Growing up as a devoted Muslim in an Islamic household you would’ve thought that attending the mosque would’ve been one of the more easier activities I had to do as a child. The mosque is not just a place of worship for Muslims but it’s also the central hub of the Muslim community and a place where friendships are formed, especially for children. However when you have a disability and you’re in a wheelchair going to the mosque can come with all sorts of complications, from not having the correct access to certain members of the older community frowning upon bringing a “dirty wheelchair” into a place of worship, this meant attending the mosque regularly as a child came with all sorts of physical and cultural challenges that both me and my dad had to overcome.
How the Prophet dealt with disability
People may not want to admit it but the fact is the subject of disability is still taboo within the Muslim community and in my opinion, certain members are not able to separate what is culture from what the religion actually teaches. Shaykh Omar Suleiman said it best in a talk he gave in 2014 on the “Quran Weekly” YouTube channel where he discussed disability in Islam, he said if you look at some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW: Peace and blessings be upon him) when they became old and frail the community back then saw it as a sense of pride to look after them, they were immensely proud that they were able to take care of some of the best people that have ever walked the earth. In fact, there was one companion, Abdullah Ibn Umm-Maktum, who was blind. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW: Peace and blessings be upon him) use to help him attend the mosque and even let him carry the flag in one of the battles so he would be included in the community. Disability back then wasn’t a taboo subject within the Muslim community, in fact, there are plenty of stories of how the Prophet himself would help and make allowances for members of the community that had a disability. I remember watching a talk by Norman Ali Khan where he explained that there was a member of the community in the time of the Prophet that was a bit hard of hearing and every time the Prophet gave a talk he would deliberately save a space for this brother in the front row to make sure that he was able to hear. However, it seems that nowadays a portion of the community have forgotten about, or not heard of these stories and instead have allowed the culture to interfere with the teaching of the religion, but it is these people who are making it hard for disabled Muslims.
Going to the mosque
I was five years old when my dad first took me to the mosque, on that day I can clearly remember the struggle we went through just to make sure we weren’t upsetting some of the people in the mosque. We went to Jameah Mosque in Leicester with my uncle and cousins, it was Eid Day so I was very excited. At the time the seat of my wheelchair could be removed so dad thought rather than wheeling me in the wheelchair he would carry me and the seat and put me on the floor next to him in my seat. We arrived at the mosque very late and as you can imagine there was no room downstairs so my dad had to carry me and the seats upstairs to pray in one of the classrooms where we could find a bit of room. This was difficult enough at the age of five but as I got older it became harder and harder to carry my seat and me into the mosque, eventually, at the age of 12 my dad realised that I had to go in with my wheelchair, we had no other choice. I think it was for Friday prayers that my dad first took me in my wheelchair into the mosque, at the time we attended Masjid el Dawatul Haq otherwise known as Earl Howe Street Mosque in Leicester, even that was a struggle to make sure that certain people who attended the mosque were kept happy. Before we went my dad had to wash my wheels in the house and then carry my chair directly into the car so it didn’t touch anything on the pavement that might have been deemed “dirty” by some people. He then had to carry me from the house into the car and when we got to the mosque he had to do this at the same thing in reverse. You have to remember at this point I was about 12 so my wheelchair wasn’t exactly light and even though my dad is a strong guy it’s still very awkward to carry an entire wheelchair on your own, luckily it was a manual one. Despite all this, there were still a few people not happy with the situation and I could see the odd person looking at me disapprovingly or just mumbling, as a 12-year-old it’s a very uncomfortable feeling and I almost felt unwanted by certain members of the community. Luckily I had some good friends who went to the same mosque and my dad also had good friends there who are able to make me feel welcome but this was what I and my dad had to do every single Friday just to keep some people happy.
The situation became worse as I got older and moved to Derby, Now using an electric wheelchair and without the support of my dad I was having to go into mosques not knowing what the reaction would be and because of this for the first six years of me living in Derby I would pray my Friday prayers at Derby University, okay granted while I was studying at the University this made sense but after my studies I continue to go there every Friday to pray because I didn’t know what the reaction would be if I drove my chair in another mosque.
