Beliefs shape attitudes toward health, influencing how people utilize healthcare services. For Muslims living in Islamic countries, this can lead to a straightforward approach toward healthcare due to shared beliefs between practitioners and patients.
But for Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, healthcare can prove to be a much greater challenge. This is commonly due to contrasting beliefs toward health. Afterwards, this leads to approaches that may be incompatible with Islamic values. This can produce numerous barriers in accessing healthcare. These barriers are related to modesty, gender preference, perceived causation of illness, and lack of cultural competence (Yosef, 2008).
A study on this topic was conducted by a group of researchers led by Aasim Padela, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine at the University of Chicago.
The researchers looked at how faith influences healthcare beliefs among Muslims in non-Muslim countries. They further investigated how this information can improve healthcare for such populations.
Understand to Enhance
Practitioners need to understand how Muslims perceive illness and healing. Understanding these will enhance their cultural competence and improve the effectiveness of healthcare.
For example, as narrated Abu Huraira: The prophet (PBUH) said, “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5678).
The Institute of Medicine in the USA has supported this idea in its seminal report entitled “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care”.
It also supports a more holistic approach to healthcare. This can achieved through the inclusion of community agents, such as family, imams and the wider cultural community.
To implement these ideas, Padela developed a conceptual model of the American Muslim view of healing. He asked participants: What role does Allah play in the healing process? Who are the agents in healing? And what roles do they play?
Participants believed that Allah is the main cause of both disease and cure. They said that Allah can heal them directly via various means such as prayer, supplication, and reading the Qur’an.
They believe God can also heal indirectly through agents, including, imams, family members and physicians.
The study’s patients identified imams as agents who play many roles in the process of successful healthcare. They can help to shape attitudes toward coping with illness and healthcare and provide counseling for moral support.
They provide spiritual support through supplication, but can also teach the congregation specific supplications in times of illness, as well as advise on prophetic practices that promote health.
Additionally, they can work with hospital staff by educating them, as well as serving as a cultural broker between hospital staff, the patient and their family.
Other agents were family members, friends, and the wider community. Their roles include providing physical care, and emotional and spiritual support by nursing the ill and administering home remedies.
They are also able to facilitate rituals of worship by giving them a Qur’an to read, and reminding them of special prayers to recite for illness.
Furthermore, they assist by mediating interactions with the doctors. For example, they recommend or discourage certain treatments based on shared values with their relatives.
Participants identified physicians as the least efficient agents in healthcare. This is because many patients feel that their needs are left unmet, as they often fail to collaborate with the patients to accommodate their religious and cultural practices.
These difficulties are then associated with communication difficulties, mistrust, and perceived discrimination. These were found to contribute to a poorer quality of care, including non-adherence to treatment and delays in seeking healthcare.
Implications: Enhancing Cultural Competence
Cultural competence and enhanced cross-cultural communication have been shown to reduce negative stereotyping of minority patients and yield better healthcare results and experiences (Beach et al., 2005).
Utilizing this new conceptual model based on the integration of agents (imams, family, friends and the wider community) into healthcare treatment, a more effective service can be provided.
Delivering healthcare messages within a more religious framework, appreciating the healing view compatible with Islam, and in partnership with imams, can be a useful way forward for Muslims living in non-Muslim countries.
This approach has proven successful. For instance, the British Heart Foundation regularly works with imams to deliver health awareness sermons during Ramadan (e.g. Mason, 2010).