In private conversations with friends today, friends celebrating Easter or having celebrated Passover, we shared some of our frustrations in trying to participate in religious ceremonies and attend services at Houses of Worship with our autistic children. While many churches, synagogues (and even some mosques) and other Houses of Worship have made great strides in tailoring services for all in their congregation, or at the very least creating a warm, welcoming and loving environment, the majority have a ways to go — especially (in my humble opinion), mosques.
To me, it seems that to be religious, to establish and run any House of Worship, means to make it welcoming and attentive to its congregants. All of them. Without being any sort of Muslim scholarly expert (or anywhere close to an expert on any other faith), I feel quite comfortable in saying that one of most basic tenets of any faith (or just humanity) is the acceptance and support of all members of that faith (and humanity). Love, acceptance, support, accommodations — these should be the hallmarks of all religions.
In fact, if you think about it, the most common of senses tells us that all Houses of Worship, if their primary purpose is to provide a place where people can be close to God, convene with God, speak with God, participate in rituals pleasing to Him, and seek help from those who are able to provide help — then those with special needs and their families should be near the top rung of the ladder. But the sad reality is that too often this is far from the case. Even as religious leadership in various faith communities are making strides to make Houses of worship more inclusive to everyone (and there are some GREAT examples out there), there is still so much that is lacking.
We’ve been living in our current city for a decade now, and we’ve never been reticent about keeping D at home or away from community and religious activities. But as he’s grown older, certain behaviors that went unnoticed when he was small seem much more visible now that he is a teen. That, plus D’s adherence to a strict routine, has greatly reduced his participation in any Islamic functions/events where we live. And frankly, I don’t feel he is welcome. He isn’t unwelcome at all, let me be clear on that. But I’ve don’t feel that extension of love and support I hope we would receive.
Maybe that’s my own fault for not demanding it. I dare say that is part of it. But who wants to demand things from their faith community? Wouldn’t we hope that we are seen, as we are, by those who should see us most?
I no longer take D to Jummah prayers. It’s been years since he attended any community iftaar/Tarawih prayers with us. However, the one place we go as an entire family, without fail, is for Eid prayers, which happens at a big convention center here in town. Sometimes D and I don’t make out of the parking lot. Sometimes D and I hang out in the lobby while everyone prayers inside. But whatever — at least we are all there, together.
Last Eid-ul-Adha, with the mosque we go to being a moon-sighting mosque, our Eid holiday was declared to be one day after the rest of the Muslim community where we lived celebrated. So, our mosque made arrangements in a small place where they hold Jummah prayers. I immediately knew these arrangements would not suit D for a variety of reasons. So that morning I sent the rest of the family off while I stayed home with D. And fumed.
Why? Because so many who came to prayers that day asked where D and I were. Why didn’t they come? Really? You have to ask why? After we’ve been an active part of your mosque community for so many years? You know us. You know D. You know the situation. You couldn’t do anything to facilitate a prayer service where we all could come? Maybe I’m being sensitive. But I shouldn’t have to bring the awareness to you. Every. Time. Seven months later, it still stings.
Today, on Easter, with Passover just having finished, I pray that all faith-ful families and individuals with autism and other special needs felt loved, supported and welcomed. I pray there was peace and a lightness of heart for them. I pray your Houses of Worship did the right thing.
I pray there was truth.