There are a few activities we really look forward to every year with Lil D, events geared towards the special needs population that embrace them and cater to their different needs; events that make every effort of accommodation and celebrate individuals with different abilities. These are the events where we can take easy breaths and not worry over the thousand little details we usually worry about. The events where we can say, these is our tribe, and nothing my kid does or doesn’t do will faze anybody.
For us, these are Surfers Healing in August, the Autism Society of Central Virginia’s 5K on Memorial Day weekend in May and lastly (and my favorite), the Special Needs Eid Celebration hosted by MAS-DC (Muslim American Society, Washington D.C. chapter), which occurs after Eid-ul-Adha and Eid ul Fitr.
The Special Needs Eid Celebration is the only one of its kind (that I know of) that is geared specifically towards the special needs Muslim population (and non-Muslim special needs families can come as well). MAS-DC is hosting its fourth Eid celebration this weekend. We’ve attended the last two, and they have been the single-most important event that marries our faith and our autism life.
No other Muslim thing have we attended, from Jummah prayers to family halaqas to any masjid program to any Islamic organization program, including when I was invited to speak at the 50th annual Islamic Society of North America convention this past September, has stepped up like MAS-DC and it’s youth director, Rasha Abulohom, to put on a program where special needs families feel really welcome.
To be sure, many masajid, Muslim community centers and other organizations have not tried to make special needs Muslim families feel unwelcome. But they also – for the most part – have not taken the necessary steps to understand our needs and what will make things easier for our children as well as how to make us feel part of the Ummah and not like an aberration.
So, it excites me to no end to see how the Special Needs Eid Celebration in Northern Virginia is growing in reach and support. This year the Celebration is a part of Islamic Relief USA’s Day of Dignity Eid Festival, which itself is being billed as a “service-oriented and fun-filled time for the entire family.” I worked for IRUSA in 2010 as their Website Content Coordinator, and attended a few Day of Dignity events, where volunteers provided those in needs with a hot meal, social services and clothing, among other things.
Whereas in the past years we enjoyed having rides, activities, food and special prayers tailored for our children in a special event just for us, this year we get to have the same thing but also be part of a larger festival, which is a great step forward towards inclusion and the coming together of all Muslim families. I’ve always lamented that while the autism community at large is moving past the awareness stage into the action stage, the American Muslim autism community is still very much stuck in raising awareness about autism and other special needs because the larger community doesn’t see or hear us enough.
But here we are, with the guidance of Ms. Abulohom, pushing forward, teaching a larger population about why we must include special needs families in Muslim community events and activities, how we can better accommodate this part of our community and how we can better embrace each other as one family.
I want to thank Islamic Relief USA for supporting the Special Needs Eid Celebration and extend my thanks to all other area masajid and organizations who have lent their support to this event. I want to thank other organizations who are creating programs and taking steps to reach out to the special needs community.
I want to encourage all Islamic organizations and Muslim community centers, masajid big and small to take note here. MPAC, ISNA, ICNA, Zaytuna, AMCLI, CAIR and so many other Muslim community and leadership organizations – here’s how it’s done. Maybe you don’t need to host an event like this, but this is a great example of how we can lend support to families living with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and other special needs; families whose members are hearing- or vision-impaired.
You can lend monetary support. You can host programs. You can make accommodations for people with special needs at your events. You can seek more knowledge; invite us in to teach you about what we need most.
Because when you do, only good can come. So much far-reaching good.
As for us? Lil D, his Baba, brother, sister and I are making tracks for Maryland and Northern Virginia this weekend. We will visit my parents for Eid, and we will go to an Eid festival where, Insha’Allah Lil D will enjoy himself, where we’ll take part in a special Zuhr prayer, and where I’ll cry my tears of happiness for a day where I feel like my faith community wants me and my family and recognizes Lil D for all that is worthy and beautiful about him.
And I will give thanks.