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Blindness in Islam
Paper Presented in CEC Conference 2004 - New Orleans, Louisiana

Abdulelah Almusa
Special Education Department
King Saud University
Dr. Kay Ferrell
Division of Exceptionalities and Bilingual/ESL Education
University of Northern Colorado

Blindness In Islam

The word blindness in Arabic has always been related to creativity. This paper describes
how Islam relates to blind people and the changes that occurred when Prophet
Muhammed was sent to the Arabian Peninsula, bringing justice and equality for all. The
author contends that Islam supports the participation of people with disabilities in society
socially, economically, and politically and protects the rights of all people with
disabilities, including those who are blind.

Blindness In Islam

Islam is the religion and the way of life of about one-fifth of the worlds
population. Its people, who are called Muslims, believe that Islam is Allahs (Gods) final
message to humankind, that Muhammad is His last Prophet, and that the Qur'an are His
words (Atabek, 2004, Copeland, 2002,). The main Muslim belief is that there is only one
Allah, unique, incomparable, eternal, absolute and without peer or associate. Other
important tenets of Islam are that Allah is the Creator of all that exists, and His will is
supreme (Yahya, 2003). According to Khurshid (1999), the Arabic word Islam means
submission to the will of Allah and the peace one finds through submission to Allahs
Islam is not an individualistic faith; rather, it is a faith community, or a nation, in
which everybody interacts with everybody else and everybody has a place. Therefore,
everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability (Fahmy, 1998).
Islam has called for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including people who
are blind, for more than fourteen centuries (Fahmy, 1998). This call was not limited only
to people with disabilities, but also included people with illnesses in general. Today, any
person with an illness or disability knows that his or her rights are protected under the
name of Islam.

Blindness In Islam
Musse stated that Islam views disability as morally neutral. It is neither a
blessing nor a curse ( p, 3). Clearly, disability is therefore accepted as an inevitable part
of the human condition. It is simply a fact of life, which has to be addressed appropriately
by the society of the day. One of the fundamentals propositions of Islam is to respect all
human life and to value the potential of every individual. Therefore, the Muslim
community as a whole is enjoined to accept all people, regardless of ability or disability.
As Muslims, we are required to support people with disabilities and to address their
needs. According to the interpretation of the Holy Quran:
Allahs Message is a universal Message, from which no one is to be excluded,
rich or poor, old or young, great or lowly, learned or ignorant. If anyone had the
spiritual craving that needed satisfaction, he was to be given precedence if there
was to be any question of precedence at all. (p. 1898)
According to the Holy Quran, the word blindness has two meanings: first, losing
vision and inability to see as physically blind; and second, the loss of the mind, as in
ignorance, or when a person has a blind heart. Ibn Alkaim (1998) stated that the word
blind in the Arabic dictionary is defined as (a) losing vision, (b) inability to see, (c)
sightless, and (d) objects that are hidden from view. According to Ibn Mandhoor (1986)
in his book Lisan Ul-Arab (a famous Arabic dictionary), Arabs use the verb blind amiya
to refer to not seeing, or not being able to see. He mentioned that in the Holy Quran, the
passive voice of the verb blind amiya was used in at least nine verses to refer to the
inability to see in terms of the spiritual guidance. However, only three times the word
blind ama was used to refer to a person who has lost his or her eyesight.

Blindness In Islam
People who are blind are believed to sense beauty through touch, and they can
love. Love can be felt and expressed through three ways: vision, mind, and spirit or heart.
If we take away the vision part (33%), one-third of the feeling is lost, but the majority of
love is still present sometimes ordinary people do not have that much (The Holy
Quran). Ibn Alkaim (1998) and Al-Jibaly (2003) both stated that the heart can be blind
when people physically see things, but they have no interpretation of what they saw. Also
they indicated that the heart can be deaf when people hear sounds, but they cannot
distinguish among them.
In the Holy Quran, Allah says, It is no fault in the blind, nor in one born lame,
nor in one afflicted with illness, Nor in yourselves, that ye should eat in your own houses,
or those of your fathers, or your mothers (Verse 61, Surah 24). Qutub (1980) and Ibn
Katheer (1971) stated that after these verses were revealed to Prophet Muhammed,
Muslims started to take the blind, the lame, and the ill who are poor to eat and socialize
with them in their own houses. As a result, individuals with disabilities or illnesses would
not be isolated from society, but rather would live life as normal as possible.
The major purpose of this paper is to describe how Islam approaches blind people
with justice, equality, independence, and full membership in society. Islam opens up
doors for the blind, which helps their voices to be heard and helps them to participate
socially, economically, and politically in their communities. Hopefully, this paper will
also help increase understanding between the two cultures, Arabic and American, in terms
of their attitudes toward people with disabilities, and especially among educators who
teach blind people. While many attitudes and philosophies towards persons with

