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Understanding British Muslims – an intersectional approach

Understanding British Muslims – an intersectional approach, Asma Khan
© Cardiff University, Asma Khan

In this activity we discuss some important additional factors that interact with religious identity, beliefs, and practices to shape Muslim experiences of mental health.

In this step, we introduce intersectionality as a concept that may help you to understand, and hold in mind, some of the social and structural conditions that frame experiences of health for British Muslims.

In previous activities we have introduced the idea that to understand the mental health experiences of Muslims it is important to understand Islam (the religion) and Muslims (the religious group). You have learnt about some shared Islamic practices and beliefs among Muslims. These beliefs and practices are part of the everyday lives of many Muslims, and can affect the way they see themselves, the world around them (the Muslim worldview), and their mental health.

You may be aware, and will be reminded throughout the course, that Muslim communities are diverse. Some key factors of diversity include: ethnicity; migration journeys; socio-economic status; language and education. These factors can lead to significant differences in how Muslims understand and experience both their religious lives and mental health. Muslims share some common experiences, but there are also variations and nuances within and across this religious group.

In the steps that follow, we identify some common experiences, particularly patterns of disadvantage, that practitioners will find it helpful to be aware of. However, the ways in which the social and structural factors described in these steps play out in everyday lives can vary from individual to individual. These factors can also intersect, at different times and in different spaces, to create layers of experience that may be advantages or disadvantages in relation to mental health. These factors may relate to an individual’s position in relation to others in their community and wider society, affecting both their mental health and their ability to seek support for mental health problems – in positive or negative ways.

‘Intersectionality’ is a sociological concept that can be helpful to understand how religion affects experiences and outcomes. An individual’s experience is not shaped by one aspect of their identity alone but by a combination of elements. Ethnicity, gender, age, health, location, and migration history can all be as important as religion. These factors can impact how religion affects people’s self-perception and treatment by others. In addition, social class, skills and qualifications, personal outlook and experience can change the meaning that such demographic characteristics have (Barnard 2011).

For example, the experience of a middle-class, third generation, Indian Muslim woman with a degree, living in London is likely to be quite different to a second generation, Pakistani Muslim woman, with GCSE qualifications only, living in Bradford. In the following steps we cover some of the socio-economic and cultural factors that help to explain why this might be.

A focus on intersectionality is helpful for several reasons. Firstly, it makes us aware that there are multiple potential sources of disadvantage and, importantly, resilience in the lives of Muslims. Secondly, it reminds us that the impact of socio-economic circumstances on mental health can vary from individual to individual, over the life course, and in different social spaces. Therefore, an intersectional approach may support practitioners to develop holistic and person-centred understandings of the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual causes of mental health problems.

Over to you

From your existing knowledge, what factors, in addition to religious and spiritual beliefs, might impact on the mental health of Muslims as a social group in a minority context? If someone has already shared factors you would want to raise, reply to their comment instead of making a new one.

© Cardiff University, Asma Khan
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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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