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Why Muslims seek faith-based support

Dr Roz Warden explores a range of different reasons why Muslims may seek faith-based support.
© Dr Roz Warden

In this article, Dr Roz Warden explores why Muslims seek faith-based support.

In this step, you’ll learn about a range of different reasons why Muslims may seek faith-based support. This draws on the findings of my PhD research which involved asking individuals who had accessed faith-based support why they chose to do so and what was helpful.

Before we get started, it’s important to define what is meant by ‘faith-based’. Studies aiming to define this have described how the degree to which an organisation or service can be faith-based can vary. This can range from very visible markers, such as an organisation’s name or logo having religious references, to the nature of the support which is provided having religious aspects or elements incorporated into it (Ebaugh et al, 2003).

Faith-based support can sometimes be provided by religious leaders in a place of worship such as a mosque, or in the context of a community or charitable organisation. The examples given in this section are from my research about an Islamic organisation providing a variety of services to support people’s mental health and social welfare, including counselling. The case studies are from two individuals who received their support.

Overview

One of the key findings in my research was that there a range of reasons why people might seek to use, or benefit from, faith-based services (Warden et al., 2017). Not all the reasons were ones which may be unique to a faith-based organisation, such as the importance of a service being confidential, or free of charge. Many people gave several reasons for their choice to use a faith-based service and the benefits of it. So, there wasn’t always one specific factor that was important.

The research participants also reported using other mainstream services, such as a GP or other medical support. So, we shouldn’t assume that people are using faith-based services instead of other types of services. The co-usage of medical services and those involving religious or spiritual healing has been noted in other studies about British Muslims (Dein et al. 2008; Rozario 2009).

Looking specifically at the role of religion, being able to talk about religion and receiving religious guidance were important for participants but the context of this was key. This included that the professional providing the service was non-judgmental in their approach and that religious guidance was offered when requested rather than uninitiated. Furthermore, they highlighted that any guidance offered wasn’t focused only on one Islamic school of thought and should be regarded as Islamically authentic.

Being culturally sensitive and having services available in different languages were important for some. But often a distinction was made between cultural beliefs and practices and Islamic beliefs and practices, with a desire for a service focused on the latter.

The following case studies explore this range of themes in more detail, as well as why certain types of faith-based support (such as accessing a mosque) may feel less appropriate for some individuals. This can include those who may not identify themselves as practising Muslims. It should also be acknowledged that mosques may not have the resources or training to provide professional mental health support. Other researchers have also noted that people may be less inclined to access faith-based support for problems such as alcohol use which is forbidden in Islam (Ashencaen Crabtree, 2017). Concerns about stigma may also be felt if an individual’s illness is perceived by them to be a punishment for previous actions.

Overall, the variety of reasons why people may wish to utilise and may benefit from faith-based support reflects the diversity of British Muslim communities (Warden et al. 2017).

Case Study One

Jamal and his wife, a young couple of South Asian ethnicity, approached an Islamic welfare organisation due to experiencing fertility problems. They accessed the ruqyah healing service. Ruqyah is a type of healing which can be sought by some Muslims when the source of an individual’s affliction is believed to be due to the influence of the evil eye, black magic, or spirits known as jinn. These spirits are mentioned in Islamic scriptures including the Qur’an, although Islamic scholars vary in their views about the extent to which jinn can influence or possess individuals.

For Jamal and his wife, this type of ruqyah healing involved being given Islamic prayers to read at certain times of the day (by themselves and the religious scholar providing the service), as well as a home visit taking place, to read prayers in their house.

Jamal spoke about his decision to use the service and his satisfaction with it as being due to feeling that it was Islamically ‘authentic.’ He described how when he and his wife met the professional they were ‘content that what he was suggesting and telling us was in accordance with the religion.’ In terms of looking for a culturally sensitive service, Jamal described that this ‘wasn’t really a factor.’

The service was described by Jamal as ‘complementary’ to also accessing mainstream medical help for fertility problems. He commented on how the medical and Islamic approaches ‘aren’t mutually exclusive so we felt that it’s worth trying this as well.’

Case Study Two

Susie attended a counselling session with Sami, a young asylum seeker experiencing depression who she was providing foster care for. When asked why they had sought the support of a faith-based organisation, Susie described how ‘he didn’t feel he that he was getting what he wanted from his GP with English not being his first language.’ Furthermore, ‘he was a complex young man and I don’t think he knew quite how he needed help.’

Although not able to attend a counselling session in his first language, the session at the Islamic welfare organisation involved discussing a range of ideas about how Sami could support himself and his mood. This included exercise, diet, spending time with young people of a similar age, and exploring the journey he’d made to the UK.

The session touched on ‘spirituality and the cultural aspect of it’ but Sami was ‘adamant’ that he didn’t want to discuss religious ways of coping or connect with a mosque in case ‘there might be pressures on his part about practising.’ Susie commented that there ‘wasn’t any pressure’ or ‘guilt’ when Sami told the counsellor he didn’t attend a mosque.

Whilst Sami wasn’t looking for religious guidance, the identity of the counsellor was felt by Susie to be important. She described how the counsellor ‘said very similar things to the GP but I’m not sure that because it came from a British White doctor it maybe it wasn’t taken on board the same.’

Signposting

For further information about ruqyah healing: Dein, S., and Illaiee, A.S., 2013. ‘Jinn and Mental Health: Looking at jinn possession in modern psychiatric practice’, The Psychiatrist 37 (9) pp. 290-293.

Over to you

Reflecting on the case studies above, what are the factors you might need to consider before referring an individual to a faith-based service?

© Dr Roz Warden
This article is from the free online

Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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