Islam and People with Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND)


Reem Shraiky, UK

Islam, being a comprehensive religion, does not neglect to cater for the needs of any section of society, especially if they require special consideration such as parents, neighbours, travellers, orphans and the sick, to name just a few. However, in this research paper, I will only mention how Islam caters for the rights of those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Unfortunately, ancient civilisations considered people with special needs as a bad omen or an indication of the wrath of the gods, so in some cases they would even kill children who were born with deformities. Even the great Greek philosopher, Plato called for their exclusion from society to preserve the purity of the human race in his ‘virtuous’ republic!

In fact, throughout the ages, people with special needs and disabilities have been treated harshly. In some religions, we find that they would not even be allowed to enter places of worship lest they ‘defile’ them due to their ‘impurity’, and they would be considered as unfit members of society who could not attain any material or spiritual progress!

Before Islam, Arabs were influenced by the beliefs of the people of those religions who lived with them on the same land. Thus, they also mistreated the blind, lame, and sick, avoided eating with them, and would not invite them to their banquets or other special occasions.

The Prophet of Kindness

However, this attitude changes with the advent of the Mercy for the whole world – the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (sa). Allah declared through him:

لَيْسَ عَلَى الْأَعْمَىٰ حَرَجٌ وَلَا عَلَى الْأَعْرَجِ حَرَجٌ وَلَا عَلَى الْمَرِيضِ حَرَجٌ

There is no harm for the blind, and there is no harm for the lame, and there is no harm for the sick,’ [1]

Meaning, do not despise or look down on those who suffer any form of disability. They are your brethren, and an important part of your society, so to treat them with contempt and to ostracize them from your social and civil relations is a great affront to the honour of humanity.

Thus, Allah commands us in this verse to consider them a part of society and not to exclude them, as was the habit before Islam. Such exclusion would cause a wide gap to arise between the disabled and weak members of society with the rest of society. Thus, a group of people would be afflicted with an ‘inferiority’ complex which would lead to their complete frustration, and then the whole nation would fail to advance. For this reason, Islam tells us:

وَفِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ لِّلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ

And in their wealth was a share for one who asked for help and for one who could not’. [2]

Meaning that a Muslim’s wealth is a trust for the benefit of mankind which the poor, sick, and weak are all partners in and therefore have a right to share whether they express their needs or not.

The Holy Prophet (sa) brought about teachings that helped establish global brotherhood, building the edifice of humanity on solid foundations; he broke the shackles of superstitions, traditions and customs which were strangling the necks of humanity. He commanded them to reject racial discrimination, to have compassion and to be brothers to all of humanity, as he said:

‏ الرَّاحِمُونَ يَرْحَمُهُمُ الرَّحْمَنُ ارْحَمُوا أَهْلَ الأَرْضِ يَرْحَمْكُمْ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاءِ‏‏

The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. If you show mercy to those who are on the earth, He Who is in the heaven will show mercy to you’. [3]

He also said:

مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي تَوَادِّهِمْ وَتَرَاحُمِهِمْ وَتَعَاطُفِهِمْ مَثَلُ الْجَسَدِ إِذَا اشْتَكَى مِنْهُ عُضْوٌ تَدَاعَى لَهُ سَائِرُ الْجَسَدِ بِالسَّهَرِ وَالْحُمَّى‏

The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection and fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb in the body aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever’. [4]

Contrary to what was prevalent before Islam, Muslims are commanded in the Holy Qur’an to allow the blind, the disabled, or the sick to reside in the house of their relatives or to eat in their homes without an invitation, as long as they do not exceed the limits. This promotes familiarity and removes those artificial barriers that keep apart people of different social classes:

لَيْسَ عَلَى الأَعْمَى حَرَجٌ وَلا عَلَى الأَعْرَجِ حَرَجٌ وَلا عَلَى الْمَرِيضِ حَرَجٌ وَلا عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَن تَأْكُلُوا مِن بُيُوتِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ آبَائِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ إِخْوَانِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ أَخَوَاتِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ أَعْمَامِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ عَمَّاتِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ أَخْوَالِكُمْ أَوْ بُيُوتِ خَالاتِكُمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكْتُم مَّفَاتِحَهُ أَوْ صَدِيقِكُمْ لَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَن تَأْكُلُوا جَمِيعًا أَوْ أَشْتَاتًا فَإِذَا دَخَلْتُم بُيُوتًا فَسَلِّمُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ تَحِيَّةً مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ مُبَارَكَةً طَيِّبَةً كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمُ الآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُون

There is no harm for the blind, and there is no harm for the lame, and there is no harm for the sick and none for yourselves, that you eat from your own houses, or the houses of your fathers, or the houses of your mothers, or the houses of your brothers, or the houses of your sisters, or the houses of your fathers’ brothers, or the houses of your fathers’ sisters, or the houses of your mothers’ brothers, or the houses of your mothers’ sisters, or from that of which the keys are in your possession, or from the house of a friend of yours. There is no harm for you whether you eat together or separately. But when you enter houses, salute your people – a greeting from your Lord, full of blessing and purity. Thus does Allah make plain to you the commandments, that you may understand’. [5]

