Gerald is a Muslim convert living with cerebral palsy. Below he shares his journey about Islam and disability.
Can you briefly tell us about your condition and how it affects your daily life?
I was born prematurely at 26 weeks with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a condition resulting from a stroke during delivery which causes my muscles to be constantly tight. Practically speaking, I have difficulty walking, sleeping, as well as performing other typical daily life activities that involve your fine-motor skills. For example, sometimes, I need minor assistance with my clothes and preparing food. I also can’t drive, so I’m reliant on others to take me places.
How has your disability empowered you?
I believe my disability has empowered me by making me more sensitive to other people’s plight. In addition, I feel that every struggle I experience and manage to overcome, along with my many setbacks are all their very own teaching lesson that inshaAllah makes me a better person in the long-term.
Has your disability hindered you in achieving your dreams and life goals?
My disability has limited my capacity so far to achieve my dreams in multiple ways. I wasn’t able to pursue my goal of an Islamic Studies degree from a traditional university in a campus setting as I originally intended. I wanted to become a foreign aid worker or a diplomat after graduation. However, as a result of my depression and anxiety from being bullied throughout my life, I still haven’t been able to complete my bachelor’s degree online. Secondly, my employability is still very much in doubt according to my doctors. In my mind, this means it will be very unlikely that I’ll ever be able to marry, which is another one of my dreams insha’Allah.
What stigmas and barriers do individuals with disabilities face in the Muslim community?
In my opinion, the major barriers that individuals with disabilities face within the Muslim community have to do with being misunderstood and not taken seriously. For example, I feel that on many occasions Islamic scholars haven’t even given me the time to answer my questions and listen to my problems, even during consultations.
Similarly, whenever I attempt to search for marriage partners, anyone who starts communicating with me instantly stops the moment I disclose my situation and circumstances to them. Despite what others try to tell me, I feel as if I’m a total failure as a Muslim man within the community if I can’t ever financially support a family.
How can we change the negative attitudes towards disabled Muslims in our communities?
I believe along with others who have asserted that the way we change the overall attitude towards disability in the Muslim community is by Muslims with disabilities trying their best inshaAllah to advocate for themselves by volunteering and putting ourselves into the public eye. In my view, the more we are visible, the more people will see there’s nothing to fear. Meanwhile, the community needs to educate itself more on disability etiquette and the rich history of disabled individuals within Islam inshaAllah.
What advice would you give to your fellow Muslims with disabilities who are struggling with the daily challenges of living with a disability?
Although I admittedly struggle to maintain this outlook myself, I would strongly urge my fellow Muslims with disabilities to remember that what some either inconsiderate or simply uninformed human beings might believe about you ultimately is irrelevant. What truly matters is the opinion of Allah alone. Alhamdulilah! He is the Lord of the Worlds the master of everything in the heavens and on the Earth. He has power over all things, and through his supreme will, anything is possible.
Regardless of what mistakes we may make, and regardless of our situation, it is vitally important we keep asking for forgiveness and making dua for our families, friends, and the whole wide world, along with whatever we desire inshaAllah. Allah is Al-Rahman and Al-Raheem. His compassion, mercy, and love surpasses anything that could ever possibly be conceived and more. We all must never forget that inshaAllah, irrespective of the myriad of obstacles Shaytan may try to place in our way.
What is your greatest achievement thus far?
As a Muslim convert, my greatest achievement so far has been to remain a Muslim. Due to my cerebral palsy, I’m still living with my Christian family. There’s no denying that it can become incredibly disheartening having to practice your religion all alone, with no one there by your side. This feeling only increases whenever it’s Ramadan or any Eid time when you further realize you’ll never be able to have that sense of community or forge that special bond of faith for so long as your situation remains constant. The same applies with questioning whether marriage is even a possibility.
SubhanAllah! Alhamdulilah! Lailaha’ilalah! Allahu akbar!
What do you think of the Disabled Muslim Matrimony service?
To this point, I’ve never actually used the Disabled Muslim Matrimony service. I guess I’m too scared of what my family might say if they ever found out and of course I’m also terrified of being rejected.