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Culturally sensitive practice in a diverse world

This unique textbook enables social work practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of how Islamic principles inform and influence the lives of Muslim populations. This completely updated and revised edition includes a comprehensive update of the research literature, international case studies, and new sections on religious extremism and ageing and end-of-life. This is the only book specifically on social work with Muslim communities and provides an essential toolkit for culturally sensitive social work practice.

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Paradoxically both little and much has changed since the first edition of Islam and Social Work: Debating Values, Transforming Practice. The first volume sought to draw attention to the marginal status of Muslims in the Global North, together with the wealth and depth of Islamic heritage and how these could serve to enrich social work. Today, marginal status remains a continued feature of Muslim minority groups along with concentrated levels of social scrutiny – and, arguably, disproportionately so in respect to their population size or influence. What then has changed in terms of both perceived needs and risks? How do and should social workers view and seek to work constructively with Muslim service users and client groups? These are some of the questions that this, the second edition, seeks to answer.

On the bookshelves of those with a genuine interest in social work, the chances are that there will be at least one well-thumbed text on the issue of ‘race’ and ethnicity and how this relates to, and the impact it has on, social work practice. So complex is this area that it continues to provide a rich source of academic inquiry, resulting in impassioned debate. The best known of these polemics rightly continue to feature on every social work student’s reading list, and therefore we shall not spend too much time in revision here.

Under these circumstances, it may seem rather unlikely therefore that there can be anything new to add to this topic, especially where social work could well be viewed by other professions as being extremely well supported by the volume of information available on the market.

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In this chapter various issues relating to conflict within a Muslim family are discussed, including divorce and spousal abuse, as well as more extreme forms of domestic violence towards other family members. Later, we also consider child welfare issues with respect to child protection procedures and the accommodation of children. Throughout this chapter we seek to examine the assumptions and beliefs that underpin family behaviour and responses in conflict situations, as well as highlighting the implications for social work practice.

When discussing traditional means of resolving family conflict, we must differentiate between that which is promoted in the Qur’an, and other methods that have evolved across cultural groups. In Chapter Three we saw how the use of mediation by a respected, senior male authority figure can help to resolve an otherwise entrenched and deteriorating inter-family war of attrition within an extended Arab family (the hamula) (Al-Krenawi and Graham, 2003). In Arab Muslim societies there are many other forms of peaceful resolution, including one of the most important, the concept of sulh: a form of reconciliation using mediation (Al-Krenawi and Graham, 2003). According to Süleyman Derin (2005–06) sulh is associated with Sufism, whose mysticism, in common with many other spiritual philosophies, is fundamentally non-violent, and was in turn inspired by the accounts of the Prophet Mohammed:

The Prophet (pbuh) displayed the greatest examples of this clemency and compassion. For instance, when the people of Taif stoned him, instead of asking for their punishment, he asked for their forgiveness. In fact, he never prayed to God for the destruction of the people who harmed him: even when he was pressed to do so he replied: ‘I was not sent to this world for condemnation; I was sent as the Prophet of Mercy.

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Historically the Muslim world has enjoyed a very long and enlightened attitude towards health and healing, in which Persian and Hellenic medical knowledge provided a useful foundation for Muslim scholarship to develop into a rich repository of learning. For example, the celebrated centre of medical learning in Cairo held three large hospitals by the year 872 bce. These were apparently built in a cruciform shape to hold separate wards. By 1284 in Cairo the Qalawun hospital set up by the Sultan of the same name was offering the following remarkably modern sounding healthcare:

The mentally ill were kept apart from those with physical symptoms and men were housed separately from women. There were also separate units for patients with eye disorders, stomach complaints and those needing surgery. Hospital doctors by that stage had begun to specialise and the Qalawun records tell us that it employed physicians, surgeons and ophthalmologists, as well as administrators, nurses, accountants and orderlies. (Masood, 2009, p 88)

The great Islamic cities of Baghdad and Cordoba were also the sites of many hospitals, which boasted a system of interns as well as teaching and library facilities. They supplied rudimentary nursing care, held well-stocked pharmacies and even ran outpatient services (Udwadia, 2001). Rassool (2000) refers to how hospitals’ wards were divided into those catering for specific maladies, such as infectious diseases and mental illness. Consequently, during the early medieval period, these centres of medical excellence were unparalleled throughout the civilised world, where in Europe the sick and destitute were reliant on the skills and charity of monks for succour and healing.

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In providing an overview of Islam and diversity within Islam, this chapter acts as a basic introduction to a highly complex subject area that has been extensively discussed. The contextual nature of Islam is emphasised and particular references are made to the historical migration and settlement of Muslim communities in Europe and the UK. The authors are aware that any discussion of Islam and Muslims can be contentious and loaded, and therefore we attempt to open a window to the complexity of discussions referring to what it means to be ‘Muslim’.

First published in 1997, Huntington’s description of the clash of civilisations might today be perceived as a prediction come true, with global power struggles increasingly defined by homogeneous categories of ‘us’ versus ‘the other’. In this sense ‘us’ constitutes the ‘civilised west’, while ‘the other’ may be perceived as an ‘orthodox, hate-filled Islamic’ mass. Dichotomised discourses, such as Huntington’s, have been reinforced by both radical Muslims and those who have rejected Islam.

