With statutory services and large charities being accused of failing people with a learning disability – especially those from black and minority ethnic communities – people will often turn to their own communities and faiths for support.
You gotta have faith
Ismail Kaji says he is more at peace at his mosque than in his own home. “My religion is very important to me and I go to mosque as often as I can,” says the 29 year-old, who has a mild learning disability.
“There's no discrimination towards people with learning disability in the mosque. They would never allow bullying there,” he says.
Not everyone is made to feel as welcome by South Asian religious communities as Ismail.
Recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that minorities within the South Asian minority can face high levels of stigma from their own communities.
The research, conducted by Bradford University, claims that minorities such as lesbian, gay and transgender people can face exclusion from South Asian communities and may not have their voice heard by statutory agencies.
“Mosques play a key role in participation, giving statutory organisations the opportunity to work with Bradford’s South Asian community,” said the authors. “However, those who did not find the mosque enabling might not be heard.”
This finding mirrors one of the experiences of Mencap’s Aawaaz project, which seeks to address the problem of low access to leisure among South Asian youngsters with a learning disability. Though the core of the problem relates to failures among service providers, the project also encountered low responsiveness among Bradford's Imams.
However, the research found people with a disability to be among the most accepted of the South Asian minority groups in Bradford.
Imam Ehsan Hannan, of the East London Mosque, says the Muslim faith has a long tradition of accepting people of different levels of ability.
“For example it's accepted in our tradition to have people of different ages studying in the same class. The older ones wouldn't be in any way looked down on. Individualised learning is well respected,” he adds.
Islam doesn’t believe there is any reason why some people have a disability, he says. “People are created differently. And we would look at the whole person, not just the disability.”
But he believes more help could be given. “I don’t think we're doing enough to provide a better service [for people with a learning disability]. We could be doing more to partner up with people such as Mencap,” he adds.
This article appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Viewpoint