There are moments in our lives when we look forward to things, whether an event, meeting someone you truly admire, or just waking up in the morning and going to bed at night, regardless of the actual event, we look forward to the moment. Some moments are exceeded, others are met halfway, and some leave you disappointed and wishing for just a little bit more. Tonight I had one of those moments. When someone I truly admire said something that not only triggers me, but causes harm within All our communities.
As I sat back down though, and everyone looked at me, saying that they weren't too happy with that answer either I regained my moment. Because not only did I feel the support they were giving me, but I was also grateful for the type of individuals in my life. Individuals that will stand against injustice, even in its smallest, and most obscure forms (according to society).
This is why we need to change the Disabilities conversation within our communities?
I am writing this specifically to address a concern I have within one of the communities I choose to be a part of, The Muslim Community, however, as you’ll see this is NOT uniquely a Muslim Problem.
Some of you might be wondering, what Disabilities conversation? Unfortunately, many of our communities are not there yet. We haven’t even begun discussing individuals with disabilities in many of our communities. In others we have begun. If your community is one of the latter, then fantastic. But let’s talk about how you’re discussing this topic. If you have never heard anyone in your community discussing individuals with disabilities then you need to hear this too. You need to hear it because WE exist.
I have been avoiding mosques for eleven years now. From time to time I will gain the courage to try again but normally, within a few weeks I will be drained, triggered, and will need to decide what I value more, being a part of a community or taking the time to care for me. These days, there’s nothing out there that will prevent me from taking care of me.
When I go into a masjid for jummah prayer I wonder if I will walk out before the end, if I will be too shocked to leave, or if I will block out the entire talk. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all the time. There are the rare instances when I am not offended or triggered at all during the lecture.
Nearly 50 million individuals in the US, 1 in 5, have a disability. How many Muslims do you know that have a disability? How many are in the masjid or Muslim social gatherings? How many are vocal about their invisible disabilities? And how many like me are triggered every time they enter a masjid or are around other Muslims?
At a workshop I conducted a few months ago for muslim youth in a community masjid, I asked what individuals would do if a woman walks towards a masjid with a service animal. The woman is not in the masjid yet, she’s simply walking towards it, and in the scenario a few muslims walk towards her and address her. A few moments later, you see her walk away. I asked, what would you do? This was a bystander workshop, a workshop to empower individuals to stand up to injustice wherever they are.
When planning for this event we had discussed the possibility that we’d end up with a heated discussion on the topic. We thought that many would argue against the masjid’s policy of not allowing service animals, going against the ‘immigrant generation’ on the board and in leadership roles at the masjid. We thought that I, as the facilitator, would have to bring the discussion back so that we may end on time. But we could never expect the un-debated answer that we received, though I should’ve known better. The answer the group of youth came up with was to ask the woman to park her dog outside and that someone would walk her in.
I am not the best of optimists, in fact for most of my life I have hid behind a pessimist persona so that I may survive the daily disappointments that the world throws your way as an individual that has entirely been out of place since the beginning. In a world that has never accepted my multiple identities, in all six places that I’ve lived in before the age of 19, you are bound to experience oppression from many groups. In a world that either entirely ignores my invisible disabilities, or focuses on them to the extent that I no longer exist and all that’s left is the disability. But I was optimistic that day. I was optimistic because I had heard about a child that had a service animal and was not permitted in the masjid a couple of years earlier. I was optimistic that we had grown as a community. The mere fact that I was there doing a Bystander workshop and bringing up topics such as LGBTQ and disabilities within our communities made me believe that we were better. I had forgotten the khutbah from the day before when the khateeb asked us to be grateful for our lives because we weren’t disabled.
We ended the workshop on a high note as I challenged the individuals there about whether or not they knew what the law says about service animals, about whether or not they knew anyone with a disability. The answers to those questions were no longer shocking, and I understand that we still have room for improvement, and inshaAllah we will get there.
When I talk about how the gratitude conversation triggers me most stare in disbelief, how could you not see the need to be grateful if you do not have cancer, or if you have your eyesight or your brain is not trying to kill you. The thing is though, what that statement says is that people should be grateful simply because they are not like me, or like someone without their eyesight, or someone that has a terminal illness, not too different from my own, except mine is viewed as something that can be cured with a ‘little’ prayer. Because we are viewed as less than, we are pitied and looked down upon in ways that many can hide behind claiming that they mean no harm by it, that in fact they are doing us a favor. An individual that’s disabled does not have any less than you, they are human in all the glory that God created us in. We are capable of everything you are, we are capable of being humans. We might be a bit different, we may have less privilege than you in some areas of our lives, but just like we’re challenged, so are you, in different ways. WE ARE NOT HERE JUST SO YOU CAN BE MORE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR OWN LIVES!
I am in no way, shape, or form saying we should not be grateful for everything God has given us, whether others have it or not. We should be appreciative of the things we have not asked God for but have been granted these things regardless. And we should be grateful for the things that we ask for. But for many individuals with disabilities we do not ask for more privilege, or no mental health illnesses, we do not ask for sight, or a cure or any other thing that you might think that we need. Because we don’t need those things. We are whole. We are beautiful just like God made us; do you have doubt in God’s creation? And no, if you’re wondering, God did not put individuals with disabilities on this planet as a burden to you, nor you a burden to us. God created each and every single one of us with unique challenges that we face everyday of our lives. You have challenges, I have challenges, do not assume that I am any less because you have grown accustomed to a privilege that I do not need or want.
I will reach out to the individual about this like I'd hope many of you would reach out to those in your lives that may have said some of these same hurtful things. None of us are perfect, and this doesn't make us bad people. We all mess up certain things, it's how we address these mistakes that count.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the co-founder and Director of Mental Health for MCL, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of lifeinmydays.com. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness wherever he is through his writing, workshops and speaker events.