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Neurodivergent Muslims: A Warm Welcome Is Due

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Published June 5, 2024

By Laura El Alam

Part one of this series discussed the definitions of neurodivergence, autism, and ADHD and highlighted some of the challenges neurodivergent Muslims face. In this article we will explore how our Islamic centers, gatherings, and communities can become more supportive and accommodating of our neurodivergent brothers and sisters in faith.

I interviewed three families with neurodivergent children. They kindly shared their experiences and suggestions in the hopes that this will raise awareness and help our ummah improve its outreach and attitude towards neurodivergent Muslims.

Note: some names below have been changed to protect identities.

Parents’ Wish Lists

Rosena, the mother of two neurodivergent children who found out in 2023 that she herself has ADHD, has some specific requests of the Muslim community. “Please be inclusive and allow children to be children,” she says. “Allow them to regulate in their preferred way and stim.”

Stimming is when a person repeatedly makes certain movements or sounds, often for self-regulation. Stimming can be a way to handle overwhelming emotions or sensory overstimulation.

Rosena continued, “Allow them to express and make noise as children should. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) would allow his grandchildren to climb on his back as he led the prayer. Who are we to hold children to a level of account beyond their comprehension? Remember to be merciful and embrace diversity.”

Some people find it difficult to be tolerant of behaviors that they interpret to be rambunctious or disrespectful in the masjid. It might help to keep in mind that oftentimes, children are moving and making noise because their bodies and brains are compelling them, not because they are undisciplined or naughty. Also, remember that many disabilities are invisible. Neurodivergent people do not necessarily look different from neurotypical people. You will not be able to look at a child and know his/her neurotype, challenges, abilities, or disabilities.  It is best to give children and their caretakers the benefit of the doubt.

If you need to talk to a child or his parents about behavior that you find disruptive, ask yourself first, “How would the Prophet (peace be upon him) handle this?” Would he talk harshly? Would he make them feel unwelcome at the masjid? Would he act annoyed and inconvenienced?” As we all know, our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) always handled people with gentleness, patience, and kindness. We should strive to uphold his noble example, regardless of whether a child is neurodivergent or not.

Fatima, the mother of two autistic children, explains, “My daughter does not have an understanding of prayer and other forms of worship, and therefore her attention and focus are limited.  Many of the forms of worship require her to sit still and focus, as well as be mindful of verbalization. For example, Jumah khutbah and Eid khutbah are two instances that can require attention and silence.  My daughter’s vocal and body stereotypy can be somewhat disruptive.  She makes vocal sounds and rocks back and forth. At the Islamic center we attend, the space is extremely limited, making the ambiance very upsetting for her.  She prefers to walk and stretch her legs.  This can be seen as disruptive since other worshippers may be praying.”

Louise A., the mother of an autistic seven-year-old son, hopes for greater awareness, acceptance, and support. She says, “I wish the Muslim community knew more about neurodivergence and that it is part of Allah’s creation and not something to look down upon. Nor is it a source of shame. I also wish there were more Muslim support groups for families with neurodivergent members.”

“Muslim communities should engage with neurodivergent individuals,” says Fatima. “They too have a right to participate in their own ways and engage in ibadat (worship). These children with disabilities are Muslim, too. Accommodations for children (and even adults) with disabilities at their respective places of worship should be made,” Fatima suggests offering ASL [American Sign Language] and braille classes, and sensory limiting activities in both the men and women’s areas. Also supervision of the children by trained individuals during times of prayer can be provided.

The Importance of a Warm Welcome

“If a trained Muslim in this community approaches one of our children to make them welcome, bring a smile to our children’s face, teach them one thing —that would be ibadat itself,” says Fatima. “Neurotypical children would then also realize that all unique/different children should be attending our Islamic center.”

“As my daughter matures, her [autistic] behaviors have decreased considerably, but her diagnosis is quite apparent when she is amongst neurotypical peers,” continues Fatima. “If she has accommodations at the Islamic center, or any place of worship, she will become accustomed to attending this space.  And in turn, more children and adults with disabilities will have that same opportunity.”

Less Judgment, More Understanding

With greater understanding of neurological differences, many Muslims will be less judgmental of others. So often, we label people negatively, criticize them, or ostracize them without knowing the genuine struggles behind their behaviors.

Rosena gives some examples: “Those who are neurodiverse, whether diagnosed or not, may have difficulty with executive functioning and as a result may have trouble with skills such as planning, staying organized, sequencing information, and self-regulating emotions.”

“Communities can assist,” she says, “by taking responsibility to educate themselves on neurodiversity to better support community members. It would be wise for those who are educators in the Muslim community to tailor their teaching so those with neurodiversity can fully benefit and achieve their full potential.”

“It can be perceived that those who are neurodiverse are lazy or obstructive,” adds Rosena. “This harmful terminology has a long-term, deep impact on a group who already experiences difficulty with daily tasks and routine. The routine of neurodivergent individuals may be at odds with what communities would want (such as sleep patterns, keeping their homes organized, etc). Better understanding and support of how each neurodivergent individual operates and showing actual support rather than judgment would assist them greatly. Also, we should all acknowledge that seeking support is not bad.”

Co-occurring Conditions

“Many neurodivergent individuals also have co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression,” explains Rosena. “Mental health conditions can increase the risk of addiction, as you may use substances or engage in addictive behaviors to cope with your symptoms.”

While not promoting harmful substances or encouraging addictions, the Muslim community can still compassionately support their brothers and sisters who are struggling with mental health problems.

“As a community, we need to be aware and offer support and encouragement rather than shaming, which can lead to isolation,” says Rosena.  “The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) example is the best one and demonstrates how society can foster social connections that are strong, wholesome, and nurturing — connections that can serve to dissuade people from falling into sin but also lead to an ummah who are the best examples of Islam, living a life of complete submission to Allah and contributing in remarkable ways to their communities.”

Inclusion Is the Islamic Way

If we are going to be true ambassadors of our faith and sincere followers of our Prophet (peace be upon him), then we must do more to educate ourselves about neurodivergent people and accommodate their needs. Otherwise, we are excluding many of our brothers and sisters from congregational worship, celebrations, and ties to their ummah.

Fatima says, “We understand the Islamic center is a shared space and everyone has a right to be there. Everyone is reaping blessings by their attendance.  Unfortunately, the neurodivergent community and children/adults with disabilities are not factored into this equation.  Until the Muslim community begins to make such accommodations, children with disabilities and their families will continue to miss out on important events.”

Rosena sums up our community’s Islamic obligation by quoting an article by Hazwan Hilmi: “Incorporating children into the mosque environment aligns with the teachings of the Quran and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Quranic emphasis on children, coupled with the Prophet’s love and compassion for them, reinforces the value of their presence in the mosque. Furthermore, involving children in the mosque community aligns with the responsibility of parents and the community to educate and guide them on the path of righteousness. Embracing the teachings of Islam regarding children in mosques not only benefits the younger generation but also contributes to the formation of a united and compassionate community that embodies the true essence of Islam.”

Let us all work to ensure that all children can feel welcome and comfortable in our Islamic centers and gatherings. The future of our ummah depends upon the way we nurture and support young people now, and neurodivergent individuals have as much of a right to kind treatment and access to Islamic spaces as neurotypical ones. To read more about this subject, go to

Avatar photo Laura El AlamAuthor Laura El Alam is a freelance writer, editor, and author of the award-winning children’s picture book Made From the Same Dough as well as over 120 published articles. You can visit her online at

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