Combating Islamic State by bringing the Gospel to deaf communities in the Middle East


To combat Islamic State‘s effort to recruit marginalised deaf people in the Middle East with false promises, the Deaf Bible Society has launched a new initiative. The aim is to bring the story of Jesus in sign language to the deaf community in the Middle East for the first time ever.

The impetus for this project was the release last March of an Islamic State recruitment video designed to entice deaf people to join the jihadi movement. The terrorist group is notorious for using misleading information to recruit disenfranchised members of society.

Deaf people are often ignored in the Middle East, looked down on by society and excluded. This makes them susceptible to manipulation by terrorist groups. When they see the IS recruitment video, deaf people believe that the jihadists will give them the stature, acceptance and empowerment they long for. But it is a false expectation, temporary empowerment not true hope.

The Deaf Bible Society was inspired to start translating the Bible into sign language as a way to counteract Islamic State’s attempts to recruit followers among the deaf community in the Middle East. The aim is to provide a resource that they can look at bringing God’s word to them so they can judge for themselves what is true hope, not just for today but for eternity.

The effort to finally introduce deaf Middle Easterners to the story of how Jesus died for the sins of man is not a simple one. Many obstacles will need to be overcome. The World Federation of the Deaf estimates that about 95 % of the world’s deaf population is functionally illiterate. Text is based on the spoken language, based on sound. So, even if the deaf learn to read, they are just memorizing symbols that represent  sounds they cannot relate to. Hence a spoken language in a text form is always a second language for the deaf who not able to identify with text as they would with a sign language.

Although there are many text translations of the Bible available, only 20 of the world’s 400 sign languages have some form of Bible content available. There is currently no Middle Eastern sign language resource to let deaf people in the region know that they can find lasting hope in Jesus Christ.

 One of the biggest challenges facing the Deaf Bible Society is finding indigenous deaf people to help with the Bible sign language translation process. To assist recruitment of translators, they are producing a two-hour video that highlights the story of Jesus in sign language, which aims to encourage deaf Christians to contribute to the process. The video is scheduled to be completed and ready for  distribution via microSD cards by the end of 2015.

The video will be used as an engagement tool to encourage indigenous deaf Christians to identify with the project and hopefully form part of a team of deaf people people who will carry out the  Bible translation project.  Once a team of indigenous translators has been recruited, it will take from three to five years until a foundational sign language Bible is ready to be released.

ACN Malta