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Meeting the Healthcare Needs of American Muslims
Date: 6/8/2011

Executive Summary 

The Islamic values and cultural practices of American Muslims can play a role in community health disparities by influencing health behaviors and healthcare-seeking patterns and presenting challenges within the healthcare system. To date, scant empirical research has been conducted in collaboration with this community in order to better understand their beliefs and perceived challenges. This report is based on the analysis of qualitative data from semi-structured interviews and focus groups collected through a community-based participatory project with American Muslims living in southeastern Michigan. Specifically, our aim was to (1) identify key health beliefs and practices within the community, (2) gain a better understanding of these beliefs and practices and how they may impact the seeking of healthcare services, and (3) identify clinical situations that pose cultural challenges within healthcare. This report provides an overview of American Muslim health beliefs, describes how these beliefs impact healthcare-seeking practices, and recommends accommodations that can improve the healthcare experience of American Muslim patients. Understanding the links between Islamic beliefs and practices and their influence on clinical encounters provides opportunities to improve community health and deliver culturally sensitive high quality care.



Research has demonstrated that minority patient populations receive a lower quality of care and face significant challenges when trying to access and receive healthcare.  Among racial and ethnic groups, health disparities persist due to the confluence of structural, institutional, and interpersonal factors. Overcoming these barriers and disparities requires that the beliefs, priorities, and healthcare needs of minority communities be understood and accommodated. Health disparities among religious minorities merit particular consideration, as religious values are very influential in an individual’s and group’s development and articulation of the concept of “health.” Thus, a better understanding of how religious values influence health behaviors can result in the delivery of more culturally sensitive healthcare services.

American Muslims are a fast-growing, under-studied, and underserved minority. While ethnically and racially diverse, they are bound together by a shared religious tradition that shapes their worldview and informs their behavior. The major ethnic groups within the American Muslim community are indigenous African Americans, South Asians, and Arabs. American Muslims may share religiously informed views on health, illness, and the healing process. For example, many aspects of healthcare may be informed by individual and personal practices of Islam- from conceptions of disease and cure to healthcare-seeking patterns and decision-making. When considering the healthcare needs of American Muslim patients, providers must be aware of the wide spectrum of adherence, religious practice, rituals, and traditions within this community. Nonetheless, areas of shared concern between different segments of this population exist and are the focus of our project.  Increasing cultural competence has been cited as part of the solution to reduce health disparities; however, “Muslim patient cultural guides” are predominantly based on provider experiences as opposed to empirical research conducted in collaboration with the community. To better understand the factors that influence American Muslim health barriers and challenges, we embarked on a community-based participatory research project. This report presents an overview of American Muslim health beliefs, describes how these beliefs impact healthcare-seeking practices, and recommends accommodations that can improve the healthcare experience of American Muslim patients.


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