O level Notes : FRS - Religion And Disability - Disability and religious intervention measures

In this topic we deal with religious attitude towards disability. The positive and negative attitudes of various religions on disability as well as religious intervention measures are discussed for your benefit.


The term disability is not easy to define. Two definitions of terms are however going to be given. Disability can be defined as any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. Another definition from Collins English Dictionary says, “Disability is a permanent injury or illness or a physical, a mental condition that tends to restrict the way that someone can live.”

In the Christian religion, the disabled people are valued and loved by God. In the Bible disability is not seen as caused by God. It was one of Jesus' public ministries in Luke 4:16-21 to recover sight to the blind and heal the sick, the lame and the demon possessed as he demonstrated that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Affliction or disability is not a hindrance to God's grace in our lives, it is quite the opposite. The disabled people are not untouchable, this was demonstrated by Jesus when a woman with hemorrhage crept up behind to touch the hem of his robe. She was healed and he singled her out for special honour because of her faith (Luke 8:43-48). Also when a man with leprosy broke the law that excluded him from venturing into the city, and fell at Jesus' feet aslant to heal him, Jesus' response was to stretch out a hand and touched the man which the law forbade.

People living with disability in Judaism are not always looked down upon like in the case of Mephiboseth (2 Samuel 9: 3-7) who was invited to the King’s dining table despite his condition.   People like Zibar discouraged him accepting the King’s invitation citing his disability. Mephiboseth himself looked down upon himself when he called himself “a dead dog”.

Mephiboseth and King David

Treating disabled people well is not only good for them, but also to give them some help as well. Jesus said, “When you have supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your family, your friends or your rich neighbours… but when you have supper ask the poor, those who cannot walk and those who are blind…” (Luke 14:12-14). This shows that Jesus was also totally inclusive, he was absolutely revolutionary in who he welcomed even infectious people (Mark 1:40-

42). He also turned the world's values upside down and declared that blessed are those whom society considered cursed. Christians serve people with disability exactly as if they were serving God himself (Matthew 10:40-42). Also the Christians are taught to appreciate people living with disability with humility. Apostle Paul said, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to “Romans 12:3 – 8. Sometimes people argue that the Bible discriminates against people living with disability. They reach this conclusion using verses such as Leviticus 21:16-23 which say, “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying “Speak to Aaron, saying none of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God, for no one who has a blemish should draw near, a man blind, or lame or one who has a mutilated face or a limb to long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand…” To most people the Bible discriminated against disabled people. However, it is believed to have been symbolic of the perfectionism that God deserves from people and not half measures in the worship of God.


Indigenous Religion and Disability

In traditional Shona, Ndebele, Venda, Ndau among other societies there are means and mechanisms to integrate and accommodate people living with disability. This is because societal attitudes towards people living with disability can further handicap individuals with reactions ranging from horror, fear, anxiety or hostility through patronising behaviour. To integrate and accommodate people living with disabilities folktales where either people or animals which represent people living with disability were given space to showcase their abilities to save the family, tribe, friends or the whole community. Also taboos (zviera in Shona and izinto ezizilayo in Ndebele) are strong sanctions that discourage certain forms of human behaviour, were used to teach respect for the disabled.

More so, these traditional societies acknowledged different forms of disability and it is believed to have come from God. The other form is hurema hwekuroyiwa which means disability caused by witchcraft; it is thought to have been caused by enemies or evil spirits. Another form is disability caused by accidents (urema hwekukuvara kana kukuvadzwa). In most cases ancestors (midzimu or amadlozi) and alien spirits(mashavi) are blamed for accident-related disabilities. In most cases, disabilities from birth and those which come later in life through accidents are much tolerated. The extent or intensity of disability also attains one acceptance or rejection in the community.

