The World Federation of the Deaf is holding its 16th international conference in Durban (South Africa) on July 18-24.

According to some estimates, there are 70 million deaf people in the world. The great majority of them are considered mentally retarded and socially outcasts. Only 20% of them have access to education and their opportunities in political and military fields are very limited. Even some religions are not tolerant toward deaf people.

According to The Jewish Week (July 5, 2011) – Jewish Talmud considers deaf Jews as ‘mentally retarded’ and thus exempted from religious obligations.

“According to Jewish law, the deaf could not be counted in a minyan nor could they serve as ritual slaughterers. They weren’t allowed to purchase real estate nor could they testify in court. On the other hand, if a deaf man’s ox accidentally gored someone, he wasn’t responsible for the damages. And a hearing-impaired person would be less likely to be cursed: Damning the deaf is forbidden in Leviticus, which is hardly a square deal considering the intolerance,” wrote Eddy Portnoy.

Both Christianity and the New Testament have negative opinion about deaf people. In Christianity, deafness is portrayed as an indication that deaf person is possessed by a demonic evil being (Van Cleve & Crouch 1989). Within Christianity, deafness is used as vehicle to help prove the supernatural powers of Jesus. St. Paul is quoted as saying: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”.

Holy Qur’an, though, uses ‘deafness’ as mental stubbornness in accepting Allah’s message, it however, doesn’t exempt healthy deaf Muslims from religious obligations (prayer, zakat, fasting, hajj and jihad). Arabs during the Prophet’s (pbuh) time knew the sign language. The Prophet (pbuh), is reported to understand a few ‘hand gestures’.

Some Islamic scholars have defined disability as “a state of failure to produce and perform what a normal person can produce or perform, or failure to control actions or behaviour in a way that a normal person can, and thus to differ from those who constitute the normal categories of society“. The best example to explain it would be Muslim General Khalid bin Walid’s response to Islam’s first Caliph Abu Bakr: “I have promised them to give financial support to the elderly who can no longer work, to those who have suffered disability and to those who were rich and have become poor; I have exempted these from paying taxes, and they will be paid from the treasury,” (Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-kharaj).

Muzaffar ad-Din (1154-1233), known as Kukuburi, ruler of Arbela (Iraq) from 1191. Kukuburi built four asylums for the blind and deaf. These were always full, with all things requisite for their wants. Every Monday and Thursday Kukuburi visited these establishments and entered into all the chambers, giving gifts, asking how people were, conversing affably with the inmates and jesting with them so as to soothe their hearts.

The deaf (‘mute’) held several important posts under Ottoman empire. Their sign-language became popular, so much so, that successive Sultans were able to communicate with their ‘mute’ advisers and servants. “The Ottoman court had 200 mutes at a time when deaf education and employment was barely considered feasible in Western Europe,” wrote Miles.

In 2010, a group of deaf Muslims performed exclusive Umrah (pilgrimage to sacred cities of Makkah and Medinnah). Recently, British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSL) produced a 24 minute film Deaf Sisterhood. The film is based on the experience of Aran, a teacher for the deaf from Birmingham (UK) and her journey to Islam. It’s estimated that 5,200 British convert to Islam each year and over 60% of them are women. (watch trailer at the bottom).

Deaf: ‘The Silent ones’ | Rehmat's World