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Why do we need to better understandings of Muslim mental health?
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Why do we need to better understandings of Muslim mental health?

Why do we need to better understandings of Muslim mental health? Dr Asma Khan discusses this question.
© Cardiff University, Asma Khan

For most Muslims, their religious identity shapes how they see the world and their role in it. Islam relates to, and organises, all aspects of Muslim life, including all forms of health and wellbeing; the spiritual and moral systems of Islam attach value to spiritual, mental, and physical health (Ahmed 2011).

Statistical studies show positive associations between religiosity and mental health, these associations are higher amongst Muslims living in a majority context than for Christians living in Western contexts (Ahmed 2011). However, almost one third of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world live as minorities in non-Muslim states (Keshavarzi and Haque 2013).

In this course, we take Muslims in Britain as a case study of Muslims living as religious, and often ethnic, minority groups in ‘Western’ (non-Muslim majority) contexts. You will be introduced to contemporary research, analysis, and practice in the field of Muslim Mental Health. Research evidence strongly indicates that Muslims in Britain have distinctive experiences of mental health problems, face additional barriers to accessing support, and have poorer outcomes when they do access mental health support (Mir et al 2019; Raleigh and Holmes 2021; Kapadia et al 2022).

Islam, Muslims and mental health

Religion can help to address mental health problems, but it can also contribute to them. While religious beliefs and practices are often a source of resilience in people’s lives, particular interpretations of these beliefs and practices can also be a source of discomfort (Mir et al 2019). Many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, are unfamiliar with the ways in which mental health problems, their causes and treatments, are – and always have been – recognised in Islam.

Through your learning, you will become familiar with the concepts of mental health, Islam (the religion), and Muslims – a diverse religious social group. You will be introduced to common religious practices and beliefs among Muslims and develop an understanding of how they might impact on mental health, in either positive or negative ways.

We will refer to Islamic beliefs and practices, as set out in scripture, namely the Quran and the Hadith. The Quran is the holy book for Muslims, revealed in stages to the Prophet Muhammad over 23 years. The Hadith are writings about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, remembered by his companions and later written down as a guide to Muslims on how to live their lives (see the links below for further introductory information about these religious texts). We will provide translations for religious terms or verses in Arabic within each step of the course, you can also refer to this glossary of terms as you progress through the steps.

Islam as a ‘lived religion’ and Muslims as a diverse religious group

Throughout the course, we ask you to keep diversity in mind and recommend that you do not think of Muslims as a homogenous group. This diversity encompasses differences in interpretations of both Islam and mental health. While Islamic texts may recommend certain practices and beliefs, the ways in which Muslims understand and interpret these in their everyday lives can vary between different Muslim people and communities.

You will learn about lived experiences of ‘being Muslim’ in a minority context, and how these can impact on mental health in distinctive ways. This includes important contextual information around the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of Muslim communities.

The circumstances facing some Muslims living in minority contexts can affect their mental health in particular ways: for example, through low socio-economic status, Islamophobia, or their migrant status – all of which are known to have a negative effect on mental health that is independent of (so in addition to, alongside, on in contrast to) the effect of religion on mental health (Islam and Campbell 2014; Mental Health Foundation 2016). You will learn about some of the socio-economic and socio-cultural factors that can affect the everyday lives of Muslim individuals and communities, to place their mental health experiences in a wider context.

We will remind you that the impact of these features of Muslim life on mental health cannot be assumed. We will provide practical guidance on having conversations and asking questions that help you to develop a holistic understanding of the mental health experiences of Muslims, an understanding which encompasses the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual causes of mental health problems.

We encourage you to reflect on your own practice to consider ways in which you might apply the understandings you gain in this course, to test your knowledge in the learning activities, and to discuss your observations and questions with other learners.

Signposting

BBC (2014). The Quran.

BBC. The Qur’an and sacred texts: Hadith and Sunnah.

Over to you

From your experience and knowledge, what are the most significant challenges Muslims face in relation to their mental health? Share your thoughts below.

© Cardiff University, Asma Khan
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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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