Blindness In Islam
disabilities are shared by both cultures, some aspects of Islam beliefs may be unknown to
an American audience.
Historical Perspective
Alqurtuby (1997) stated that before Islam, blind people in the Arabian Peninsula
had been victimized, discriminated against, and marginalized by sighted people. This was
because of the contrived attitude that blind people were inferior. Due to the lack of values
and morals before Islam came to the Arabian Peninsula, Arab society had negative
attitudes towards all ill people and people with disabilities. They were considered
worthless and were always neglected, and interaction was avoided because there was a
fear of contagion.
Alqurtuby (1997) also mentioned that before Prophet Muhammed was sent, Arabs
would avoid eating with ill people, including the blind and the crippled. However, Arabs
were not the only nation with these horrific traditions. Lowenfeld (1973) and Ross (1951)
pointed out that other nations were just as horrific towards newborns with disabilities. For
example, according to Lowenfeld (1981):
Annihilation of blind and imperfect children was, for instance, practiced by the
Spartans who set them out in the wilderness of the Taygetus Mountains and left
them to starve; in Athens, they were put into clay vessels and left by the wayside;
and in Rome, baskets were sold on the market so that infirm children could be put
into them to be floated on the Tiber River in which they drowned. (pp. 129-130)
In early societies, people felt that the elderly and the disabled were worthless and
should be avoided. This increased feelings of isolation, and some people with disabilities
preferred death over living in pain and sadness. Because of societys negative attitudes

Blindness In Islam
towards people with disabilities, they often developed attitudes of fear and anger towards
their societies and life in general (Lowenfeld, 1981; Ross, 1951).
Alqurtubi (1997) stated that when Islam arrived, it corrected the wrong path that
humans were taking and showed them the right path to follow. Prophet Muhammed was
able to instill good values and morals in people and removed that which was bad. People
with disabilities were given rights and privileges, including the right to a normal life just
like anyone else. Prophet Muhammed encouraged people to interact with ill people and
people with disabilities by telling everyone not to be afraid of catching an illness from
them.. Kirtley (1975) stated, In early Islamic countries, that state of the blind was
somewhat more satisfactory than in Europe (p. 8). According to Ross (1951):
When Mahomet [Muhammed] stirred up Arabia in the seventh century a wave of
enlightenment washed around the blind, with far-reaching effects. Most of the
medical lore of the ancient world had been lost or destroyed during the early
Christian era. But the Arabian renaissance flashed light on the treatment of eye
diseases-a subject that had fallen into neglect with the rise and fall of empires. (p.
Lowenfeld (1975) indicated that the first hospital ever built for people who were
blind was located near Cyr in Syria. Rose (1951) pointed out that the Arabians opened the
first hospitals in Damascus and Cairo along with rooms for lecturing; and Muslims in
Spain brought the sciences from Baghdad. Rose gave credit to the gifted Arabian
scientists that studied eye diseases during the eighth century. In 1497, Isa Ibn Ali
published the famous book on ophthalmology in Venice called Memoranda for Eye

