African representatives’ gathering in Istanbul called for support for visually impaired people who face serious challenges to learn their own religion, Islam.
The Istanbul-based International Union of Braille Quran Services (IBQS) brought together representatives from different countries of Africa in the city to discuss the problems that visually impaired people are facing on the continent.
The union — which is also an umbrella body providing Braille Quran services in different regions of the world — also aims to build financial and technical cooperation among its members from 17 countries to find solutions to their problems and to promote Braille Quran literacy all around the world.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in Uskudar district of the city, Asmanou Bouraima, president of Blind Association of Togo, complained of shortages of means that the sight-impaired people are facing while studying, as well as efforts of Christian missionaries to convert them.
“We have seven schools for the blind in my country and all the schools were established by Christians. When you want to enter the school, you have to change your religion. You have to practice Christianity because they are forcing you to practice Christianity,” said Bouraima, who is also visually impaired.
Stating that they established an Islamic Center for the Blind in 2010, where 40 children are currently studying to learn Islam and the holy book Quran, Bouraima said: “They sleep there, eat there and we also deal with their health issues, if they have.”
However the center, he said, is unable to provide sufficient services for the children due to financial problems. “Our blind materials are expensive. We have difficulties in having the materials and to feed the children at the school.”
The center also could not meet what all blind Muslims need for their education.
“There are many others who would like to come to our school, but there is no place to accommodate all of them,” Bouraima said.
“We need more help and more support.”
Togo, having a population of 7 million people, is home to around 100,000 visually impaired people, including some 42,000 Muslims, according to the head of the center.
Ayisha Frimpong, the director for Ghana-based Disable Muslim Network, also expressed dissatisfaction of inadequate means for the education of disabled and visually impaired students in her country.
“Most of Muslim students are not allowed to practice Islam. Even deliberately, some of the teachers try to deceive and persuade students to become non-Muslims,” said Frimpong, who is also a teacher of students with special needs.
Ghana currently has 34 special schools established by Christians, according to Frimpong.
“We don’t have any special Islamic school. All of them are the schools established by Christians. If we want to promote Islam, then we need to get those schools,” she stressed.
The Ghanian teacher also highlighted the need for teaching and learning materials, especially for the blind, the deaf, and the other disabled people.
“If we want to promote Islam in a Christian-dominated community, like Ghana, we need to get support from philanthropists, Turkish friends, and anyone who wants to provide support,” she asserted.
Dahiru Gambo, the president of Muslim Association of Visually Impaired of Nigeria (MAVIN), also recounted difficulties of attending primary school in his country as a visually impaired individual.
“When I was in primary school, I read the Bible. It is a great problem. As a Muslim, you know how to read the Bible, but you don’t have access to read the Quran,” Gambo said.
Terming what they faced a “great challenge” for the blind, he said: “We need to do something to change the situation.”
With a population of almost 200 million, Nigeria has around 27 million disabled people and 7 million of them are visually impaired, according to Gambo.
The Nigerian representative asked for financial support to be able to continue to fund the education and empowerment activities for the sight-impaired individuals.
Premises not enough for education
Somalia is another country where visually impaired people face difficulties during their education due to insufficient means and missionary efforts of Christians.
Abikar Hussein Bashir, the director of Disability Aid Foundation (DAF) in Somalia, said they have currently 56 visually impaired students studying at their school, but it doesn’t meet the need.
“We need to have a big and permanent premises in order to accommodate many visually impaired students who are in our pending list.
“We have more than 300 visually impaired people who want to join us,” Bashir added.
“Our main aim is to teach them Arabic Braille so that they can read and write the Quran.”
Visually impaired people have serious disadvantages to access to Islamic books, especially in Africa, Selahattin Aydin, the president of the IBQS, stressed.
“Disability is a situation which could be easily abused,” Aydin said, and added: “Visually impaired people are unfortunately being put away from their religion with some education or financial means being provided [by missionaries].”
Speaking about the situation in African, he said: “We are talking about a place where people cannot access to clean water and a place where disabled people are being thrown away.”
“Our goal is to bring together the institutions which provide religious and moral services to visually impaired people in different places of the world and to convey the message of Islam to them.
“If strong foundations from Turkey and other Islamic countries come together, problems of visually handicapped people in the African continent could be resolved,” said the head of IBQS.