. This school for disabled children had no ramps leaving children in wheelchairs unable to move between classrooms on their own, damaging their sense of independence. 

The Qadr of Allah however means that It’s impossible to entirely stop people from being disabled. Instead, it’s up to individuals and the Khilafa to ensure that those in the community that are disabled can live lives without further unnecessary obstacles or challenges  in dignity and with respect. These issues are best presented by Hajar Saifuddin, the spokesperson for the Disabled Muslims Network:

Some disabilities can be prevented. Spina Bifida used to leave people paralysed but now, with new technology, its entirely treatable before a child is even born. Some disabilities are unavoidable and the Qadr of Allah. I lost the ability to walk in a freak accident when I was pregnant and nothing could have changed that fate. It was an unavoidable accident that altered my life. It didn’t end my life though. While it took a while to adapt to

After an accident left
Hajar used an exoskeleton to help her walk after an accident left her with severe leg damage.

the changes I needed to make adapt I did and now I’m back to the normal routine as if the event didn’t take place at all. It’s easy for individual people to manage their own disabilities. What is difficult is managing all the obstacles, stigmas and walls that you can face in life. The Khilafa, by introducing these policies and grants, has removed one more obstacle in the lives of many disabled people and by doing so has allowed us to live autonomous lives that we control. For generations disabled Muslims were often ignored, disrespected, held up as an object to sympathise and pray for or worse, used as an example of what could happen if children were bad. Now though were finally treated as humans and part of the Ummah, with rights, responsibilities, goals and dreams that are recognised like everybody else. Now not only are we seen as human but were also seen as participants who can contribute, succeed and fail like everyone else without being patronised or scrutinised. Alhamdulillah.

 

If you’ve experienced discrimination or difficulties as a result of your disabilities get in touch and let us know via our twitter page.

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