Blindness In Islam
Rose (1951) indicated that Egypt is the country of the blind, because it was the
first county to prepare blind people or adults to become scholars with a means for earning
a living. According to Kirtley (1975), Farrell (1956), and Ross (1951), the first university
established for people who were blind was the University of Al-azhar in Cairo in 970,
where the courses lasted twelve years and the way of teaching was recitation. Almusa
(1992) stated that this initiative allowed blind people to study with their peers and had
great effects on the lives of people who were blind and their peers as well. In fact, AlZhar University became a model for other Islamic countries throughout history and is still
in operation today.
Almusa (1992) stated that the principle of equality between people is a highly
valued principle that all humans strive to accomplish. When humans were unable to
accomplish this equality before Islam, Allah brought the Islamic religion, which
considers equality between people one of its most important aspects. Equality in Islam is
not based on wealth, ethnicity, gender, or physical, emotional, or mental abilities. Instead,
it is based on worshiping Allah. The guidelines for interaction between different social
groups including people with disabilities are modern methods governed by the true
understanding of the potentials and abilities of each group and by mutual respect.
Islam guarantees a suitable environment for people with disabilities. In this
environment, they are able to take advantage of their abilities in order to achieve their
goals. In the eyes of Islam, a person with a disability is a human with a normal rights first
and a person with a disability second. The disabled person is a person who has
responsibilities just like any other person in the society (Almusa, 1992).
Social Life

Blindness In Islam
Before Islam, people with disabilities felt different than normal people. They felt
left out of the society because of their disabilities and this affected their lives. They used
to live in dark shells surrounded by sadness. They felt that there was a huge gap between
them and their societies (Fahmi, 1998). Fahmi stated that the society also had different
attitudes towards people with disabilities. It treated them differently than normal people.
Before Islam, society felt that people with disabilities were burdens, thus isolating them
In Islam, having a disability does not mean that the person is not an active
member of society. Many people with disabilities have contributed more to our society
than have most normal people (Almusa, 1992). The author stated that one of the
characteristics of the Islamic society is its positive point of view towards people with
disabilities; Islam gives people with disabilities equal rights and allows them to be active
members of society. People with disabilities have been given these rights in order to go
beyond shame, so they can feel that they are capable of being themselves and moving on
to be effective people in society.
Prophet Muhammed changed the lives of people with disabilities by
implementing good values and morals and by valuing each persons life as being as
important as everyone elses. First, the Prophet taught that there were no stigmas or bad
attitudes not just for people with disabilities, but also for people with diseases in general.
The Prophet emphasized that sickness itself cannot affect you if you have good beliefs.
Second, the Prophet asks people to interact with people with disabilities and those who
have illnesses. Finally, the Prophet gave people with disabilities the confidence to be

Blindness In Islam
themselves, by being among those people who were very close to the Prophet; so they,
too, were eating and socializing with people without disabilities (Almusa, 1992).
The Prophet also mentioned that Allah would reward those persons who were ill
and living with disabilities. He mentioned that every time a Muslim becomes ill or is
even hurt by a simple thorn, he or she will have his/her sins erased. Prophet Muhammed
gave people with disabilities a higher self-esteem and erased the sadness and misery they
used to live in, and this in turn helped them to interact easily with other people in the
society (Alnawawi, 1996).
Abu Hurira, a companion of the Prophet, narrated that a man who was blind came
to the Prophet and said, Oh Prophet of Allah, there is no one who can guide me to the
Masjed [the mosque] and I need permission to pray at home. The Prophet gave him
permission and the blind man went away. Then the Prophet called the blind man and
asked him, Do you hear the call for prayer? The blind man said, Yes. The Prophet
said, Then, answer the call. This is interpreted to mean that at the mosque, the blind
man can socialize and interact with other people by coming to the Masjed five times a
day (Alnawawi, 1996).
Fahmi (1998) indicated that the Islamic society is known for its positive attitude
towards people with disabilities. It provides them with people who help with
transportation and also builds treatment facilities. During the sixth and seventh centuries,
Islamic Caliphs (leaders), such as Omer Ibn Alkhattab (634644), Abdulmalik Ibn
Marwan (685-705), and Omer Ibn Abdulaziz (717-720), gave special attention to ill
people and those with disabilities, including providing social services. Fahmi (1998)
pointed out that Omar Ibn Abdulaziz provided services to all people with disabilities at


