As we each toil away at our immediate daily concerns, rarely do we have time to enjoy seeing our world from another's wholly different perspective.
A few days ago (oh, the wonders of the internet!), I saw that I had a new Follower on Twitter, by the name of Abdulelah Almusa. Curious as to who this person might be, I googled his name and found that Abdulelah now works in the Department of Special Education at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
I was also able to access a paper "Blindness and Islam" that he presented to a Conference in 2004 in New Orleans, Louisiana and his Doctoral Thesis. (Both links should lead directly to downloads). Here is an Islamic view of disability quite different from the bases of my own views.
I find it fascinating to view a field with which I am very familiar presented from an entirely different perspective. Here are two extracts, with permission of Abdulelah Almusa:
[Extract A] "Blindness In Islam" begins:
Islam is the religion and the way of life of about one-fifth of the world’s population. Its people, who are called Muslims, believe that Islam is Allah’s (God’s) final message to humankind, that Muhammad is His last Prophet, and that the Qur'an are His words (Atabek, 2004, Copeland, 2002,). The main Muslim belief is that there is only one Allah, unique, incomparable, eternal, absolute and without peer or associate. Other important tenets of Islam are that Allah is the Creator of all that exists, and His will is supreme (Yahya, 2003). According to Khurshid (1999), the Arabic word Islam means submission to the will of Allah and the peace one finds through submission to Allah’s will.
Islam is not an individualistic faith; rather, it is a faith community, or a nation, in which everybody interacts with everybody else and everybody has a place. Therefore, everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability (Fahmy, 1998). Islam has called for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including people who are blind, for more than fourteen centuries (Fahmy, 1998). This call was not limited only to people with disabilities, but also included people with illnesses in general. Today, any person with an illness or disability knows that his or her rights are protected under the name of Islam.
Musse stated that Islam views disability “as morally neutral. It is neither a blessing nor a curse” ( p, 3). Clearly, disability is therefore accepted as an inevitable part of the human condition. It is simply a fact of life, which has to be addressed appropriately by the society of the day. One of the fundamentals propositions of Islam is to respect all human life and to value the potential of every individual. Therefore, the Muslim community as a whole is enjoined to accept all people, regardless of ability or disability. As Muslims, we are required to support people with disabilities and to address their needs. According to the interpretation of the Holy Qura’n:
Allah’s Message is a universal Message, from which no one is to be excluded, rich or poor, old or young, great or lowly, learned or ignorant. If anyone had the spiritual craving that needed satisfaction, he was to be given precedence if there was to be any question of precedence at all.
[Extract B - Doctoral Thesis: Cultural Background of the Study
The Saudi Arabian conception is firmly based on the Islamic religion. Islamic scholarship is the heart of its school system and policy is aimed toward keeping the essential standards of Islam. The Islamic religion glorifies the human intellect, encourages independent expression very highly. Learning has long been respected, promoted, and fostered in Muslim culture, through the teaching of the prophet Muhammed and various verses in the Holy Quran. Several Quran verses pertaining to intelligence make it clear that human beings have differing levels of intellectual ability. “It is He who hath made you the inheritors of the earth: He hath raised you in ranks, some above others, that He may try you in the intelligence, He hath given you” (Quran, Al-Anam, 165). In another verse, Allah proclaims that people are not equal physically, mentally, or in knowledge: “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?” The text continues, “It is those who are endowed with understanding that receive admonition” (Quran, Az-Aumer, 9). However, that people are not equally intelligent does not excuse anyone from failing to fulfill his or her own potential. In the other words of the prophet Muhammed, “The seeking of knowledge is a duty incumbent on every Muslim man and woman” (Wafi, 1967). The prophet Muhammed tells us that a position of learning is the highest position that a person can achieve, he advises and urges his followers to seek learning all throughout their lives. The pursuit of learning is important in Islamic culture; this is well illustrated by the importance of education in the teachings of the prophet.
The importance of the distribution of knowledge throughout society is emphasized often in the Quran, in the teachings of the prophet Muhammed, and in the basic tenets of the Saudi Arabian education system. This importance placed on learning goes hand in hand with the Islamic conceptions of justice and equality; education should be equally accessible to rich and poor, weak and powerful, old and young, female and male. Moreover, it should be available to the less intelligent as well as to the more intelligent. The Islamic principle of social justice can only be attained when every individual in society has the chance to fulfill his or her own potential. Furthermore, Muslims also believe that Allah provided human beings with their senses; “Say: it is He who has created you, and made for you the faculties of learning, seeing, and understanding; little thanks it is ye give” (Quran, Al-Mulk, 23). According to the Muslim faith, Allah provided mankind with all the facilities that they would need on this earth, to live and develop both physically and mentally.
Abu Alala Al-Mawdudi (1992), a well-known Islamic scholar, says that even though human beings as a group are endowed with all the skills that they need, individuals possess varying types and levels of skills; some are physically strong, others are highly intelligent. The prophet Muhammed also recognized intellectual differences among people when he required prophets to determine the levels of understanding of those around them in order to talk to them in a suitable manner. Saudis generally believe that it is the responsibility of educators to provide an environment conducive to learning and to guide students’ growth according to their individual ability. Thus, in Saudi culture, intelligence is viewed as a gift of God that must be developed accordingly.
Abunayyan (1994) discuses modern studies of human development conducted by Muslims. These studies show that intelligence is affected by both genetic makeup and learning environment. Many Muslims believe that every type of intelligence is a gift of God and should be developed, but intelligence cannot be brought out in the wrong environment or with a lack of commitment. Therefore, it is the responsibility of educations to provide an environment conducive to learning and to guide the student’s growth.
I do not share Abdulelah Almusa''s faith. Indeed, I would not claim to espouse this or that or any faith. Nominally brought up in the Church of England, I still enjoy the rituals and music of the Christian church. However, when it comes to thinking about disability and education, I cannot say that I ever consciously think in religious terms.
I do, however, enjoy being made to think and to have my own views challenged. For that, I thank Abdulelah Almusa. I am only sorry that I cannot follow him, as he does me, on Twitter as he writes in Arabic.