In a historic moment, a mosque in Kerala becomes the first in the country to promote equal access for all people with disabilities (PWDs).
The Masjid Al-Rahma was inaugurated in Pulikkal village, Malappuram district on May 22. With a capacity of 500 persons, the mosque has been fitted with ramps, its toilets with arm rests, and the premises also has wheelchairs. But perhaps its most salient feature will be the LCD screens installed on the mosque’s walls. Why? Because they will display an interpreter to render Friday namaz (prayers) into sign-language. And this is huge for hearing-impaired followers of the Faith.
The construction of the mosque – which cost around ₹75 lakh – was put into motion following an observation made by Musthafa Madani, the chairperson of Ability Foundation, a non-governmental charitable organisation that works with 300 students with disabilities, including 200 who are hearing impaired. Madani noticed how most of these 200 students would skip Friday namaz because they couldn’t follow the sermon. The LCD screens in the new mosque are likely to improve attendance, but more than anything, they are a concrete step towards making places of worship inclusive and accessible.
As Madani tells The Times of India: “Even when people with other disabilities benefit from religious talks and preaching during Friday namaz, the hearing impaired are left out. We hope this mosque would prove a blessing for them.”
As per the 2011 Census, there are 50,71,007 persons in India with hearing disabilities. And while they are covered under the new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (2016), there are still many ways in which society limits their access. For instance, driving. Section 8(4) of the Motor Vehicles Act allows regional transport offices to reject hearing-impaired applicants on the grounds that their disability would put the public or other motorists in danger. However, last year, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment began pushing for hearing-impaired citizens to acquire drivers’ licenses.
Much in the same way, the Masjid Al-Rahma is attempting to bridge the gaps between PWDs and non-disabled people.