I attended Islamic classes offered in Auslan sign language by the Muslim Deaf Association Sydney.
I made observations for my honours research as well as reflections on my own life and accessible for Deaf and hard of hearing people to access their religion in Australia.
On the weekend I attended a small class catering for the deaf and hearing-impaired who are Muslim. It is a basic Islamic class made available in Auslan sign language. The classes are possibly the first of its kind, and are offered by the Muslim Deaf Association Sydney; the first organisation in NSW to fully serve the needs of deaf/ hard of hearing Muslim people. My good friend Hassna is an amazing woman doing amazing things to create these events and classes and ensure accessibility is made easier.
The teacher, my good friend Sophie, is the first Muslim Sign Language interpreter in NSW who went out of her way to conduct and teach basic religion classes to deaf/ hard of hearing Muslims in the community.
I’m possibly the first hearing-impaired, Muslim researcher. While I went to the class to observe and work on my research thesis, I was overwhelmed with a lot of personal reflection and observations.
First, the gap between Deaf/ Hard of Hearing Muslims and their access to their religion, is too damn high.
Many adult deaf and hard of hearing Muslims who came to these classes, do not even know the 5 Pillars of Islam. They did not know the most basic and fundamental things of their religion.
Because access was never made available.
They were never taught in a way they could understand. Until now.
For me, that was heartbreaking.
A lot of older Deaf/ Hearing- impaired people that day were so surprised at the fact that I am at university. “Wow, wow, wow” a fully deaf male told me. He can’t speak at all. His hands, body and lips do the talking for him.
The whole fact that I can speak, and I can communicate well, is something I took for granted until then. As well as my education and my ability to have been able to go all the way to university is not something any deaf or hearing-impaired person can do.
I realised I’m not an example of a hearing-impaired person, I’m an exception.
Many of the adult women who came to the class, told me how back in their days, university and education generally was not accessible for them. Their education level was behind the mainstream, and from then they always fell behind. One even remarked how her friend at an all deaf school was being taught “baby” work, even though they were both the same age. She even had a fight with the principal of her friend’s school about this and was kicked out. She couldn’t believe even though she is hearing-impaired and went to a mainstream school that is the education level for her friend who was completely deaf in a deaf school was so far behind.
Another older Deaf woman, amazingly a revert to Islam, told me she never learnt to drive because her parents never encourage her to. They actually discouraged her. She had to catch the train for about 40 mins to come to these classes.
All these reflections overwhelmed me. Although I knew some of these things, it is different to see it first-hand the experiences people go through. And although I am hearing-impaired, I never experienced the dire disadvantages that many do. I didn’t know whether to feel guilty or blessed, but I know that I have to do something and I’m glad that God gave me opportunity to work on my thesis and be a voice for Muslim, Deaf/ Hearing-Impaired people.
Despite all this, what amazed me the most was the diversity and atmosphere of the people that came. How quick we all were able to connect and make each other feel included. Even myself, I always felt out of touch from my “deaf” side. It was great to be surrounded by people that understands you and what you go through.
The people who came were young and old. Deaf/ hard of hearing Muslims who want to learn Islam and make connections, and even hearing Muslim girls who came because they wanted to learn sign language.
Muslims from a variety of different backgrounds; Lebanese, Turkish, Bangelsesh, South African, Australian.
Interracial couples, the common factor being their hearing – loss and religion, not marrying their own kind. Some were mothers who bought their children along. Parents were deaf/ hearing-impaired, while their children were not.
Some people could speak, some could not. Their hands were speaking for them, their bodies coming alive as they move their hands and fingers to express their thoughts. The whole room was alive and dynamic, and although it was filled with many deaf and hearing –impaired people, there was no silence.
Just many stories aching to be heard.