I’m blessed to be living in a county like Australia where there is a range of different support available for hearing-impaired/ deaf people.
But there is a lack of accessibility and awareness in the Muslim community in Sydney. In my own community there isn’t much awareness, let alone support or assistance for people with hearing loss or disabilities.
If I wanted to attend a community event or religious lecture at the mosque it was really difficult.
First, I would have to arrive early to find a good seat at the front. This means having to push my family to get ready early, leave early to find parking etc. Coming from a typical Arab family who like to arrive “later” sometimes it could get really stressful! I would get angry and impatient because if i don’t find a seat at the front where I can clearly see the speaker to try and lipread or try to understand what what’s being said, I would miss out on the whole thing.
That is if I can even find a seat at the front. Most community centers and mosques are segregated, meaning men and women can’t sit together. While I understand the reasons, often this means women are placed in a separate room upstairs, with loud speakers and just a TV to “hear” and “see” the speaker!
So I became very selective about the places I can go to.
Even if they do manage to have women and men seated on the same room but segregated, and I happen to find a seat at the front, most of the time the speaker or sheihk is so far away and facing the men! So I can’t always get a good look at his face to understand what he is saying.
Moreover, no disrespect to any sheikh, but some sheikhs can be very formal, monotone, expressionless and their thick beards makes it next to impossible to lip-read and understand them.
So as you can imagine all this stress and barriers sometimes prevents me from enjoying or even attending community events and religious lectures.
Once, years ago I wanted to attend a community debate at the mosque and because I couldn’t find a seat at the front, I got a chair and placed it in the middle at the front. A man came and told me I couldn’t sit there. I know he didn’t know any better, but I so felt ashamed and embarrassed so I walked back out and called mum to come pick me up (only 10 mins after she dropped me off).
It got to a point that I was going to give up going completely. I was going to give up trying to go to the mosque or attend lectures when I couldn’t hear much or understand anything.
While I’m more blessed than others, what about the deaf people who can’t hear at all or can’t lipread? How can they ever feel included or come closer to religion? A lot of my hearing impaired/deaf Muslim classmates have been led astray, to paths of drugs and destruction, because there is no understanding or support to guide them to the right path.
It hurts so much because I want to learn and grow closer to God. It’s not the same when you just “read” at home and learn yourself. I want to go to the mosque, I want to feel included and be part of the community.
About 5 years ago I thought I’ll go just one more time and we’ll see how it goes.
Luckily the place was segregated but in the same room. I did manage to find good seats but Subhanallah ( how perfect God is) that year I met an amazing Sheikh who is so full of expression, and was very easy to lip read and understand!
Amazingly, I heard almost everything he said!
Excitedly, I decided to send him an email and let him know my situation. He replied back and said that I’m such a true believer because I didn’t give up.
You know what else he told me?
He said every year he travels overseas to deliver religious lectures. But something made him stay in Sydney that year. He told me now he knows the reason why God made him stay and that reason was me!
This was the first time I understood the verse:
“God is the protecting guardian of those who believe, He brings them out of the darkness and into the light” ( 2:257).
That’s when I said to myself, I definitely wasn’t going to give up!