Blindness In Islam
that time. He provided assistance for every blind person and a servant for every
physically disabled person. Among the rights that Islam gives to the blind is that they can
participate in the same social activities with family and relatives without feeling different.
Blindness and Creativity
Many Muslim scholars whom influenced the lives of sighted people were blind
(Alshaya, 1999; Ibn Alkhim, 1998; Almusa, 1992; Ibn Katheer, 1971). Al-Jibaly (2003)
stated that losing vision does not mean the end of a persons life and becoming hopeless
or desperate; instead, it means developing the remaining senses that may compensate for
the loss of vision. The word blind in the Arabic language has been related to creativity in
such a way that the first impressions of people who are blind are of creativity rather than
an inability to see. Most blind people are believed to have special gifts and talents that
most ordinary people do not have. Under this belief, it is rare to find a blind person who
is not clever, and almost always every blind person is talented because his mind and heart
come together to compensate for the loss of vision.
Anas Ibn Malik narrated that Prophet Muhammed said that, if I [Allah] test my
slave in his/her lovers [eyes] and he/she was patient I will enter him/her into paradise
(Alnawawi, 1996). This is a big emotional reward for people born blind and those
adventitiously blinded. As the Prophet Muhammed once said, No one has ever been
awarded a bounty better than patience and submission. As Muslims, if we have been
tested by losing our eyesight, Allah will give us something else that substitutes for the
inability to see, such as self-sufficiency or self-satisfaction. Therefore, it is not necessary
to focus on peoples deficiencies, but we can move on and focus on peoples gifts and
talents instead. People who are blind are encouraged to confront their disabilities and to


Blindness In Islam
be an active member of society. We believe that if Allah takes away something from us,
He will give us other things that are sometimes better.
The Case of Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom
In the Holy Quran, the story of Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom was described in
the first sixteen verses of Sura [Chapter] Abasa. He is one of the Prophet Muhammeds
companions who was born blind. Qutub (1980) stated that one day, Abdullah Ibn Umm
Maktoom came to Prophet Muhammed and asked him to read a verse from the Qur'an.
He said, O messenger of Allah, teach me from what Allah has taught you. The Prophet
frowned and turned away from him. He turned his attention instead to the prestigious
group of Quraysh (the same tribe of the Prophet Muhammed), hoping that they would
become Muslims and that by their acceptance of Islam they would bring greatness to the
religion of Allah and strengthen his mission. As soon as he had finished speaking to them
and had left their company, Prophet suddenly felt partially blinded and his head began to
throb violently. At this point the following revelation came to him:
He [The Prophet] frowned and turned away when the blind man approached him!
Yet for all you knew, [O Muhammad], he might perhaps have grown in purity or
have been reminded [of the Truth], and helped by this reminder. Now as for him
who believes himself to be self-sufficient to him you gave your whole attention,
although you are not accountable for his failure to attain to purity. But as for him
who came unto you full of eagerness and in awe [of God], him did you disregard.
Nay, verily, this is but a reminder and so, whoever is willing may remember Him
in the light of His revelations blest with dignity, lofty and pure, borne by the
hands of messengers, noble and most virtuous. (Verse 1-16, Surah 80).


Blindness In Islam
According to Bazna and Hatab (2003):
[The] initial reading of these verses indicated that people with disabilities are to
be treated with full regard and to have the same subject-to-subject relations that
are granted to the non-disabled. . . . The above stated examples comprise Islams
position and attitude towards evaluating mankind: the real merit of people lies in
the degree with which they seek the truth. (p. 11)
These are the sixteen verses that were revealed to the Prophet about the blind
Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom that have continued to be recited from that time until today
and will be into the future. This incident was only a passing incident, but after explaining
the eternal principles of revelation, the Sura recapitulates the Mercies of Allah to a man,
and the consequences of a good or a wicked life here. From that day the Prophet did not
cease to be generous to Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom, to ask him about his affairs, to
fulfill his needs and take him into his council whenever he approached (The Holy
Quran). According to the interpretation of the Holy Quran:
It may be that the poor blind man might, on account of his will to learn, be more
likely to grow in his own spiritual development or to profit by any lessons taught
to him even in report than a self-sufficient leader. In fact, it was so. For the blind
man became a true and sincere Muslim and lived to become a governor of
Madinah [a second Holy city for Muslims in northwest Saudi Arabia]. (p.1897)
When the Quraysh intensified their persecution of the Prophet and those who
followed him, Allah gave His Prophet and his companions permission to emigrate to AlMadinah. Abdullahs response was prompt. He and Mus'ab Ibn Umayr were the first of
the Companions to reach Al- Madinah. As soon as they reached it, they began discussing


