GDM President Nashiru Abdulai, second from right, watches the conversation at an event for Global Deaf Muslims in Herndon a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Global Deaf Muslims.
Ever since the Quran was first revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and compiled during the reign of the third Caliph Othman ibn Affan, it has since been translated into every major language with the exception of one: Sign Language.
For deaf Muslims in the United States, it has been a struggle to learn about Islam and the Quran because of the limited availability of information in American Sign Language (ASL). To address their needs, the Global Deaf Muslim (GDM) was established in 2005 to “advocate for the advancement and inclusion of deaf Muslims in the Muslim Ummah.”
And their goal became to create the first-ever ASL translation of the Quran. Though it has been their dream since the group’s inception, it was not until late last year that GDM began raising funds, due to the project’s estimated high costs and lack of support. But now they are faced with the difficulty of raising enough money to spearhead this project.
GDM President Nashiru Abdulai, deaf at the age of nine due to meningitis, has become somewhat concerned over whether “[they] have chosen the right time [to proceed]…trying to reach a point where [they] can start to focus on implementing the project, but raising funds has been a challenge,” he says.
This is why they have decided to move beyond organizing fundraising dinners and events and straight to the centers of Islam, the mosques. The idea: to fundraise after Friday prayers, a day when Muslims regularly attend in large numbers, with their first successful translation of a Friday Khutbah occurring June 8 at the Prince George’s Muslim Association in Lanham, Md.
During the Khutbah, Imam Ahmad Azzaari said that it was the duty of the Muslim community to “help them translate the Quran and make it available to those who have been deprived of this blessing so that they may enjoy it.”
GDM is currently working on arranging similar initiatives at other Mosques in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, says Abdulai.
The project aims to create video translations of the Quran by interpreting the meaning of the verses in sign language as well as English subtitles, providing content and concepts says Abdulai. According to the GDM website “the video will be able to educate deaf Muslims who lack sufficient reading since sign language employs a universal meaning that transcends the nations’ borders.” This is very important says Marketing Director Fatima Muhammad because “most of the time deaf Muslims have a very limited access to the Quran because most mosques or Islamic organizations don’t provide services such as interpreters and captioning/subtitles.”
Abdulai believes himself to be very fortunate that he was given an education, but not all deaf Muslims can read and recalls that during his time in school, many Muslims converted to Christianity “because they found sign language at religious services attractive and accessible.”
GDM had hoped to reach their financial target of about $210,000 by 2012 but now Abdulai estimates the project to be completed in two years, he says that without any major sponsor or financial support it is difficult to establish a timeline. They currently have managed to raise about $140,000.
“The American Muslim community has been very supportive and we are so grateful to the Ummah,” says Abdulai. “We remain confident that with the continued hard work and commitment among our group, the goal of having this important project will be achieved, but we need the Ummah to stick with us in prayer and support to achieve it.”