Faith Communities And Disability

July 2, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Reverend BILL GAVENTA (Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities): In every faith community there is a scriptural basis for welcome and hospitality. But you’ve also got congregations who live in cultures where people with disabilities have been hidden and ostracized and devalued in lots of ways, and too often faith communities sanctify prejudices in the community rather than challenge them. It shouldn’t be easier to get into a bar than a church.

SAFIYYAH A. MUHAMMAD: When I think back as a child, I don’t remember seeing anyone like Sufyaan at the mosque, no one. I don’t remember any children or adults like Sufyaan attending the mosque, and I don’t think that was by mistake. I think that we parents look at it as not just a distraction but an embarrassment. But he deserves to pray. He has a right to faith, too.

Well, the first time that Sufyaan attended the mosque not only was he talking out loud and using his hand motions, but he was running in and out of the rows. It wasn’t received well. There were whispers, there were talk: “He’s a bad kid. He obviously wasn’t raised right. That’s bad parenting.”

Imam W. DEEN SHAREEF (Masjid Waarith Ud Deen, Irvington, NJ): I think the primary challenge is a lack of knowledge, because sometimes families conceal the information that they have family members that have disabilities. Sister Safiyyah Muhammad made us aware of her son’s disability in terms of autism, and she’s made it almost like a quest for our community to become more knowledgeable about it.

SAFIYYAH: When the Koran refers to the believers it doesn’t say the believers except for the insane. Love for your brother what you want for yourself, and Sufyaan, autism or not, is considered a brother to another person who does not have autism.

Rev. GAVENTA: I’ve had families say to me, “I’ve fought all week to get my kid included in a school or whatever. I shouldn’t—I don’t want to have to fight when it comes to Sunday morning or Saturday.”