The Scriptures of Fairness

The Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (ra), states in his commentary of the Holy Qur’an, ‘the Grand Exegesis’:

‘Among the characteristics of the Holy Qur’an is that it did not neglect any aspect of human nature, nor did it issue a command which would be difficult for a human being to follow. Rather, it came with an ease that enables every human being, whatever his nature and temperament, to act upon its commandments. Just as God Almighty has created in this material world, an enormous variety of objects, such that it is impossible for any human being, whatever his nature and temperament, to say that God Almighty did not create anything according to my circumstances. If his teeth are strong and able to chew solid food, then solid food is available for him, whereas if his teeth are weak and he requires soft food, then there is no shortage of soft foods in this world. Similarly, in the spiritual world, God Almighty has introduced, through the Holy Qur’an, a teaching for the advancement of every kind of human nature and has made available considerable ease so that no one can say that the law of Islam is not workable for him. For example; although Islam places great emphasis on jihad, at the same time it states that the sick, weak and lame who are unable to participate in jihad, despite their hearts being eager to, if only they had the physical capacity; they are in Allah’s eyes counted among those healthy individuals who had been able to strive with their wealth and physical self. Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an:

لا يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُولِي الضَّرَرِ وَالْمُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ ۚ فَضَّلَ اللهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ دَرَجَةً ۚ وَكُلًّا وَعَدَ اللهُ الْحُسْنٰى ۚ وَفَضَّلَ اللهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

Those of the believers who sit still, excepting the disabled ones, and those who strive in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their persons, are not equal. Allah has exalted in rank those who strive with their wealth and their persons above those who sit still. And to each Allah has promised good. And Allah has exalted those who strive above those who sit still, by a great reward‘. [6]

That is, it is impossible for the believers who do not serve the religion to attain the rank of those believers who work with all their energy in the service of the religion of God and the elevation of His word. However, God Almighty has included amongst them those people who are unable to serve the religion as a result of a disability or disease. As God Almighty will take their excuse into account and will not deprive them of His closeness and reward.

At another place, the Holy Qur’an clarifies this concept further, stating:

وَالْوَزْنُ يَوْمَئِذٍ الْحَقُّ

And the weighing on that day will be true‘. [7]

That is, when people receive the reward of their deeds from God Almighty on the Day of Judgement, everything that hinders the spiritual advancement of a person, and every harm that he has been exposed to due to reasons beyond his control, will be taken into account.’ (Al-Tafsir al-Kabeer, Surah al-Mu’minun).

The Second Caliph (ra) also states:

‘At another place it says:

لا يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُولِي الضَّرَرِ

Those of the faithful who do not strive in the path of God cannot be put on the same level with those who strive, except those whose inability is due to some natural deficiency. God will keep their disability in view.‘ [6]

The Holy Prophet (sa) says: ‘No believing men or women experience any suffering in relation to their body, their children or their property, but that their sins are reduced thereby and they are so purified by the suffering they experience, that by the time they appear before God, their sins have been entirely washed away.’ (Tirmidhi). [8]

عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي سَهْلُ بْنُ سَعْدٍ السَّاعِدِيُّ، أَنَّهُ رَأَى مَرْوَانَ بْنَ الْحَكَمِ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ، فَأَقْبَلْتُ حَتَّى جَلَسْتُ إِلَى جَنْبِهِ، فَأَخْبَرَنَا أَنَّ زَيْدَ بْنَ ثَابِتٍ أَخْبَرَهُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَمْلَى عَلَيْهِ لاَ يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ فَجَاءَهُ ابْنُ أُمِّ مَكْتُومٍ وَهْوَ يُمِلُّهَا عَلَىَّ قَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، وَاللهِ لَوْ أَسْتَطِيعُ الْجِهَادَ لَجَاهَدْتُ ـ وَكَانَ أَعْمَى ـ فَأَنْزَلَ اللهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَفَخِذُهُ عَلَى فَخِذِي، فَثَقُلَتْ عَلَىَّ حَتَّى خِفْتُ أَنْ تُرَضَّ فَخِذِي، ثُمَّ سُرِّيَ عَنْهُ، فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ ‏”‏غَيْرَ أُولِي الضَّرَرِ‏.البخاري

‘It was narrated that Ibn Shihab said that Sahl bin Sa’d Al-Sa’idi said: ‘I saw Marwan Bin Al-Hakam sitting in the Mosque so I went and sat beside him, and he told us that Zaid bin Thabit had told him, that the Holy Prophet (sa) dictated to him: ‘Those of the believers who sit still, and those who strive in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their persons, are not equal.’ Then Ibn Umm Maktum came while he was dictating it to me and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! If I had the power to fight (in Allah’s Cause), I would,’ and he was a blind man. So Allah revealed to His Messenger while his thigh was on my thigh, and it became so heavy that I was afraid it might fracture my thigh. Then that state of the Prophet (sa) passed and Allah revealed ‘excepting the disabled ones’ [16]

