Having a hearing problem is a quietly isolating experience. Important parts of conversations are missed, and oftentimes people become angry when you can’t hear them. It is also viewed as something deeply negative, cushioned by the belief that people with hearing problems can’t live a meaningful and fulfilling life: hard of hearing and deaf culture is vibrant and beautiful in its own way. Humans don’t need to hear properly live with vibrancy. The only thing that makes having a hearing problem a hindrance is the lack of accessibility.
There are no speakers loud enough for me to hear the sheik (Islamic preacher) during khutbahs (Islamic lectures) or even during prayers. There are no ALS interpreters. There are no discussions about deafness or hearing loss, and when a conversation does center the topic, people simply extend their sympathy. Oftentimes, you hear people say things like, “Be thankful it isn’t worse,” or, “Pray that doesn’t happen to you.”
Religious spaces are supposed to be sanctuaries. They are a respite from the harshness of the world. However, for deaf and hard of hearing individuals it is a place where they are not seen as respected. complicated humans. They are an object of pity and abhorrence. It is a reflection of our ableist world: disabled people are robbed of their humanity.
There are also financial implications to having a disability: it requires more effort to accommodate. This makes it difficult for mosques to hire ASL interpreters and deaf and hard of hearing individuals are faced with the consequences. Difficulties overlap for those with hearing loss. Many deaf individuals live in poverty and have trouble accessing jobs etc. If you are an immigrant, Muslim, or a first-generation child of immigrants or any combination of the three you also face challenges finding a job. Being both a minority and deaf puts you at a unique disadvantage.
Deaf and heard of hearing Muslims encounter distinct barriers. Many are immigrants, and the presumption that ASL is the only deaf language fails to consider their needs. Arabic, Punjabi, etc. all take on beautiful forms in sign language. I know of two deaf Syrian refugees in my city who would benefit from others knowing Arabic sign language.
If you truly want to make a difference in the life of someone who is deaf or disabled, start by doing research and making it a point to include them in conversations. Don’t get flustered you have to accommodate them. In addition, safe spaces like a mosque should not make anyone feel like an emotional or financial burden. It is important to understand that having a disability is costly and many disabled individuals already feel like a weight on the world: we, unfortunately, live in a capitalist world that does its best to make disabled individuals feel worthless.
Understand that it is never easy to ask for accommodations. It takes great courage to discuss deafness or hearing loss due to the inevitable repercussions: the social stigma, the immediate drop in respect and consideration. I discovered I had hearing loss when I was ten years old. I remember arguing with the doctor about having to wear hearing aids: I wanted them to be grey and unseen instead of choosing from an abundance of beautiful colors. I hope one day children are free from feeling shame because of their disability.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!