Story by Jessica Folker
From calls to prayer... to reciting scripture... to church hymns... much of religious practice is centered around sound and the spoken word.
But people who can't hear may feel cut off from fully accessing their religious communities.
One organization is trying to make it easier for Deaf members of the Twin Cities' growing Muslim community to participate in religious activities. Global Deaf Muslim was started in Rochester, NY, in 2005 to work for the inclusion and awareness of Deaf Muslim issues. The Minnesota chapter of the organization has been active since ….
Minnesota chapter executive director Izedin Mohamed recalls what it was like trying to learn about Islam as a Deaf child in East Africa. I should note that I interviewed Izedin with the help of a video interpreting service, which we weren't able to record, so while these are his words, the voice is that of KFAI volunteer Mike Fischbein:
I was actually born as a hearing person. I had my hearing when I was born. I became deaf at the age of six. So I had the opportunity to learn the Quran by lip reading growing up in East Africa. And I was able to read the Quran, and I could understand the words, but not necessarily the meaning behind them.
Later, when I went to college, they had better translations of the Quran available, and I could understand more of it. And on Fridays I began attending a mosque, but trying to follow the services was very difficult. And that's part of what produced the idea of putting interpreters in place in services in mosques, and it made a world of difference.
One of Global Deaf Muslim Minnesota's main initiatives has been to provide American Sign Language interpreters at a local mosque—Masjid an-Nur, on Minneapolis's north side. While many area mosques conduct services in Arabic, Somali, and other languages, Masjid an-Nur offers services in English, making it easier to find interpreters who are able to work in the language of worship and ASL.
Izedin says having interpreters in the mosque also helps the hearing Muslim community become familiar with Deaf issues:
When there's an interpreter there, the hearing Muslim community also becomes more aware that Deaf people can be faithful and practicing Muslims, as long as they have access to a language that they can understand.
Better awareness of Deaf people and how they communicate also helps Global Deaf Muslim to coordinate with other local Muslim organizations. Izedin says attempts to collaborate with other groups are sometimes hindered because people aren't familiar with services, like the video relay service, that Deaf people use to communicate with hearing people.
Often, when we try to contact other Muslim organizations by phone through the relay service, those other mosques or organizations are not experienced or familiar with the relay service. They don't understand what it means, and they sometimes hang up. So sometimes it's challenging to contact or reach out to the hearing Muslim orgs and mosques and make them aware of who we are and how we communicate.
Izedin is also working with Global Deaf Muslim at the national level on a project to create a sign language version of the Quran. He says it's a long term project, expected to take 5-10 years to complete, but the goal is to produce a video featuring an American Sign Language interpretation of the Quran with captions. An ASL version of the Quran could be used by Muslims who lack the reading skills needed to understand the written Quran.
Deaf Muslims who have the education and language skills to take on this project, we get together and we meet about the vocabulary, and we brainstorm how to translate from one language in to the other. And we also consult with hearing scholars of the Quran and we include them in our process to make the translation as accurate and meaningful as possible. And the Quran been translated into many diff languages, and so we're following the same process that other languages have followed to create translations.
Deaf Muslims of all ages and cultural backgrounds are encouraged to seek out the resources and classes--including ASL and driver's education and access to interpreters—that are available through the organization. Izedin says deaf children can have an especially difficult time accessing religious services and classes, so the organization tries to reach out to parents and family of deaf children.
On Sundays and Saturdays, hearing Muslim children go to religious school, but Deaf Muslim children have not been able to participate in those schools, and that's not fair. Everyone should have the right to equal access to their God.
One thing I want to emphasize is that they don't need to be afraid of our organization. Some parents, I mean, all parents really, worry a lot about what's the best thing for their children. We have classes for hearing parents to teach them American Sign Language if they need that to communicate with their deaf children. They don't need to be afraid to approach us and ask us for our resources and support. A.S.L. is a beautiful language and can be a great value to their family.