Thus, Islam does not deprive people with special needs of spiritual advancement or of the attainment of the highest ranks, including martyrdom for the sake of Allah:

It is stated that a companion of the Holy Prophet (sa) Hazrat Amr bin Al-Jamuh (ra), would walk with a limp due to a pain in his foot which caused him significant discomfort. Due to this disability his sons prevented him from participating in the Battle of Badr. When the time of the Battle of Uhud arrived, he said to his sons: ‘You can do whatever you like but I will not listen to you and I will most definitely take part in this battle.’ Therefore, he met the Holy Prophet (sa) and requested, ‘My sons keep me from partaking in the battle due to my impaired foot. However, I would like to join you in this Jihad’. He further stated, ‘By God, I wish that Allah the Almighty fulfils what my heart desires and grants me martyrdom so that I enter Paradise despite my impaired foot.’

The Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘Jihad is not obligatory for you, due to your disability. However, if this is your wish, then you may join’. Then the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed his sons to let their father take part in the battle. Therefore, Hazrat Amr took part in the battle and prayed continuously: ‘O Allah! Grant me martyrdom and do not make me return to my house unsuccessful in this task’. His desire was ultimately fulfilled as he was martyred in the battlefield of Uhud. [9]

In another narration, Hazrat Amr bin Al-Jamuh came to the Holy Prophet (sa) and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, if I fight for the sake of Allah until I am killed, will I walk with my leg healed in paradise?’ As he had a lame leg. Upon this, the Holy Prophet (sa) said: yes. Then during Uhud, Amr (ra) was martyred and the Holy Prophet (sa passed by his body and said: ‘It is as if I can see you walking with this leg of yours healed in Paradise’. (Musnad Ahmad).

In fact, Islam does not teach us that suffering is only afflicted upon evil people; rather it teaches us that the level of our piety and goodness depends on how we deal with our own suffering and the suffering of others.

The Religion of Patience

Islam also teaches us to display patience when we go through any kind of suffering and trial. Thus, when one experiences harm through any means, if we wish to acquire the pleasure of Allah the Exalted and to attain His love, then we should prostrate at the threshold of Allah, displaying patience and fortitude.

Hence, during difficult, troublesome and distressful conditions, it is our responsibility to submit to God Almighty whilst seeking His help through patience and prayer, as it is He, who is most capable of safeguarding us. ‘No one Beside Allah can rescue a soul from hardship’. [10]

قَالَ عَطَاءُ بْنُ أَبِي رَبَاحٍ: قَالَ لِي ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ أَلاَ أُرِيكَ امْرَأَةً مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ قُلْتُ بَلَى‏.‏ قَالَ هَذِهِ الْمَرْأَةُ السَّوْدَاءُ أَتَتِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَتْ إِنِّي أُصْرَعُ، وَإِنِّي أَتَكَشَّفُ فَادْعُ اللهَ لِي‏.‏ قَالَ: “‏إِنْ شِئْتِ صَبَرْتِ وَلَكِ الْجَنَّةُ وَإِنْ شِئْتِ دَعَوْتُ اللهَ أَنْ يُعَافِيَكِ”‏‏.‏ فَقَالَتْ أَصْبِرُ‏.‏ فَقَالَتْ إِنِّي أَتَكَشَّفُ فَادْعُ اللَّهَ أَنْ لاَ أَتَكَشَّفَ، فَدَعَا لَهَا‏.‏

”Ata’ bin Abi Rabah reported that Ibn ‘Abbas asked me whether I would like him to show me a woman who would go to paradise? When I answered in the affirmative, he said: ‘This black woman came to the Prophet and said, ‘I suffer from epilepsy and during fits my body becomes uncovered; please invoke Allah for me.’ He (sa) replied: ‘If you wish to endure it patiently, your reward will be Paradise, or if you wish, I shall pray to Allah to cure you?’ She said, ‘I shall endure it.’ Then she added: ‘But my body becomes exposed, so pray to Allah that it may not happen.’ He (Prophet (sa)) then invoked Allah for her.’ [11]

The Promised, Messiah Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), said:

‘The people who pass through hardships or who are troubled for the sake of God, will be amply rewarded by Him in the next world. So far as this world is concerned it is a transitory place; people have not to live here for all the time. If somebody has means available to him which are a source of pleasure for him, it is really nothing for him to feel exalted. Whatever is there in this world – means of comfort or hardships – are to come to an end thereafter there is a life which is eternal. Those who look at some insignificant differences in the constitutions of human life and link it with the sins and shortcomings of another previous life are very much mistaken. They do not try to think over another birth which is linked with the next world where the people who have some defects here or who have put themselves to hardships for the sake of God will be amply rewarded. This world is the place of sowing the seed and to avail the opportunity of attaining to the pleasure of God.’ [12]

Moreover, Islam teaches us that when we see the suffering of others, we must do our best to help them.

