The civilized world has recently paid attention to people with special needs. This started after it had cast aside corrupt, racist theories calling for neglecting them on the false grounds that people with special needs are not of any benefit to the society. A report issued by the United Nations International Labour Organization in 2000 estimated the number of those with special needs to be more than 610 million, out of which 400 million live in developing countries. According to the World Bank's statistics, this category represents 15 percent of the world's population.
In Early Societies
A cursory look at the history of the West shows the blatant neglect and persecution of people with special needs that culminated in killing disabled babies in some old European societies. Superstitious beliefs were responsible for this setback. For example, it was believed that people suffering from intellectual disabilities were possessed by devils and evil spirits. Even philosophers and scholars held such ideas. The laws of the legendary lawgiver of Sparta , Lycurgus, and the Athenian philosopher and lawmaker Solon allowed getting rid of those who had disabilities that made them unable to work or engage in war. Moreover, the renowned philosopher Plato came and declared that those who have special needs are a malicious category constituting a burden on the society and a damaging factor to his Republic. Likewise, English philosopher Herbert Spenser (1820-1903) called on the society to deny those with special needs any kind of help, claiming that this category constitutes a useless, heavy burden for a society to carry.
Whereas, the pre-Islamic Arabs - though they used to kill their female babies for fear of possible disgrace - were less hardhearted and more compassionate toward those afflicted with adversities and the chronically ill. They, however, abstained from sharing food or sitting at a meal with those who had special needs.
When the world was floundering between theories that called for the execution of the mentally disabled and other theories that called for employing them in drudgery, the East and the West, at long last, rightly arrived at the idea of the perfect care for people with special needs. That being the case, we, on the other hand, do see how our Messenger, the educator and teacher, (peace and blessings be upon him) was so merciful toward this type of people.
The Prophet and People With Special Needs
It is narrated on the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) that a woman, somewhat mentally defected, said, " O Messenger of Allah! I have a need that I want you to meet. He responded, "O mother of so and so, choose the way you like to walk in so that I may know your need and meet it." He walked with her in some route until she had her need fulfilled (Muslim).
This is, of course, a proof of his forbearance, humility, and patience in answering the needs of those with special needs. It, also, serves a legal proof that a ruler is obligated to care for people with special needs, socially, economically, and psychologically, and that the ruler should fulfill their needs and grant their requests.
The forms of such care include, but are not restricted to the following:
♦ Medication and regular check-up
♦ Proper education and training
♦ Assigning some workers to take care of them
Following this merciful Prophetic course, `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz (may Allah be pleased with him) asked rulers of the provinces to send him the names of all those blind, crippled, or with a chronic illness that prevented them from establishing salah. So they sent him their names. He, in turn, ordered that every blind man should have an employee to guide and look after him, and that every two chronically ill persons - those with special needs - be attended by a servant to serve and care for them (Ibn Al-Jawzi).
The same course was taken by Umayyad caliph Al-Waleed ibn `Abdul-Malik (may Allah have mercy on him). The idea of the establishment of institutes or centers for the care of people with special needs was his. In AH 88 (707 CE), he ordered the establishment of a foundation specialized in looking after them. Doctors and servants, paid fixed stipends, were employed in this foundation. He granted a regular allowance to persons with special needs, and told them, "Do not beg people." Thereby, he made them sufficient enough to not beg others. In addition, he appointed employees to serve all those who were disabled, crippled, or blind (Ibn Kathir, At-Tabari).
Honoring Them and Meeting Their Needs
It happened in a well-known incident that Prophet Muhammad frowned at the face of a blind man, `Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum (may Allah be pleased with him) when he came to ask the Prophet about a Shari `ah matter. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was sitting at that time with a group of noble and high-placed people attempting to win them over toward Islam. Although the blind man did not see nor perceive his frowning face, yet Allah (the Mighty and Exalted) blamed His Messenger for doing this, saying what means in the Qur'an, (He frowned and turned away, that the blind man came to him. And what makes you realize whether he would possibly (try) to cleanse himself? Or that he would constantly remember, and the Reminding would profit him?) (`Abasa 80:1-4).
Afterwards, the Prophet used to meet that blind man with a welcoming and smiling face, saying to him, "Welcome to a man for whom my Lord has blamed me!" (Al-Qurtubi).
