To start with, the hashtag for this post is inspired by the #MyDisabledRamadan series by Masjid Al Rabia
I don’t have a lot of spoons today but I do have a lot of anger & sadness & “I’ve had enough” feelings today so this is gonna be a sort of an expanded listicle rather than a coherent essay/article about things I’ve heard from my parents & other Muslims over the years about illness & disability that have really rubbed me the wrong way / what I understood out of it was really not what the abled person saying it to me or writing it in a book apparently meant given they didn’t have first hand experience of being in these situations
“Allah does not burden you more than you can bear” [Tw: this is the section with suicidal ideation discussion]
I’ll start with the one I’ve heard a lot from family before I put a stop to it. It’s also one that seems to be common in the Muslim community & also some other religious communities. It sounds nice to abled ppl apparently because I think to them it means “you’re strong. you can handle this.”
Except when my parents were in the habit of saying this to me my main health issues were psychiatric & I was sobbing about being really sick & in the throes of suicidal ideation. When they said this to me my brain translated it as “this is not rock bottom. Since you haven’t killed yourself yet or even made active plans to kill yourself, you have obviously borne it & therefore you could bear it which means the worst is yet to come”. Which decidedly did not make me feel better like my parents thought it would.
I’m feeling better mood wise these days but my physical health is the absolute worst it’s ever been so I’m getting into passive suicidal ideation mode again. & by 2022 enough ppl have written about the emptiness of praising ppl’s resilience that I don’t have to repeat it here. But needless to say this particular phrase still does not make me feel better.
Which leads me to the next concept one hears a lot in the Muslim community…
“Illness is not a punishment from Allah. It is a test.”
The quintessential example shared of this concept is the story of Prophet Ayub AS [aka Job].
On its surface it’s supposed to make ppl feel better when you’re like “why me?? what have I done to deserve this?”
So fine you’re not being punished for past misdeeds. You’re being tested. Now generally as religious tests go, you’re supposed to learn something through the process of being tested. Except my problem is either I’m failing badly because my health issues haven’t made me more prayerful or I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to learn.
From what I recall of Prophet Ayub’s AS story, he’s super patient through his ordeal even though his family abandons him etc & he stays faithful & prayerful. Except that in my case prayer itself has been a big challenge with my specific health issues. & maybe I am a bad faithless person too. & also Prophet Ayub’s AS story makes me think of the social model of disability. Like no one ever discusses the abandonment by his family when that is still a common experience for disabled ppl. & it doesn’t have to be literally leaving but denial of appropriate & available medical care etc.
Ofc my “excuse” when my family bring this story up is often “but he was a prophet” & though I do sometimes say Prophet Ayub’s AS prayer for health, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing but the main thing when that story is referenced or when I’m told this is all a test is guilt that I’m a bad person. None of it makes me feel better like nondisabled ppl think it will.
“Fever burns sins like a fire burns wood”
That’s a paraphrasing of a Hadith/saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH that’s often told to ppl who are ill to supposedly make you feel better about being ill. It’s also taken to mean not just fever but illness in general.
& like tbh at this point, my sin balance is maybe negative if we’re going by that Hadith.
But also this is at an interesting angle with the first item re illness not being a punishment. It’s still supposed to be a positive thing like you’re not being punished, it’s actually a blessing to be sick because then your sins go down. Except that you still physically suffer so it’s hard not to see this as putting a nice spin on punishment. As in you get punished now instead of later in hell.
& also in Muslim theology children are sinless…you accumulate no sins till puberty when you’re supposed to be old enough to understand the concept of right & wrong…so I really don’t see how this fever burning sins thing works for children…does it just give you a negative balance to start puberty with? What about if a sick child dies? Or it’s a lifelong illness starting in childhood, just an ever growing negative sin balance?
What I wish for
I don’t have answers
I haven’t worked out what these concepts mean for me or if I’m even buying them. Hadith are notoriously of unreliable authenticity. The Quran has a bunch of interpretations. To my knowledge, disability justice has not been a common lens through which the Quran has been analyzed or understood.
In fact one of the reasons I avoid reading the Quran as a regular practice / an ongoing conversation [except specific passages] is because of the common usage of ableist language such as using deaf and blind as synonyms for willful ignorance. & conceptually I know this is similar to issues I’ve had in the past re patriarchal stuff in the Quran. But there is so much Islamic feminist scholarship out there that approaches the Quran from a gender justice lens that I have lots to read and think about with a community of ppl. But I also see these same scholars both use ableist & sanist concepts in their books & their social media. I’ve even had to deal with ableism from folks doing “liberation theology” workshops in the Muslim community. & ofc during the pandemic many Muslim social justice oriented folks have been extremely ableist in terms of willfully ignoring COVID precautions & putting the lives of disabled Muslims and others in danger.
I know disabled Muslims with similar concerns like mine exist thanks to efforts like #MyDisabledRamadan but there’s not a robust community I’ve been able to find to regularly tap into or scholarship to read especially during time periods when socializing itself isn’t accessible in most forms even online
The more well known disabled Muslim orgs I’m aware of often espouse more mainstream [read patriarchal] flavours of Islam & in many cases euphemistic approaches to disability.
My wish is for a radical disability justice lens based religious scholarship & a disabled Muslim community to tap into
Now if I only had spoons to help make this happen directly.