“Interpreting is my Mecca” says the UK’s only male Muslim interpreter

Posted on September 10, 2013

One of the things I am very proud to be able to say is that, as far as I know, I am the only UK Muslim born male who is a fully qualified and NRCPD registered BSL interpreter.

This may be a big claim to make – but I’m much more proud of the fact (if I’m right) that because of this, I am able to provide access to Deaf Muslims to learn about their religion and culture using BSL and Islamic signs.

This is something that many Deaf Muslims, unlike their hearing peers, have missed out on throughout their early years. Vital religious education that is essential and should have been learned at home from family, friends and at classes.

Islamic education is something that is extremely important for all Muslims. Its about their identity. All this missed out on simply because there was no one who could provide this teaching and access about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim through using ‘appropriate’ Islamic BSL signs.

tariqI started learning BSL in 1997 at level 1 and continued through the levels till I graduated in 2000 from Wolverhampton Uni, with a BA Hons in BSL & English Interpreting and an NVQ 6 after that.

However, I quickly realised that I was the UK’s only Muslim born male with this qualification. So not only would I interpret in the Deaf community in general but it would also naturally make me the first choice interpreter for the British Deaf Muslim community for all deaf Islamic religious events, occasions, festivals, conferences, consultations and training.

Because of this, in 2010 and for the first time in the UK, I was the first and only male Muslim BSL interpreter that provided full BSL access to Deaf Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca. It was perfect timing and a perfect match too because the BSL interpreter would have to be a Muslim in order to be allowed to go on the pilgrimage.

It was a hugely spiritual and religious event. It was monumental. For me, it also meant the difficult challenge of interpreting between Arabic, English and BSL in a religious country with a strong Islamic culture and customs that were, on many levels, new to us all! For the next two weeks I interpreted to Deaf Pilgrims that had been dreaming about this amazing journey to the ‘House of God’ for a long time.

Something inside me told me that this was the reason I was put on this path. The reason I was a male Muslim BSL Interpreter. Something inside me told me that this was my pre-ordained destiny and I had to do this.

I interpreted the next two pilgrimages in 2011 and again in 2012 however I quickly became very disheartened with the cost and fees that the Deaf Muslims had to pay for such a deeply personal and religious experience. I decided that asking deaf people to pay more was extremely immoral and wrong, so in 2013, I set up my own independent company to reduce the cost of the pilgrimage for deaf people. I was determined that this would be a completely non-profit company.

This, I thought, is what it should be about. Open, honest and above all, non exploitative. In 2013, I set up my own business and was soon interpreting for a group of Deaf Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca. But this time is was cheaper for them and I organised it. This was a two-week pilgrimage that was £400 cheaper than Deaf pilgrims had been paying before. I planned and organised everything from the UK to Saudi Arabia and back. All the while also offering two-weeks full interpreting for free. Now my heart was content and calm. I continue to offer this service, making no profit financially, but gaining so much more spiritually.

I followed this up with my next project which is to provide training to BSL interpreters all over the UK. The training is called ‘BSL interpreting within the Deaf Muslim community’. With my years of experience and knowledge in the subject, I am currently delivering seminars and workshops. These are proving successful, extremely useful and interesting to BSL interpreters who, prior to the course, may have had little understanding and may have felt ill-equipped on issues like how to interpret to Deaf Muslims about their religion or their culture. I love my work.

Tariq Mahmood is the founder of TariqDeafUK (TDUK ) and is (as far as he knows) the UK’s only fully qualified and fully NRCPD registered provider of BSL interpreting to the British Deaf Muslim Community.

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Posted in: Tariq Mahmood