By Jasper Twesigye,
Disability is part of the human condition; almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.
There are currently more than a billion people with disabilities around the world – that’s around 15% of the population of the planet.
In this article I am sharing the inspiring story of Qatar’s World Cup opening ceremony star and the official ambassador: YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah, 20 years, who was born with half a body. He is the disabled Qatari YouTube sensation who had a starring role alongside Hollywood A-lister Morgan Freeman at the World Cup’s opening ceremony.
But for inspirational Ghanim Al Muftah, it was a moment that may never have happened were it not for a fateful decision taken by his parents more than two decades ago.
The 20-year-old has caudal regression syndrome (CRS), an extremely rare genetic condition which meant he was born without the lower half of his body.
Mr. Ghanim Al Muftah is a twin brother born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder that impairs the development of the lower spine. Given very few chances of survival by doctors, Ghanim has managed to live beyond his fifteen years.
His story has served to amaze and inspire people by being a prominent and exceptional example for the youth and disabled people across the world. Ghanim owes much of his success to his parents who have been an unfaltering influence on his positive development with their insistence that Ghanim leads a normal life, beyond the confines of his incapacity.
On yearly basis, Ghanim receives expert surgical care in Europe.
He is Qatar’s youngest entrepreneur, having founded Gharissa Ice Cream, a company that has 6 branches and hires 60 employees. Ghanim seeks to expand his business and open franchises across the entire Gulf region. It is Ghanim’s hope to become a future Paralympian.
Despite his disabilities, Ghanim lists swimming, scuba diving, football, hiking and skateboarding as his favorite sports. At school, Ghanim used to play football wearing shoes on his hands and would chase after the ball with his ‘normal-sized’ friends. Astonishingly, Ghanim has climbed Jebel Shams, the highest mountain peak in the entire Gulf region. Fearless, he has publicly voiced his intention to climb Mount Everest.
Currently in university studying political science, Al Muftah hopes to become a diplomat one day.
He is also a major social media star, with more than seven million followers on TikTok, with over 3.3 million followers on Instagram and close to a million subscribers on YouTube.
He also enjoys participating in extreme sports such as scuba diving, skateboarding and rock climbing, and hopes to be a Paralympian one day.
In April, Al Muftah was named a Fifa World Cup 2022 ambassador.
To many in the Gulf, motivational speaker Ghanim Al Muftah’s was a familiar face.
But the young disability activist, who has a huge following on social media, was one of the breakout stars on Sunday night at the opening ceremony of the Fifa World Cup 2022 in Doha, which was watched by thousands around the world.
Al Muftah, 20, stole the show at the ceremony at the tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium, sharing the stage with Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman.
The young Qatari recited a verse from the Quran and helped the actor welcome the world in a show themed around unity and tolerance.
“We sent out the call, because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world,” said Al Muftah, dressed in a thobe and walking to the stage with the use of his hands.
Then, reciting a verse from the Quran, he added: “We were raised to believe that we were scattered on this earth as nations and tribes, so we could learn from each other and find beauty in our differences.”
“I can see it,” Freeman replied.
“What unites us here, in this moment, is so much greater than what divides us. How can we make it last longer than just today?”
“With tolerance and respect, we can live together under one big home,” Ghanim Al Muftah replied.
He added that ‘We were raised to believe that we were scattered on this Earth as nations and tribes so we could learn from each other and find beauty in our differences,’ the beaming 20-year-old told the 85-year-old during Sunday’s World Cup spectacle.
Mostly using his hands to move around, he has documented his continuing medical challenges, turning them into an inspirational journey and eventually becoming a motivational speaker.
Nicknamed the ‘Qatari miracle boy’, Ghanim’s condition affects about one in 100,000 children and was given 15 years to live by his doctors when he was born.
As a boy, he struggled to find schools that would accept him because of his disability.
But the determined youngster refused to let his condition stunt his thirst for life and decided to take on a range of sports – tackling everything from scuba diving, rock climbing, football, ice hockey and swimming, to workouts in the gym and archery.
In 2017, Ghanim completed the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah by crawling around the Ka’abah – the building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca in Saudi Arabia – on his hands instead of in a wheelchair.
Two years later, the inspirational teenager completed one of his most daunting physical challenges yet, climbing the 9,827ft tall Jebel Shams mountain, one of the highest in the Arabian Peninsula.
As well as his physical exploits, Ghanim has also spearheaded his own charity to help other disabled children.
Supported by his family, he founded the Ghanim al-Muftah Association for Wheelchairs from his home.
‘I care about others – I consider it a humanitarian and moral duty,’ he said as a 13-year-old when speaking to the Paralympics ahead of the Paralympic World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar in 2015.
In the same year, he was chosen as the ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ of Reach Out To Asia’s (ROTA) ‘Empowering Palestinian Refugee Children and Youth through Sports in Lebanon’.
The teenager visited a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Nahr El Bared, Lebanon, where he launched a new sports centre to help 5,000 children.
He and his parents also started the ‘Be Positive Project’ to help coach disabled children. The young activist also has ambitions of one day become a Paralympian, and has met Paralympic Skiing champion Tyler Walker, who flew out to Qatar several times to show Ghanim that ‘there are people who are world champions with my disability’.
He is also known for his motivational speeches and social media presence, featuring on TEDxQatarUniversity in 2018, aged 16, to talk about his condition, caudal regression syndrome.
To all those living with disability, I say that although we may be different, we should not think that our abilities are limited.
Let us dream and encourage ourselves to achieve our dreams, because as they say, ‘disability is not inability’.
Finally, society should understand that living with disability does not make you less of a person. They should extend a helping hand if the need be and should not see people with disabilities as strangers.
I believe we are all the same and disability doesn’t change that.