Dilshad D. Ali Discusses Making Libraries More Welcoming to Muslims with Autism & Other Disabilities

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dilshad forum 1

At the Targeting Forum, Dilshad D. Ali, autism mom, activist and 2015 White House “Champion of Change,” shared some classic misconceptions that people may have about Muslims, including the following:

  1. Mainly immigrant communities (rather than a vast range of first- and second- generation Muslim Americans)
  2. Muslims are mainly from the Middle East
  3. Muslims are identified by their headscarves, clothing or perhaps beards on men (not true!  All types of Muslims!)
  4. Language barriers

Issues facing the intersection of Muslims and Muslims with Autism in Public Spaces include the following:

Autism-related challenges

  1. Behavior challenges in social settings
  2. Sensory issues, where one must be quiet in certain situations or be able to navigate situations with people or crowds
  3. Reading social cues
  4. Challenges with waiting, engaging and interacting with others
  5. How behaviors are perceived in a public setting

Fear/pride of asking for help across cultures (Arab, Desi, Black Muslims)

Challenges Muslims face

  1. Suspicions (whether legitimate or perceived) due to visibility (Hijab or beard, other clothing)
  2. Micro-aggressions and other forms of minor or major Islamophobic actions
  3. Snap judgement (perpetuated by media stereotypes), whether legitimate or perceived
  4. Fear of asking questions/ asking for help
  5. Fear of law enforcement and figures of authority (can include librarians)

The Many Ways Libraries Can Be More Welcoming and Inclusive to Muslims with Autism and Their Families:

  • Like anyone living w/ autism, Muslim autism families are overwhelmed and may not know of the services libraries have to offer.   
  • Put up fliers or offer to put together an autism discussion at local mosques – a great way to reach the population. 
  • Reach out to Muslim autism families and individuals via social media with targeted messaging during key times – like Ramadan! (Ramadan greetings)
  • Have a dedicated section with information about Muslim-disability organizations as well as autism organizations and resources in general. 
  • Partner with schools to encourage library usage, using targeted messaging that welcomes folks from all religions and cultures.


Muslim Organizations and Networks Working on Disability Issues

Disability organizations primarily focused on American Muslim communities

  • MUHSEN (Muslims United for Handicap and Special Education Needs, muhsen.org), a non-profit striving to promote awareness, acceptance, and inclusion in Muslim communities and mosques (building model mosque disability inclusion programs)
  • EnabledMuslim (enabledmuslim.org), a project of American Muslim Health Professionals (amhp.us), is an online network providing spiritual and practical support for Muslims impacted by disabilities, both intellectual and physical
  • Global Deaf Muslim (globaldeafmuslim.org), a non-profit that advocates for the rights and needs of deaf Muslims worldwide and particularly strives to improve accessible Islamic education and programming

Disability organizations founded and led by Muslims, serving the needs of people of all faiths:

  • EquallyAble Foundation (equallyable.org), a non-profit seeking to empower and include people with disabilities worldwide, by helping provide education, employment, medical equipment, innovative technology, outreach to promote inclusion, and religious community supports
  • ETI – Empowerment Through Integration (etivision.org), a non-profit that propels disadvantaged blind youths to explore and achieve their career goals, with programs in the U.S., Lebanon, and more

Organizations serving the mental health needs of American Muslim communities:

  • Muslim Wellness Foundation (muslimwellness.com), an organization working to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, addiction and trauma in the American Muslim community
  • Naseeha Muslim Helpline (naseeha.net), 1-866-NASEEHA, a confidential youth helpline for young Muslims to receive immediate, anonymous, and confidential support over the phone
  • Stones to Bridges (stonestobridges.org), dedicated to empowering and supporting the needs of Muslim and other youth in North America, as a means to promote their emotional, social, and mental well-being
  • The Family & Youth Institute (thefyi.org), a non-profit research and education institute helping young people and their families realize their fullest potential through the development of the mind, body, and spirit

Muslim disability organizations and networks in Canada and the United Kingdom:

  • SMILE (smilecan.org), dedicated to supporting children living with disabilities and their families in Canada
  • Canadian Association for Muslims with Disabilities (camd.ca), focused on community-based approaches to meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities and their families
  • Disabled Muslims Network, UK (facebook.com/disabledmuslimsnetwork), working to support and assist Muslims who have a disability and Muslim parents of children with disabilities


Dilshad’s presentation slides are available at the link below and under the Resources tab of this blog:

Islam, Disability & Library Systems

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