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Muslim communities – ‘hard to reach’ or ‘easy to access’?

Dr Dogra questions the labelling of Muslim communities and marginalised groups in British society as ‘hard to reach’ by academics and researchers
Asma: Can you start by telling me why you don’t like ‘hard to reach’, and then telling me an alternative way that seems better to you? I mean, so hard to reach is a justification for those privileged academics and researchers and organisations who would cost more on their effort on involving and engaging a community, but making it an excuse like if we say people living with health disadvantages and people living with health inequalities are hard to read. What we are saying actually is that we’re blaming them for living with ill health indicators, or for living with kind of non-communicable chronic diseases.
But that is not, I mean victim blaming is never a solution for any problem that is like, you know, syndemically spread across the society. What is, what I would call them is easy to access, because when we were trying to approach mosques and madrassas and we were trying to kind of involve them actively in organisation and planning of our health promotion interventions for prevention of childhood obesity, what we learned people were very much eager. So we published two sources, two papers. One paper was about a systematic mapping and a scoping review on what mosques and madrassas are doing across the country for health promotion, any kind of health promotion.
We learned like there were hundreds and hundreds of mosques And madrassas in which networks of volunteers are already part of delivery of various services for children, for women, for families, for everybody. The work is going on, and they are extremely warm, welcoming people. I’m not talking about British Muslims only. I mean, if you go to any disadvantaged community in their neighbourhood, spend time with them, explain what you want to do and how this can benefit community, you will be surprised and amazed to see the response and involvement and commitment of those people. And how, how kind of, look at the audacity of researchers and academics, then they would call them hard to reach. And that is kind of insulting, basically.
So people are easy to access. It is basically the planners and the academics and researchers maybe or maybe people who hold a position of power, and I would rather call them hard to reach because somehow it is their kind of wrong methodology of engagement basically, that has stopped people to benefit more from the available services. So their methodology and their way to engage with people is hard to reach, or hard to read, because it doesn’t work. So if we basically talk to people in a language that they understand, and in a way that they are comfortable with, and at the time which is convenient for them, and then hard to reach disappears.
And then what we see is generous, passion driven, enthusiasm driven, and selfless effort by men, women and children who want to have better lives in Britain.

In the final step of this activity, Dr Dogra questions the labelling of Muslim communities, and other marginalised groups in British society, as ‘hard to reach’ by academics and researchers.

He thinks this labelling can be an excuse for not investing the resources required to build long-term relationships with marginalised communities.

Dr Dogra instead sees Muslim communities as ‘easy to access’. In his research, Dr Dogra has found that volunteers across hundreds of mosques in the UK are involved in health promotion activities (Rai et al 2019). When researchers and service providers take the time to build trust, rapport, and to carefully explain what they want to achieve and how it will benefit the local community, volunteers in most disadvantaged communities will work collaboratively, and with warmth, generosity, and commitment.

Instead, Dr Dogra suggests that Muslim communities are ‘easy to access’ – if the time is taken to develop more appropriate methods for engaging with people in these communities.

Throughout this activity, we have seen evidence for the ways in which Muslim communities can support better mental health, and the potential for Muslim communities to act as protective factors for mental health problems. Recommendations, from our contributors and from The Lantern Initiative report (2021) make it clear that there is still work to be done to make the most of Muslim communities as a resource for better mental health. This will require action from a range of stakeholders including faith organisations, voluntary and community groups, clinical commissioning groups and, importantly, Muslim communities themselves.

In the next step we move on to Activity 4, where we find out more about the experiences of Muslim practitioners who work in mainstream mental health services.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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