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Selma Cook

 

Muslim Deaf UK (MDUK)

In 1988, Owais Murad, son of the famous Islamic scholar, Kuram Murad, started teaching some Deaf Muslims whom he knew well, then later, he organized an Eid party which attracted more than 150 Deaf Muslims from all over the UK. Such events were then held regularly and he was able to assess how much knowledge Deaf Muslims have about Islam.

 

He discovered that Muslims had not set up any organization to cater to the needs of Deaf Muslims whilst other Deaf faith groups were well-established. Communication barriers exist largely because hearing Muslims are unable to communicate in Sign Language, i.e. British Sign Language (BSL).

 

Aiming at promoting the wellbeing of Deaf Muslims in the UK and supporting people with all levels of hearing loss, Murad established MDUK. Working on a voluntary basis, Murad and Khalid Ashraf have developed classes and social events at many places around the UK, including Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Glasgow. Classes held at Regent’s Park Mosque include people from Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Pakistan. Anyone who wants to learn about Islam is welcome and so far about ten people have reverted to Islam through these meetings.

 

Teaching Deaf Muslims

Khalid Ashraf is an Islamic teacher working with MDUK; he says: “Deaf people learn better from a Deaf teacher because he or she is able to identify with them.” Ashraf notes that if someone wants to teach Deaf Muslims he or she must have a link to the Deaf community, must understand Islam, the Western way of life, and Deaf culture and identity. Murad notes that Deaf Muslims find it difficult to access Islamic information as they need to have it explained to them in their preferred language (BSL) and if this does not happen they feel isolated.

 

Asfraf notes: “Society often views us as a group of people who are disabled, but the only way we are different is as a linguistic minority.” He adds that the problem intensifies if hearing Muslims are not aware of Deaf people and their needs. Because of these barriers many Deaf Muslims have been forced to take part in organizations, events and learning situations developed by non-Muslims, despite the fact that they would prefer to attend functions with an Islamic atmosphere.

 

MDUK Is Unique

MDUK is possibly the first Deaf organization in the world that is run by Deaf people. Murad says: “We were the first to organize and provide an interpreter in mosques for the Friday Khutbah as far back as 1988.” MDUK was also the first organization to organize Eid parties and camping trips for Deaf Muslims.

 

Lessons conducted by MDUK focus on a unique blend of spirituality, appreciation for modern technologies and resources and motivation to be better individuals.

 

In collaboration with other like-minded Islamic organizations, such as Muslim Youth Network, MDUK organizes interpreters for major events like the Global Peace and Unity Conference. Moreover, MDUK has been active with Islam Channel which now offers live interpreters on TV during Ramadan. MDUK also works with organizations in America, like Global Deaf Muslims, and it worked with the Deaf Muslims Conference in Dubai that was the first event of its kind held in February, 2010.

 

MDUK plans to translate the Quran into Sign Language and offer a wide range of DVD material but this requires funding. Ashraf comments: “It is my dream to work on that!”

 

MDUK has taught members of ASLI (Association of Sign Language Interpreters) in Leeds and Nottingham about basic Islamic concepts and Islamic words in BSL. They have also worked with groups looking at Western points of view and opinions about Islam and then challenged some of those misconceptions and they ran a similar event for Leeds Education Authority in 2006.

Challenges  

Muslim Deaf UK (MDUK)

Deaf children and their families face great challenges. Ashraf observes: “Often parents don't sign so children become isolated. Also, the education system often assumes that Deaf and hearing people learn in the same way, so because they are not catered to properly, Deaf people often get left behind.”  

 

The best way for young hearing people to help Deaf Muslims is to learn sign language. It also helps if the interested person mixes with people in the Deaf community and understands their culture and the difficulties they face. Abdi Gas has been working with MDUK for some time and he notes: “I met medical students who took courses in sign language and in 4-6 months they had learned quite a lot. If children can learn about signing from a young age it will make a huge difference in bringing the hearing and non-hearing communities together.”

 

Men in the Deaf community enjoy more mobility than Deaf women and usually find it relatively easy to attend classes at the mosque. Many women however, are not permitted to leave their homes and remain isolated. To combat this problem Ashraf sends a notice to the families of women who wish to attend the events and classes clarifying the purpose and aims of the event. He notes: “This problem often stems from the misconception that a Deaf person can not teach other Deaf people about Islam.”

 

At the moment MDUK does not have enough support and recognition from the wider Muslim community. Murad notes: “We would like to see Muslim organizations contribute to our cause through both financial and media support by promoting MDUK and raising awareness of the needs of Deaf Muslims.”

Final Thoughts

Historically, there were Caliphs in the Ottoman Empire who accommodated the needs of Deaf people in their court by conversing through signs on administrative matters as well as educating them about the Quran and Sunnah. There were several well-known Deaf judges and scientists who lead prayers or influenced scholars to allow Fiqh rulings favoring the Deaf members of the community.

With this in mind, we hope Muslim organizations can become patrons of MDUK by helping raise awareness about the issues faced by Deaf Muslims. MDUK needs skilled people such as fundraisers, website developers, multimedia experts and project managers to help move these aims forward.

Special thanks to Shahbana Aslam, a well-trained, committed Interpreter. Without her help this article would not have been possible.

 

Click here to contact MDUK

 


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