Earlier on today the BBC Ouch team were in touch with me, you may recall I made a short film regarding my Life/activism for them last year! They got in touch because they are putting together a series of articles on ramadhan; in particular, looking at how disabled people observe this blessed month!
While talking to them, it occurred to me that some of you might be interested in my own observances, as a visually impaired person, and so I’ll talk about some of them below; the good, the bad, the bazaar and the truly beautiful!
Of course, given that my impairment has been with me from birth and does not affect my general health, it has no baring on whether or not I can fast! Unfortunately however, I also have a chronic migraine condition which is controlled by medication, exercise and a special diet regime. I have pain almost every day that I am fasting, but most of the time it is bearable; if the pain becomes too much, then I sometimes have to miss out on fasts.
My preparations for Ramadhan begin well in advance! Starting with the saga of time tables! I don’t know how things are in your respective cities, but here in Glasgow we have a staggering 6 timetables! These usually float around the masjids, and are rarely put up online! If they are circulated via Email, its usually in Arabic/PDF or graphics texts which my computer cannot read! So, I usually visit my mowlana in advance, determine with him which is the correct timetable and note down the timings for each day either in Braille or on my computer!
I then do my food preparation: you know, the stuff most women have to do; preparing/freezing dishes in advance, stocking up the cupboards, making spice mixes and grinding up herbs to make juices and syrups!
I also take a quick look through my wardrobe, not that you need special clothes for Ramadhan! But as you’ll be rushing around, and will be at the mosque quite often, you usually need 2 wash and wear abayat, an extra long Al-Amira hijaab and a comfortable prayer chador, these will get you through!
Normally, people try to withdraw from the computer, internet etc during ramadhan, but not so for the visually impaired Muslim! I usually find I spend more time online during Ramadhan, than any other time of the year! this is because so few Islamic books are provided in Braille, Audio etc. I do most of my book reading online, via sites such as al-Islam.org
I enjoy reading my duas from duas.org because I can access Arabic with English translations on the site with ease!
I also use the internet to access Radio Ramadhan broadcasts from around the world, and as I often carry out research and programme sourcing on behalf of Radio Ramadhan Glasgow, I end up with a lot of late nights online!
An important part of Ramadhan is reciting, reflecting, and learning from, the noble Qur’an! However, there is a bit of forward planning that is required for the visually impaired Muslim! For those not familiar with Braille, the language of the visually impaired, it is very bulky in its written form; and very few books are actually produced in Braille! It has only been in the last 3 years that English translations of the qur’an in Braille were made available to purchase off-the-shelf in the UK! So: what to do! I have the qur’an in text-HTML format which I use for reading in English, (see? Too much time on the computer!). I also have Arabic Audio CDs of qur’an which I use for Arabic memorisation. Earlier on this year, I was very kindly gifted the Amazon Kindle, and this has made reading a whole variety of material a whole lot easier! I have a qur’an on the kindle too! But, I really wanted an English translation that was enjoyable to listen to, and wasn’t computer generated! This was realised for me last week, in the form of the product I pointed you to, www.hearthequran.com
One of our local masjids is running a programme entitled; ‘Journey through the qur’an! This takes place daily during Ramadhan, and involves a reading of a selected Qur’anic portion per day, with a brief explanation of the chosen sura/suras. I attend this and benefit greatly from it, which brings me nicely to my next subject: transport!
This too has to be planned for well in advance! Public transport is incredibly difficult for me to use. Trains/tubes and trams work fine for me, because they have audio prompts informing passengers of each stop as they arrive, so, if I know where I’m going I can travel perfectly well on my own! Busses do not yet have this facility in Scotland, so, I inevitably end up splurging a whole lot of cash on taxis during Ramadhan! Friends do help out when they can, but hey; if you want to do something immensely helpful this Ramadhan, seek out the disabled attendees at your mosque and ask them if they’d welcome assistance with transport. Even if you cannot commit to this regularly, do what you can! Only this morning, I had to travel to my friendly halal grocers, I took a taxi; and what do you know; my driver was a Muslim brother! He dropped me off, waited for me to shop, helped me home with bags; and didn’t take any money from me, despite my insistence on him taking it! We may never meet again, but I will continually remember this brother in my duas for his generosity!
