Health and disability need to be high on the agenda for British Muslim communities, and services which support them
Over the past year or so, it has been shocking to find that some young British Muslims are so disaffected and disconnected from the rest of us that they are willing to die and kill others in order to change things. For an old-fashioned liberal like me, the fact that this took so many of us by surprise gives us a clue to the nature of the problem – collectively, the majority of us know relatively little about our Islamic compatriots; their experiences of daily life or their attitudes.
And when the gutter press – no friend of disabled people unless it can provide a sensational headline – attempt to demonise a whole religion by claiming that Muslims are anti-guide dog, and that the Muslim faith is intrinsically ableist (or should that be disableist?), we have a responsibility to find out more of the facts.
For example, the truth about the Muslim approach to guide dogs, from the Shiariat Council, is that assistance dogs can accompany disabled people into restaurants and taxis run by Muslims. Lord Ahmed, Muslim spokesperson in the House of Lords, stated: “Islam is a religion that cares for people. Although it is not encouraged to keep a dog in the houseÉ such a dog should not be stopped from entering with a blind person.”
My understanding of the Islamic approach to disability is that it brings no shame on the individual or the family, but rather provides another kind of challenge which can be met successfully with one’s faith. This has to be a good thing, because health and disability need to be high on the agenda for British Muslim communities, and services which support them.
The 2001 census revealed that a high proportion of Muslims – in comparison with the general population – were living with long-term illnesses or disabilities: roughly a quarter of Muslim women, and a fifth of Muslim men were reported to have a limiting long-term illness or disability. This is the highest figure for any group defined by religion in the UK. So what are we doing about it?