Marriage is an issue of great concern for many Arabs and almost an essential aspect of their life but marriage for a person living with disability represents a totally different concept.
As a woman born with physical disability, I felt there is a need to address certain points concerning the matter of marriage.
The main point that I feel should be addressed or made clear; is the difference between the teachings of Islam and the inherited cultural ideas and tradition. It is important to recognise every individual in their own right, who whether they have a partner or not, will be questioned about their actions on their own on the Day of Judgement.
Marriage undoubtedly is a blessing, like anything that comes from Allah (SWT) such as wealth, health, children, job and so on. Many people dream of it happening, but not everyone, and some people go on to have a long and happy married life while others fail.
I have met people who left me with the notion that the Muslim world regards marriage as an essential element of one’s existence. However there are prerequisites including equality between the partners in physical ability/health, hence disabled people are excluded to a certain extent.
Marriage, like any other aspect of life, is an ‘option’ and should not define your personality or how religious you are. We should not support this cultural teaching by attaching an Islamic tone to it, instead we must seek to change attitudes, educate people about disability and raise awareness of what life with disability entails. After all, Islam is a religion that promotes knowledge, education and equality.
It is important to learn from historical facts to understand our present and develop our future, specifically where disability is concerned. During the high centuries of the Islamic civilisation a significant number of blind, deaf or physically disabled people played notable roles as philologists, transmitters of the law, teachers, poets, and social commentators. They included Abu’l Ala al-Ma’arri, Abu Uthman Amr bin Bahr (Al-Jahiz), Bashshar ibn Burd, Ibn-Sirin, Qatada ibn Di’ama al-Sadusi, Muwaffaq al-Din Muzaffar, and Thalab, and all were important contributors to our modern civilisation.
Atta Ibn Abi Rabah, who was black, could not fully walk and was partially paralysed, was known as the greatest Mufti in Mecca. Inclusion was offered to everyone regardless of their physical ability.
Later, at the Ottoman court in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, deaf servants taught sign language to courtiers and sultans when it became a recognized means of communication; this was during a period when Western Europeans were still debating whether deaf people were capable of learning anything or thinking as rational beings.
How did things change so dramatically within the years, and why does the idea of marriage for someone with disability cause more of a problem in an Islamic society than in the non-Muslim world?
I have grown up repeatedly hearing: ‘getting married is completing half of the deen (religion)’. I can’t verify the authenticity of this Hadith, however hearing this Hadith made me feel I am lacking half of my faith, because essentially that is the meaning behind it. Surely whatever comes from Allah is a blessing, and if it is not written for you then that should not reflect your devotion to Islam; simply it means Allah does not see it as beneficial for you.
Marriage is inherently a protective ‘tool’ that stops people from pursuing sexual desires outside of wedlock; committing a big sin in Islam. Muslims are encouraged to marry in many ayat in the Quran, yet simultaneously there are ayat that warn people about marriage, their partner and of their children. ‘O you who believe! Verily, among your spouses and your children there are enemies for you; therefore beware of them’ (64:13).
I come from a family that does not see marriage as a necessity. In fact, I was brought up with aunts who have stayed single out of choice. I never viewed marriage as an essential element of life or a ‘dream’ that is out of reach.
Seeing many single and independent women around me erased any thought of being either different or deprived of an opportunity because marriage is not for everyone whether you are disabled or not. Marriage, like any feature of this life, is a test, similar to staying single. The action of each individual is what really matters and plays the decisive role in marriage being a completion of ‘half the deen’ or a source of danger as the Qur’an warns: ‘Your wealth and your children are only a fitnah, whereas Allah! With Him is a great reward’ (64:14)
We can seek wealth, jobs, marriage or any other opportunities but we shall only get what Allah has planned for us. A believer should follow their heart and let it be their guide, as we can never judge and should not judge who is good or bad, simply because we will never know. It is logical to choose someone who has a similar way of thinking, personality and beliefs to ourselves. Again, the Qur’an does not state that we should marry people who are same as us; in fact it encourages us to mix with people of different social status. While it does not mention specifically people with disability but the idea still prevails, wealth, ability, appearance should not be the basis of our marriage choices, ‘They may marry the righteous among your male and female servants, if they are poor. GOD will enrich them from His grace. GOD is Bounteous, Knower.’ (24:32) It is society that dictates rules and unfortunately invokes the feeling of superiority in individuals, who view themselves as ‘better’ than some. The Muslim world almost punishes people who are ‘different’; an act that goes against the principle teachings of Islam and certain individuals seem to almost condone and accept such attitudes, whereas we should reject and change it, through education.
