Skip to main content

Translating Disability in a Muslim Community: A Case of Modular Translation

Abstract

This study examines how Muslim religious leaders (imams) introduce the liberal notion of disability to their communities in Israel. The project described, initiated and supported by an American NGO, provides a case for exploring how the secular notion of disability rights is cast and recast in a Muslim world of meaning. It focuses on the mediation strategy that I call modular translation, employed by imams in sermons delivered for the purpose of altering or improving the status and conditions of people with disabilities. This strategy, as it emerged from the analysis, entails decoupling norms of conduct from their underlying justifications. It thus suggests that norms of conduct are open to change so long as the believers’ cosmology remains intact. As such, this turn may offer new avenues of thinking and acting about globalizing human rights within the arena of health and disability.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. When quoting a published sermon, the full name of the author is cited; otherwise, pseudonyms have been assigned.

  2. From: Hayosh Tali, Haj-Yahia Jihad and Yitzhak-Monsonego Einat. October 2010. Research Report—Masira ("Journey") Program for the Advancement of the Status of People with Disabilities in the Arab Society in Israel. Commissioned by The Division for Disabilities and Rehabilitation, JDC-Israel, p. iii. Accessed 8 July 2012, available at: http://www2.jdc.org.il/files/disability/publications/Masira-research-report-2010.pdf.

  3. Ibid.

  4. It is worth noting that despite the model's clarity and position in the growing disability movement, scholars of disability have directed our attention to the model's empirical, analytical and clinical limitations. For a succinct review of these critiques see Shakespeare (2006).

  5. My notion of liberal isomorphism was inspired by the work of DiMaggio and Powell (1991), which alludes to the link between a group's mirroring of forms and practices and its acquisition of social legitimacy. The attempt to acquire legitimacy in liberal social circles thus drives the disability discourse. Paradoxically, newcomers' efforts aimed at gaining internal legitimacy and recognition within the liberal isomorphic family often nurtures isomorphic practices and ideas that distance them from the target population they wish to liberate, a group whose members do not share its liberal world of meanings.

  6. Information on the Masira project is available at the project’s website: http://www2.jdc.org.il/category/English-JDC-Israel. The site includes a video in which leading figures in the project express what they see as Masira’s mission: http://www2.jdc.org.il/category/Masira-Journey-short-movie.

  7. Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor, Office of the Chief Scientist (2010), Arabs with Disabilities in Israel, Portrait of a Population and its Occupational Characteristics (p. 1), Jerusalem. Accessed 8 July 2012 (Hebrew), available at: http://www.moital.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/E76746C1-CB28-4025-924F-8CA9881B5C41/0/10541.pdf. For purposes of the survey underlying the report, the incidence of disability was constructed from respondents’ self-reported health and functional limitations. Disability was initially defined as a health-related or physical condition lasting at least 6 months, which significantly or very significantly interfered with the respondent's performance of daily activities, rated on a 4-point scale ranging from "not at all" to "very significantly". The identical survey was conducted among Jews (results reported separately) as well as Arabs. Respondents who replied that they had no health issues or that these issues did not interfere with daily functioning were excluded from the statistical analysis. Level of performance was assessed by means of a separate set of questions that related to acts such as the ability to eat independently. For more details on the categories' construction and their analysis see the report, p. 41, Appendix 2b.

  8. It is worth noting that the JDC was founded in 1914, decades before passage of the Declaration of Human Rights and establishment of the State of Israel. As a Jewish organization, the JDC seeks to put into practice the idea that "all Jews are responsible for one another and for improving the well-being of vulnerable people around the world." The organization established its international development program in 1986 to further its agenda, and is now active in "more than 70 countries and…Israel to alleviate hunger and hardship … and provide immediate relief and long-term development support for victims of natural and man-made disasters" throughout the world (JDC, http://www.jdc.org/about-jdc/?s=global-topnav). The JDC is committed to strengthening Israel as an independent state by promoting social equality for all its disadvantaged groups, including Palestinian citizens of Israel.

  9. For a discussion of the Masira project's debt to the social model of disability see: Hayosh, Tali, Haj-Yahia, Jihad and Yitzhak-Monsonego, Einat. October 2010. Research Report—Masira ("Journey") Program for the Advancement of the Status of People with Disabilities in the Arab Society in Israel. Commissioned by The Division for Disabilities and Rehabilitation, JDC-Israel. Accessed 08 July 2012, available at: http://www2.jdc.org.il/files/disability/publications/Masira-research-report-2010.pdf. On page 3, the report makes direct reference to Barnes et al. (1999).

