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Mosques as part of Muslim life

Dr Ahmed describes the function and role of mosques in British Muslim communities
(sound of Muslim call to prayer) (sound of Muslim call to prayer) There are an estimated 2000 mosques in the United Kingdom. The majority of these established in the last 60 years. The speed and energy by which they have been established by Muslim communities should give an indication of how important they are. The mosque is not just home to ritual worship, like the salah, but the mechanism by which Muslims do religion together. The means by which they fulfil an entire range of social, educational, pastoral and civil needs. The earliest mosques in the UK were men-only, an exclusivity that still has an impact to date, with nearly one third of mosques not providing a space for women.
It is a changing picture, however, and a generational one. With mosques increasingly expanding the provision and service to include women. For many Muslims, in times of crisis, the mosque is a first port of call. They may use it to access religious guidance from an imam or alim, but they might also use it to seek out companionship or social support. I remember an illustrative example of asylum seekers who were placed in a small Welsh village, but by visiting the local mosque had made the contacts needed to find a doctor dentist halal food, English lessons, and even a few offers of employment.
It is this dimension of a mosque which is very important to understand. The mosque as a site of civil society. They are unregulated spaces, not managed by the government, such as the NHS or businesses like your local coffee shop, but instead a community run, managed, owned facility. They are small public spaces. It is not uncommon that a mosque will be open in the morning for prayers and close late at night. But in between people can use them however, and whenever they like. People might use the mosque as a place to sit and talk with friends, for a few moments of quiet solitude, or even to share a meal.
This type of shared space, freely accessible and communally managed, can be important in helping those undergoing a mental health crisis, as well as providing resilience and a safety net of informal social support. Many do indeed turn to the mosque when going through an episode of poor mental health, whether for counselling from an imam, or the healing companionship of being with others. But importantly, the mosque and similar spaces can play an important role in maintaining good mental health. The regular presence of familiar faces prevents the type of isolation and loneliness that was, before COVID 19, described by some as a silent pandemic. This is especially important among Muslims of an aging population.
Finally, for many Muslims, mosques are highly trusted institutions and a place of gathering and thus ideal places to help deliver important information about mental health and wellbeing. We have seen many examples of this during the pandemic, with mosques being vaccination hubs for the local community. There are already some examples of mental health interventions being delivered in mosques, sometimes in the form of wellbeing seminars or similar, but also through the one to one counselling that can be offered in the mosque. The Al Manar mosque in London, for example, was in the vicinity of the Grenfell Tower during the fire of 2017 and had the resources to offer trauma and spiritual counselling to those who had lost loved ones.
Mosques are often a reflection of the communities that establish them. As such, it is not uncommon to find mosques that are strongly tied to a single ethnic community, both in terms of language, the identity of the leadership, the denominational practices they engage in. And as mentioned earlier, mosques still remain overwhelmingly spaces for men. There is increasingly provision for women in terms of space, activities, and access to religious guidance, often the result of campaigning by Muslim women themselves. But there is a long way to go until it is ubiquitous.
So the mosque is an important location for Muslims and mental health, both informally as a place to find companionship, quiet reflection and safety, or through formal initiatives and channels, whether led by the local imam or the local health board. As an exercise, consider and discuss these free questions. What other types of spaces similar to mosques are there in society for example? lightly regulated spaces where people can access, form relationships and meet. Are these spaces more or less available today than in the past? And what role do you think they play in maintaining good mental health? If any.

In this video, Dr Ahmed describes the function and role of mosques in British Muslim communities.

The video in this step is presented by Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed, Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University and Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Wales.

The importance of Salah (prayer) as a religious practice was described in Step 1.15. Salah can take place in private spaces, but also in congregation with others, in communal spaces like mosques.

As well as providing spaces for congregational prayer, mosques can be a hub for Muslim communities where a range of activities – social, educational, pastoral and civil – take place. Mosques can be a “first port of call” for Muslims in times of need, including when they have mental health problems. Imams may provide a counselling service, and regular contact with other congregants and mosque-users can be a form of social support. Dr Ahmed reminds us that mosques are gendered spaces, some have separate facilities for men and women, others do not facilitate congregational prayer for women at all.

Dr Ahmed describes mosques as “highly trusted institutions” for Muslims and suggests that they have the potential to promote mental health, informally through social support, or formally through the mental health education led by the Imam and/or mainstream mental health services.

This video was filmed at the South Wales Yemeni Mosque and Islamic Centre in Cardiff, known locally as ‘Alice Street Mosque’. We thank the mosque for their kind permission to film there.

Further in the course, we will consider in more detail the roles that mosques do, and can, play in supporting mental health in Muslim communities.

Over to you

Dr Ahmed puts forward three questions for you to consider towards the end of the video, we ask you consider one of these questions and add your thoughts below

What role, if any, do spaces like mosques (lightly-regulated, social spaces) play in maintaining good mental health?

Please add your own thoughts and, if appropriate, experiences around working with mosques on the topic of mental health.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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