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The Story Behind A Day Of Inclusion by Sabria Mills
I caught a glimpse of her blood-shot red eyes, as she dodged out of the front doors of a local Islamic school. I couldn’t help but follow her out the door and into the dreary and wet parking lot. As I approached her, I noticed tears streaming down the sides of her cheek as she let out a loud cry. I stopped cautiously, hesitant if I should continue to approach her. I recognized the pain in her face and despondency in her walk.
“Are you okay sister,” was all I could say from a few feet behind her black car. She immediately wiped her eyes and looked at me in relief.
Aisha Muhammad is a thirty-year old mother of a bright five year old boy. Her son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two years old. Although, he is considered high-functioning, his developmental needs have always been challenging for Aisha to understand and support.
“It’s like another door shut in my face by my own community. I stopped in to register my child for Islamic schooling and I made sure I acquired all of the necessary support services for him to be successful. I am a Muslim and I feel alone in parenting my special needs child. I receive support from my doctor and therapist but I am always turned away by own religious community,” Aisha explained through slow and steady tears.
This story isn’t unique and it’s one that I began to hear continuously over the years from frustrated parents. Parents of exceptional children are often turned away from Islamic institutions and places of worship. Their children are often considered too “disruptive” for masjids and beyond the scope of expertise for Islamic schools.
As I began to explore this issue and interview parents, religious leaders, and community members, I came across a substantial amount of misconceptions about exceptional children within our Muslim communities. This trend disturbed me and I often found myself waking up in the middle of the night researching and writing down ideas on how to address this epidemic.
MACE (Muslim Advocates for Children with Exceptionalities) was for formed in the summer of 2018 by a group of passionate advocates, mental health specialities, and public health advocates. The focus of this organization was to help educate, uplift, and empower exceptional members of our community and their families.
A Day of Inclusion
As a mother of an exceptional child, I’ve witnessed the impact of labeling, judging, and isolating a child from their religious community. It can have a drastic impact on a child’s identity as a Muslim. A Day of Inclusion was created to aid in educating and empowering exceptional children. We wanted to create a space for children to be as they are and for parents to find strength in belonging to a community.
In 2018, Muslim Advocates for Children with Exceptionalities (MACE) launched its first public Day of Inclusion event. It was held at The Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam in East Atlanta. This event featured expert panelists, passionate youth advocates, and a wide-range of interactive activities, which aimed to educate participants on the power of inclusion and accessibility in our sacred spaces.
“It felt amazing to be heard. I was able to engage in conversations about the struggles I experience with my child. It was mind blowing,” Sarah Hashim reported.
Shattering Myths in the Islamic Community
Historically, many Muslim cultures had a difficult time accepting a child born with a disability into the family. It was considered shameful and embarrassing for a family to have a child with a disability and there are countless cases of families hiding their exceptional children in their homes to avoid public scrutiny.
Historically, many Muslims began to associate medical, physical, and developmental impairments with a person’s spiritual state. Mental health concerns were easily shamed and thought to be a product of an individual’s sins or lack of worship. Physical disabilities were said to be a result of the evil eye being placed on the child while in their mother's womb.
Although, many of these myths sound silly, many of them have a history in our religious communities.
A day of Inclusion will specifically address these myths in an activity called “Islamic Myths Exposed.” This interactive matching game helps participants think critically on the many issues plaguing our community and brainstorm real time solutions.
This year’s event
MACE is hosting its second annual Day of Inclusion Exhibition at Roswell Community Masjid on December 7, 2019. This year’s event will incorporate experts in nutrition, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, trauma, and school support.
This amazing day will provide an opportunity for participants to participate in an interactive experience to see the strengths and abilities of exceptional individuals in visual form. Our guests will be able to experience our very own Autism Center and participate in an innovative sensory walk.
Our community is in desperate need of initiatives that cultivate a positive mindset shift towards individuals living with exceptionalities in our communities. A Day of Inclusion aims to create an experience for the community to understand life beyond the label. The participants will have the opportunity to wander around and be amazed by the amazing youth advocates leading each exhibit. Hopefully, in time, we will no longer need events like day of inclusion and our communities will transform into places of inclusion, diversity, and empowerment for all.
Written by Sabria Mills
Sabria Mills is the Co-founder and Executive Director of MACE - Muslim Advocates of Children with Exceptionalities. She is an Educational Leader and Social Advocate, who partners with educators, community leaders, and activists to advocate for inclusive spaces for people of all backgrounds. After spending nearly a decade working in education and addressing the needs of non-profit organizations, Sabria knows what truly drives social reform, equality, and education—and it’s not mastering the social advocacy flavor of the week. It’s how well you connect with the heart-beating people you’re trying to help and communicate your understanding back to them.