Forgiving the Fool and the Ignorant
The beloved Prophet's mercy toward those with special needs, his forgiveness to the ignorant and his forbearance toward the fool did most evidently emerge in the battle of Uhud (Shawwal AH 3/ April 624 CE). It is reported that when the Prophet headed along with his army toward Uhud, intending to pass by a farm owned by a blind hypocrite, the latter insulted the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The blind man picked a handful of dust and insolently said to the Prophet, "By Allah, if I am certain that none but you will be affected by it, I will definitely throw it at you." The Companions of the Prophet were about to kill that blind person, but the Prophet forbade them, saying, "Leave him alone" (Ibn Kathir).
The Prophet did not capitalize on the fact that the blind man was weak; he did not order that he be killed or even harmed, though the Muslim army was on its way to battle and the situation was critical and the nerves were tense. Despite this, when the blind hypocrite stood in the army's way and said what he said and did what he did, Allah's Messenger refused but to forgive and pardon him, as it is not becoming of Muslim fighters, let alone the Prophet, to attack or harm those who are handicapped and disabled. It was his approach to behave kindly toward them, take a lesson from their condition, and supplicate Allah to cure them.
It is reported on the authority of `A'ishah(may Allah be pleased with her) that she said, "I heard Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) say, 'Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, revealed to me that whosoever takes a route of seeking knowledge, the route to Paradise will be made easy for him, and that I (Allah) will reward the one whose two dear things (that's his eyes) were taken away from him with Paradise" (Al-Baihaqiandauthenticated by Al-Albani).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), addressing all who have illnesses and disabilities, said, "No Muslim is pricked with a thorn, or anything larger than that, except that a hasanah will be recorded for him and a sin will be erased as a reward for that"(Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
There exists in these Prophetic texts andhadith qudsi comfort and glad tidings for everyone with a certain disability; if they exhibit patience at their adversity, being content with the trial Allah has afflicted them with, anticipating the reward from Allah alone for their disability, Allah will recompense their with Paradise.
`Amr ibn Al-Gamouh was a lame man. However he insisted on participating with the Muslims in the battle of Uhud where he was martyred. The prophet passed by his body and said, "As though I could see you walking with this leg of yours, being heard, in Paradise" (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah left Ibn Umm Maktoum twice as his successor in Madinah to lead the prayer, though he was blind (Ahmad).
And it is reported on the authority of `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that Ibn Umm Maktoum was a muezzin of Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) though he was blind (Muslim).
It is narrated via Sa`id ibn Al-Mosayyab (may Allah have mercy on him) that when Muslims would go on their expeditions, they used to leave those among them who were chronically ill, submit the keys of their doors to them, saying, "We have made it lawful for you to partake of our houses' food" (Ar-Razi).
Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad said, "I entered upon Abi Zayd Al-Ansari, who called out the Adhan and Iqamah while he was sitting." He added, "a man advanced and led us in prayer. That man was lame whose leg was hit in the Cause of Allah, the Exalted" (Al-Baihaqi).
Thus was the Prophet's society, a society that was marked by mutual support, cooperation, and unity in consoling, honoring, and respecting those with special needs. For all of this, the course of the merciful Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the role model in dealing with those who have special needs.
Visiting the sick in general, and the disabled in particular, was legislated by Islam for the purpose of relieving their suffering. A disabled person, compared to a sound one, is closer to withdrawal, isolation, a pessimistic view, and psychological illness. So, neglecting the disabled in social occasions, such as visits and marriage, is wrong.
The Prophet used to visit the sick, pray for them and console them, instilling confidence in their souls and covering their hearts and faces with happiness and joy. He could once go to someone in the outskirts of Madinah particularly to answer a simple need of his or hers or to perform salah in the house of an afflicted one, as granting of his or her request.
An example of this was `Etban ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him); he was a blind man from Ansar. He said to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), "I wish that you, O Messenger of Allah, would come and perform salah in my house so that I would take it as a place of prayer." As a reply, the Prophet promised to visit him and perform prayer, so humbly saying, "I will do, if Allah so wills."