Furthermore, the Shona, Ndebele, Xangani, Ndau only see people living with disabilities as “abnormal” if they are unable to carry out daily chores and activities. This means that if people with disabilities were able to take part in communal activities and rituals, they were more likely to be accepted. Some disabilities were associated with maternal promiscuity. The birth of a child with disability was viewed as a taboo that was likely to bring bad omen to the family and community at large. Mostly, mothers are usually blamed for the disability of their children. They also attributed disabilities to punishment from the gods or bad omen.

There are taboos that are thought to bring disability if and when they are broken for example killing an animal for no good reason during one's pregnancy. Misdeeds of family members can also cause disability. Family members can do something wrong and the family can be punished for the act by giving birth to children with disabilities. Disability can be caused by diseases.

Societal attitude towards disability in Indigenous Religion

It is generally felt that among the Shona, Ndebele, Xangani, Ndau and others one should not laugh at people living with disability. This may cause the curse to be transferred to you. This means that if you laugh at a person with any form of disability, you will either bear crippled children or you can be crippled yourself. People living with disability can tap much from the environment around them for survival, hence a proverb Chirema chine mazano…meaning that the disabled are useful in society.

In addition, the central teaching among the Shona, Ndebele, Xangani, Ndau and others societies is that if one does good things to the down trodden, people living with disabilities and the widows, one gets blessings from God, Mwari in Shona and Umlimo in Ndebele. When children see the old, the poor and people living with disability, what they are supposed to see is God not the disadvantaged and should assist in every possible way. They taught their children to put the interest of the people living with disability first before the strong.

No one is to imitate a lame person as it could cause a risk of being lame as well hence people are frightened into respecting people with disabilities. This is meant to discourage people from belittling the humanity of people living with disability. The Shona, Ndebele, Ndau and the Xangani discouraged people from looking down upon members of society who were living with disability through making nasty remarks about their biological conditions. So, mocking or kunyomba in Shona and ukubhuqa or ukubaloqalo in Ndebele those with disability was a bad human habit that the Shona, Ndebele, Ndau, Xangani normally blame on lack of adequate moral education. A person who looks down upon another on the basis of one's disability lacks unhu or ubuntu (morals).


However, the Shona, Ndebele, Ndau, Xangani and others also have taboos which state that a pregnant woman should not look at or associate with disabled people or they may risk giving birth to children with disabilities. This is so because they believe in transference of disability to the unborn babies if she looked at a person living with disability.


Judaism and disability

In Genesis, we read that each and every human being is created in the image of God. Hence people are taught that, “You should not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19 vs. 14). Other Jewish texts on disability issues include, “For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 36:5), the disabled included.

The people living with disability were created in the image of God so they should not be looked down upon. God said “Let us make man in our own image after our likeness…” And God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him male and female. He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27). God used people with disabilities to do his work so they must be respected in society, “But Moses said to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times or now… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue…” (Exodus 4:10-11) Every member of the people of Israel was obligated to study the Torah, whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with physical disability. Jews taught that people must not disclaim any person. He said, “Do not underrate the importance of anything for there is no person who does not have his hour...” This teaches Jews not to underrate people living with disabilities. Disability was viewed as a pity, a problem of the individual and his family. For ages, disability was a stigma and was a sign of inferiority for example Mephiboseth, Jonathan's son, who was dropped by his nurse as when he was still an infant, and he was looked down upon by people around him.

Also disability was a reason for shame. Moses had a problem in speech, but God was not ashamed of him nor did he allow disability to serve as an excuse for not following God's command. Inclusion of individuals and families where disability is present remains a challenge in the Jewish community, especially regarding social life, synagogue and education. These families may be excluded from invitations for Sabbath meals.

A person who is blind or deaf- mute cannot act as a witness in a Jewish court of law. The presence of any significant physical defect in a member of the priestly caste having certain rights and duties in the synagogue precludes them from participating in the temple service. However, the presence of a “blemish” in a Jewish priest does not disqualify them from taking their share from the sacrifice alongside the serving priest. Similarly, only an animal free of physical blemish was the one brought as a sacrifice before God.


