The Role of Imams in American Muslim Health: Perspectives of Muslim Community Leaders in Southeast Michigan
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- Padela, A.I., Killawi, A., Heisler, M. et al. J Relig Health (2011) 50: 359. doi:10.1007/s10943-010-9428-6
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American Muslims are a diverse and growing population, numbering nearly 200,000 in Southeast Michigan. Little empirical work exists on the influence of Islam upon the healthcare behaviors of American Muslims, and there is to date limited research on the roles that imams, Muslim religious leaders, play in the health of this community. Utilizing a community-based participatory research (CBPR) model through collaboration with four key community organizations, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 community leaders and explored their perceptions about the roles imams play in community health. Respondents identified four central roles for imams in healthcare: (1) encouraging healthy behaviors through scripture-based messages in sermons; (2) performing religious rituals around life events and illnesses; (3) advocating for Muslim patients and delivering cultural sensitivity training in hospitals; and (4) assisting in healthcare decisions for Muslims. Our analysis also suggests several challenges for imams stemming from medical uncertainty and ethical conflicts. Imams play key roles in framing concepts of health and disease and encouraging healthy lifestyles outside of the healthcare system, as well as advocating for Muslim patient needs and aiding in healthcare decisions within the hospital. Healthcare partnerships with these religious leaders and their institutions may be an important means to enhance the health of American Muslims.