Mosques all over the UK are letting down one of the most vulnerable sections of the Muslim community; the disabled. As a carer for several disabled family members over the years, I have long been disturbed by the lack of wheelchair accessible facilities in British mosques.
Disabled Muslim women have a particularly difficult time. While many prayer halls for men are situated on the ground floor of mosques - at street level - and are therefore more accessible, most women’s prayer halls are either situated on the floor above, or the floor below.
It would not take any huge feat of architectural ingenuity to solve this problem. It would not be a Herculean task to modify existing mosques or to ensure that new ones meet the basic accessibility requirements.
A simple lift or a stair lift, or in some cases just a small ramp may make all the difference between making a mosque an inclusive one that caters for all, or a building of worship that excludes some of its most vulnerable worshipers because of lazy planning.
We're supposed to be all equal
One of the most beautiful aspects of Islam is the system of equality it espouses. Ignoring what ignorant, backwards, misogynistic, so called “Muslim countries” often practice after years of the faith being corrupted and manipulated, Islam itself is a religion whereby people are judged by Allah according to their deeds alone. Black or white; rich or poor; man or woman, physically able-bodied or physically disabled, all are equal in the eyes of Allah.
Read More:Disabled-Friendly Mosques
In the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) he said:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”
The order in which people stand in the mosque prayer hall for instance is essentially first come, first served. If a devout pauper gets to the mosque first, he sits in the front row. If a prince gets to the mosque late, it’s the back row for him. All those standing in prayer are equal in the eyes of their Lord, none deserving or receiving preferential treatment over another.
How then are we so quick to dismiss the beautiful Islamic concept of equal treatment by discriminating against some of our brothers and sisters by physically barring their access to mosques; and yes, in my eyes, not providing them with access is almost as bad as putting up a physical barrier as the effects are exactly the same; unjustly excluding them from a place of worship.
It's time to put Islamic teachings into practice
I’m aware that this criticism does not apply to all mosques. Some are actually very wheelchair friendly. Hounslow Mosque and the Maryam Centre at East London Mosque, for example, both have large lifts that lead directly to the women’s prayer hall; but many others are not so accommodating. Regents Park Mosque is a prime example.
The women’s section is on the first floor – inaccessible to the women who are supposed to pray there. The library - where lots of public conferences are held - is also upstairs. I wrote to the Director of the mosque drawing this to his attention last year but nothing seems to have been done to rectify the situation.
I’m sure most people reading this will already be familiar with Islamic exhortations to justice and mercy. Teachings like, those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful; be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you; whoever relieves a Believer of a hardship of this life, Allah will relieve him from him a hardship of the Day of Resurrection, and so on.
The test now is to put those teachings into practice in a physically manifest manner.
I do not want this to simply be a criticism, but food for thought. I’d like to urge all those who have anything to do with constructing or maintaining places of worship to think about what a travesty it is to be excluding worshipers simply because they are less physically mobile than others. To physically prevent a person from going to a mosque and worshipping is surely one of the worst things they can do, and it is their responsibility to ensure equal opportunity to worship in mosques for all Muslims.
It is also our responsibility, as individual Muslims, to each encourage our local mosques to start doing more to accommodate for the disabled. The mosque should be a sanctuary for us all and not somewhere that excludes Muslims, on any grounds.