Navigating Islam as a Deaf Muslim


Friday prayers interpreted in British sign language. Photo: Muslim Deaf UK

The call to prayer, issued five times in day in cities across the globe, is one of the most beautiful, spiritually uplifting sounds, regardless of whether one is Muslim or not. The sound even inspired Irish Catholic actor Liam Neeson to consider converting to Islam. He describes the sound as “the most beautiful, beautiful thing.”

But many Muslims around the world will never hear the beauty of the call. Although there is no official estimate of the number of deaf Muslims, the World Health Organization estimates that about 275 million people worldwide (Muslim and non-Muslim) have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. Continue reading

Healing the Pain through Education

Nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, many in the U.S. still believe the actions of a tiny minority of violent Islamists is representative of all Muslims and Islam more generally. Yet even in the midst of hateful bigotry and prejudice towards Muslims, much of New York has taken constructive steps towards understanding who Muslims are and what Islam is. The New York Public Library system is just one a few prominent New York institutions that has made efforts to educate the public about Islam.

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Islam is about empathy not violence

Even though the prevailing image in mainstream media is often that it is a religion of violence, many forget that since its inception Islam called for a system of social justice and responsibility for others. From early on in his life, the Prophet Muhammad was concerned about the state of the less fortunate. In Muhammad’s time, Qurayshi society, which once took care of its members, not only neglected the less fortunate, but did not even provide basic protection in a world that depended on tribal protection. Among the central principles reiterated time and again in the Qur’an is the responsibility to help the other.

Muslims are never to become complacent or assume that hardship can never affect them. In fact, a great responsibility is placed on a Muslim to work for social justice and to be at the forefront of alleviating social ills like poverty. This is one of the core messages of Islam that are too often neglected by many, including Muslims.

I feel it is important to reiterate this point in light of the earthquake in Haiti. Continue reading

One in Four are Muslim

From The Pew Forum

From The Pew Forum

A couple weeks ago, the US Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that has received a great deal of attention. According to a three-year study of over 232 countries, the population of Muslims worldwide is now 1.57 billion, which means that one out of every four people in the world is a Muslim. Although the number was above some of the researchers’ expectations, what really makes this study fascinating is what it discovered about the details of this overall population. Continue reading

Islamic College in America

zaytuna-collegeWhen choosing the right college to attend, not many people think of an Islamic college. That’s about to change. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, two prominent Muslim scholars, are planning to create the first accredited Islamic college in the United States, to be called Zaytuna College. The goal of the college is to teach Arabic and Islamic studies in the context of American culture. The founders argue that the Muslim American community is in need of scholars who not only are familiar with American culture, but actually come out of it and thus will be much more in tune with the needs of the community. Continue reading

Sunni? Shia? Or Just Muslim?

sunnishiaWhat is a Sunni? What is a Shia? These two labels–which many still struggle to clearly define–have been used to explain some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. Now it seems that discussions on the conflict in Iraq, for example, require framing the discourse with the colorings of sectarianism. In the mainstream media, it seems that the explanation for all intra-religious fighting is solely the result of longstanding discord between these two main divisions of Islam.

Personally, I never thought of myself as anything but Muslim. I suspect many other Muslims also share that sentiment. It was only in high school that I even became aware of the division. I would give talks with my friends about Islam and the question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” started to come up. Of course, your family and community play a big role in what you come to know and how you know it. Since my family was of Sunni background, I was raised in that tradition. However, I was never taught to hate or harbor ill will towards the Shia. They were Muslims who shared much with Sunnis but had certain religious doctrines that we just agreed to disagree about. Continue reading

Islam is Peace: Eight Years Later

loveandpeace3It has been 8 years since 9/11 and Muslims have been dealing with the reverberations of that event ever since. Anyone who can remember that day, remembers what they were doing when they heard the news. I remember being at work and having my boss tell me to be careful because not everyone will understand that it is not my fault. That day was a turning point for a lot of things, but most importantly the world community took a more active interest in Islam. Continue reading

“Headscarf Martyr” Mourned

Where can someone start with the story that has occupied Egyptian news media outlets for the past few days? It sounds so outrageous and so sad. How can a 32-year-old pregnant woman get murdered in a courtroom in Germany in full view of  witnesses? But it did happen and now Muslim communities around the Middle East and the world are struggling to cope with the news.

Marwa El-Sherbini, who was a few months pregnant, was stabbed in a German courtroom in Dresden 18 times on July 1st, 2009, in front of her 3-year-old son and her husband. The assailant was a man that she had sued for insulting her religion and calling her a terrorist and Islamist as well as for trying to take her scarf off in one incident. Her husband, Elwi Ali Okaz, an academic on scholarship, tried to rescue his wife and was shot by a security guard and stabbed by the attacker and is now in critical condition.

El-Sherbini is now being referred to as the ‘Headscarf Martyr’ because she was killed so violently, defending her right to practice her faith peacefully. On Monday, July 6th, thousands attended her funeral in Alexandria, Egypt, and are wondering why someone so young died because of another’s extreme hatred. More troubling is the relative silence in the media about this story. Isn’t her death important as well if there is a call for tolerance and civility?!?

When I heard about this story on Egyptian television, I knew that I had to write about it. I know that President Obama called for a spirit of tolerance worldwide so that we can begin to move away from this kind of destructive hatred. It’s important to be aware of and counter hatred that leads to violence no matter where it occurs. Now one more person has lost her life for no other reason than her wish to practice her faith.

Did you hear about this story? What is your reaction? What should the world’s reaction be to her murder? Do you think Muslims in the United States and elsewhere face similar struggles? Please share your comments.