When Yadira Thabatah converted to Islam 13 years ago from Catholicism, she was eager to learn everything she could about her new religion.
The only thing slowing Yadira down was that the 34-year-old mother of four living in Fort Worth, Tex., was born blind. When she and her husband, 33-year-old Nadir Thabatah, who is legally blind but has partial vision, looked for high-quality, English-language resources that she could read, they found nothing.
So in 2017, she and Nadir decided it was time for some DIY action. They spent eight months converting a popular English-language translation of Islam’s holy book into braille characters, then used a crowdfunding site to raise money to buy a braille embosser and began producing Quran translations right in their garage.
In the past three years, under the auspices of their nonprofit, Islam By Touch, the couple has sent more than 150 braille Qurans to U.S. mosques for distribution to visually impaired Muslims as well as to individuals directly. They have also launched an app to help visually impaired Muslims learn about their faith.
The first time Yadira was able to read the Quran for herself was when she was proofreading her own braille rendering of an English translation.
“I actually cried,” Yadira told Religion News Service. “I’m a reader by nature. Going from being Muslim for about a decade and never having read the Quran, the word of Allah, to actually giving this amazing opportunity to other blind people. I can’t put it into words.”
Other Muslims had recommended audio tapes of Islamic literature over the years, and Yadira did listen to plenty, as well as CDs with translations of the Quran. They got the job done, she said, but she still longed to read the Quran with her own hands.
“How do you expect blind Muslims to have a certain level of faith if they can’t even read their own book?” Nadir asked.
Mahdia Lynn, a disability rights advocate and executive director of inclusive Chicago mosque Masjid Al Rabia, said that many religious organizations consider accessibility to scripture as an afterthought, not considering that it is a matter of “life or death.”
“We’re talking about entryway into the hereafter, and about having a more fulfilling life here on earth,” Lynn said. “So if as a community leader you fail to make your space accessible to anyone who wants to come in the door, that’s a moral and ethical failing.”
Invented almost 200 years ago in France, braille is a tactile writing system that allows blind and visually impaired people to read and write. Patterns of dots — typically raised on embossed paper, so that they can be read by touch with the fingers — represent letters and symbols in any language.
The Quran itself has been available in braille in Arabic since at least the 1980s, when a braille Quran was first published in Turkey. Braille Qurans are now fairly available to Muslims around the world, in part because of the efforts of a blind Turkish man named Selahattin Aydin, who founded the International Union of Braille Quran Services in Istanbul in 2013. Aydin’s group has since helped improve access to braille Qurans around the world.
But braille versions in other languages are harder to come by.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s popular English translation is available in a braille version at the Library of Congress. In 2004, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s publishing division printed a 12-volume braille rendering of the popular English translation by Maulavi Sher Ali, available for about $100. The Centre for Peace and Spirituality International in New Delhi, India, has also produced a two-volume braille version of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s English translation.
But Islam By Touch claims that existing braille Qurans in English offer inaccurate translations. The Thabatahs chose to transcribe the Sahih International translation — a “reliable” translation, Nadir said — and make copies available to the public for free.