Therefore, without trials morality would be just a theory with no practice.

According to Islam, all types of loss, whether the loss of wealth, a job, or dear ones or anything else, serves in fact to remind us that this world and whatever is in it, is transient and ephemeral and that our hearts should be attached with the One Who is eternal and suffers no loss. The Holy Prophet (sa) said:

‏مَا مَثَلُ الدُّنْيَا فِي الآخِرَةِ إِلاَّ مَثَلُ مَا يَجْعَلُ أَحَدُكُمْ إِصْبَعَهُ فِي الْيَمِّ فَلْيَنْظُرْ بِمَ يَرْجِعُ‏

The likeness of this world in comparison to the Hereafter is that of anyone of you dipping his finger into the sea: let him see what he brings forth!’ [13]

Moreover, Islam teaches us that for every suffering or trial that afflicts us, Allah the Almighty will forgive a portion of our sins and shortcomings to recompense us. In regards to this, the Holy Prophet (sa) said:

مَا يُصِيبُ الْمُسْلِمَ مِنْ نَصَبٍ وَلاَ وَصَبٍ وَلاَ هَمٍّ وَلاَ حَزَن وَلاَ أَذًى وَلاَ غمٍّ، حتَّى الشَّوْكَةُ يُشَاكُها إِلاَّ كفَّر الله بهَا مِنْ خطَايَاه

No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a man, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah the Almighty forgives some of his shortcomings as a recompense for it’. [14]

The Holy Prophet (sa) at another place said:

(إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَالَ إِذَا ابْتَلَيْتُ عَبْدِي بِحَبِيبَتَيْهِ فَصَبَرَ عَوَّضْتُهُ مِنْهُمَا الْجَنَّةَ ‏‏.‏(البخاري

Allah the Almighty said, ‘When I afflict my servant in respect of his two dear things (i.e. his eyes) and he endures patiently, I shall give him Paradise in return.’’ [15]

The Curse of a Blind Heart

Furthermore, regarding blindness, Allah has made it clear in the Holy Qur’an that true blindness is not that of the sight, rather that of the insight. Allah the Almighty says:

فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَٰكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts which are in the breasts’. [17]

Moreover, the Holy Prophet (sa) warned people against misdirecting or misleading the blind with the strongest of words, and made it clear to them that God’s curse would befall on them if they did, as he said:

مَلْعُونٌ مَنْ كَمَهَ أَعْمَى عَنْ طَرِيقٍ

Cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path.’ [18]

Islam also commands Muslims not to ridicule people nor to taunt them with nicknames and counts those who do not refrain from this behaviour as one of the unjust. Allah the Almighty said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسٰى أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِّن نِّسَاءٍ عَسٰى أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ ۖ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ ۖ بِئْسَ الِاسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

O ye who believe! let not one people deride another people, haply they may be better than they, nor let women deride other women, haply they may be better than they. And defame not your own people, nor call one another by nicknames. Bad indeed is evil reputation after the profession of belief; and those who repent not, such are the wrongdoers’. [19]

Thus, God Almighty does not care about the appearance or colour of a person, his height or shortness, his wealth or poverty. Rather, He cares only about his heart and good deeds. The Messenger of Allah (sa) said:

إِنَّ اللهَ لَا يَنْظُرُ إِلَى صُوَرِكُمْ وَأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَلَكِنْ يَنْظُرُ إِلَى قُلُوبِكُمْ وَأَعْمَالِكُمْ

Verily Allah does not look at your faces or wealth but rather He looks at your hearts and deeds’. [20]

Therefore, Islam strictly forbids calling people with special needs using offensive terms or referring to their illness in a derogatory manner.

Once, the Holy Prophet (sa) was sitting with his companions, and a man passed by them, upon which some of them said: ‘He is a madman’. The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: ‘Stop, the madman is the one persists on disobedience to God Almighty, and this man is suffering from an affliction.’ [21]

‘Hazrat Aisha (ra) said, ‘A man suffering from an affliction passed by some women and they laughed together, mocking him, then some of them got that same affliction.’’

The Promised Messiah (as) said:

‘I admonish my community to shun arrogance because arrogance is most loathsome to God, the Lord of Glory. You may not perhaps fully realize what arrogance is. So learn it from me because I speak with the spirit of God. Everyone who looks down upon his brother because he considers himself to be more learned, wiser, or more accomplished than him is arrogant. He is arrogant because, instead of considering God to be the Fountainhead of all wisdom and knowledge, he considers himself something. Does God not have the power to derange him mentally and instead grant superior knowledge, wisdom and dexterity to his brother whom he considers inferior? Likewise, he too is arrogant who, thinking of his wealth or high status, looks down upon his brother. He is arrogant because he has ignored the fact that this status and grandeur were bestowed upon him by God. He is blind and does not realize that God has power to afflict him with such misfortune as, all of a sudden he is cast to the lowest of the low; and again He has the power to bestow greater wealth and prosperity upon that brother of his whom he considers small. Yet again, that person is arrogant who is proud of his superior bodily health, or of his handsomeness, or good looks, or strength, or prowess, and scornfully makes fun of his brother and teases him and addresses him with derisive names; not satisfied with this he advertises his physical defects. It is so because he is unaware of the existence of a God Who possesses power to suddenly inflict him with such bodily defects as may leave him much worse than his brother.’ [23]

