A New Perspective: Differently-abled NOT Disabled!
By Shalisha Smith
There was a time when I viewed people with disabilities with the eye of pity. “Oh wow, imagine living life like that, Allah has truly blessed me.” If I happened to come across a documentary about someone with a physical deformity I would likely switch channels, “Oh no, I can’t watch this! It’s just too sad…”
I can admit that in the presence of a person with a physical disability I would feel awkward, so I would avert my gaze so as not to seem rude and would pretend they were not there. This reminds me of the story of the Companion of the Messenger of Allaah ( sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam), Abdullah Ibn umm Maktum who was born blind. One day the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) was engaged in giving da’wah to some noble leaders within the Quraish, in the hope that they would accept Islam.
Abdullah Ibn umm Maktum approached the circle and interjected asking: “O Messenger of Allah, teach me from what Allah has taught you.” As he could not see, he continued to interrupt. The Prophet ( peace be upon him) became annoyed, frowned and turned his back on Ibn umm Maktum. Following this, Allah reprimanded The Prophet:
“He frowned and turned away when the blind man approached him! Yet for all you knew, (O Muhammad), he might perhaps have grown in purity or have been reminded of the Truth, and helped by this reminder. Now as for him who believes himself to be self-sufficient to him you gave your whole attention, although you are not accountable for his failure to attain to purity. But as for him who came unto you full of eagerness and in awe of Allah, him did you disregard.
No, Indeed, these verses are but a reminder and so, whoever is willing may remember,
in the light of His revelations blessed with dignity, lofty and pure,
borne by the hands of Messengers, noble and most virtuous.”
Surah Abasa 80: 116
From that day the Prophet did not cease to be generous to Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, to ask him about his affairs, to fulfill his needs and take him into his council whenever he approached.
Unknowingly, I too was guilty of acting in a way that may have caused those with disabilities feel invisible, alienated or ‘less than’.
Who knew, the very thing I shied away from is the very thing I would be forced to confront – life is funny like that.
An Unexpected Curve Ball
After surviving the death of my first child, I was now pregnant with my second and had reached the six month mark. Finally, the day had arrived when I would find out what sex my rainbow baby was to be! I laid on the cold examination table with a huge smile on my face, eagerly awaiting the exciting news.
I looked over at the serious faced doctor, her eyes focused on the screen, shifting the Doppler back and forth, forth and back across my stomach. I held my breath, listening to the tick tock of the clock. It was as if I was outside of myself watching this play out on a TV screen. Time seemed to stand still as I whispered desperate duuas, “Yaa Allah let everything be ok; Please, please, please don’t let me have to go through this again…” After the doctors’ unnerving silence came the dreaded words, “Umm – aah…I’m just going to get my colleague to take a look.”
To cut a long emotional story short, I was having a girl and my baby girl had been diagnosed with Arthrogryposis. You’re probably thinking the same thing I thought: Arthrogry – what!? It’s pronounced Are-throw-gry-po-sis, a rare disease occurring in only 1 out of every 3,000 births. Somehow, out of the thousands of pregnant women, I was chosen to be the one.
This disease meant that my daughters joints were contracted, at best leaving her unable to move some limbs, at worst completely paralyzed. I remember later that night sitting on the bathroom floor in the dark crying and rocking, arms enveloping my baby in her human cocoon thinking, “What did I do wrong? Why me?”
Sometimes it is the unknown that scares us the most, rather than the situation itself.
I had very little sleep that night but like the saying goes, after a dark night comes a brighter day. As I closed my fajr prayer with taslim, I remember feeling determined. Regardless of the dismal prognosis, I had a little life growing inside of me and it was still my job to protect and nurture her. I decided to arm myself with knowledge about this unheard of disease. Over the next few days I googled Arthrogryposis, I read every article, studied every website, scrutinized every picture and watched every YouTube video about it.
On my journey to enlightenment, I stumbled across a group on Facebook with mothers from all over the world who were either pregnant or had children with Arthrogryposis. I met people who had arthrogryposis themselves now, living full and happy lives, some of whom had gone on to have children of their own. Throughout my pregnancy and after my daughters birth, we cried together, laughed together and shared frustrated rants together. Women, from all over the world supporting one another giving advice, encouragement and just checking in. These beautiful, resilient children whom before this, I looked upon with pity at their being “disabled” now made me feel puffed up with pride. Allah had made it so that my child was going to be among the 1 in 3000 differently-abled children who had been given the gift of being rare!
Beauty In The Struggle
By the will of Allah my daughter did not survive. Although she was one of the biggest losses in my life, the experience was one of the biggest gains I have ever received. Life is funny like that.
Now, when I see differently-abled people, I actually see them. I don’t turn over the channel, or pretend they’re not there. I don’t feel that they have somehow been slighted in life, or that their differences are the only integral part of who they are.
I see their humanity before I see their disability. I see someone whom Allah has blessed with access to new strengths, not limitations. I see the parents with disabled children as warriors. I look at the them and feel a sense of solidarity and respect because I understand to a degree, the whirlwind and heightened emotions they will be experiencing.
This single event in my life brought about a full realization that EVERY SINGLE devastation Allah puts upon our path is here to build our character, develop our tenacity and elevate the level of our understanding.
It reminds me of a verse in the Qur’an that says:
“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.”
Sometimes we need to crawl into a ball and feel sorry for ourselves, but no way should we ever admit defeat! We should have patience with ourselves whilst we seek out the lessons in the tragedy. Inhale, allowing the grief and pain in; exhale, letting the fear and worry out.
When we feel trapped in the darkness of our circumstances, our perspective makes all the difference. If we change our perspective we will be in a better position to discover the hidden jewels that will light our way out of the dark and into the light.
This is no easy feat, but the rewards are tremendous.
I am still amazed at the beauty I found in that struggle.
About the author:
Shalisha Smith was born and raised in South London and reverted to Islam in 2009. She is a Freelance Virtual Assistant based in London, providing digital marketing support to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Connect with her at: www.malikamai.com or on instagram: @malikamai_reads