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with the people, reading the Qura'n to them and teaching them the religion of Allah.
When the Prophet arrived in Al- Madinah, he appointed Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom to
be muadh-dhin calling for the prayers for the Muslims, proclaiming the Oneness of Allah
five times a day, calling man to the best of actions and summoning them to success. One
of the responsibilities that the Prophet placed on Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom was to put
him in charge of Al-Madinah in his absence. This was done more than ten times (Bazna
and Hatab, 2003).
Bazna and Hatab (2003) indicated that Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum was among
those Muslims who came from different places to participate in the battle of AlQadisiyyah. When the army reached Al-Qadisiyyah, Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum was
prominent, wearing a coat of armor and fully prepared to participate. According to Bazna
and Hatab (2003):
In spite of being excused from fighting, Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum was not
content with staying among those who remained at home while others had to
fight. He fixed a role for himself on the battlefield saying: Place me between two
rows and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind
and cannot run away. He took part in several battles before he was killed on the
battlefield clutching the flag of the Muslims. (p, 13)
This story of Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum is included here to illustrate the
importance of blind individuals to Muslims and how they live with their families as
members of their communities. It also demonstrates that blind individuals contribute to
their communities in an equal way, giving to and receiving from society. This story brings
out three important points. First, it illustrates the value of forbearance on the part of the


Blindness In Islam
person with the disability. More important, it affirms the right of individuals to draw
attention to their special needs and to speak out for their rights as a matter of social
justice. Finally, the story points to the important role of advocacy and the support that the
wider community is expected to provide to the blind individual.
As stated before, in Islamic societies, after the Prophet Muhammed came to the
Arabian Peninsula and until now, blind people have not only overcome their disabilities
but they have become a source of knowledge. Most of them became famous scholars by
memorizing the Holy Quran and interpreting the Sunnah (the life of Prophet
Muhammed), because they emphasize the universality of language and religions
constructed from the perceptions of five senses and the representative function of
language itself as well.
The Islamic religion has instilled in all of its followers the highest principles and
the best values and morals. These values and principles guarantee that the blind will be
able to succeed not only in their school life with others as normal people, but also in their
life in general. The Muslim community is always looking beyond how blind people learn
and socialize, to how they can become leaders to lead sighted people as well as
Prophet Muhammed was the first advocate of people with disabilities when he
called for inclusion of all people rich or poor, old or young, literate or illiterate, normal or
disabled as part of the community and valued their individualities. As a leader, Prophet
Muhammed educated his people about the importance of accepting people with


Blindness In Islam
disabilities and addressing their needs. Indeed, he appreciated their gifts, talents, and
leadership abilities.
In Islam, people with disabilities, especially those who are blind, become great
scholars and leaders. Their leadership roles are always beneficial to their communities,
because their societies acknowledge that their contributions have changed lives.
However, a leading Muslim judge in Spain in the twelfth century, Ibn Hazam, advocated
that disability would not be an impediment to becoming a leader. In fact, the history of
Islam is full of people who overcame their disabilities and served their communities
competently. A well-known case is the man to whom Prophet Muhammed delegated
responsibility in his absence for governing the city of Al-Madinah. This man is Abdullah
Ibn Umm Maktum, and he was legally blind.
Muslims are neighbors, colleagues, and fellow citizens of Americans.
Understanding Islam and Muslims in the United States cannot be achieved in ignorance,
but can be promoted through knowledge and the understanding that grows from that
knowledge. So, I am hoping that this paper will help to increase, first, the understanding
of American people of Muslims attitudes toward people with disabilities and those who
are blind. Second, I hope this paper has increased the understanding of American people
of the Muslim culture and the important events that occur in the US and abroad. Finally, I
will be grateful to provide any further information about blindness in Islam or other
issues related to Islam and Muslims in general.


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