  10. James Charlton used this phrase (Latin: Nihil de nobis, sine nobis) for the title of his 2000 book on disability rights (Charlton 2000). It has since become a banner for the disability rights movement in its emphasis on the full and active participation of affected groups in policymaking. Charlton attributes the phrase to South African disability activists Michael Masutha and William Rowland, who had in turn heard it used by an unnamed East European activist at an earlier international disability rights conference.

  11. The concept of attitudes has been challenged in the anthropological literature; see Ingstad (1995).

  12. The term imam in Arabic means, literally, “leader.” However, within the Islamic community, the title has been elaborated to mean the person who leads the prayer rituals in a mosque but also fulfills communal functions such as officiating over marriages and funerals, disputes, divorces, reconciliations and so forth.

  13. For other studies focusing on the mismatch between Western notions of health and disability and those held by the Muslim community, see for example: Ajrouch (2005), Al-Heeti (2007), Al-Abdulwahab and Al-Gain (2003).

  14. Hayosh, Haj-Yahia, and Yitzhak-Monsonego, October 2010. Research Report—Masira ("Journey") Program for the Advancement of the Status of People with Disabilities in the Arab Society in Israel. Commissioned by The Division for Disabilities and Rehabilitation, JDC-Israel, pp. vii, 87–88.

  15. In Israel, two major Islamic movements are active politically, the Northern Islamic Movement and the Southern Islamic Movement. The latter, known to be more pragmatic, has three representatives sitting in the Israeli parliament (the Knesset). We did not have access to reliable information regarding the imams' political affiliations due to the formal restrictions mentioned above. However, during informal conversations, our informants hinted that many of the imams participating in our research tended to support the Southern Movement. Political stance was thus excluded from the research.

  16. We should note that the imams and Arab society in general pay less heed to mental illness (see for example Turmusani 1999, p. 105).

  17. Having said that, I do not claim to fully exploit the sophisticated and diversified forms of homiletic stories found in all religions. However, in the sermon's context, the lesson clearly resonates with this community of believers' collective sentiments.

  18. In a previous case of modular translation, I described "modular translators" as actors sharing both worlds of meaning and moving between the two (Mizrachi 2012).

References

  • Ajrouch, Kristine J. 2005 Arab-American Immigrant Elders’ Views About Social Support. Ageing and Society 25(05): 655–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Al-Abdulwahab, Sami S., and Al-Gain, Salah I. 2003 Attitudes of Saudi Arabian Health Care Professionals Towards People with Physical Disability. Asia Pacific Disability Rehabilitation Journal 14(1): 63–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al-Heeti, Roaa M. 2007 Why Nursing Homes Will Not Work: Caring for the Needs of the Aging Muslim American Population. The Elder Law Journal 15: 205–231.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anspach, Renee R. 1979 From Stigma to Identity Politics: Political Activism Among the Physically Disabled and Former Mental Patients. Social Science & Medicine 13(Part A): 765–773.

  • Asad, Talal 2011 Freedom of Speech and Religious Limitations. In Rethinking Secularism. Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, eds., pp. 282–297. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Barnes, Colin, Geof Mercer, and Tom Shakespeare 1999 Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bazna, Maysaa S., and Tarek A. Hatab 2005 Disability in the Qur’an. Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 9(1): 5–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernstein, Mary 2005 Identity Politics. Annual Review of Sociology 31(1): 47–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, Wendy 1995 States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Charlton, James I. 2000 Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment. Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, Lennard J. 2006 The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism: On Disability as an Unstable Category. In The Disability Studies Reader. Lennard J. Davis, ed., pp. 231–242. London and New York: Routledge.

  • DiMaggio, Paul J., and Walter W. Powell 1991 The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. In The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio, eds., pp. 63–82. Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press.

