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The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders in Mental Health: A Community-Based Participatory Research Study in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Muslim religious leaders provide guidance to their communities on social and spiritual aspects of life. Previous studies suggest that religious leaders (imams) may also offer counseling and mental health support for Muslims. Research has not investigated the extent to which Muslims rely on religious leaders to fulfill this role. This study explores the perceptions of Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, regarding the role of religious leaders in mental health care. The study utilizes a community based participatory research approach. A total of 40 participants across four demographic groups (male community members, female community members, young adult community members, and religious leaders) were recruited to participate in focus group discussions. Participants were given six case scenarios illustrating various mental health problems and asked to share their thoughts regarding the role of religious leaders in the management of each case. Focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. The themes included participants’ expectations of religious leaders’ qualifications and limitations as well as the perceived distinction between a religious leader and a mental health professional. The findings of this study provide insights into Muslims’ perceptions of the roles that religious leaders play in mental health.

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  1. In Islam, the practice of tazkiyah (“purifying the heart”) or controlling one’s bad intentions is done through performing dhikr or reciting the name of Allah repeatedly. The dhikr practice is believed to cleanse the heart, which might contribute to the improvement of mental health problems (Zarabozo, 2002).


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The researchers wish to thank the leadership and community members at the Muslim Community Association for their support and participation in this study.


This study was funded by Stanford Center for Clinical and Translational Research and Education (Spectrum) Pilot Grants Program, Stanford University under the title “Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara and Stanford Muslims and Mental Health Lab: Strengthening an emerging CBPR collaboration”.

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Sara Ali and Rania Awaad contributed to the study's conception, design, and data collection. Fairuziana Humam, Iman Mahoui, Aminah McBryde-Redzovic, Sara Ali, Heba Abolaban, and Belal Zia contributed to the data analysis. The first draft was written by Sara Ali and Fairuziana Humam. The final draft was completed by Aminah McBryde-Redzovic, Iman Mahoui, and Fairuziana Humam. All authors reviewed and commented on previous versions of the manuscript and all authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rania Awaad.

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Humam, F., McBryde-Redzovic, A., Mahoui, I. et al. The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders in Mental Health: A Community-Based Participatory Research Study in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pastoral Psychol 72, 539–556 (2023).

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