Sa'diyya Nesar is an author, poet and HuffPost contributor.
Although she lives with physical disabilities, she hasn't let this get in the way of achieving her life goals. A strong Muslimah who many aspire to be.
The author of 'Strength from within', a public speaker and a true inspiration.
What conditions do you have and how does it affect you in your daily life?
“I have muscular myopathy. This means that my muscles are weak from my limbs, spine, and even lungs.”
I have to wear a breathing machine when laying down, use the wheelchair when going out, and need assistance in getting up from my chair, climbing stairs, and daily necessities. I would not say that it affected my life but has put me in a situation where I have to navigate my life differently.
What are your greatest achievements thus far?
Writing my first book titled ‘strength from within,’ which is based on my life with physical disabilities and finding strength from the stories of the prophets.
What are the greatest challenges that you have faced with your condition?
It is usually assumed that the greatest challenges that I face is the physical challenge, and the emotional impact that can come from that, but the greatest challenge is having to live in a world where the world of disability is not understood or considered of positive significance. Ableism exists just like racism exists. There is not much awareness of the reality of ableism that those with disabilities have to endure every day. We face more assumptions and judgements than understanding and compassion.
Has your disability hindered you in achieving your dreams and life goals?
No. I have always wanted to write books from as long as I can remember. Life with disabilities has given value and enriched my experiences. It has shifted my priorities and narrowed my company with gems that are sincere. Disability did not hinder my goals. The misconceptions and assumptions from others did provide barriers but then barriers are meant to be defied. I got married regardless of it not being a norm for those with disabilities, I completed my bachelors and I am living out what I have wanted to do—give back to the world.
"My disability has shaped me to embrace who I am and not feel ashamed of what I can or cannot offer."
How has your disability empowered you?
Your priorities automatically becomes more focused when you have a disability because of how there are many things that you are unable to do. It may be considered a loss, but it is an actual gain, because you have less distractions for you to cultivate your strengths. I have further realised this after writing the chapter ‘caged in to unlocking potential’ within my book. My disability has shaped me to embrace who I am and not feel ashamed of what I can or cannot offer. My disability has shifted my priorities of valuing inclusion and wanting to protect the human rights and dignities of every human being. It is empowering to know what you want and what matters to you that I attribute life with disabilities leading me down that path.
What stigmas and barriers do individuals with disabilities face in society?
I have addressed the stigmas that those with disabilities face in my first book briefly but there was the realization that there needs to be a second book to dig deeper to uncover the stigmas and barriers those with disabilities face. We face stigma the moment we are born because the birth of a healthy child is the desired norm. We face stigma in almost all social scenarios we encounter whether it is applying for school, attending events, wanting to contribute within the community, or even getting married. The stigmas do not stop even after getting a degree, actively contributing within the community, or even getting married because there is the general lack of awareness of the reality those with disabilities face and how to interact with those that have disabilities. We just want to be treated like everyone else but with accommodation and understanding.
How does the community that you live in react towards you? Are they understanding, friendly, helpful, accepting?
I live in Hong Kong where the Chinese Muslims have generally been inclusive and understanding. Chinese Muslims are minorities within the Muslim community here that I think having a disability provides this minority bond between us. Those of majority background are not that under-standing, or accepting, but there are few within the majority background that care
How can we change the negative attitudes towards disabled Muslims in our society?
It is okay to take a break, and rest from our communities, due to the amount of negativity we face. We, however, cannot give up, and have to show up when we are in a healthier space.
I have come to the realization that it is a heavy responsibility on us to change the negative attitudes towards those with disabilities. We cannot change people if they are not willing to change themselves.
It is not our duty to educate someone that is not willing to learn, hear, or understand. It is only our duty to show up when we can. It is only our duty to live out our lives the best way we can. It is only our duty to let others know if we do not like to be treated a certain way. If others do not listen, acknowledge, hear, or understand then we have to make the choice of being more selective of our company. We have to make the choice of what events to join and not join.
Some people might cage us but we hold the keys to be free. There are people that love and care about us where we will only experience that if we show up within the selected places of our communities whenever we are ready. Trust your instincts and allow those sincere to lift you up. We may sometimes not witness the negative attitudes from others change but find strength in knowing that Allah (SWT) is with us and Rasool (saw) understands our pain.
"Some people might cage us but we hold the keys to be free."
Has your religion and faith in God helped you through the difficulties and daily challenges? If so, how?
I would be lost within the Muslim community without the message of Islam. I am sometimes lost within the Muslim community due to the absence of Islam. What Allah (SWT) revealed and how the prophets were makes sense. I do not know how to cope with my life without the stories of the prophets and the awareness of the teachings of Islam. My whole book is on how the stories of the prophets helped me with different challenges in my life.
What advice would you give to your fellow Muslims with disabilities who are struggling with daily challenges of living with a disability?
Allah (SWT) is with us—please do not forget that. Study the stories of the prophets to understand our place within the ummah—this is how we can be free.
Free download of Preface and first chapter of ‘Strength from Within’ can be found at: www.sadiyyanesar.com