Eid used to shine a light on disabled kids and families

·2 min read
Nada Merhi stands with dozens of special gift bags ahead of a drive-thru event at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre on the weekend. (Submitted by Nada Merhi - image credit)
Nada Merhi stands with dozens of special gift bags ahead of a drive-thru event at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre on the weekend. (Submitted by Nada Merhi - image credit)

Organizers of a special drive-thru event for Muslim kids with disabilities say they hope it helps reduce stigma in the community and brings smiles to families who've had it harder than most during the pandemic.

Around 75 families in vehicles turned up to a special event held for them at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre in northeast Calgary this past weekend.

Kids were given gift bags tailored to their needs and disabilities by a team of volunteers from the mosque.

"We really wanted to to honour them," said centre vice-president Nada Merhi, "and ensure they had full access to participate in Eid celebrations and cultivate a more inclusive environment."

Eid al-Fitr, or feast of breaking the fast, marks the end of the month of Ramadan.

Volunteers hand out gift bags to kids at the special needs Eid event. Organizers say it’s about improving inclusivity and honouring kids and families who’ve had a hard time during COVID-19.
Volunteers hand out gift bags to kids at the special needs Eid event. Organizers say it’s about improving inclusivity and honouring kids and families who’ve had a hard time during COVID-19.(Submitted by Nada Merhi)

Merhi says kids and their families have been severely affected and faced many obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, including social isolation.

She says the event was about giving them a sense of belonging and making them welcome at the centre.

"Some are hearing impaired, visually impaired, some that are autistic, so we shop for each child based on their disability. We got Braille Uno and puzzles, and for autistic children we got sensory toys," said Merhi.

Gift bags were ready to hand to out to kids with special needs at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre.
Gift bags were ready to hand to out to kids with special needs at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre.(Submitted by Nada Merhi)

It's the first time an event for people with special needs has happened at the mosque. Organizers say they hope it sends a message to families that they are welcome there.

"Exclusion is disabling. Feeling excluded can really affect one's spiritual, emotional and mental well-being," said Merhi.

"Families expressed their children were over the moon and so happy. We received so much love and light."

Merhi says she hopes it will be an annual event, and not just for the Muslim community.

"I've always been really passionate about disabilities and establishing inclusive environments. Now more than ever, we've seen all these changes in the world and we really need to change the narrative, not just in the Muslim community, but in Calgary as well."