Likewise, in Islam, the requirements of people with special needs and disabilities must be met and listened to. The Holy Prophet (sa) once left his assembly to meet the requirements of a woman with a special need:

Anas (ra) reported that a woman with a cognitive disability addressed the Holy Prophet (sa) saying: ‘O Allah’s Messenger, I want something from you’. He replied: ‘O Mother of so and so, see on which side of the road you would like (to stand and talk to me) so that I may do whatever you require of’. He stood aside with her on the roadside until she got what she needed. [24]

A Unique Gift

Likewise, the Holy Prophet (sa) explained that people with learning disabilities or mental health conditions will not be held accountable by God for their deeds, as they are in reality like young children who are innocent of every sin.

Narrated ‘Aisha (sa): The Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘The Pen has been lifted from three (i.e. their actions are not recorded): a sleeping person till he awakes, a child till he is a grown up, and an insane person till he is restored to reason or recovers his sense’. [25]

Moreover, the Messenger of Allah (sa) made it clear that the presence of the weak is a blessing for their families as because of them Allah will provide them with sustenance and victory.

Narrated Mus`ab bin Sa`d: Once Sa`d (bin Abi Waqqas) thought that he was superior to those who were below him in rank. On that, the Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘You gain no victory or provision except through (the blessings of) your weak ones.’ [26]

And Abu Ad-Darda’ narrated that he heard the Holy Prophet (sa) saying: ‘Seek your weak for me. For you get your sustenance and aid through your weak ones.’ [27]

A Work in Progress

If we examine the history of the human race, we see that its progress was in fact based on suffering. For example, the advancements in medicine and technology were motivated by the desire to remove suffering: feeling cold led man to discover fire, the burden of travel led man to invent carriages which further developed to our current modes of advanced transportation. Therefore, our suffering led us and still leads along the paths of evolution and progress in every field. Without pain we cannot experience happiness, in our pain we find our greatest power. Success is not built on success, it is built on failure and frustration, and it is built on fear that has to be overcome.

Sometimes you have to fall, to really know how to stand.

Thus, suffering plays an essential role on our spiritual, moral, and physical evolution.

The Fourth Caliph of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) writes:

‘Suffering could only be considered objectionable if it were created as an independent entity with no meaningful role to play in the scheme of things. But without the taste of suffering or an awareness of what it means, the feeling of relief and comfort would also vanish. Without an encounter with pain and misery, most certainly, joy and happiness would lose all meaning. Indeed the very existence of life would lose purpose, and the steps of evolution would stop dead in their tracks.

Thus in the evolution of our five senses, the awareness of loss and gain has played an equally essential role like the two wheels of a wagon; remove one, and the other would also lose its meaning. The very concept of the wagon would be grounded. The struggle between life and death, which produces suffering, is also the means of creating pleasure. It is the primary motivating force which fuels the carriage of evolution to move forward eternally… It is beyond the reach of humans to efface suffering without effacing life itself’. [28]

When we count our blessings, it makes us realise that they are innumerable in comparison to the suffering we undergo. Islam teaches that our suffering is not meaningless. Rather, it serves the purpose of our life. The Holy Qur’an says:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ * الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَالُوا إِنَّا لِلّٰہِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ * أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ صَلَوَاتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُهْتَدُونَ

And We will try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient, Who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say, ‘Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return’. [29]

The Illusion of Materialism

The loss of one of our blessings reminds us that worldly things are temporary and transient. Thus, we should not devote ourselves to them wholeheartedly. Rather, we should attach our hearts completely to God, Who is Eternal, and Who will provide for us and our loved ones in this life and the next.

Our life on earth will be over in the twinkling of an eye, it is just an exam, which we have to pass through whilst worshiping, and thanking God, in prosperity and adversity, and fulfilling the rights of His creation. The Holy Qur’an says:

اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ ۖ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَامًا ۖ وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِّنَ اللهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ ۚ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ* سَابِقُوا إِلٰى مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا كَعَرْضِ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ أُعِدَّتْ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَاللهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ * مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّبْرَأَهَا ۚ إِنَّ ذٰلِكَ عَلَى اللهِ يَسِيرٌ* لِّكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلٰى مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

Know that the life of this world is only a sport and a pastime, and an adornment, and a source of boasting among yourselves, and of rivalry in multiplying riches and children. This life is like the rain the vegetation produced whereby rejoices the tillers. Then it dries up and thou seest it turn yellow; then it becomes broken pieces of straw. And in the Hereafter there is severe punishment, and also forgiveness from Allah, and His pleasure. And the life of this world is nothing but temporary enjoyment of deceitful things. Vie with one another in seeking forgiveness from your Lord and for a Garden the value whereof is equal to the value of the heaven and the earth…’ [30]

