How to deal with people who have invisible disabilities?
In Islam, we know that disabled people are among those who should be visited and shown care. Unfortunately, in many communities, we have a limited understanding of who is disabled, what disability really means and looks like. And we also don’t know who deserves our care. This is because many cases are what are known as ‘invisible disabilities’.
What are invisible disabilities?
They include neurodiversity, mental illness, physical illnesses, and chronic pain that may not be readily evident to others.
For the purpose of this article, we will now focus on chronic pain and illness conditions.
Most people recognize disability if they see a mobility aid, such as a cane, crutches, wheelchair, etc. Even in these cases, it is common for misconceptions about disability to impact how people are related to. For example, there is an assumption that disability must be related to an injury or can be only happened to the elderly.
You cannot see all disabilities
There are many reasons by which a younger person can be disabled. Their disability may not include using a mobility aid. Some Injuries can have life-long impacts, causing pain and physical injury that never completely heals.
For example, Arthritis is not an old-age disease but can impact people of any age. There are also chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and multiple sclerosis that others will not easily recognize.
Many conditions that cause pain come with other side effects, such as fatigue, memory loss, digestive issues, and vision difficulties. These symptoms can vary from day-to-day.
Disability is not something that we can always see or we should be judging.
The Prophet (SAW) exhibited excellent manners and care towards everyone, including many companions who had various types of disabilities.
Here are some things that Muslims with invisible disabilities wish fellow Muslims would consider:
1. No Pity
We do not want pity. Just like you do not always worry about your problems, we do not always feel bad about our condition. But if you pity us, that makes us feel bad!
We are not broken or burdens. We may need some help to do some things or need to use mobility aids or have other accommodations. However, we are not helpless or incapable of doing many other things for ourselves.
2. Toxic Positivity
We may or may not be suffering, but it is hurtful to be told our illness is a test from Allah and to be positive all the time.
In some cases, disability isn’t even our struggle. The problem is the ways our community does not make space for us, allowing us to exist just as we are.
In other cases, we may be also dealing with really unpleasant symptoms. And all the positive thinking isn’t going to change that we are ill or in pain. Our Lord did not create us this way as a punishment, nor as a lesson, to you or to us.
3. Being Part of the Community
We deserve to be a part of the community.
We are also a valid part of the community. Muslims with disabilities should not be hidden away or neglected by their siblings. We have the right to engage in the mosque, to pray in communal prayers, to work, to marry, etc.
We are not also inspirations for doing these things that you may take for granted.
4. It’s Real Suffering
We are not trying to get attention or stealing resources. Sadly people often ask a lot about our conditions that are not anyone else’s business. And hurtfully this is done in an effort to decide if our pain or illness is legitimate. In particular, this usually happens a lot with younger disabled people. Such as when they try to sit in a chair to pray at the mosque.
Our medical conditions are no one’s business. And we are in no way benefiting on the backs of our community by being open about our needs.
5. No Advice
We are enough informed about our condition and do not need your advice.
Everyone thinks that they know the cure for what is ailing us. This attitude is not helpful at all and can be quite insulting. If you are not part of our medical team, we did not ask for your treatment advice.
And while we appreciate dua for our overall well-being, many of us are not looking to be cured nor do we want excessive attention paid to us just because we are different in ways that you do not understand.