Caring for People with Special Needs in Islam

Posted on June 14, 2007

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by Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut

The civilized world has recently paid attention to people with special needs. This started after it had cast aside corrupt, racist theories calling for neglecting them on the false grounds that people with special needs are not of any benefit to the society. A report issued by the United Nations International Labour Organization in 2000 estimated the number of those with special needs to be more than 610 million, out of which 400 million live in developing countries. According to the World Bank’s statistics, this category represents 15 percent of the world’s population.

Caring for People with Special Needs in Islam

A cursory look at the history of the West shows the blatant neglect and persecution of people with special needs that culminated in killing disabled babies in some old European societies. Superstitious beliefs were responsible for this setback. For example, it was believed that people suffering from intellectual disabilities were possessed by devils and evil spirits. Even philosophers and scholars held such ideas. The laws of the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, Lycurgus, and the Athenian philosopher and lawmaker Solon allowed getting rid of those who had disabilities that made them unable to work or engage in war. Moreover, the renowned philosopher Plato came and declared that those who have special needs are a malicious category constituting a burden on the society and a damaging factor to his Republic. Likewise, English philosopher Herbert Spenser (1820-1903) called on the society to deny those with special needs any kind of help, claiming that this category constitutes a useless, heavy burden for a society to carry.

Whereas, the pre-Islamic Arabs — though they used to kill their female babies for fear of possible disgrace — were less hardhearted and more compassionate toward those afflicted with adversities and the chronically ill. They, however, abstained from sharing food or sitting at a meal with those who had special needs.

When the world was floundering between theories that called for the execution of the mentally disabled and other theories that called for employing them in drudgery, the East and the West, at long last, rightly arrived at the idea of the perfect care for people with special needs. That being the case, we, on the other hand, do see how our Messenger, the educator and teacher, (s) was so merciful toward this type of people.

The Prophet and People With Special Needs

It is narrated on the authority of Anas (r) that a woman, somewhat mentally defected, said,” O Messenger of Allah! I have a need that I want you to meet. He (s) responded, “O mother of so and so, choose the way you like to walk in so that I may know your need and meet it.” He walked with her in some route until she had her need fulfilled (Muslim).

This is, of course, a proof of his forbearance, humility, and patience in answering the needs of those with special needs. It, also, serves a legal proof that a ruler is obligated to care for people with special needs, socially, economically, and psychologically, and that the ruler should fulfill their needs and grant their requests.

The forms of such care include, but are not restricted to the following:

· Medication and regular check-up

· Proper education and training

· Assigning some workers to take care of them

Following this merciful Prophetic course,`Umar ibn`Abdul-`Aziz (r) asked rulers of the provinces to send him the names of all those who are blind, crippled, or with a chronic illness that prevented them from establishing salaah. So they sent him their names. He, in turn, ordered that every blind man should have an employee to guide and look after him, and that every two chronically ill persons — those with special needs — be attended by a servant to serve and care for them (Ibn Al-Jawzi).

The same course was taken by the Umayyad caliph Al-Waleed ibna`Abdul-Malik (may Allah have mercy on him). The idea of the establishment of institutes or centers for the care of people with special needs was his. In AH 88 (707 CE), he ordered the establishment of a foundation specialized in looking after them. Doctors and servants, paid fixed stipends, were employed in this foundation. He granted a regular allowance to persons with special needs, and told them, “Do not beg people.” Thereby, he made them sufficient enough to not beg others. In addition, he appointed employees to serve all those who were disabled, crippled, or blind (Ibn Katheer, At-Tabari).

Honoring Them and Meeting Their Needs

It happened in a well-known incident that Prophet Muhammad (s) frowned at a blind man,`Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum (r) when he came to ask the Prophet about a Shari`ah matter. The Prophet (s) was sitting at that time with a group of noble and high-placed people attempting to win them over toward Islam. Although the blind man did not see nor perceive his frowning face, yet Allah (the Mighty and Exalted) blamed His Messenger for doing this, saying what means in the Qur’an, (He (the Prophet) frowned and turned away, because the blind man came to him (interrupting). But what could tell you but that perchance he might grow (in spiritual understanding)?- Or that he might receive admonition, and the teaching might profit him? (`Abasa 80:1-4).

Afterwards, the Prophet (s) used to meet that blind man with a welcoming and smiling face, saying to him, “Welcome to a man for whom my Lord has blamed me!” (Al-Qurtubi). [...]

Consoling Them

It is reported on the authority of `A’ishah (ra) that she said, “I heard Allah’s Messenger (s) say, ‘Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, revealed to me that whosoever takes a route of seeking knowledge, the route to Paradise will be made easy for him, and that I (Allah) will reward the one whose two dear things (that’s his eyes) were taken away from him with Paradise” (Al-Baihaqi and authenticated by Al-Albaanee)

The Prophet (s), addressing all who have illnesses and disabilities, said, “No Muslim is pricked with a thorn, or anything larger than that, except that a hasanah will be recorded for him and a sin will be erased as a reward for that”(Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

There exists in these prophetic texts and hadith qudsi comfort and glad tidings for everyone with a certain disability; if they exhibit patience at their adversity, being content with the trial Allah has afflicted them with, anticipating the reward from Allah alone for their disability, Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala will recompense them with Paradise.

`Amr ibn Al-Gamouh was a lame man. However he insisted on participating with the Muslims in the battle of Uhud where he was martyred. The Prophet (s) passed by his body and said, “As though I could see you walking with this leg of yours, being heard, in Paradise” (Authenticated by Al-Albaanee).

