Ben Bond: Hello, my name is Ben Bond. I am the Faith Inclusion and Belonging Associate here at RespectAbility. I use he/they pronouns. I’m a white genderqueer person with brown hair, glasses, and beard, with a burgundy shirt. I am here to welcome Feryaal.
Feryaal Tahir: Hi everyone. My name is Feryaal Tahir. I am a South Asian female, and I’m wearing a black head scarf and a beige shirt. I am coming to you from the organization called Muhsen, which is Muslims Understanding and Helping Special Education Needs. And I look forward to talking to you all today about Ramadan, and some things about what can be challenging and what can be beneficial for all individuals.
Ben Bond: Thank you so much. We’ll start with our first question. We have a multi-faith audience who may not be familiar with Ramadan. So I guess my first question is what is Ramadan and what does it mean to observe Ramadan?
Feryaal Tahir: Yeah, so Ramadan is one of the months of the Islamic calendar. It’s actually the name of the month. And it’s the holiest month for Muslims throughout the year. We believe it is the time where the Quran was revealed to the prophet, peace be upon him. So that is why we celebrate Ramadan, to celebrate the bringing of the Quran to the Muslims. Some things that we do to celebrate and observe Ramadan include fasting from dawn till dusk. And fasting can be from food and drink, it can be from sexual relations, as well as gossip and bad habits. Also we make sure to do extra good deeds, give charity, be involved with the community, and get rid of any bad habits that we may have, to become an overall better person, specifically throughout this month, and to continue on throughout the rest of the year.
Ben Bond: Thank you, that’s a beautiful description. I appreciate that. That’ll be very helpful for folks that may not have a whole lot of knowledge about Ramadan. And on that note, what are some challenges for disabled Muslims practicing Ramadan, both personally and culturally?
Feryaal Tahir: Yeah that’s a good question. So there can be many different challenges for Muslims that have disabilities when it comes to different aspects of Ramadan, the first being when it comes to fasting. Certain individuals, because of health reasons or cognitive reasons, may be exempt by God from fasting, and we see that as God’s mercy on them, as an exemption to make it easier for them. However, certain Muslims tell me that that often makes them feel like they are not fully participating in the holy month of Ramadan if they cannot fast. So that’s oftentimes a challenge for them in order to get into the true spirit of Ramadan. However, they can do other things, such as reading the holy Quran, participating in the prayers, and all the lectures and gatherings, and all of the community aspects that still take place within the month, even if they’re not fasting. You’ll notice a lot of them that cannot fast due to, like I said, medical reasons, will often give extra charity, as God asked them to do to make up for not fasting, again, as a mercy and ease that he has given for them.
Another challenge for Muslims with disabilities can oftentimes be just general accommodations within the mosques and the services that we have. So you can only imagine, being the holiest month for Muslims, our mosques are packed, extremely overused every single day and every single night. Every corner of every mosque across the world is packed for Ramadan, whether that be breaking fast together for Iftar, starting our fast together for Suhoor, extra prayers, regular required prayers – the mosque is always packed. However, for Muslims with disabilities, there are certain accommodations that may sometimes be forgotten during this month, such as wheelchair access, making sure that there’s ramps, making sure that there’s parking spaces, places to pray, places to perform ablution or Wudu, also just elevate basic things like elevator access, so it’s important that mosques keep those physical accessibilities in mind when it comes to their programming during Ramadan.
Also, for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, some challenges may include not having access to sign language or captioning on extremely important content and lectures given during Ramadan. And as Muhsen, that’s something that we’re really striving for, for the past three or four years, to make our Islamic content accessible for those that need it.
Another challenge that people may personally face is if they have an intellectual or cognitive disability, or a loved one with one of those disabilities, we are just making sure that they have proper access, whether it is a quiet room during the prayer, whether it’s specialized care that they can be given. And I think I’m kind of answering the third question as we go, so sorry for that Ben, but the challenges kind of tie in with the different accommodations that we can make for different disabilities.
Also, just individuals that may be visually impaired, or just making sure that our shoes are not on the floor so that they have a clear path to get in and out, same with individuals in wheelchairs, just having a clear space to pray, those can definitely be some challenges for Muslims that have disabilities, and it’s just really the job of our community to be more aware of those, so that we can provide an inclusive environment for everybody. And just really breaking the stigmas too, because Ramadan is for everybody to celebrate, no matter what disability you may have. It’s really really a time from God that’s specially given to Muslims, and it should be for every Muslim.
And I really like how you mentioned challenges personally for individuals, because oftentimes these struggles within Ramadan can also cause anxiety, depression, mental health issues, and it’s important to be mindful that these are still very real during Ramadan. No matter how many people are celebrating, there’s also a lot of people struggling, so just being extra mindful of that, and just overall keeping up with the spirit of Ramadan and supporting our brothers and sisters is really what this month is meant for.
Ben Bond: Wow, what a beautiful answer. And where can folks find more about your organization, Feryaal?
Feryaal Tahir: Yeah, so you guys can go on to Muhsen.org — that’s m-u-h-s-e-n-.-o-r-g — and find out so much information about the different programs that we do. If you are a mosque that is looking to become more accommodating, or any faith-based center that wants tips on how to become more accommodating, you can check out our programs, and just really seeing how in general your community can become more aware, more accommodating, and more accepting, and those are our three A’s.
Ben Bond: Beautiful. Thank you so much for your time.
Feryaal Tahir: Of course, thanks for having me Ben!