Then Allah the Almighty further says:

There befalls not any calamity either in the earth or in your own persons, but it is recorded in a Book before We bring it into being — surely, that is easy for Allah —* That you may not grieve over what is lost to you nor exult because of that which He has given to you. And Allah loves not any self-conceited boaster’. [31]

These verses highlight how we should not look towards the paltry offerings of the world but towards the rain of God’s Mercy. The metaphor in these verses can also be applied to spiritual rejuvenation because it is God Who has the power to revive souls. The final verse tells us not to be proud or conceited over what we have. God is not impressed with our worldly accomplishments, but with our inner struggles and piety.

Islam has made allowances in its commandments for those who are sick or who have certain special needs, so that they can participate in whichever way is possible for them and be rewarded. For example, to pray whilst sitting or lying down if required is permissible, or to even circle the Ka’aba whilst riding.

For instance, Hazrat Umm Salama (ra) (wife of the Holy Prophet (sa)) reported:

‘I made a complaint to Allah’s Messenger (sa) of my ailment, whereupon he said: ‘Circumambulate behind the people while riding.’ She said: So I circumambulated and Allah’s Messenger (sa) was at that time praying towards the side of the House and he was reciting ‘By the Mount, And by the Book inscribed.’ [32, 33]

A Clear Path to Heaven

Moreover, Islam has made helping the sick and weak one of the gates of charity:

‘Abu Dhar Al-Ghafari (ra) narrated that the Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘Sadaqa (charity) is prescribed for every person, every day the sun rises.’ So I asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah, from what do we give Sadaqa if we do not possess property?’ The Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘The doors of Sadaqa are: Allāhu Akbar (Allah is the Most Great), Subḥānallāh (Holy is Allah), Alḥamdulillāh (All praise belongs to Allah), lā ilāha illa Allāh (There is none worthy of worship but Allah) and Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from Allah), enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing thorns, bones and stones from the paths of people, leading the blind; listening to the deaf and dumb until they understand, guiding a person to his object of need if you know where it is, hurrying with the strength of your legs to one in sorrow who is appealing for help; and supporting the weak with the strength of your arms. These are all the doors of Sadaqa prescribed for you.’’ [34]

Moreover, the Holy Prophet (sa) in his own lifetime has greatly honoured those with disabilities or impairments and took care to fulfil their wishes:

Narrated `Itban bin Malik:

‘I came to the Holy Prophet (sa) and said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (sa) I have weak eyesight and I lead my people in prayers. When it rains the water flows in the valley between me and my people so I cannot go to their mosque to lead them in prayer. O Allah’s Messenger (sa)! I wish you could come to my house and pray in it so that I may take that place as a Musalla (a place for prayer).’

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said. ‘Allah willing, I will do so.’ Next day after the sun rose high, Allah’s Messenger (sa) and Abu Bakr came and Allah’s Messenger (sa) asked for permission to enter. I gave him permission and he did not sit on entering the house but said to me, ‘Where would you like me to pray?’ I pointed to a place in my house. So the Holy Prophet (sa) stood there and said, ‘Allahu Akbar’, and we all got up and aligned behind him and offered a two-rak`at prayer and ended it with Taslim (concluding the prayer with As-salāmuʿalaikum wa-raḥmatu-llah). Then we requested him to stay for a meal called ‘Khazira’ which we had prepared for him. [35]

Islam also commands its followers to visit people with special needs and disabilities, and not to isolate them; the Holy Prophet (sa), who is the mercy for all mankind, used to visit them frequently.

It is recorded in Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Bazzar, Al- Munḏirī, and Al-Tabarani’s book ‘Al-Mu’jam al-Awsat’ that the Holy Prophet (sa) used to say to his Companions ‘Let us go to Banu Wāqif to visit the one endowed with insight.’ The person to whom the Holy Prophet (sa) was referring to here was actually physically blind, but the Holy Prophet (sa) instead beautifully referred to him as one with spiritual sight.

True Meritocracy

Islam has taken care of the rights of people with special educational needs and disabilities, making their rights equal to those who are able-bodied; whether it is in terms of freedom, education, entering into contracts, owning property, voting in an election or any other political right, and to hold Governmental office including the office of the Head of State. This is because piety is the only criterion by which one’s merit and prestige is measured in Islam. A great example of this is that the Messenger of Allah (sa) appointed Ibn Umm Maktum (ra) to lead Muslims in prayer in his absence and Ibn Umm Maktum (ra) was blind. He was also appointed as a muezzin (i.e. the one who calls people to Prayer) of the Holy Prophet (sa); on the authority of Ibn Umarr (ra), he said: The Messenger of Allah (sa) had two muezzins, Bilal and Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum, who was blind. [36]

The Second Caliph in Islam, Hazrat Umar (ra) allowed Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum (ra) to participate in the battle of Qadisiyyah, where he was martyred. He served in this battle as the standard bearer for the Muslim army. Thus, blindness never diminished his stature.

