May 18, 2022

Calling all Muslims: Conference organizer asks Muslim community to join conversation on disability

Keynote speakers (left to right): Dr. Lennard Davis, a distinguished emeritus in the field of disability studies, and disability advocate and playwright Brenda Wesley have both influenced current perceptions of disability.

In addition to academics from around the world, two keynote speakers bring insights from decades of professional and personal experience. Dr. Lennard Davis, professor emeritus of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “is very well known,” Othman said. She said she considers him one of the founders of disability studies in the United States.

Davis talks about her experience growing up in a deaf home and has written extensively on disability and human rights, she added. “It speaks about disability throughout history and integrates theoretical approaches to policy and law, and focuses on issues of disability, literary and cultural theory, genetics, race, identity and biocultural issues. I thought he would be the perfect person to talk to.

Ms. Brenda Wesley has been widely recognized for her advocacy. She served on the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Milwaukee as Director of Education and Outreach for 14 years before starting her own mental health counseling agency.

“Brenda Wesley is a beautiful woman who is an advocate for mental illness and rights, and caring for her own son,” Othman said. “I really wanted her to come and talk about her advocacy, what she’s doing at the local and state level to make her voice heard.”

Wesley began his work in this area more than 20 years ago, when his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, “a severe mental disorder that…can result in a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and…a behavior that impairs day-to-day functioning”. according to the Mayo Clinic. Her experiences seeking services for her son, a black man, and the “troublesome signs of growing mental health issues in the African-American community” led her to develop an African-American outreach program in 2007 called ” Access, Support & Knowledge (ASK).”

She is also a playwright and has created a play on disability. Pieces: in my own voice is a play that depicts what it is like to live with a mental health diagnosis. It has been run for schools and community organizations.

A labor of love

Four years ago, Dr. Othman set out to “really understand the issue of disability in Islam: how Islam as a religion and how Muslims from different cultures view ‘disability’. Since then, she has explored what religious texts and Muslim scholars have said about disability, including mental illness, throughout history, and how politics and law are formed in a specific context to deal with people. disabilities.

“It became my passion,” Othman said. She launched AMWRRI Digital Archives of Persons with Disabilities collect data and oral histories from Muslims in Milwaukee, including people with ability differences and their families, caregivers, imams, religious scholars, leaders of community organizations, and health/health professionals mental health” to create a more complete picture “of disability” at the intersection of gender, culture, immigration and other forms of identity.

“I’ve been working really hard on this conference for the past three years, for the past few months I’ve been working 10 or 11 hours a week on it on top of my full-time schedule of lectures, research, publications and mentoring students, but I’m so happy to do that,” she says. It is a very enriching experience for me to organize a much needed conference.

Part of her Marquette Explorer Challenge funded research included organizing a small symposium. “I felt we needed more than that,” she said. Instead, she organized “a conference that brings together scholars, activists, people with disabilities and people who care about this issue in open discussion.”

She received a “great response to a short call” for the panelists, she said. “That can tell you how much a conference like this is really needed.”

Conference co-sponsors include: Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Arab and Muslim Women’s Research and Resources and the following Marquette University sponsors: Department of Languages, Literature and Cultures, Department of History, Race and Indigenous Studies Program, Marquette University Libraries, Center for the Advancement of the Humanities, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and Marquette Forum.