Sign language to benefit 20 million deaf visitors of the Two Holy Mosques

Thursday, April 21, 2022

In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the Directorate General of Services for Persons with Disability at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Prophet’s Mosque continues its work and efforts in serving people with disabilities at the mosque during Ramadan.

The directorate allocated a special room to serve people with disabilities in the mosque, which can accommodate around 100 people. Staff trained in sign language interpret the Friday sermons and lectures to people with hearing impairments.

During an interview with Arab News, Dr. Khalid bin Sulaiman Al-Thukair, a sign language translator at the Prophet’s Mosque, stated that the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques was one of the first to translate Friday sermons to a group of deaf people live in the Islamic world through a specialized room on the roof of the Prophet’s Mosque.

Later, a live broadcast of the sessions was done on Channel 2 and the Prophet’s Sunna channel.

“Nearly 20 million Arab Muslim deaf people around the world benefit from the Friday sermon,” said Al-Thukair, adding that previously, hearing-impaired people used to benefit only from Friday prayers and did not benefit from the sermons of the Two Holy Mosques.

He stressed that the biggest achievement for the interpreter is seeing the effect of his translation on hearing-impaired people.

“The translator succeeds in conveying 70 to 90 percent of the content to the deaf, most of whom are keen to attend the Friday prayer,” said Al-Thukair.

“The translator analyzes the information and simplifies it … for the deaf in a fraction of a second. The Arabic language has approximately 12 million words, while sign language does not exceed 20,000 words.”

He said sign translators are the ears of the deaf and that the reactions from the Arab and Islamic worlds are impressive and remarkable. “Saudi signs are the nucleus of religious sign language in the world. One hundred and fifty deaf people from all over the world usually meet in the last 10 days of Ramadan in a place dedicated and equipped for them at the roof of the Prophet’s Mosque from the southern side through gate No. 5 to enjoy the translation and knowledge.”

Maram Al-Juaid, a linguist specialized in sign language, told Arab News that “sign language is not just random movements with hands, but a linguistic system consisting of symbols that represent words, concepts, or ideas of language.

“It is done by (moving) one hand or both hands to give meaning to things and people. Its unique linguistic characteristics are characterized by expressions of face, body organs and language signs such as hand shape, movement, place and direction of the palm. It is a language linked to the environment and the customs and traditions surrounding it. Like spoken language, sign language varies from to region to region and reflects the history, culture and social norms of the deaf community.”

Al-Juaid noted that Saudi sign language is a stand-alone language and not a translation of the spoken Arabic language. “It has a specific system that distinguishes it from spoken languages. Like other human languages, it has developed and flourished through the Saudi deaf community. It is (a) language rich in vocabulary and forms the main component of deaf culture in the Kingdom, where deaf people were keen to pass it on through generations to be the main language in all educational, cultural and social aspects of life.”

She added that Saudi Arabia has ensured the rights of persons with disabilities and provided them with all kinds of care and support in the Kingdom, including deaf and hearing-impaired people.

“The Kingdom accorded (a) great deal of importance to facilitating the learning of Saudi sign language and promoting the linguistic and cultural identity of the deaf. It has also provided human assistance to this precious segment of the society, including Saudi sign language translators.”

Al-Juaid highlighted the attention and care that the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques accords to the deaf and hearing-impaired people.

“It (has) allocated to them a special prayer room with a sign language translator to interpret speeches, lessons and fatwas. It has also provided them with dedicated places where they can learn to memorize and recite the Holy Qur’an in Saudi sign language.

“Other services include guidance symbols within the Holy Mosque to guide them to the various locations and facilities inside the mosque through drawn and abbreviated symbols. The Fatwa Robot is another great technical leap in providing pilgrims with a great service. It is the most popular among pilgrims as it provides them with legitimate answers to their questions about the rituals they perform and other religious issues,” explained Al-Juaid.