`Etban said, "Allah's Messenger and Abu Bakr came early in the morning. Allah's Messenger asked for permission to enter, which I gave." Without sitting, he immediately entered and said, "In which part of your house do you like me to pray?" I pointed to a certain place in the house, so the Messenger of Allah stood and started praying and we, in turn, stood and he lined us in a row. He performed a two-rak`ah prayer, ending it with taslim (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Praying for Them
The mercy of the Prophet of Islam toward people with special needs was so manifest as well when he legislated the supplication for them as a way to encourage them to endure afflictions. He desired to create will and build resolve in their souls.
Once a blind man entered into the presence of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, "Supplicate Allah to cure me." He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, "I shall supplicate if you will, yet it would be better for you if you choose to keep patient." The man asked the Prophet to make du`aa' for him. Then, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered him to perform wudu' well and say the following du`aa': "My Lord, I implore you and turn to you, having your Prophet Muhammad as an intercessor for me, so that my need may be answered. O Lord, make him an intercessor for me and accept his intercession." (At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)
A woman, who would usually have epileptic fits, came to the Prophet and said, "I do have epileptic fits that, as a result, cause parts of my body to be revealed. So, pray to Allah for me."
To this came the reply of the Prophet, "If you will, be patient and Paradise will be your reward. And if you will, I shall supplicate Allah to cure you."
She said, "I choose patience." Then she said, "But parts of my body to be revealed, so pray to Allah that this will not happen." And the Prophet prayed for her. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Prohibition of Mocking Them
"Cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path"(Hadith)
People with special needs, in some societies of Europe, were taken as objects of mockery, amusement, or fun. The handicapped would, therefore, find themselves stuck between two fires: the fire of exclusion and isolation on one hand, and the fire of derision and malicious joy on the other. Accordingly, the society would turn, within itself, into an abode of estrangement, persecution, and separation.
However, Islamic law came to forbid ridiculing all people in general, and the afflicted in particular. Allah the Exalted revealed most evident Quranic verses stressing the prohibition of such an ignorant attribute of pre-Islamic era; these verses read what means:
(O you who believe,let notafolk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), not let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil-doers.) (Al-Hujurat 49:11)
It is also authentically reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Pride is the rejection of the truth and looking down at people" (Muslim). Perhaps the afflicted one is higher in rank in Allah's sight and has a precedence over people in terms of knowledge, jihad, piety, chastity, and good manners. Let alone the general and decisive rule set by the Prophet: "Indeed, Allah has made your blood, your wealth, and your honor forbidden for you, one to another" (Al-Bukhari).
Additionally, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has warned in such a strict manner against misleading the blind away from their path or harming them or making them an object of fun and mockery: "Cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path" (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
This carries a severe threat for those who take the congenital defects as a method of fun, amusement, or derision, and for those who look down at those who are defected. People afflicted with certain defects could be a brother or sister, father or mother, son or daughter, tested by Allah, so that we may take a lesson from their condition and recognize the power of Allah; not for the purpose of making them an object of entertainment and fun.
Breaking Their Isolation
The pre-Islamic society used to boycott people with special needs, isolate them, and prevent them from leading normal lives, such as their right to marriage or even interaction with people.
Before Islam, people of Madinah used to prevent the lame, the blind, and the diseased from sharing food with them, because they deemed them disgusting. On this, Allah the Exalted revealed what means,
(No blame is there upon the blind nor any blame upon the lame nor any blame upon the sick nor on yourselves if you eat from your houses, or the houses of your fathers, or the houses of your mothers, or the houses of your brothers, or the houses of your sisters, or the houses of your fathers' brothers, or the houses of your fathers' sisters, or the houses of your mothers' brothers, or the houses of your mothers' sisters, or (from that) whereof you hold the keys, or (from the house) of a friend.Nosinshall it be for you whether you eat together or apart.Butwhenyou enter houses, salute one another with a greeting from Allah, blessed and sweet.ThusAllah maketh clear His revelations for you, that haply you may understand.) (An-Nur 24:61)
It is indicated here that there is no harm in jointly partaking of food with the sick, the blind, and the lame. They are people just like ourselves, having the same rights as ours. So, Muslims do not boycott, isolate, or forsake them, for the most honorable among Muslims in Allah's sight are the most pious, regardless of anything else. Besides, there is a hadith that reads "Allah looks at neither your appearances nor your wealth; rather, He looks at your hearts and your deeds" (Muslim).
