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Foreword to the course

Foreword to the Understanding Muslim Mental Health course by Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray
I’m delighted to be saying a few words of welcome as you begin this FutureLearn short course ‘Understanding Muslim Mental Health’. My name is Sophie Gilliat-Ray, and I’m the Founding Director of the Islam-UK Centre here at Cardiff University.
The Centre was founded in 2005 with the aim of improving public understanding of Islam and the lives of Muslim communities in Britain through high quality teaching and research that makes a positive difference locally, nationally and internationally. The Centre has a strong relationship with the Muslim Council of Wales, and local Muslims are part of our management board. We’ve always been committed to collaborative working with Muslim organisations from many parts of the UK, and our research priorities have been shaped by some of the issues and concerns that they face.
I’ve been undertaking research and teaching about Islam and Muslims in Britain since the early 1990s One of my own areas Of specialism is around the religious leadership of Muslim communities and by now I’ve been involved in numerous projects that explore the training of imams and the work of Muslim chaplains in publicly funded institutions such as prisons and hospitals. It’s become clear through these various projects that issues around pastoral care and mental health have become more and more important. And here in Cardiff we saw a need to provide a structured opportunity for the building of bridges of understanding between Muslim communities and their religious leaders and those who provide mental health support in mainstream services.
It seems to me that there’s now much greater public awareness about mental health problems and wellbeing, both within and outside Muslim communities. This is only accelerated as a consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic and the challenges that this brought around the globe. People now seem more willing to share personal experiences about the ways in which they’ve been affected. This generally more open attitude towards mental health has created an ideal context to examine the way in which Muslims, as members of one of the largest faith groups in the world, might experience mental health problems in distinctive ways. We’re extremely fortunate that a felicitous convergence of circumstances and networks have enabled this course to be developed.
Firstly, we’re extremely grateful to the Jameel Educational Foundation for funding the development of the resources that underpin this course and you’ll appreciate as you progress through the course materials a great deal of effort and time has been invested in locating contributors with relevant, first-hand, professional and personal experience. Their accounts are challenging and honest, and in some cases extremely brave as they recount the ways in which their own struggles with mental health have paved the way for their subsequent careers in the support of others with mental health problems.
We’re extremely grateful to the Jameel Educational Foundation for providing the financial support that has enabled the production team to travel around the UK meeting and interviewing some of the contributors to the course. One of the clear messages that comes through from the Understanding Muslim Mental Health course is the need for greater conversation between professionals and service providers, who often work with very different paradigms, worldviews, and practices. We’ve been very lucky to have as our lead educator for this course Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf, who is both a medically trained consultant psychiatrist but also one of the leading Islamic scholars in the UK.
Dr Yusuf has an international reputation for his work in both spheres, and we’re very grateful to him for his vital involvement in planning, developing and contributing to the course. The fact that we’ve been able to develop this course is a reflection of the strengths and development of Muslim communities in Britain over the last 30 years. Back in the early 1990s, there was barely any mention of mental health problems and there were few if any organisations devoted to supporting Muslims facing problems such as depression, anxiety, addiction or psychosis.
As you progress through the course, you’ll meet individuals who’ve risen to the challenge of setting up support services dedicated to addressing these kinds of mental health problems in ways that would have been almost unthinkable even two decades ago. We’re delighted that this course has given them a voice to share their experiences, and we’re grateful to them for their vital contributions. Whatever your background might be as you approach this course, I hope you will find it to be a safe space to explore your professional practices, your background, your assumptions, and your worldviews and your approaches to mental health problems.
If you’re a Muslim religious leader, perhaps you’ll stand to gain a much deeper understanding of the clinical side of mental health and the mainstream support organizations that might help you to serve the people in your community that you care for. If you’re working in mainstream mental health services that are receiving more referrals from Muslim patients and clients, this course will enable you to develop a more informed, empathic and sensitive awareness of Muslim worldviews, and you’ll be signposted to Muslim organisations which might support your work. So this FutureLearn course is an exciting and important opportunity for bridge building, and mutual professional development, and we hope that it gives you an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Thank you for joining us on the course, and we look forward to your contributions in the weeks that follow.

I am delighted to be saying a few words of welcome as you begin this FutureLearn short course ‘Understanding Muslim Mental Health’. My name is Sophie Gilliat-Ray, and I am the Founding Director of the Islam-UK Centre here at Cardiff University.

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