  • Farmer, Paul 2005 Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ghanem, As’ad 2001 The Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel, 1948–2000: A Political Study. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

  • Gilson, Stephen French, and Elizabeth Depoy 2000 Multiculturalism and Disability: A Critical Perspective. Disability & Society 15(2): 207–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hasnain, Rooshey, and Shoab Rana 2010 Unveiling Muslim Voices: Aging Parents with Disabilities and Their Adult Children and Family Caregivers in the United States. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 26(1): 46–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holzer, Bridgitte, Arthur Vreede, and Gabriele Weigt 1999 Introduction. In Disability in Different Cultures: Reflections on Local Concepts. Bridgitte Holzer, Arthur Vreede, and Gabriele Weigt, eds., Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Ingstad, Benedicte 1995 Mpho Ya Modimo—a Gift from God: Perspectives on “Attitudes” Toward Disabled Persons. In Disability and Culture, pp. 246–263. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Kanter, Arlene S. 2007 Promise and Challenge of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce 34: 287.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kasnitz, Devva, and Russell P. Shuttleworth 2001 Introduction: Anthropology in Disability Studies. Disability Studies Quarterly 21(3): 2–17.

  • Khamaisi, Rassem, ed. 2011 Arab Society in Israel (4): Population, Society, Economy (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kleinman, Arthur 2006 What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kruks, Sonia 2001 Retrieving Experience: Subjectivity and Recognition in Feminist Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewin-Epstein, Noah, and Moshe Semyonov 1993 The Arab Minority in Israel’s Economy: Patterns of Ethnic Inequality. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press.

  • Marshall, Martin N. 1996 The Key Informant Technique. Family Practice 13(1): 92–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Massey, Douglas, and Nancy Denton 1993 American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ming-Cheng M. Lo. 2010 Cultural Brokerage: Creating Linkages between Voices of Lifeworld and Medicine in Cross-Cultural Clinical Settings. Health 14 (5): 484–504.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mizrachi, Nissim 2012 On the Mismatch Between Multicultural Education and Its Subjects in the Field. British Journal of Sociology of Education 33(2): 185–201.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mizrachi, Nissim, and Hanna Herzog 2012 Participatory Destigmatization Strategies Among Palestinian Citizens, Ethiopian Jews and Mizrahi Jews in Israel. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(3): 418–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oliver, Michael 1990 The Politics of Disablement: A Sociological Approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Oliver, Michael 1996 Understanding Disability: From Theory to Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Peters, Susan 2000 Is There a Disability Culture? A Syncretisation of Three Possible World Views. Disability & Society 15(4): 583–601.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reid-Cunningham, Allison Ruby 2009 Anthropological Theories of Disability. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 19(1): 99–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shafir, Gershon, and Yoav Peled 2002 Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Shakespeare, Tom 2006 The Social Model of Disability. In The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd Edition. Lennard J. Davis, ed. New York/London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shuttleworth, Russell P., and Devva Kasnitz 2004 Stigma, Community, Ethnography: Joan Ablon’s Contribution to the Anthropology of Impairment-disability. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 18(2): 139–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swidler, Ann 2006 Syncretism and Subversion in AIDS Governance: How Locals Cope with Global Demands. International Affairs 82(2): 269–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, Charles 1996 A World Consensus on Human Rights? Dissent 43: 15–21.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, Charles 1999 Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights. In The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights. Joanne R. Bauer, and Daniel A. Bell, eds., pp. 124–144. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Tremblay, Marc-Adelard 1957 The Key Informant Technique: A Nonethnographic Application. American Anthropologist 59(4): 688–701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Turmusani, Majid 1999 Some Cultural Representations of Disability in Jordan: Concepts and Beliefs. In Disability in Different Cultures: Reflections on Local Concepts. Bridgitte Holzer, Arthur Vreede, and Gabriele Weigt, eds. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whyte, Susan Reynolds, and Benedicte Ingstad 1995 Introduction. In Disability and Culture. Benedicte Ingstad and Susan Reynolds Whyte, eds. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Yiftachel, Oren 1997 Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation: “Ethnocracy” and Its Territorial Contradictions. The Middle East Journal 51: 505–519.

Download references

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Israel for their kind support of this research. I would also like to express my appreciation to Masira’s leadership, the imams, Israeli Government officials, and NGO activists who graciously participated in the research. I would also like to thank my colleagues who so helpfully commented on the previous draft, as well as to the CMP editors and referees for their insights. In the interest of anonymity, I have refrained from listing any names outside of those indicated within the article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nissim Mizrachi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mizrachi, N. Translating Disability in a Muslim Community: A Case of Modular Translation. Cult Med Psychiatry 38, 133–159 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-013-9350-y

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-013-9350-y

Keywords

  • Disability rights
  • Cultural mediation
  • Modular translation
  • Liberalism
  • Islam