Islam and disability

The Quran contains hardly any direct reference to disabled people except in the context of a jihad. Prophet Muhammad did not consider people's handicap but treated people living with disability as normal. He taught that nothing should stand on their way. He rather focused on their inner beauty and amorphous souls just as he did with all his companions.

Islam teaches that humans are created different. It is the beauty of Allah's creation that we are not the same in colour, mentality and abilities. To this end disability is a test and not a punishment. Some might be tested by their wealth, by unpleasant or even painful experiences such as health conditions or having a disability. Hence disability is a natural part of being human; it's neither a blessing nor a punishment.

Islam states that people with disability “have strength and resources for their own empowerment” These  strengths  must  be  emphasised  but  at  the  same  time acknowledging their disability. This encourages Muslims to be emphatic and caring. However, they are warned not to be overprotective. They should be assisted whenever they need help. So people with disabilities are just like anyone else, they have certain weaknesses, but they have their strengths which “normal” people might not have.

Allah orders Muslims never to look down upon people living with disabilities or even to label or ridicule them, “perhaps they may be better than them (Surah 49:11). Integrating disabled people into society is crucial with regards to their emotional and mental well-being. Integration encouraged people to have empathy and to treat disabled people as being part and parcel of society. Islam grants the people with disability rights while assisting them in their needs. The disabled have the right to be respected (Surah 49:11). They also enjoy social justice.

They are to be provided with basic needs such as food and clothes (Surah 24:61). They also ought to receive treatment and rehabilitation, this is because Islam encourages assisting the disabled to carry out their duties. They must be included in the life of the family as full members, attend celebrations or holidays. They are also to receive proper Islamic education. They also should be able to marry.

Prophet Muhammad helped Julaybib to marry by approaching a certain family to give their beautiful daughter as a bride. Also a blind boy who had problems going to the mosque was provided a house near the mosque by Omar.

However, a culture of pity for the disabled, coupled with a desire to keep family struggles and affairs secret may lead Muslim families to hide the children with disabilities from society. Seclusion of a child living with disability may be a means of escaping the shame or humiliation associated with having a disabled child. There is however, emphasis on the need for a family to take care of the disabled which is a key responsibility laid out in the Quran.

Disability and religious intervention measures

Disability is an important public health problem especially in developing countries like Zimbabwe. Religious groups are providing rehabilitation measures targeting the needs of the disabled with community participation. In Zimbabwe, the majority of the people living with disability reside in rural areas where accessibility, availability, and utilization of rehabilitation services are a problem. Some Christian rehabilitation centres like Mutemwa in Mutoko, Karanda Hospital in Rushinga, Howard hospital in Mazowe are providing rehabilitation services.

The churches are also involved in awareness campaigns where they are teaching people living with disability and members of the community that disability is not inability. People living with disability are seen doing income generating projects like sewing, carpentry, vending to just mention a few. They encourage the construction of infrastructure which is user friendly to people living with disability.

Nevertheless, the churches are providing counselling sessions as well as institutions like hospitals. Most Mission hospitals and churches are at the forefront in providing assistive devices, provision fitment of assistive devices, and their follow up or repair therapeutic services like Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy, referral and arrangement for surgical correction through Government and Charitable Institutions, facilitation of issue of Disability Certificates and bus passes, and promotion of barrier-free environment.


Here is what we discussed in this topic

All religions have both positive and negative attitudes towards people living with disabilities. Disability cannot deprive a person from the love of the Supreme Being. Disability can be caused by various causes namely punishment from the Supreme Being, accidents, diseases, witchcraft, just to mention a few. Disability does not mean inability. However, people living with disabilities can be looked down upon due to their conditions.


Definition of terms used in this topic

Amorphous - without clearly defined shape or form.

Disclaim - to reject.

Precludes - to prevent someone from doing something.

Therapy - treatment of disability.