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Nashiru Abdulai: The needs of deaf Muslims

The president of the Global Deaf Muslim organisation discusses the main challenges facing the hearing impaired.

Last updated: 25 Jan 2014 09:33
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There are 70 million deaf people around the world. And many of them lack basic assistance, in places like hospitals and schools, and even in religious communities.

Nashiru Abdulai, who was born in Ghana and lives in the United States, became deaf as a child because of an illness.

As a Muslim, he says his needs were often not understood, especially in the Muslim world. So he became an activist. And now Abdulai is the president of the Global Deaf Muslim organisation (GDM).

Deaf Muslims have not yet had the chance to learn about Islam; we have a lot of catching up to do.

Nashiru Abdulai, the president of the Global Deaf Muslim 

For deaf Muslims, accessing Islamic information still remains a challenge, Abdulai says. So the GDM was established in 2005 aiming to address the rights and needs of this community.

"[At a mosque] everything will happen in spoken language. Obviously a deaf Muslim won't know what is happening around them. They may ask themselves 'who do I turn to?', 'who supports my cause?'. This is where an organisation for deaf Muslims is necessary," he says.

"When a group finally does have an organisation representing their specific needs, it becomes an inspiration for that community."

Abdulai says many deaf people grow up with ideas about Islam based on information passed from one family member to another, and these explanations are often riddle with cultural bias or misinformation.

He says that although many people believe reading the Quran in their native language is sufficient for deaf Muslims to understand the religion, the concepts are sometimes not clear enough for a full understanding. 

Abdulai feels that because deaf people have a visual language, and acquire meaning by seeing, it makes more sense to show them pictures that explain things in a visual language.

The GDM's goal is to be able to screen out cultural misinformation, and to make sure the correct meanings of concepts are understood, he says. The lack of accessible materials and support were identified by the GDM as a growing problem that the organisation needs to address.

"Deaf Muslims have not yet had the chance to learn about Islam; we have a lot of catching up to do," Abdulai says.

So are Muslim societies actively excluding their deaf members, or is this simply about a lack of awareness surrounding the needs of this community? Why is this happening? And what solutions can be implemented?

In this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera , Sami Zeidan speaks to Nashiru Abdulai, the president of the Global Deaf Muslim organisation, about religion, inclusiveness, and the challenges facing deaf Muslims today. 

Talk to Al Jazeera  can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430; Sunday: 0830, 1930; and Monday: 1430.  

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