In addition, we find that one of the most prominent and respected Companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) was Hazrat Muaz bin Jabal (ra), who was a disabled person. There are number of traditions that demonstrated the high regard in which he was held:

  1.  After the conquest of Makkah, the Holy Prophet (sa) appointed Hazrat Muaz bin Jabal (ra), to stay behind in Mecca to teach people about Islam and the Holy Qur’an.
  1. Hazrat Muaz (ra) was also amongst the blessed four Companions designated duty of compiling the Holy Qur’an. They were: Hazrat Muaz (ra) bin Jabal, Hazrat Ubayy (ra) bin Kaab, Hazrat Zaid (ra) bin Thabit and Hazrat Abu Zaid (ra). Hazrat Abu Zaid (ra) was the paternal uncle of Hazrat Anas (ra). [37]
  1. The Holy Prophet (sa) said: ‘Learn the Quran from four people – Ibn Mas‘ud (ra), Salim (ra) the freed slave of Abu Huzayfa (ra), Ubayy (ra) bin Kaab and Muaz (ra) bin Jabal.’ [38]
  1. The Holy Prophet (sa) also said: ‘From among my Ummah, the most knowledgeable of what is lawful and unlawful is Muaz (ra) bin Jabal’. [39]
  1. Hazrat Muaz (ra) bin Jabal would pass edicts [fatwas] during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (sa) and also during the Caliphate of Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) in Madinah. [40]
  1. The Holy Prophet (sa) appointed Hazrat Muaz (ra) as Governor and Qadhi (judge) of Yemen and he was one of five Companions entrusted with overseeing the affairs of Yemen; Muaz (ra) would teach [the people of Yemen] the Holy Qur’an and matters of faith and would also settle their disputes. Those who collected Zakat in Yemen would send whatever they had collected to Hazrat Muaz (ra) bin Jabal. Hazrat Muaz (ra) related that prior to sending him to Yemen the Holy Prophet (sa) walked outside with him in order to impart some advice. Hazrat Muaz (ra) was seated on his mount and the Holy Prophet (sa) walked alongside him. When the Holy Prophet (sa) completed what he had to say, he added, ‘O Muaz! It is possible that we may not meet again in the coming year and it is also possible that next time you pass by, it will be by my Mosque and my grave.’ Hearing this, Hazrat Muaz (ra) started to weep profusely because he was parting from the Holy Prophet (sa). Following this, the Holy Prophet (sa) turned his blessed face towards Medina and said, ‘The righteous from among my people are near and dear to me, whoever they may be and wherever they may be.’ [41]
  1. When the Holy Prophet (sa) sent Muaz to Yemen, he wrote to its people, saying: ‘Surely I send to you the best of my people.’ (Al-a’laam for Az-Zirkili, Part 7) Ibn Abi Naji‘ narrates that the Holy Prophet (sa) appointed Hazrat Muaz (ra) as the governor of Yemen, stating to the people of Yemen, ‘Indeed I have sent to you a governor who is the most knowledgeable of my people and the most well-versed in the matters of faith.’ [42]

In conclusion, despite Muaz (ra) having a limp, this disability did not prevent him from assuming the position he deserved in Islamic political and social life.

I would also like to mention the examples of some Muslim scholars, in the eras following that of the Holy Prophet (sa), who rose to great prominence in Islamic society despite having disabilities:

  • Aṭāʾ ibn Abī Rabāḥ. A prominent early Muslim jurist and hadith transmitter among the generation of Tabi’un; he served as the mufti of Mecca in the seventh and eighth centuries. He had a flat-nose, a disability, and walked with a limp. He was born with one blind eye and later on went completely blind in both eyes. [43]
  • Suleiman bin Mahran Al-Asadi. A Muslim scholar among the generation of Tabi’un. He was a notable Muhaddith and Qāri. Due to his poor eyesight, he was called Al-Imam al-A’mash (A’mash is the one with poor vision). (Ibid)
  • Abu al-Khaṭṭāb ʻAbd al-Ḥamīd ibn ʻAbd al-Majīd. Commonly known as Al-Akhfash al-Akbar, he was a scholar of Arabic language and a grammarian, Sibawayh was among his students. He died in 177H and got the name al-Akhfash due to a disease afflicting his eyesight – ‘Akhfash’ meaning one who can see in darkness only.
  • ‘Asim bin Suleiman Al-Basri (died 142 AH). He was a scholar of hadith and a Qadhi from among the generation of Tabi’un. He had cross-eyes. [43]
  • Abdul Rahman bin Hormuz (died 117 AH). He was a scholar of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, an expert on the genealogy of the Arabs. He had a limp. (Ibid)

The Rights of Humanity

This example of the Prophet in giving people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) equal rights, served as a guidance to all Muslim Caliphs whether the rightly guided ones, or those who came after them or the second rightly guided caliphs, as they continued to fulfil the requirements of people with special needs:

The second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, (ra), allocated for the people with special educational needs and disabilities a fixed salary from Baitul Maal (public treasury), while his great grandson, the Umayyad Caliph and the first Mujadid in Islam, Umar Ibn Abdul-Aziz issued a decree throughout all the Islamic states saying: ‘Write to me about every blind, disabled and paralyzed person, or anyone who suffers from any chronic disease that prevents him from attending the prayers’.

