Islam and Autism:
The Wisdom of Why
Dilshad D. Ali is Managing Editor of the Muslim Portal for Patheos
The Wisdom of Why
In the face of suffering it is natural to ask the "Why" question. It can rightly seem that the universe has done some monumental wrong and perhaps also that God has done such a wrong.
Process theologians believe that the power of the universe and the power of Allah are different. We believe that the universe can unfold in ways that are tragic, even for Allah. Allah shares in the suffering but does not and cannot prevent it.
The process perspective is presented clearly and poignantly by Rabbi Bradley Artson in God Almighty? No Way! His son, too, has autism. It is also articulated by John B. Cobb, Jr. in God and the Sendai Earthquake. He situates the discussion of divine power in the larger context of natural disasters.
Artson and Cobb both reject the view that the divine reality at the heart of the universe -- the One whom Muslims address as Allah -- is a controlling power. Both affirm that there are things that happen in life that even this divine reality cannot prevent. Autism may be an example. It derives from the power of genes, not the power of Allah.
Dilshad D. Ali may disagree with this perspective. She may think that Allah could have designed her son's genes in a way that made life easier for him and for others, but chose not to.
So be it! From a process perspective we all see through a glass darkly and Dilshad may be right. When it comes to the divine reality there is no need for finality of statement or for a single point of view. But perhaps we can all affirm that Allah knows and understands her experience and also that of her son. As Whitehead puts it, God is a merciful companion to the world, a fellow sufferer who understands.
Indeed process theologians propose that the glory of Allah is enriched by the perspectives of those such as Lil D, who have a richness in their own life that the allegedly 'normal' may lack. As Rabbi Artson says of his own son, Jacob may know things and see things -- the beauty of turtles and whales -- that the normal cannot see. They surrender more beautifully to the mystery of life than the rest of us, and in this sense (so I suggest) they are true muslims.
Still, there is no hiding from the fact that life involves suffering, and that we must all face our times of intimacy with God -- I will call them our Ramadans -- with honesty, whether the honesty of despair or the honesty of trust. Or, as is usually the case, with both. It is a myth to say that the human heart is univocal in its approach to life and Ramadans. As Les Muray points out in The Sounds of Silence: Finding God When No One Can Understand You, we sometimes come to understand the intimacy of Allah, the nearness, when Allah seems furthest away. In the distance there is a closeness and in the closeness there is a distance. Between the distance and the nearness lies the wisdom of why.
The wisdom of why is that place in the heart where we live with faith and doubt, clarity and ambiguity -- without resolving them into something simpler. It is a place where Allah dwells silently, like a beloved mother of an autistic child who cannot prevent her son's suffering but shares in it and responds to his cries with the deepest of sighs, saying "But I love you no matter what, and I'll never leave you." In this response, which provides no answers, there is a beauty beyond answers. The beauty is the wisdom of why.
-- Jay McDaniel
Praying for Ramadan Blessings and a Respite from Ramadan Despair in Autismland
June 27, 2014
By Dilshad Ali
originally published in Muslimah Next Door
On a brilliant sunny afternoon, when the potted plants are certifiably glinting with shine and promise on my deck, when there is a buzz permeating the house as my children and my father-in-law eagerly wait for the evening so they can look for the moon in anticipation of the start of Ramadan, one would think that excitement and hopefulness would be the mainstays our collective family mood.
And they are – for everyone else. And to an extent, I am excited too. I’m about ready to launch a great “30 Days, 30 Writers” Ramadan blog project over on Altmuslim. And, to see two of my kids (well, really just the 10-year-old as the six-year-old gamely follows along) eager to put up Ramadan decorations and partake in fasting is endearing and heart-warming.
But the groove is eluding me just yet. While refrains of “are you Ramadan Ready” and “let’s get ready for Ramadan” are pretty much all I hear online and offline, I’m barely there. It has been a nonstop barrage these past few months of autism crises, new worries and inflated and deflated hopes as we’ve been chartering deep and untested waters with Lil D.
We saw a specialist for Lil D this week, and he had little hope to offer us and very few answers to our questions. I don’t blame him, and yet I do blame him. I somehow hold him responsible for not understanding the magnitude of what we are dealing with here and not sharing my urgency to understand why. Why. WHY? But how could he? This is not his child. We are but one of hundreds of patients he sees. And autism is too easy for him to use as a reason to not consider probing questions or alternative theories as to why things happened the way they happened.
“Why” has always had a firm and unyielding grasp on my heart, as hard as I’ve tried to shake it off. When it comes to pursuing help, treatment and answers to help mitigate and alleviate the challenges Lil D faces, “why” is a great and powerful tool. Until I get some sort of answers and thereby potential solutions to try, the “why” fuels me and pushes me on. Sometimes it becomes a game changer for Lil D, and sometimes it has us spinning deeper in the trenches.
But when it comes to matters of faith and heart, “why” can be so dangerous. My daughter (and I) says that when she faces Allah on the Day of Judgment, she’ll have all sorts of questions as to why He made Lil D face so many challenges. Then her grandparents and other elders tell her (and me) that when we face Him, our whys will melt away and all will be clear.
I pray so, because those whys are haunting, choking questions. They cause me to blink back tears and dig deeper than I thought I could to keep placing my trust in Him, to know that there is a reason, no matter how unfathomable that reason seems, for all this. Because at times nothing makes sense. It all seems too much and entirely unfair, like the universe has done a monumental wrong.
And I wonder why I can’t live like Lil D – willing to get up every day and try again, because that is the only choice he has. Willing to follow us to the ends of the earth, because he has unbearable trust in us. Willing to keep trying to make us understand what he is trying to say, what he is trying to tell us, what he is feeling, what he is thinking, even when we fail and fail and fail again.
Without fasting, without praying, without reading the Quran and without uttering any prayers from his lips, he is more Ramadan ready, more in tune with that Higher Power, then I can ever hope to be. He is unbound, untethered, unmoored from and unencumbered by the parameters of this world. He holds the answer to the “whys” within him.
But today, I am unable to open the lock.
To all you special needs parents out there, I pray you find your way this Ramadan. I ask that you make du’a for me to find mine. To all those with autism and other special needs, I pray you are able to live with understanding, respect and dignity. I pray you find a way to share that strength inside you with the rest of us. I pray that the challenges of this world are made easier upon you, and that you find it in your hearts to forgive your loved ones for when we failed to understand.
I pray for Ramadan blessings and respite from Ramadan despair.