Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Muslims: Introduction To Islam

Part of the submission to Allah is the responsibility to respect the body that has been given to you. Respect covers many issues such as the prohibition on the consumption of narcotics and alcohol, but also includes a duty to seek medical treatment when it is needed.

Islam has followers in many parts of the world, including from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe and even Indonesia and the Caribbean. Thus, the ethnic background of Muslims in the UK is very mixed and practices may vary from person to person. In addition, although pious Muslims ought to have a working knowledge of Arabic (as this is the language that the Qur'an was written in), there is no other shared language. Iislam

Islam is an ancient Arabic word, which is best translated as 'achieving peace through willing submission to Allah'. Anyone who follows Islam accepts that their life will be spent in submission to the will of Allah, and obedience to the teachings of Mohammad, his prophet. Such a person is called a Muslim.

basic beliefs

The fundamentals of being a Muslim can best be summarised by an explanation of the Five Pillars. These are sacred duties that all Muslims carry out as an obligation to Allah and an expression of their faith. They are:

Shahadah or the expression of faith. There is a misunderstanding that simply saying this makes you a Muslim, but instead it is more a gateway to an Islamic life. It is a fundamental expression of acceptance of the divine will and states 'There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah'. Saying the shahadah confirms the individual's acceptance of the will of God and adherence to the teachings of the Qur'an.

Salat/salaat or the daily prayers. Islam developed the ritual prayer over some time, adapting the form of worship as historical events changed the religious and political landscape and finally settling on the current form within a century of Muhammad's death.

There are five prayers a day, starting with a prayer before sunrise and ending with one after sunset. Muslims can pray wherever they find themselves normally, as long as they can perform a ritual wash (wudu) to cleanse the body, mind and spirit of anything unclean. The 'greater wash' or ghusl is used in specific circumstances such as after menstruation.

The salat is a sequence of ritualised movements, statements and prayers that are intended to focus the mind on Allah and His will.

Saum or the discipline of fasting through the month of Ramadan. Between sunrise and sunset for the entire ninth month of the Islamic calendar, no food or liquid can be taken, and Muslims must also abstain from sexual relations. This month is a period for reflection on one's duty to Allah and other Muslims, and a rededication to the faith. The fast is broken every evening after the sunset prayer (often with dates to commemorate Muhammad), and family and friends gather for a meal in the evening.

Hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). At least once in their life, every Muslim will go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah and to the areas surrounding it, to celebrate the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the gift of the Qur'an, which was dictated to him to guide all Muslims. The state achieved by proper conduct on such a pilgrimage is the ultimate state of purity that can be attained in this life, and pilgrims will keep the simple cotton sheets they wear during the pilgrimage so that they can be buried in them, wrapped in purity.

Zakat or almsgiving/charity. Every Muslim has a duty to look after other Muslims – for example by arranging a funeral for those who have no family. This is formalised in the payment of zakat to the local mosque, which can therefore provide a centre for the whole community and care for all local Muslims. The money is given to Muslim charities in the UK and abroad, especially in deprived Muslim areas. The zakat is roughly one fortieth of a Muslim's annual income.


As with any other major religion, huge regional variation may exist in the expression of the central beliefs of Islam. There are also several different Islamic denominations, the most widely known being Shi'a and Sunni Muslims (approximately 9% and 89% of Muslims, respectively). The advice given in this section is the most appropriate general advice that we can give for the care of any Muslim; however, as always, check with individual patients for any specific requirements that may not have been addressed here.


The word imam can be literally translated as 'One who stands at the front'. Imams lead the prayer of their congregation at the mosque, and are usually well versed in both the Qur'an and Shari'ah. They act as settlers of disputes, advisors and teachers to their local community, and may be regarded as the spokesperson in most cases. Occasionally, the chairperson of the mosque committee may also be approached for advice, but their words will not have the weight of a pronouncement from the imam. However, it is important to remember that Islam is not a religion where a leader intercedes with God on behalf of his flock; working towards holiness is the sole responsibility of each individual. An imam is simply someone who has status by consensus within their community because of their knowledge and wisdom.

perceptions of illness and health

A Muslim's ill health is a state that is either bestowed by Allah, as a test of faith, or brought about by a life not rooted in the Qur'an. In either case, illness is often seen – especially by older and more orthodox Muslims – as something to be endured with quiet courage and a powerful lesson to be learnt from. In fact, there are many stories of Muhammad's followers rejoicing in their injuries and illnesses as an opportunity to gain fresh insight into the holy, and prove the strength of their faith in Allah.

Having said that, the Islamic world was one of the first to take a scientific approach to the practice of medicine and the observation of illness. Many of the world's first physicians came from the Islamic community, or travelled to the Middle East to study there. Treating another human being in their hour of need is seen as one of the most respectable and laudable things a person can do, and is even mentioned in the Qur'an: 'That whosoever saves a human life, it is as if they have saved the whole of humankind'.

In between, perhaps lies the reality. Muslims will recognise illness and seek treatment for it as a duty to preserve intact what has been gifted to them. They will self-administer prayer and contemplation as part of their care regime, and will treat healthcare staff with respect in recognition of their honourable job. However, they will also believe that, ultimately, their fate lies in the hands of Allah rather than the medical staff, who are simply agents or instruments of His will.


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