The women of Deaffinity

Deaffinity is a group whose mission is to “help break barriers and improve the quality of life for the BME [black and minority ethnic] D/deaf community.” While advocating on behalf of the deaf community, Deaffinity provides culturally sensitive services to the Deaf community, such as their Youth leadership and Engagement program, and is also involved in fostering awareness within the hearing community by creating various campaigns.
Their most recent campaign, which won first place at the London Adobe Youth Voices live film screening held at the British Film Institute, is making waves in the global networking community. Adobe Youth Voices was created in order to “empower youth in underserved communities around the globe with real-world experiences and 21st century tools…” Deaffinity was the first deaf group since the launch of Adobe Youth Voices in 2006 to participate and submit a video.

Their short-film, titled “Deaf not Dumb,” was produced by a group of young deaf filmmakers and is described by Deaffinity as a “powerful counter narrative to the discrimination targeting members of the deaf community.”

In the About section of the “Deaf not Dumb” project web page, Sadaqat Ali, CEO of Deaffinity, further describes the short-film by writing:

“The video highlights a number of key issues our community faces, i.e. discrimination, feelings of isolation, lack of effective communication. It emphasizes the importance for us all to learn, or at least be aware of basic BSL [British sign language]. Speech is not the only method of non-written communication. Simple gestures are not enough”

The subject of the short film was conceived at a workshop with ten young Deaf people from the BME community. After exploring issues that affect the Deaf community and agreeing on a concept for the video, four women members of the BME Deaf community sat down and wrote out the lyrics, converted them to BSL and rehearsed it. These four women played active roles both in front and behind the camera.

By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with Muslim women. While it has not been made explicit by members of Deaffinity, perhaps to give their identities as members of the BME Deaf community primary importance, it is quite clear that members of Deaffinity, both male and female, are largely Muslim.

The three women performing in the “Deaf not Dumb” video, Samira Mohammed, Maab Adam, and Khayrun Nessa as well as Hilma Begum, who along with the other three women wrote and edited the video, are all Muslim women.

In another video, these four women describe themselves and their role in making and performing the “Deaf not Dumb” video.

I find it interesting that Deaffinity chose these women, who are visibly identifiable as Muslim women, to be seen in this project. I am not sure if this was intentional—perhaps they wanted to make a statement that could be seen as representing the BME, Deaf and Muslim communities all at once—or rather a decision based primarily on the merit of their creative abilities. However, it seems more likely that the latter is true, considering that Deaffinity has made no explicit attempt to identify its members as part of a particular religious group or affiliate itself with a specific religion.

Whatever the case, it is extremely refreshing to see Muslim women, who often construct their individuality at the intersection multidimensional identities, advocating for themselves in a way that isn’t exclusionary to any particular facet of their identity. That is, it is refreshing to see these women speaking as members of the BME Deaf community about issues that are unrelated to their being Muslim women, without necessarily shrouding that part of their identity.

In this way, these women are exposing the global community to notions of Muslim women which prove that we are not part of a homogenous group; we construct our individual and/or collective identities from a set of diverse characteristics, any combination of which may make us recognizable as members of larger communities, while at the same time making it impossible to position any one Muslim women as solely integral to the Muslim community or solely a product of her religion.

However, not to retract from their deliberate self-identification as members of the BME Deaf community versus their not-so-calculated identification as Muslim women in this case, it must be said that these women, speaking in “Deaf not Dumb” chiefly as members of the BME Deaf community, are intentionally and successfully breaking the barriers between the Deaf and hearing communities with their creative talent.

Unintentionally, but also quite successfully, they are becoming a part of the landscape of assorted Muslim women who are kicking cliché to the curb and proudly asserting their identities.
Diana is a feature writer at Muslimah Media Watch, where this article first appeared.

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