“They have to know Islam and it is our duty to teach them. After all, how would they know if someone doesn’t teach them,” said Dr. Yahya Alvi, Project Advisor for Global Deaf Muslims, an organization that seeks to spread awareness about the needs of deaf Muslims around the world.
Dr. Alvi teaches a weekly class on the basics of Islamic practice at a local masjid for the deaf Muslim community. Through an interpreter he teaches everything from the concept of the oneness of God to the details of Hadith and Qur’an.
Just a few years ago, Dr. Alvi himself was unaware of the need for teaching Islam to the deaf community. Now, he finds himself a vocal advocate for regular interpreters at Jummah Khutbah’s and Islamic classes.
Many of his students, though adults, entered his class with no knowledge of how to pray or of the basic tenants of Islam. Through they grew up Muslim, Islam was inaccessible to them until classes like the one Dr. Alvi teaches started to become available as awareness in the hearing community began to grow.
“We need to realize that there is a community out there, deaf people, who need our help, we need to go to them and tell them what Islam is all about and if we do not we are responsible for their ignorance and whatever their subsequent actions that come from that ignorance,” he said.
As he’s learned about and connected with the deaf Muslim community, he has realized not only the disadvantages that the deaf face in the Muslim community but the advantages that the hearing Muslim community often take for granted.
“The hearing community must understand that when they go for Jummah, there are people there who see the the man giving the khutbah but they do not know what he said and that is not their fault at all,” said Dr. Alvi.
At the same time, he continued, there are many there who can hear but their mind is elsewhere. They simply chose not to hear.
A physician for 53 years, Dr. Alvi’s love for teaching motivated him to volunteer his time each weekend and provide a service that many in the deaf community have been searching for their entire lives.
This however, does not come without its challenges.
A wide range of students, at different levels in terms of knowledge, age and ability create a unique classroom. On top of that, translating Arabic terms into American Sign Language has also been a challenge.
While Dr. Alvi still grapples at finding the best way to convey the Islam to those in the deaf community he sees it as a responsibility, not simply an opportunity.
“If Allah has given us the faculty of hearing, we need to do some sadaqa of this hearing and take the message of the Qur’an to those who are deaf. How we do that? We have to find out how to do that.”
The greatest challenge perhaps, is the perceptions of the hearing community on the deaf community.
“There’s a belief that if someone gets a deaf child its a punishment,” he said, “This is not a punishment of God, this is a test of God, not just for the parents but for the community.”