I often hear people claiming to be following the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) yet they are very selective as they forget that the Prophet married someone older than him, who was richer than him and had married before. In our current time and among our society this is rarely seen.
The Prophet’s behaviour towards disabled people is an example for us to follow, as well as the shinning record of Islamic history’s many examples of people who, while having some kind of disability, were included and had prominent status in society.
Such as the figure of Abdullah ibn umm Maktum, who was blind and was among the first to accept Islam and was devoted to the Prophet (PBUH). Abdullah was appointed to be one of the muezzins. On several occasions, the Prophet placed Abdullah in charge of Medina in his absence. This is just one example of inclusion that shows how people with disabilities are looked upon and treated in Islam. Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum’s being blind was not a hindrance in his ability to carry out his duties.
There are many cases of people getting married to a person of similar background and ability then go on to suffer from domestic violence and abuse, surely in such scenario staying single is a better option. Choosing someone similar to you does not guarantee happiness. Furthermore, to suggest that the best and practical way of introducing marriage to people with disability is for the ‘deaf to marry deaf and blind to marry blind because it would be difficult for a deaf to communicate with non-deaf person’ is just something that I can’t accept. If you love someone surely learning sign language should not be an issue? In fact you would do anything to enter their world.
As I write this article I am trying hard to think what would be my ideal husband, something I have never thought about before. I could not. No matter how hard I tried to envisage a figure, I am unable. May be I shall find my soul mate with someone disabled and may be not, but I will not let it be a factor in my judgement.
I do recognise that tradition and culture make marriage, for disabled people, a difficult concept because of misled assumptions that a disabled person might not bear children and if they do the child might be disabled, forgetting that everything in life is a risk, who is to say that a person will bear a healthy child?
Another ‘cultural’ idea is; marriage relies on a provider and someone who takes care of the house etc. So people assume that whatever role you take, a disabled person might be limited in both. In marriage, people complete each other, who’s to say a disabled and a non-disabled person don’t complete each other. Where one may be strong physically the other is emotionally/mentally strong. Society needs to be taught to look beyond appearance and accept people who are of different ability.
The Prophet (PBUH) met a woman who complained that she suffered from epileptic fits. She expressed concern that her body would become exposed during such episodes. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) offered the woman two choices: he could either pray to God that she could have access to paradise if she patiently resigned herself to her condition, or he could ask God to heal her. She opted to continue to bear her condition with patience but also asked the Prophet to pray that her body might no longer become exposed to the view of strangers.
This story highlights three important points; first, it illustrates the value of forbearance on the part of the person with the disability. More importantly, it affirms the right of individuals to draw attention to their special needs and to speak out for their rights as a matter of social justice. Finally, the story points to the important role of advocacy and the support which the wider community is expected to provide to the individual.
We need to move away from cultural habits and views, leave prejudice and discrimination behind and focus on our own individual acts and collectively as a society to make the world better. Ultimately reflecting on some of Islam’s teaching in seeking knowledge, promoting equality and showing compassion. ‘Men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember – Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (Quran surah al’ahzab 33:35) This is what matters, what we do with the life we are given.
Education is the key that made Islamic civilisation one of the greatest but unfortunately it has fallen prey to prejudice, cultural and traditional teachings and misguided views. If every person should marry someone of similar situation then we should go back a few decades to the days of racial segregation! Where is the co-existence? Is this equality?