After he received the required lists, He made a census of each category then ordered that there should be an employee to accompany every blind person to lead and take care of him. He further instructed that everyone who suffers from a chronic disease or disability should have a servant to serve and take care of him. [44]

Then the Umayyad Caliph, Al-Waleed bin Abdul-Malik, established care centres for people with special educational needs and disabilities in 88 AH /707 AD, where he employed doctors and servants to look after them. He gave a regular salary to people with special educational needs and disabilities and told them: ‘Do not ask people’ meaning that he would now make sure all their needs would be fulfilled, so that they would have no more reason to ask anyone for anything. Moreover, he appointed employees to serve every disabled or blind person. [45]

Sultan Qalāwūn of the Mamluk era, established a hospital in Egypt whose remains still exist today. In this hospital, patients not only received care during their stay there, but were also given money when discharged, so that they would not have to work during the recovery period.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community under the guidance of its spiritual head, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) is striving to provide all the necessary facilities for those members with special educational needs and disabilities in its gatherings and programs, in addition to establishing a special committee to look after their needs.

About the Author: Reem Shraiky is a life devotee of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – International Arabic English Translation & Research Office, UK.


[1] The Holy Qur’an 24:62

[2] The Holy Qur’an 51:20

[3] Sunan Abi Dawud – The Book of General Behaviour-Chapter about Mercy

[4] Sahih Muslim, The Book of Virtue, Enjoining Good Manners, and Joining of the Ties of Kinship. Chapter: The Mutual Mercy, Compassion and Support of the Believers

[5] The Holy Qur’an 24:62

[6] The Holy Qur’an 4:96

[7] The Holy Qur’an 7:9

[8] Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam

[9] Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 7, pp. 688-689

[10] The Holy Qur’an 53:59

[11] Bukhari, Book of the Patients. Chapter: The superiority of a person suffering from epilepsy

[12] Malfoozat vol. 7. pg 93

[13] Sunan Ibn Majah, Book of Zuhd. Chapter: The likeness of this world

[14] Bukhari, Book of the Patients. Chapter: sickness is expiation for sins

[15] Bukhari, Book of the Patients. Chapter: The superiority of a person who has lost his sight

[16] Sahih al-Bukhari, The book of Tafseer.

[17] The Holy Qur’an 22:47

[18] Musnad Ahmad, Chapter: the Beginning of Musnad Abdullah Bin Al-Abbas

[19] The Holy Qur’an 49:12

[20] Muslim, the Book of Virtue, Enjoining Good Manners, and Joining of the Ties of Kinship. Chapter: The Prohibition of Wronging, Forsaking, or Despising a Muslim and the Inviolability of His Blood, Honour and Wealth

[21] Kanz al-Ummal. Vol.4, Hadith no.10453

[22] Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, the Book of Words, Chapter: Mockery

[23] Nuzul-ul-Masih: Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 18, p. 402

[24] Muslim, the Book of Virtues, Chapter: The Holy Prophet’s Closeness to the People, Their Seeking Blessing from Him

[25] An-Nasa’i, the Book of Divorce, Chapter: The Husband Whose Divorce is Void

[26] Bukhari, Book of Fighting for the Cause of Allah, Chapter: Seeking help of poor and pious men in War

[27] Jami` at-Tirmidhi, the Book of Jihad, Chapter: What has been related about Seeking Assistance (From Allah) by the Destitute Muslims

[28] Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

[29] The Holy Qur’an 2:156-157

[30] The Holy Qur’an 57:21-22

[31] The Holy Qur’an 57:23-24

[32] Muslim, The Book of Pilgrimage

[33] The Holy Qur’an 52:2-3

[34] Musnad Ahmad, Chapter: Hadith Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari (ra). No: 20510

[35] Bukhari, Book of Food, Chapter: Al-Khazira

[36] Muslim, the Book of Prayers

[37] Muslim, The Book of the Merits of the Companions (ra), Chapter: The Virtues of Ubayy Bin Ka’b and a Group of the Ansaar (ra)

[38] Bukhari, the Book of the Merits of the Ansaar, Chapter, The virtues of Ubayy bin Ka’b

[39] Sunan Ibn Majah, the Book of the Introduction, Chapter: the Virtues of Khabbab

[40] Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 2

[41] Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Hadith Muaz Bin Jaball

[42] Ibn Sa’d, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3

[43] Siyar A’alaam al-Nubalaa’

[44] History of Damascus for Ibn Asaaker, Chapter: Umar Ibn Abdul-Aziz

[45] History of Al-Tabari, Vol.5