Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Muslims: Conflicts With Western Society


Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other narcotics. This can raise all sorts of issues, such as the presence of alcohol at staff parties and how Muslim staff may feel or react when treating patients suffering from alcohol or drug abuse. Muslims may also feel unable to dispense or take medications that have a narcotic effect or contain alcohol.


Muslims do not feel quite the same need to know why someone died as those in the western world do. Allah has called someone to die as it was their time to die, and so the reason is not that important. It is unlikely that a Muslim family will permit a post-mortem unless there is a legal necessity for one to take place.


In orthodox Islamic communities, family planning of any kind is frowned upon; Allah decides when to bless you with children, when to take them away and how many you will have. No human can interfere with that, so contraception is considered both pointless and sinful. In less orthodox communities, family planning is allowed after discussion between the couple involved, medical staff and the imam. Each case is looked at on its own merits and decisions made accordingly. However, only methods such as the Pill and the rhythm method are allowed. Muslims are allowed to prevent conception, but not to use methods that would prevent implantation of a fertilised ovum.


For medical students, as long as the body being examined is that of a non-Muslim person, then it is permissible for the student to dissect it. Muslim bodies cannot be dissected because it would constitute desecration of the dead – a terrible thing to do.

gender segregation

It is a basic tenet of Muslim behaviour that men and women keep themselves separate in public, and that both genders act with appropriate modesty and reservation at all times. In an ideal world, this would extend into the healthcare system with male staff treating male patients and female staff treating female patients. In practice, it is recognised that this may not be possible, and so compromises are allowed. However, being on a mixed ward may cause more distress to a patient (especially an older patient) than is good for them, and may even delay their recovery. Wherever possible, try to respect gender segregation traditions.


Homosexuality is seen as sinful by Muslims and so some staff members may have problems relating to patients or colleagues who are gay.

life support

When to stop life support is always a difficult question. It is permissible to turn off the life-support machinery sustaining heartbeat and breathing when the brain has ceased to show any recognisable function (brain death) and is not recoverable. However, if the patient then continues to breath or has a heartbeat, they will need to be given food and liquid until these functions cease. The situation is further complicated if organ donation is intended. It is a good idea to talk to an imam and the family in these cases.

organ donation

Organs may be harvested from a Muslim body only for immediate transplantation into another Muslim patient, whose life would be in danger without the new organ. If the question of organ donation arises when dealing with a patient, it is worth taking time to discuss the issue to make sure you know their wishes.

pain relief

Some Muslims, especially the older generation, may refuse pain relief on the basis that all suffering is sent to them as a test of their faith and so ought not to be avoided. However, it is allowable for a patient suffering pain to take medication that alleviates that pain as long as the medicine is not intoxicating or narcotic.


Suicide is forbidden in the Muslim world, and so the family of someone who has killed themselves may show reactions that staff do not expect. Treat the body in the same way as that of any other deceased Muslim (do not touch the body directly, turn the head towards Makkah, straighten the legs and arms and close the eyes and mouth) and allow the family to make a decision as to how to proceed.

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