Disability and Islam

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Muslims with disabilities have always been a part of the ummah and have always made their contribution to society. Two of the Prophets (peace be upon them) are known to have disabilities. Moosa (Moses) had a speech impediment which he asked Allah to heal him of, and Ayyoub (Job) was tested with severe illness among the other calamities that befall him.  Despite these challenges, with Allah’s help they were able to take on the missions with which Allah entrusted them and convey the message of Allah to their people. A number of Sahabah (companions of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) are also known to have had disabilities. One of the most famous, whose story is referred to in the Qur’an, was ‘Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoom. On one occasion the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) was addressing pagan leaders when this poor and blind man came to ask about Islam, and the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) turned away from him because he was eager to give precedence to the men of high social standing. Allah rebuked him for that in verses that form part of the scripture of Islam (Surat ‘Abasa), and the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) subsequently took great care to honour Ibn Umm Maktoom. In fact, in later years, he often greeted Ibn Umm Maktoom with these words of humility: "Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me." He also appointed Ibn Umm Maktoom in charge of Madeenah in his absence on numerous occasions including when he went out to conquer Makkah. Julaybib was a virtual social outcast due to his disabilities which are not described in specific terms but it seems that he was of significantly short stature and may also have had some other physical differences. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) took special care of this man and arranged a marriage for him. Julaybib took part in a battle in which he fought heroically, after which the Muslims checked to see who had been lost in the fighting. No one noticed that Julaybib was missing except the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), who mourned his loss and said of Julaybib: “He is of me and I am of him.” Abaan ibn ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan. This son of the third caliph was deaf and had a squint and leprosy; he was also affected by paralysis on one side of his body. He was a scholar who was well versed in hadeeth and fiqh, and was appointed as governor of Madeenah and as a judge. Al-Ahnaf ibn Qays became Muslim during the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) but did not meet him as he remained with his tribe until he went out on campaign during the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. His name al-Ahnaf, indicates that he had a disability that affected his feet. But this disability did not prevent him from playing a major role in the Muslim conquests. ‘Ata ibn Abi Rabah was known to walk with a limp and was also paralyzed. He was a man of great knowledge who became Mufti of Makkah and was honoured by the caliph Malik ibn Marwan. Imam al-Tirmidhi, compiler of Sunan al-Tirmidhi, which is one of the famous six books of hadeeth, as well as other major works, was blind. This disability did not prevent him from using his other talents and becoming one of the greatest scholars of Islam. If you are wondering why this list seems so short, it is because it is hard to find clear references to disability in early Islamic history. As we can see from the story of Julaybib and others, people with disabilities were integrated and included in Muslim society. It is also worth noting that the focus was not on people’s disabilities, but on their abilities.

Thanks to Huda Khattab & Rafia Haniff-Cleofas for their invaluable contribution to this document.

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