"When I was 19 years old my brother was diagnosed with a mental illness, an invisible disability, at the time there was no community support or outlet that we could turn to for help so instead of being supported, we felt alienated and ashamed"
Islam in its perfection outlines the ways in which our lives should be lead. However, its pure message is often corrupted by our own ideals driven by culture, tradition or mere desire. The people of Jannah as someone beautifully put, have somehow been forgotten. The hardships that special needs individuals go through is also felt by the family members who take care of them.
MUHSEN (Muslims Understanding and Helping Special Education Needs) which also translates in the Arabic language to ‘One who shows excellence and compassion’ is an amazing charity that hopes to make the places of Islam that more accessible for special needs individuals. MUHSEN hopes to lead by example by working within Muslim communities to spread a better understanding of special needs and the difficulties their families may face.
The Idea was originally conceived by Sh Omar Suleiman, he explains...
“My mother, due to cancer and multiple strokes, for most of my life suffered from severe hearing loss and had a difficult time speaking amongst other medical issues. This caused me to be particularly sensitive to other kids in the Masjid who had disabilities. What I noticed though and still notice today is that Masjids do not accommodate properly for people with special needs. Many times I go to a city and parents with children in wheelchairs say their kids badly wanted to come but couldn’t get into the masjid. Even worse, parents with children who have autism email me saying that they wish they could attend but have to stay home with their child. Even I, when I served as Imam of Masjid Abu Bakr in New Orleans, mistakenly sent a child with autism home from Quran class not knowing his condition. So all of us need a change of attitude and need to do a better job remosque-ing this part of our Ummah. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) deeply cared about including them in every activity possible”
Sheikh Omar decided to set down a few ideas on a word document and came up with the concept of MUHSEN. However, a period of time later Sheikh Omar travels on a Hajj trip with a couple who have a child with Autism. It is from this that the idea really starts to take shape. The mother of the child had previously worked in raising awareness for special needs and so their interests aligned. Joohi Tahir is now the Executive Director of MUHSEN, Joohi and many other dedicated volunteers work in creating events that educate as well as encourage our Masaajid and more importantly community’s to be more conscious of those who need it most.
But wait, aren’t our community’s welcoming to all? This talk at MAS ICNA explains it very well.
Muhsen provides programs, support groups and training all in the aim of improving accessibility and tolerance. They want to introduce ideas that we as Muslims can take on board, such as forming respite groups for carers, facilitating family counselling or creating a quiet room within your mosque - these are seemingly easy points but they go a long way.
The organization has also previously held events including talks and charity walks, most recently they held their annual fundraising dinner and this speech by an amazing young Muslimah, touched my heart.
It's time that we as a community start rethinking our approach to those who have a disability. The problem may not necessarily be our awareness around this subject, but the way in which we respond. They are just as powerful as us if we can see the power that they hold.
"It takes unimaginable strength to continually endure, persist & overcome. People with disabilities aren't weak. They're the strongest human beings you'll ever meet"
The importance of this organisation can not be understated and its success is dependent on the people who support it.
We encourage all our readers to please check out 'muhsen.org/donations' and contribute what you can to their cause.
We hope that similar organisations can operate throughout our global community and help to make a positive change. You can learn more about MUHSEN, their events and various disability’s on their website www.muhsen.org
Author: Muhammad Yousuf Shuwekh