The final straw
The turning point for me came the day of my Grandmother’s funeral. My whole family was in Leicester and just before we went to the cemetery we decided to pray early afternoon prayers at the local mosque, The Madani Masjid Schools Federation. I was in my manual wheelchair and as we all went in to join the congregational prayer my dad was unable to stand next to me because there were so many people, so he had to stand four or five places down. After the congregational prayer I wanted to do my optional prayers and I was just about to start when I felt someone pulling my chair from behind, naturally I thought it was my dad so went to turn and tell him that I hadn’t finished but as I turned my head I saw my dad still sitting down. We both look to each other and then he turned to the brother that was trying to move me and told him to leave me where I was as I hadn’t finished praying, the brother responded by saying that my wheels where “dirty” and therefore I shouldn’t be in the mosque. Again my dad told him to leave me as I hadn’t finished praying but he kept on trying to pull my wheelchair back not realising the brakes were on. My dad asked him one more time to leave me but he completely ignoring my dad, insisting that I shouldn’t be in the mosque. My dad, in the end, had to get up and forcibly get him off my chair so that I could carry on praying and this caused a bit of an argument as the brother just wasn’t listening to my dad at all, in his mind, I should not have been in the mosque. As you can imagine this upset me deeply and I began to question whether it is worth me attending any mosque at all. What made it worse was I found out that apparently, the individual in question worked at the mosque. I don’t know if this is true, I’ve never seen the brother again since but this is just what I heard. I have since written an email of complaint and the mosque was meant to be investigating this incident, which was two and a half years ago and I’ve not heard anything since.
Naturally, I wanted to seek guidance on this issue and find out where I stood with taking my wheelchair into a mosque, I decided to ask Ustaad Burhaan Khandia one of the teachers at the Zaytouna Primary school in Derby. The advice he gave me was very profound and completely changed my outlook on the situation, Ustaad Burhaan told me that our souls are far dirtier than any dirt found on a wheelchair wheel therefore if we allowed to bring ourselves into the mosque why should a wheelchair not be allowed? He also told me while there are some substances that are ritually unclean which people could get on their wheelchair wheel that shouldn’t be brought into a mosque, i.e. alcohol, dog feces ect, if they don’t know what they have on their wheels then they are excused and for people to say that it might be on the wheel they need evidence to back that up, i.e. they need to see the stuff on the wheel, smell it or even taste it. This was a huge moment for me as it was the first time somebody actually sat down with me and explained why I’d be allowed to bring my wheelchair inside of a mosque, other than the obvious I can’t get into a mosque without my wheelchair.
I’m in the very fortunate position now of being fully accepted by Derby Jamia Mosque as a disabled Muslim, I’ve been attending there for about four years now and I have had no issues with anyone from the mosque regarding my wheelchair and for the first time in my life I can wheel into a mosque without worrying what people are thinking regarding my wheels, I’ve made some great friends for life and now look forward to going there. The mosque deserves huge credit for this as I feel like they’ve helped break down barriers and now are engaging with the disabled Muslim community. For example, the lift at the mosque, which was broken for a number of years before I started to attend, has now been fixed and is in full working order so I can access any part of the mosque the other brothers are able to. I feel like times are changing now and we are slowly getting there but there is still a lot of work to be done and a long way to go before we catch up with the examples that were set by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW: Peace and blessings be upon him).
On a final note I would like to stress the reason why I have named the mosques in this blog is not to shame them or embarrass them, my intentions for them to learn from their mistakes In’Sha’Allah (God willing) and maybe if somebody from that mosque read this blog they can take on board my experiences so other disabled Muslims won’t have to go through the same. If I have offended anyone in this blog I asked for your forgiveness because again this was not my intention, I just felt that this issue needed to be highlighted to ensure a better future for other disabled Muslims.