It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (s) left Ibn Umm Maktoum twice as his successor in Madina to lead the prayer, though he was blind (Ahmad).

And it is reported on the authority of `A’ishah (ra) that Ibn Umm Maktoum was a muezzin of Allah’s Messenger (s) though he was blind (Muslim).

It is narrated via Sa`id ibn Al-Mosayyab (may Allah have mercy on him) that when Muslims would go on their expeditions, they used to leave those among them who were chronically ill, submit the keys of their doors to them, saying, “We have made it lawful for you to partake of our “food” (Ar-Razi).

Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad said, “I entered upon Abi Zayd Al-Ansari, who called out the Adhan and Iqamah while he was sitting.” He added, “a man advanced and led us in prayer. That man was lame whose leg was injured in the Cause of Allah, the Exalted” (Al-Baihaqi).

Thus was the Prophet (s)’s society, a society that was marked by mutual support, cooperation, and unity in consoling, honouring, and respecting those with special needs. For all of this, the course of the merciful Prophet (s) was the role model in dealing with those who have special needs.

Visiting Them

Visiting the sick in general, and the disabled in particular, was legislated by Islam for the purpose of relieving their suffering. A disabled person, compared to a sound one, is closer to withdrawal, isolation, a pessimistic view, and psychological illness. So, neglecting the disabled in social occasions, such as visits and marriage, is wrong.

The Prophet (s) used to visit the sick, pray for them and console them, instilling confidence in their souls and covering their hearts and faces with happiness and joy. He could once go to someone in the outskirts of Madina particularly to answer a simple need of his or hers or to perform salaah in the house of an afflicted one.

An example of this was`Etban ibn Malik (r); he was a blind man from Ansar. He said to the Prophet (s), “I wish that you, O Messenger of Allah, would come and perform salaah in my house so that I would take it as a place of prayer.” The Prophet humbly promised to visit him and perform prayer, saying, “I will do, if Allah so wills.”

`Etban said, “Allah’s Messenger and Aboo Bakr came early in the morning. Allah’s Messenger asked for permission to enter, which I gave.” Without sitting, he immediately entered and said, “In which part of your house would you like me to pray?” I pointed to a certain place in the house, so the Messenger of Allah (s) stood and started praying and we, in turn, stood in a row. He performed a two-rak`aah prayer, ending it with tasleem (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Praying for Them

The mercy of the Prophet of Islam (s) toward people with special needs was so manifest as well when he legislated the supplication for them as a way to encourage them to endure afflictions. He desired to create will and build resolve in their souls.

Once a blind man said to the Prophet (s), “Supplicate Allah to cure me.” He (s) replied, “I shall supplicate if you wish, yet it would be better for you if you choose to keep patient.” The man asked the Prophet to make du`aa’ for him. Then, the Prophet (s) ordered him to perform wudoo’ and say the following du`aa': “My Lord, I implore You and turn to You, having your Prophet Muhammad as an intercessor for me, so that my needs may be answered. O Lord, make him an intercessor for me and accept his intercession.” (At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

Also:

A woman, who would usually have epileptic fits, came to the Prophet (s) and said, “I do have epileptic fits that, as a result, cause parts of my body to be revealed. So, pray to Allah for me.”

To this came the reply of the Prophet, “If you will, be patient and Paradise will be your reward. And if you will, I shall supplicate Allah to cure you.”

She said, “I choose patience.” Then she said, “But parts of my body to be revealed, so pray to Allah that this will not happen.” And the Prophet prayed for her. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Prohibition of Mocking Them

Cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path“(hadith)

People with special needs, in some societies of Europe, were taken as objects of mockery, amusement, or fun. The handicapped would, therefore, find themselves stuck between two fires: the fire of exclusion and isolation on one hand, and the fire of derision and malicious joy on the other. Accordingly, the society would turn, within itself, into an abode of estrangement, persecution, and separation.

However, Islamic law came to forbid ridiculing all people in general, and the afflicted in particular. Allah the Exalted revealed most evident Qur’anic verses stressing the prohibition of such an ignorant attribute of pre-Islamic era; these verses read what means:

“O you who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (Al-Hujurat 49:11)

It is also authentically reported that the Prophet (s) said, “Pride is the rejection of the truth and looking down at people” (Muslim).

Perhaps the afflicted one is higher in rank in Allah’s sight and has a precedence over people in terms of knowledge, jihad, piety, chastity, and good manners. Let alone the general and decisive rule set by the Prophet: “Indeed, Allah has made your blood, your wealth, and your honour forbidden for you, one to another” (Al-Bukhari).

Additionally, the Prophet (s) has warned in such a strict manner against misleading the blind away from their path or harming them or making them an object of fun and mockery: “Cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path” (Authenticated by Al-Albaanee).

This carries a severe threat for those who take the congenital defects as a method of fun, amusement, or derision, and for those who look down at those who are defected. People afflicted with certain defects could be a brother or sister, father or mother, son or daughter, tested by Allah, so that we may take a lesson from their condition and recognize the power of Allah; not for the purpose of making them an object of entertainment and fun.

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To read the whole article originally published from Islamonline.net as well other related articles, please click here.

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Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut is an Egyptian preacher and researcher. He prepares and presents programs on the Egyptian TV and other Arab satellite channels. He is a member of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association

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