The landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires new public facilities — including houses of worship — to be handicapped-accessible.

But because many mosques are small, housed in older buildings and rarely built from the ground up, few are fully accessible for the disabled.

Sister Aisha al-Adawiya, president of the advocacy group Women in Islam, said most mosques in New York ignore the disabled.

“There is currently almost no outreach or attempts to reach the disabled community,” she said. “It’s discrimination, and whether it is out of ignorance or a lack of concern, we still need to address it.”

A 2000 report by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate counted more than 1,200 U.S. mosques and about 6 million American Muslims. There are no numbers on the disabled population being served by mosques.

Imam Sheikh Omar of the Islamic Cultural Center of Manhattan says that’s not surprising. “Disabled Muslims tend to ignore the mosques,” he said. “We hardly ever see them at our prayers.”

Amin, who successfully lobbied her mosque to include wheelchair ramps and a ground-floor prayer room, says the reluctance of Muslims with handicaps to attend congregational prayers is easy to understand.

“The lack of accessibility discourages many,” she said. “If you don’t have a way for Muslims with disabilities to get in, then how will you see them?”

Generally speaking, disabled people are less likely to attend religious services than people without disabilities — 47 percent versus 65 percent respectively — according to a 2000 survey by the National Organization on Disability.

But, advocates say, that’s not an indication of religious faith. More than eight out of 10 people with disabilities consider their faith to be important to them, with approximately two-thirds calling it very important.

Some community leaders say Muslims need to start taking pointers from their history.

The Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, took special care to ensure that the disabled were able to come to prayers, says Haris Tarin, director of community development at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“When the prophet found out that one of his followers was blind, he made another member of the congregation responsible for bringing the blind man to prayers,” he said. . .

Altaf Ali, executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said one of the main problems with mosques is inadequate staffing. The Mosque Project, a multistate study supervised by professor Ihsan Bagby of the University of Kentucky, found that 55 percent of U.S. mosques have no paid staff, and only 10 percent have more than two paid staff members.

“Having salaried staff members means that there is someone on the premises who is working to satisfy the needs of the community,” he said. “As our community grows, mosques need to start thinking about hiring full-time workers.”

Ali says people should also remember that the average age of Muslims in this country is in the 30s. “As our community ages, issues of access to the disabled and the aged will automatically come to the forefront.”


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