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Overcoming contradictions – Muslim practitioners in mainstream services

Suhayl describes contradictions while providing support for Muslim people living with gambling addiction while working in mainstream mental health
I think due to the referrals from diverse communities which practitioners who are non-Muslim receive, I get a sense that they would like to know more about supporting Muslim clients. And based on my own experiences and conversations, I think there is an appetite for professional development in terms of to become more culturally competent and culturally aware when working with Muslim clients especially. Because within my therapy itself, so I was very referencing my Muslim identity quite strongly. And I think there was a great compassion there and how it’s received is very positive because our organisation is one of the only organisations in the UK who are involved in this type of project.
So therefore we do see that there a lot of barriers. The only barrier I feel for the work which I do is that is that in this country gambling is legal. So there’s an emphasis is on gambling responsibly. However, when I work in Muslim communities, I can’t really take that message of gambling responsibly. It’s about, so our focus is on harm reduction. So how can we save ourselves from harm? So there might be somebody suffering, how could you support them? So focusing on supporting and helping them through that crisis is more important than promoting people to be safe, you know, in terms of how they gamble. So I think that’s one of the barriers that we experience.
Asma: I hadn’t thought of that as a contradiction before that legally it’s allowed, but Islamically it’s prohibited. So that can create tension. Yeah, that can create tension. But my organisation very much aware of this, and what we have done is that we have tinkered and we have tailored our presentation. So when we do workshops, our presentations are very much taking into consideration that people in these communities don’t gamble. Gambling takes place but culturally, religiously, it’s not acceptable and that’s how we tailor and support our interventions.
Asma: What allows you to do that?
Asma: What is it about your environment at work or the approach from management, or how you communicate. If people wanted to do what you do, to adapt and modify their existing services more suitable, what kind of factors have enabled you to do that? I think what factors that are in it is the statistic which is there, that people from South Asian background experience five times harm, or double and up to five times, the level of harm from gambling, than a person who is not Asian. So for example, English, white. This statistic resonates very true for them and they’re concerned by that. What is the reason?
You know, and then I think at Beacon and from my workplace, they allow me to take the lead because I understand the community I’m from the community, I understand the community and the difficulties and the barriers that are there. So I think you know, we are labelled very much, the BAME community, ethnic communities are labelled as hard to reach. I very regularly challenge this phrase, hard to reach. We are not hard to reach. You know, it’s about you know, for example, if I go into a mosque and talk about gambling, people would be more receptive because I know what to say, what not to say, and how to present it.
And your own lived experience can be quite powerful in spaces where it’s never been talked about. So I think it’s about Beacon allowing me to develop a framework of how to be working in that community. And if, you know, existing presentations, ways of working, need to be, need to be amended, then they’re ready to do that to increase obviously referrals, to increase the engagement within that community.
Asma: That’s really useful to know, thank you. Can I just ask a pedantic question? You said five times the level of harm, how do you define harm? Yeah, definitely.
Asma: What’s the definition or measurement of harm? So there is different types of harm with financial, relationships.
So they categorise harm for these specific categories, that it’s not only just financial, but it could be relationship or occupation. So people lose that job. So that’s how they define kind of harm. And in that Problem Gamble Severity Index assessment, that’s how they categorise the harm as well. And also the Core 10, that tells you a person is in crisis.

In this video Suhayl, BAME Programme Manager for Beacon Counselling Trust, describes some of the contradictions he comes across in his work of providing support for Muslim people living with gambling addiction while working in a mainstream mental health support service.

Based on his own professional experiences, Suhayl has a sense that there is an appetite among non-Muslim mental health support providers to receive training in cultural competence and cultural awareness, particularly when working with Muslim clients. Suhayl does display his own Muslim identity when providing support to other Muslims and this is received positively at Beacon Counselling Trust.

Suhayl talks about a contradiction that he comes across in relation to his Muslim identity and his mental health support work. Because gambling is legal in Britain, emphasis is placed on ‘gambling responsibly’ in mental health promotion and support services for gambling addiction. When Suhayl works in Muslim communities, he does not feel he can talk about responsible gambling (gambling is haram, impermissible, in Islam). So, instead, he focuses on harm reduction and supporting those who are struggling with addiction. Beacon Counselling Trust recognise this tension and have supported Suhayl’s work in adapting community workshops to take into consideration the views that ethnic minority communities hold about gambling not being acceptable.

Suhayl feels that his approach is accepted and encouraged because research evidence shows that South Asian groups face greater harm because of addiction than those from other ethnic groups. Beacon Counselling Trust appreciate Suhayl’s knowledge and experiences of Islam and Muslim communities and trust his ability to develop a framework for working with these communities to increase the number of ethnic minority people seeking support for gambling addiction.

Like Sufyan in an earlier step, Suhayl challenges the concept of Muslim communities as ‘hard to reach’. Suhayl thinks that cultural awareness of the ways in which talking about addiction can be acceptable in ethnic minority communities, and understanding the stigma and shame associated with addiction in those communities, can help to overcome barriers to engagement.


Beacon Counselling Trust.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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