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Sign-Language Used in Egypt Mosques

June 30, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Mohammed Abdel-Fattah, who is deaf, has attended Friday prayers every week for decades. This Friday, he was finally able to follow every word.

Friday prayers at Cairo’s Sayyida Zeinab Mosque were translated into sign language this week _ a first in an Egyptian mosque. Hundreds of deaf people were among those worshipping at the mosque, where a sign-language interpreter is to be a regular feature.

``I used to get angry about attending the prayers and not being able to understand,″ Abdel-Fattah, 60, said through a translator. ``I am very happy that something like this is happening.″

Ahmed Younes, head of the Egyptian Organization for Rights of the Disabled, said no one should get in the way of a person wanting to be closer to God.

``The deaf and the mute, all over the world, are living in a prison of isolation,″ he said. ``We are opening the way, and we hope it will never be closed again.″

There are 7 million disabled among Egypt’s 65 million people, Younes said. Of them, 2 million are deaf.

Younes, who is blind, said the Ministry of Religious Endowments gave his organization approval to start with sign-language interpreters in three Cairo mosques and to expand in the future. Some churches in Egypt also have started to provide sign-language interpreters at Sunday services, he said.

``The important thing is that the deaf and mute _ no matter what their nationality, social class, wealth, position, color or religion _ know their way to God,″ Younes said.

As the imam spoke from a pulpit Friday about the good deeds of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, hundreds of people watched as Alaa-Eddine el-Sayyed delivered the sheik’s remarks in sign language.

``I wasn’t able to sleep the past two nights for being so excited and happy that I would be the first person to translate the Friday prayers,″ said el-Sayyed, who works for the Egyptian rights group. ``The happiness that I saw in the faces of the deaf and mute made me even happier.″

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