On one particular day, the Prophet (peace be upon him) met notable Quraish leaders Utbah ibn Rabiah and his brother Shaybah, Amr ibn Hisham better known as Abu Jahl, Umayyah ibn Khalaf and Walid ibn Mughirah. He had begun talking and negotiating with them and telling them about Islam. He so much wished that they would respond positively to him and accept Islam or at least call off their persecution of his companions.
While he was thus engaged, Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, a blind companion of the Prophet always eager to memorize the Quran, came up and asked him to read a verse from the Quran. “O messenger of God,” he said, “teach me from what God has taught you.”
The Prophet frowned and turned away from him. He turned his attention instead to the prestigious group of Quraysh, hoping that they would become Muslims and that by their acceptance of Islam they would bring greatness to the religion of God and strengthen his mission. As soon as he had finished speaking to them and had left their company, he suddenly felt partially blinded and his head began to throb violently. At this point the first sixteen verses of Surah Abasa were revealed, rebuking the noble Prophet on account of Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, sixteen verses that have continued to be recited from that time till today and shall continue to be recited.
From that day the Prophet did not cease to be generous to Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum. to ask him about his affairs, to fulfill his needs and take him into his council whenever he approached. In fact, in later years, he often greeted Ibn Umm Maktum with these words of humility: “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me.”
When God rebuked the Prophet on account of his behavior toward Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, He does not dwell on the latter’s disability except to refer to him as the “blind man.” In other words, the Prophet is not being admonished on his insensitivity towards a handicapped person, but rather on his negligence of someone who came to him to learn.
The Prophet’s behavior toward disabled people is an example par excellence for us. In addition to greeting Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum with respect and humility, the Prophet designated him as the leader of Madinah many times in his own absence. As far as the Prophet was concerned, Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum’s blindness was not a hindrance in his ability to carry out his duties.
Even though the Prophet was sensitive to the particular circumstances of his disabled companions, he did not consider these to be things which should stand in their way of leading normal lives. Rather, he was intent upon focusing on their inner beauty and amorphous souls – just as he did with all of his companions.
Therefore, putting aside our own prejudices and assumptions, we must recognize that disability in and of itself is not necessarily a hindrance or disadvantage. No doubt, it causes the afflicted person far more difficulty than someone who is not in his/her position. This is all the more reason why we should make extra efforts to provide facilitation to disabled individuals by ensuring not only their physical comfort through appropriate measures but their mental and emotional ease as well. The latter can only be accomplished if we view them beyond their physical state, just as the Prophet did.
“Companions of the Prophet” – Abdul Wahid Hamid
“The Treatment of Handicapped People in Islam” – Saulat Pervez