The Role of Imams in American Muslim Health: Perspectives of Muslim Community Leaders in Southeast Michigan
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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.
KeywordsMuslim chaplain Mosques Minority health Islam Spirituality
This study was funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program and by the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding. It was presented in part at the 2009 RWJF Clinical Scholars National Meeting. Dr. Fetters’ participation was made possible through the generous support of the Jitsukoukai Medical Foundation and Qatar National Research Foundation grant # NPRP 08-530-3-116. We thank our respondents for sharing their time and insight with us, as well as the community partners and steering committee members for their invaluable insight, recruitment assistance, and support: Muzammil Ahmed MD, Hamada Hamid DO MPH from the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding, Najah Bazzy RN from the Islamic Center of America, Adnan Hammad PhD from the Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services, Mouhib Ayyas MD from the Islamic Shura Council of Michigan, and Ghalib Begg from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. We also thank Amanda Salih MPH for aiding in interviews, coding manuscripts, and data analysis, and Jane Forman ScD, MHS for interview guide development and qualitative interview training.
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