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Caring for Muslim Patients
  1. R Tawfik

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Islam is the religion of one-fifth of humanity and, with an estimated population of 1.6 million, Muslims form Britain's largest religious minority group. There is, therefore, a need for a book that gives advice and guidance to non-Muslim healthcare professionals when dealing with Muslim patients and their families which is what this publication is trying to do. It is divided into nine chapters, peppered with anecdotes and examples, with a summary box at the end of chapters, and concludes with useful appendices on Islam and the Internet, Muslim organisations, and a glossary.

Following an overview of Islam and Muslims in Europe, it delves into issues that are important in the daily life of a Muslim family—like birth, marriage, and death as well as health matters at times like the fasting month of Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca. Chapters on Fasting and Pilgrimage may not be of direct interest to the paediatrician but remembering the holy days in the Islamic calendar may improve, among other things, clinic attendance.

The chapter on birth customs is probably the one that will interest paediatricians most. We read about practices following the birth of a new baby, like whispering the name of God in their ear, rubbing a piece of date into the palate, shaving the hair on the seventh day, and circumcision. Have you ever wondered what that black string around the infant's wrist or neck is?

Consanguinity and the general reluctance of Muslims to abort malformed fetuses may explain the high number of handicapped children in this community, a problem which the authors believe is exacerbated by our own reluctance as health advisors to discuss abortion with Muslim couples, simply because we assume that they would always refuse it.

More modern issues like adoption, fostering, and organ transplants are discussed. Do you know that the Muslim Law Council, a UK based organisation, strongly supports Muslims donating organs? Not surprisingly, the majority of Muslims reject the idea of their dead undergoing postmortem examination, but the authors issue a call to Muslim jurists to study this issue and give believers clear guidelines.

This is an interesting book which I very much enjoyed reading. If its aim was to provide information, it has succeeded. I feel, however, that it should not be used as a religious reference by health professionals to make decisions or give advice, to avoid contradicting the teachings of Islam. As a Muslim myself, I may not agree with some statements in the book nor wish my patients to believe them to be a religious command. Telling asthmatics not to use their inhalers during fasting (in case part of the inhaled medication enters the oesophagus!) is an example. Some statements made by the authors are based on cultural practices rather than religious facts. These practices may have developed over centuries, specific to a particular Islamic society and as an Arab, some customs described in the book are as unfamiliar to me as they would be to a non-Muslim. This book tells us a lot about customs and practices in Muslims of Asian roots and in that respect, would be an invaluable reference.

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