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Gender, disability and Islam: living with visual impairment in Bahrain

By Dunya Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed


This thesis addresses how interpretations of Islam in an Arab society shape the lives and experiences of young people with visual impairments. The study explores the understanding of disability and of visual impairment in particular, through an analysis of the interface and interplay of gender, culture, religion and disability in an Islamic society and the way in which these influence people's lives. It also analyses the ways in which the teachings of Islam are interpreted in relation to both disability and gender by policy makers and individuals. This topic is approached through a case study of people living with visual impairment in Bahrain. The data was collected through narrative interviews with users, semi-structured interviews with service providers and policy makers, and focus groups _with teachers. Some documentary analysis and observations were also undertaken. Within disability studies, the medical and social models of disability are well established and are being increasingly considered together, in a rational model in order to deal with impairment more judiciously. Diversity, in terms of to what extent these models are applicable or transferable to other cultures and societies, is a neglected area that this thesis addresses. The argument of this thesis is that in Bahrain, Islamic teachings are interpreted to promote a compassionate and charitable approach to people with disabilities which, in some ways, is congruent with the medical model of disability. Segregated specialist educational provision is provided, with limited inclusion in the sixth form, university and in adult life. Owing to Islamic interpretations of gender segregation, visually impaired girls and young women experience the intersection of gender and disability in ways that disadvantage them more than visually impaired boys and young men. Because of their gender and impairment they experience a double jeopardy. It is argued that there is the potential for Islamic teachings to be interpreted to support further social inclusion of disabled people with a focus on a rights-based approach

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