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Mental health stigma in Muslim communities – a changing picture

A changing picture of mental health stigma in Muslim communities
Asma: Can you say anything about stigma and shame around mental health and disability? Is it distinctive for Muslim communities? Is it different for Muslim communities than for others? Yes, it will be. Well, yeah, definitely. Like I said, stigma around mental health is in every community, but with Muslim community, I think where we fail is the understanding of mental health. If you go, I think if you go back years ago, when it came to mental health, would it be practitioner-side or the community-side, it was lack of understanding both sides, With the Muslim community?
Obviously, the culture they came in From, the majority of Muslim community in Northwest, especially in Blackburn are from Indian and Pakistani community and Bengali community where this Asian subcontinent, when it came to mental health, it wasn’t talked about 20 years ago, mental health. If someone had mental health they would have gone to the imam or someone to maybe get them to talk about Quran ayat [verse)] or get them a thaviz, it was that approach. And I think over the years things have changed where the imams have sort of understood that yes there is something called mental health. You have to understand mental health is a huge word, There’s so much to it.
It’s not just a loose Meaning, if you have to ask a loose meaning to mental health in Gujarati or Urdu, it will be your brain is not right. But it’s not that Loose meaning, there is so much more to it. And I think over the years the community started understanding that because the imams were talking about it slightly that when you talk about mental health, you need support as well. And I think it’s changed. If I had HARRI twenty years ago, I don’t think I would have gone to a mosque, it would have been difficult.
And the reason I am saying this, my original practice I used to work in Drug and Alcohol Service, and I started in Drug and Alcohol Service twenty years back. And when I originally started off 20 years Back, to go to a mosque and say, I’m coming to your mosque to talk about substance misuse, they would look at you thinking, what are you on about? My community? Substance misuse? Doesn’t happen. And it did happen. But there was a stigma behind it and no one wanted to admit that it’s a problem. Now, if I have to go to a mosque and say, look, I want to talk about substance miuse or talk about mental health, I think it’s more approachable.
And people have sort of understood. It’s like today, even HARRI bus I was speaking to a few elderly people and they knew something about mental health. They don’t understand the whole concept, Of what mental health is, but they sort of understood oh yeah, mental health, there is something about mental health Which is great to hear that older persons do understand. They do understand there is a word called depression. They do understand there is a word called anxiety. They might not understand what it means, but they’ve heard the words depression and anxiety.
Asma: And you’ve described a bit of a change in approach within mosques to mental health and Around substance misuse in particular. But can you tell me a little bit more about how mosque’s attitudes to mental health problems and challenges has changed over the last twenty years or so, and why you think that might be the case? I think one of the issues is if you go years back, it wouldn’t be substance misuse or mental health or anything health related. It wasn’t that much talked about in the mosque. It was more about understanding Islam the religion itself.
Whereas now if you look at a lot of mosques, what’s happened is you’ve got younger imams coming in now who understand the local culture, who have been brought up majority in the UK, and they’ve seen what’s happened. So now if you see all of mosques They’re sort of opening it up and talking about substance misuse and mental health. And it’s like on Sunday we’re at a mosque in Blackburn and I’ve allocated some time where we will talk about mental health in the mosque, and the imam is going to talk about mental health in Islam as well.
How important it is that Islamically, you should look after your health mentally because if you’re mentally fit, you’re going to be spiritually fit and that’s going to help your prayers. And you know, like when we do mental health, one of the things we talk about in mental health is
yoga. We talk about mindfulness. Now, if you look at that concept of mindfulness, where does it realy come from? If you look at Islam, we always do mindfulness. We do like Muraqabah [meditation]. If we look at the word Muraqabah, it means mindfulness. Sitting down in a quiet place, Reflect on what you have done. And that’s what mindfulness is technically. Islam told us about this mindfulness years ago, but we might not Have done, we might not refelct on ourselves, but what do we need to do? Calm down. Relax. You know, look at the Quran. One of the ayats [verses] says, look around the world, look how the mountains are created, look how the seas are created.
If you look at mindfulness, what we talk about is look around, see. Get that inside you. Reflect on that. So Islamically, it’s always been there, but we’ve never understood it. But now we’ve got imams who are talking about this subject, how mindfulness has always been in Islam to help mentally and sort of relax yourself and get help.

In this video Maulana Hasan draws on his extensive experience of working in the field of Muslim Mental Health to describe mental health stigma in Muslim communities in the North of England.

Maulana Hasan Sidat is an Islamic scholar and Senior Operational Manager for Recovery & Resilience for the Nursing, Experience and Engagement Department at Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust.

The development team spent time in January 2022 observing a community engagement event that Maulana Hasan had organised at a mosque in Burnley. Burnley is a town in Lancashire, in the North of England, which has a significant Muslim population, mainly of Pakistani and Indian ethnicity. The event centered on the ‘HARRI bus’, a mobile health and wellbeing engagement service for marginalised communities in South Lancashire. HARRI stands for Health Advice Recovery Resilience Information, see the link below for further details.

Maulana Hasan describes a changing picture of attitudes towards mental health problems and accessing support in Muslim communities. He feels that stigma arises mainly due to a lack of understanding of mental health in South Asian cultures, and a tendency to attribute relate mental health problems to spiritual causes. However, this is a changing picture, imams who work in mosques have been influential in improving understandings of mental health problems and sources of support in Muslim communities.

Younger imams who are trained in Britain and who have been brought up in British Muslim communities tend to have a greater awareness of mental health problems and are more likely to bring these topics up as part of their service to the communities they work in. Maulana Hasan makes links between good mental health, mindfulness and spiritual wellbeing for Muslims, using examples from Islamic scripture.

In the next step, Hafiz Suhayl Patel describes his lived experience of mental health stigma in a Muslim community.


HARRI is a mobile health and wellbeing engagement initiative run by the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. For more information visit Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust – Health Advice Recovery Resilience Information (HARRI)

Lancashire Recovery College is administered by the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. The Recovery College offer courses on health and wellbeing to local communities. The courses are co-produced with people who have lived experience of mental health problems. For more information visit Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust – Lancashire Recovery College

Over to you

Based on your knowledge and/or experience of mental health stigma in Muslim communities, do you agree with Maulana Hasan that stigma is reducing over time?

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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