The mosque I called home for many years is beautiful — modern, red brick with angular planes on the outside, glorious beveled windows and a light-filled, almost austere, soaring serenity on the inside. It also isn’t terribly accessible if you are handicapped. While there is an elevator, there are also steps no matter which way you try to get to the prayer hall (there are actually three different ways to get to the prayer hall, and each one of them has stairs!). For those with allergies, asthma or chemical sensitivities, many people wear perfumes or essential oils when coming to services and special events.
Most mosques I’ve been to present similar challenges. Muslims are still catching up when it comes to accessibility and awareness of the issues confronting people with disabilities. Even where the prayer hall is easy to get to, other parts of the building such as the multipurpose hall or bathroom facilities are often completely out of reach or inadequate to the needs of those with disabilities.
There is also little recognition of the fact that people who are cut off from congregational prayers — whether due to disability, long-term illness, living in an area with no mosque, or even working far enough from the local mosque that work schedules and commute time make it infeasible to attend services — are often cut off from the community in deeper, more significant ways. They miss out on the camaraderie and fellowship of shared prayers, but also the connections, the friendships, the conversations about politics or religion or the trivial matters of life with fellow Muslims.
Fortunately, technology has brought us some innovative ways to deal with these issues. Last week, I attended juma prayers (the weekly congregational prayers that are held Friday afternoons) via the internet. I connected to Skype and received a live audio and video feed of the proceedings of a small congregation in Toronto. With the webcam and mic on my computer, I could participate, giving my greetings to the people who had gathered in person and sharing in the discussion afterward. It wasn’t quite the same as being there in person (no hugs, and the sound quality wasn’t crystal clear), but it sure beat sitting alone at home. For those with disabilities, this may represent the way of the future… a happy medium between total isolation and complete immersion. While it may not be perfect, it offers a way to participate in a congregation, hear the sermon and join in the congregational prayers.
I’m sure the El-Tawhid juma circle is not the only one to offer their services online (although they are the first I am aware of to have an interactive juma over the internet). I imagine and hope more mosques will begin offering such services to their congregants who can’t get out of the house, can’t manage the congregation, or who are unable to attend prayers for other reasons. It certainly would go along way to promoting the communal good, and fulfilling the duties Muslims have to the sick, the wounded, and the disabled.