Since we’re on the subject of the mosque, let me have a small rant here (hey; I’ve been fasting all day: indulge me if you will!). While it’s a joy to break fast, pray, and connect with friends and those you’ve possibly not seen in a whole year, the masjid can be filled with hazards for the visually impaired Muslim! Though I am very familiar with my local mosque and can move around it with ease, the centre will doubtless be filled with new people I’ve never met, and who do not know me. They have most likely never seen a blind person, so whenever I get up to get more food, go to find some one, use the bathroom; whatever! They insist on running behind me, grabbing my abaya and demanding to know what I want, so that they may take me there! Even if they don’t grab me, there will be rice, babies, dirty diapers and all manner of filth on the floor which can make walking around risky!
There are also those who don’t seem to register the fact I’m visually impaired, even though my white cane is on display! So, if I do trip or walk in to them, they yell “can’t you see?” …., No! daaa!
Being a revert, you usually attract curiosity and questions! I know some people find this annoying, but I can tolerate it (to a point!). The problem is, when you are blind and a revert, the questioning takes on a whole new level! People stare at you, they ask questions of your friends in front of you (as though blindness and deafness are part of the same package!). Some even want to take pictures with me and bring their friends over to see my Muslim freak show too! Last night at the masjid, one of the Urdu speaking Aunties took hold of my hijab and yanked me in the direction of her white, newly converted daughter-in-law! She told me, in Urdu, and in no uncertain terms that it was up to me to educate her on being a revert and living in a Pakistani house! The poor girl didn’t seem remotely interested in Islam, and only brightened when I sensed an exit and got myself well out of her way!
I certainly don’t want to be perceived as being ungrateful, or having an unfeeling dig at the masjid; that is not my intention! I know that even the worst of these actions is well intended, and I know that for every one who behaves in this way there are hundreds more who show real friendship and caring, but all the same; we need to have a think about our actions; and its only through acknowledging the things we get very wrong, that we can start to get them so right!
The remaining aspects of my Ramadhan observance are probably no different from yours! However there is one activity that really steps up a gear during this month; and that is my activism! See, during Ramadhan, you have captive audiences in masjids, community centres, on Islamic TV Stations etc, so why not utilise this opportunity to indulge in some disability activism! I give talks, hold workshops and write for Islamic publications during Ramadhan, all relating this month to the importance of Equality, Choice, Dignity and control for disabled Muslims! What do I talk about? Hmmm; well, pretty much all the things you’ll find me ranting about on this blog! I talk about the need for accessible mosques; and the fact that just because a person is blind doesn’t mean they need a wheelchair and need dragged by the ears to the nearest/safest sofa! I talk about my home/married life and discuss how my husband really is my husband and not a hired carer! I explain the most basic facts about how I cook, clean, travel, work etc. Stuff that many of my readers know about, but which seem to spark stunned fascination in my audiences!
Whatever your own cause/purpose may be, its important to realise that Ramadhan is not just about fasting and secluded worship. The community comes together and we have to be part of it, both for our own Development, and for the sake of the education we can bring to it.
Like every one else, I am devastated when Ramadhan is over. I always cry on eid and struggle to fulfil all the eid invites I have through my sadness. This year, I looked forward to Ramadhan in the way that I used to as a new revert. It’s a beautiful feeling and I’m enjoying the lessons and the beauty of each day.
My message; well, as far as disability goes; its simple; be kind, be open, be helpful, be empowering, not patronising, and never be afraid to ask!
For Ramadhan; grab, beg, plead, ask, crave, yearn, cry, make dua, request all this from Allah (SWT) and rebuild your own truly intimate, unique and personal connection with your creator, so that the gifts which he (SWT) presents you with on eid are truly earned, and are the fruits of your own pure labour as you strived for closeness to him (SWT), Insha Allah.