Thus, the Qur'an has been revealed as a mercy for people with special needs, consoling, relieving, and supporting them. It saves them from the most dangerous psychological diseases that may affect them if they happen to suffer from isolation and withdrawal from social life.
Unlike what some societies had done, Islam permitted people with special needs to marry, for they have hearts, emotions, and feelings, just like others. The right to marriage was, therefore, established for them so long as they have the ability needed for that.
They have rights as well as obligations. Muslims did not exploit the weakness of those with special needs; Muslims did not take away their due rights or deny them their rightful property. It is narrated that `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "If any man marries a woman who is insane or leper and touches her (i.e. have intercourse with her), then the whole dower becomes due to her" (Ahmad).
Removing Difficulties and Hardships
Among the forms of mercy toward people with special needs is the fact that Shari`ah takes them into consideration with regard to many of the obligatory rulings, removes the difficulties they might encounter, and makes things easy for them.
On the authority of ZaydibnThabit(may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dictated to him the verse that says what means: (Those of the believers who sit still - are not on an equality with those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives) (An-Nisaa' 4:95).He said, "IbnUmm Maktoumcamewhile the Prophet was dictating it to me to write it down, and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, if I was capable of jihad, I would certainly do;'" he was a blind man. Zayd ibn Thabit further said, "Then, Allah, Almighty and Exalted be He, revealed to His Messenger, (other than those who have a (disabling) hurt)" (An-Nisaa' 4:95). (Al-Bukhari)
Relieving the burdens of people with special needs, Almighty Allah says what means:
(There is no restriction on the blind, nor is there restriction on the lame, nor is there restriction on the sick. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter Gardens from beneath which rivers run; and whoever turns away, He will torment him with a painful torment.)(Al-Fath 48:17)
Thus, Almighty Allah absolved them from the obligation of jihad in the battlefields. They may carry arms and go to battle voluntarily only. An example of this is the story reported by Ibn Hisham of `Amr ibn Al-Gamouh (may Allah be pleased with him) in the battle of Uhud. He was a lame man who had four sons who used to engage alongside the Messenger of Allah in all serious events. When the Day of Uhud drew so nigh, they wanted to keep him back, telling him, "Allah the Glorified and Exalted has excused you!" So he went to the Messenger of Allah and said, "My sons want to prevent me from going out to fight with you. Yet, by Allah, I wish to tread with this crippled leg of mine in Paradise! The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, "As for you, Allah did indeed excuse you, so you are not obligated to engage in jihad." Then the Prophet said to his sons, "Do not keep him back; perhaps Allah will grant him martyrdom." Ibn Hisham went out with the army and fell a martyr on the Day of Uhud (Ibn Hisham).
Nevertheless, the relief enjoyed by the handicapped under the Islamic law is distinguished by balance and moderation. A disabled person should be relieved in proportion to his disability and be obligated according to his ability. Al-Qurtubi says,
Verily, Allah absolved the blind from the duties that necessitate eyesight, the crippled from the duties that involve walking or cannot be done with lameness, and the sick from the duties canceled on account of sickness, such as fasting, the conditions and pillars of salah, and jihad and so forth. (Al-Qurtubi)
The blind and the insane are examples of this; the former is charged with all the Shari`ah obligations except for certain duties such as jihad. As for the latter, Allah Almighty has absolved them from all obligations. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made it clear that three types of people are not accountable: "a sleeping person till he wakes up, a child till he grows up, and an insane person till he turns sane" (Ibn Majah).
A madman shall not be punished in any way, no matter what mistakes he may make or crimes he may commit.
Thus was the approach of the Prophet in dealing with people with special needs at a time the rights of those people were not recognized whatsoever by any people or regime. So, the Islamic law came and defined the comprehensive and perfect care for people with special needs. It has put them on a good place within the priorities of the Muslim society. It has legislated the forgiveness of the fool and ignorant among them. It has honored their afflicted ones, especially those who have certain talents, useful crafts, or successful experiences. It has also encouraged visiting and praying for them. It has prohibited ridiculing them. It breaks their isolation and boycott, lightens the rules for them and absolves them from their obligations. Excellent indeed is the law of Islam and its Prophet!
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Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut is an Egyptian preacher and researcher. He prepares and presents programs on the Egyptian TV and other Arab satellite channels. He is a member of the Afro-Asian Writers' Association.