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While planting my annuals in the flower pots last week, I had a eureka moment. Some of the plants had dried out because I could not give them the attention they required, I regret, but the business had been such during the week that it took most of my attention, energy and time: I was busy with the Staff Appreciation Committee during the Teacher’s Week.
I felt guilty but at the same time, I saw a ray of hope buried deep within those plants as I dug them out of their homely flowerpots. Their roots were still alive, hence, the ray of hope taught me that if I trimmed and planted them with care, they could survive, with the will of Allah. So, I trimmed the dried ones and planted their roots in wet and fertilized soil. I did my job, prayed for their survival and left it to nature to run her course.
Today I went to look at them and to my utter glee and amazement, they have small baby leaves sprouting out of them. If I would have tossed those plants away, giving away their chance of survival to a whimsical judgment of them being in a hopeless situation, I would not have given them the chance to grow and bloom.
Similarly, when we point out and shut down our relationships with the families with special needs member, we are taking away their opportunity to show us what they can really achieve and how well they can make their identity.
Stigma has been a struggle for the families of people with special needs. And sadly, many of us do not understand what Stigma really means and how it affects people. To get things straight, Stigma is a combination of unfair beliefs and attitudes we have about something, as a society or family. Unfortunately, that also envelopes the most innocent and sensitive matter within the social structure – special needs families.
Outsiders and relatives can sometimes say words and show disgrace through their actions, that hurt not only the families but also the person with special needs. Being the mother of a child with down syndrome, I have seen enough stigma to say that it hurts and it hurts the heart and soul.
We feel sad and get hurt because words that fall on us are not only hurtful but they are for our children, whom we have given birth and love unconditionally. Parents and caregivers love them the same way as their other kids. For them, there is no difference between a child with or without special needs. To tell you the truth, the siblings, younger or older, are more sensitive, mature, and understanding to their special needs brother or sister.
When people tell me to keep Eman (my youngest) with me so that my eldest daughter can have fun with activities and other kids – I take it offensively. My eldest one initiates helping her sister when she sees that she is unable to do something on her own. It is because we have developed a system at home to give Eman the confidence, we are there for her anytime she needs us. And as parents we have given confidence to all kids, we are here for you, no matter what!
I will exit a door never to return if a person would say, “You should stay with Eman so that Fajar has fun on her own. She was helping Eman too.” First of all, I am proud of my both daughters that they can work out things when I am not there. Secondly, like the other smart people, they should be telling me, “You have wonderful daughters, they worked together perfectly!”
This is only one example of society stigma, which by the way is just a minor one. Imagine what the major ones would be. I can give you numerous examples I have gone through in just seven years. To tell you the truth, I don’t care but it still hurts every time in disappointment. Another minor one is that when people fail to show the suitable gesture to a person with special needs, especially a child. I mean – as an adult I think we all enough intelligent to observe the situation and payback the same innocent greeting we are bestowed upon.
A child with special needs approaches you, greets you and tries to give you a hug. And you cannot even share a smile or properly hug that child. You have no idea how much that child feels uncomfortable and disappointed at being told off. And being a parent, I am not only annoyed and hurt to see that disappointment and rejection on my child’s face – I will be distant from you.
My child matters the most! Trust me, parents and siblings do not use their members with special needs to get closer to you. We can live without a social life – an insensitive social life – to keep them away from being hurt or rejected heartlessly.
Now, you would be wondering what could be the highest forms of Social Stigma? Well, to say it at the simplest: Telling the parents to keep their kids with special needs at home, because they are different. Now, we try to give people all the benefit of the doubt we can – believe it or not! Sometimes, it is more than enough! If you don’t have anything supportive, worth mentioning, why not just keep quiet? Mind your business! Who asked you to show concern about a person, you have nothing to say helpful about?
Another major stigma is to force parents and families to give their kids with special needs into adoption or care centers just for that purpose. Why? Why would one say that? The parents, who are already in the state of shock or fear of unknown – this is an insulting attempt. Every child or person with special needs is different from one another just like we all have differences.
I have no clue why someone would compare the special needs person on their feet with the one in a wheelchair. No one has the idea how much the person standing on feet struggles in daily life.
There is no cure to special needs. Just once if everyone acknowledges and educates further to other people – what a positive difference it can make. They are innocent and pure from the beginning to the end! We are not. This is a comparison – a better one I guess. Being Muslims, we should be more merciful and humble towards such beautiful people. We have become the people of just talk and not walk the talk. We give suggestions, put up fatwas, advise unwantedly, but ourselves have not seen the light.
Our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) showed patience with the needs of those with special needs. Once a woman with a mental disability came to him (Peace be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! I have a need that I want you to meet.” He responded, “O Mother of so and so, choose the way you like to walk in so that I may know your need and fulfill it.” He walked with her on the same route until she had her need to be fulfilled. (Muslim)
In one of his talks, Sheikh Omar Suleiman said – Allah (Subhan wa ta’ Allah) and His angels are present with those who are sick and those with special needs. So when you are spending time with them, helping them, or managing the special needs, it is as if you are spending time with Allah and His angels. You get the reward every single day. They are the people of Jannah!
Who among us would not want to do that? These special people will enter Jannah without accountability – their families have people of Jannah in their homes… They can intercede for anyone on the day of judgment to be entered in Jannah, by the permission of Allah. You tell me why would we say and do these unkind things to their families? We have to educate ourselves. We need better understanding and compassion for them.
I am not as learned in religion as might be many of you, but I have felt one thing every single day – I might be the reason for my other kids to enter Jannah as a mother but for myself, Eman is key to my Jannah! My Jannah happens to be under her feet!