Our beloved prophet (pbuh) compared this ummah to a body. If a single part of the body was in pain, the entire body suffered. Similarly, if a single person in this ummah suffers, we all do. Often, this hadith is used to make us, who have the luxury of living in a country that is not a target, feel with our brothers and sisters who deal with living nightmares every single day. Before we fix the world, though, we have to fix ourselves and our community. Recently, our very own Orland Park Prayer Center teamed with Muhsen, an organization focused on spreading awareness, acceptance, and accommodating Muslims with special needs. As a Muslim who has personally been dealing with a physical disability my entire life, I am going to focus on why that is so important, specifically for the youth.

Our community exceeds so many standards alhamdulillah, but it saddens me to admit that there is one specific standard we greatly lack in at times. This standard is acceptance of our brothers and sisters with different abilities. Muhsen focuses on a lot of different ways to make mosques more accommodating for others, but the one way not many think about is acceptance. A mosque can have elevators, accessible restrooms, ASL translators at every event, and so on, but these accommodations will never be put to use if the individuals who need them do not feel like they belong. For almost three years now, I have personally been very involved with the Orland Park Prayer Center, from attending the youth programs to assisting in their development. However, I can very honestly say that if my first experience was not a good one emotionally and socially, I would have never gone back. The brother in charge of the program at the time was very welcoming, did not seem uncomfortable with me being there, and directly greeted me in passing. Another sister who was an organizer of the program directly approached me, introduced herself, and conducted a conversation with me right away, without any discomfort whatsoever. Brothers and sisters, I can honestly say that these were only among a handful of encounters that night that did not make me feel like I was worth less than the others. Those handful of encounters are what kept me coming back, and for most, it would not have been enough. It should not be enough. When any individual walks into the house of Allah (swt), they should feel nothing but welcome. This expectation is not limited to certain people. It truly sickens me to know that this has been the mindset for so long, and it needs to change.

There are a few specific changes that immediately need to happen in order for our community to be undivided. Staring at any individual with special needs will only cause discomfort, and quite frankly, it is frustrating. If you have a question, directly ask. Do not stare and think about what the answer COULD be because that will get you nowhere. Approach that individual, that vital part of your ummah, and introduce yourself. Shunning them will only make them feel isolated, and if that happens, it will easily lead them towards pushing away their religion because they feel unwelcome in that society. If they feel unwelcome, so do their families. It is a cycle that never ends, one that will be passed down to their kids, leading to less people helping make our mosques thrive. If only a smile is charity in Islam, imagine what making someone feel at home in Allah’s house will get you in this life and the next. It is human nature for us to be uncomfortable with what we do not know, so get to know them. These individuals are your next doctors, teachers, and lawyers. I am personally studying law, so this is no exaggeration. We need to accept everyone; nobody is less than you, and that needs to show within the community, the fact that you acknowledge that. I ask Allah (swt) to help us, as a community, come to terms with that. The special needs community is only growing. Nobody plans for it, but it is the truth.

By Aydah Nofal