The Treatment of Handicapped People in Islam
In our everyday lives, we often encounter handicapped people. Whether we stop to chat with them or not, many of us find ourselves thanking God for creating us free of disabilities while simultaneously uttering a prayer for them.
Interestingly enough though, whereas we may consider such people disadvantaged, there is very little evidence in the Qur’an or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that Islam views them in a similar fashion. For instance, the Qur’an contains hardly any direct reference to disabled people except in the context of jihad: “Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled, and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives.” (4:95)
In another place, when God rebukes the Prophet, pbuh, in Surah Abasa (Ch. 80) on account of his behavior toward Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, He does not dwell on the latter’s disability except to refer to him as the “blind man.” In other words, the Prophet is not being admonished on his insensitivity towards a handicapped person, but rather on his negligence of someone who came to him to learn.
The Prophet’s behavior toward disabled people is an example par excellence for us. In addition to greeting Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum with respect and humility, the Prophet, pbuh, designated him as the Leader of Madinah many times in his own absence. As far as the Prophet was concerned, Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum’s blindness was not a hindrance in his ability to carry out his duties.
Similarly, the case of Julaybib, another companion of the Prophet, is instructive. He was thus known because of his diminutive figure. He was also described as being deformed or revolting in appearance. While many people in Madinah had made him an outcast, the Prophet, pbuh, instead approached a family to give their beautiful daughter as a bride for Julaybib. As may be expected, the parents were blinded by his apparent handicaps – yet their daughter surrendered herself to the will of the Prophet, pbuh.
These examples are important because they show that even though the Prophet, pbuh, was sensitive to their particular circumstances, he did not consider these to be things which should stand in their way of leading normal lives. Rather, he was intent upon focusing on their inner beauty and amorphous souls – just as he did with all of his companions.
Therefore, putting aside our own prejudices and assumptions, we must recognize that disability in and of itself is not necessarily a hindrance or disadvantage. No doubt, it causes the afflicted person far more difficulty than someone who is not in his/her position. This is all the more reason why we should make extra efforts to provide facilitation to our brothers and sisters by ensuring not only their physical comfort through appropriate measures but their mental and emotional ease as well. The latter can only be accomplished if we view them beyond their physical state, just as the Prophet, pbuh, did.
After all, God has promised us that our lives are a test for us. Degrees and forms of our trials vary from person to person, even family to family. However, it is up to us to have fortitude, accept our fate, and then actively work to make the best out of them. Indeed, God has promised us that “with every hardship there is relief,” (94:5) and that “no person shall have a burden laid on him greater than he can bear” (2:286).
In general, handicapped people face the challenge of normalizing their lives with patience, strength and courage. Many of them accomplish this with such flair that they no longer see themselves as “different.” May God facilitate them in their adversity and enable others of us to become a supportive force for them.