These divisions form the background of dangerously heightened global conflict, political expediencies and how ‘Islamic’ terrorism is played out and reported and interpreted by the media. It is this context that plays consistently in the background as people (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) try to live their daily lives in contemporary, multicultural western societies.

Islam, the third of the monotheistic religions, followed closely in the ideological steps of Judaism and Christianity with Abraham as the grand patriarch. Mohammed (570–632 bce), the Prophet of Islam, brought to the Arabian peninsula a new social order that had its base in the revealed divine word.

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Social work education and practice in the UK has been subject to continuous transitions and radical changes over a number of decades, owing primarily to government interference under the purported, clichéd rationale of ‘improving standards’. Demands by social work academics for clear evidence of such a need has generated some questionable justifications, leading to the suspicion that policy changes merely feed into a prevailing, cynical neoliberal political agenda for the fragmentation of public (and therefore publicly funded) services in social care and health. The tightening of the social work curriculum to focus primarily on ‘safeguarding’ issues with a heavy focus on practice learning (practicums), compresses a formerly comprehensive academic education in social work that was once traditionally grounded in the social sciences and psychology. If this were not bad enough, the government promotion of fast-track social work qualifications in children and families work is exemplified by two initiatives in England: ‘Step Up to Social Work’ and ‘Frontline’ (Ixer, 2013). The former is premised on the idea of partnerships between local authorities and institutions of higher education (HEI) and is now beginning to be adopted by a number of HEIs as inevitable, although Frontline remains highly controversial and has only been taken up by one English HEI. Fast tracking serves to undermine social work education further and to replace this with an instrumental, training protocol that may serve the interests of local authorities (the main employer of social workers in the UK) in producing a specifically trained workforce but with limited remits which are unlikely to serve service user/client groups equally well.

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Here we consider issues relating to Muslim elders across a number of overlapping domains in keeping with the holism of Islam. First, the current demographic trends in ageing are set out in respect of fiscal and care-related pressures placed on that provision. In the following section ageing is examined from within the Qur’anic frame of reference and in so doing provides the crucial religious context from which to discuss appropriate and sensitive care of elderly Muslims.

When considering Muslim communities, ageing and age-related issues, a dual perspective is required where first, it is important to view older Muslims as part to the general ageing population – as many age-related issues affect all groups of older people. Yet it is equally important to consider them as a sub-group of minority ethnic (ME) or racialised communities, because the interaction of age with social structures and systems is analysed and researched in terms of ethnicity and national origin, rather than faith affiliation. The long history of Muslim ME migration to the UK, taken in consideration with the development of national social policy for health and social care provision, provides useful insights into the issues and implications of providing religio-cultural appropriate care in western multicultural, multifaith societies.

In common with most developed nations the population of the UK is ageing and projections suggest an increase in the median age as well as in the proportions of older people in the population (ONS, 2015). Alongside the increase in the number of older people, reflecting the ageing of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, people are also living longer – at least in the western hemisphere – with an increase in those over the age of 85 years.

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The family in the Muslim world is the central institution in society, in being the primary one where social, cultural and religious values will be communicated to the growing child. In common with Christianity and Judaism, the Muslim family is predominantly patrilineal, where family membership and descent are followed down the male line (Warnock Fernea, 1995). This almost invariably indicates that, in common with the other major monotheistic religions in their traditional guise, Muslim families tend to be patriarchal. The greatest authority is consequently vested in the oldest male, be that father, husband, brother or son, on whom also lies the main responsibility for earning the family’s living.

Typically, the role of breadwinner and protector of women and children is one endorsed by Islam as falling to the husband. While a wife may earn an income, Islamic principles dictate that this money cannot be viewed as forming part of the family budget but is hers alone, whereas the income of a husband is viewed as the family livelihood (Siraj, 2010). This asymmetry therefore carries ramifications for how gender roles are enacted in families, as well as providing the rationale for the unequal division of inheritance between sons and daughters under shari’a law, where sons will inherit a larger percentage than their sisters given the assumption of heavier financial responsibilities.

Nonetheless the morphology of Muslim families globally is diverse, with many different permutations, some of which are likely to be unfamiliar to many readers. A wide diversity of family structures can be found in the Middle East and some parts of the Indian subcontinent where families may adopt nuclear, extended or polygamous arrangements.

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Since the first edition of this book the geo-political context has shifted markedly with many seismic changes shaping ‘glocal’ balances of power. This second edition, like the first, has been a culmination of an ambitious undertaking in attempting to offer a comprehensive introduction to social work and Islam for practitioners, students and academics. The scope of the book is therefore deliberately and of necessity wide. Our authorial intention, however, has been to grapple and problematise issues and in so doing to avoid the easier task of offering an anaemic and anodyne account that remains at a superficial level in arguing for the ‘oughts’ rather than tackling what ‘is’.

The central purpose of the book has been an attempt to expand on many of the assumptions and stereotypes that underpin the way Islam and Muslims are perceived in a transitional and challenging post-9/11 culture. A further aim has been to highlight both the conspicuous and, sometimes, less evident needs of Muslim individuals, families and communities in familiar contexts as well as across less familiar international settings. Throughout the book we have attempted to avoid parochialism and short-term, localised policy shifts of limited duration, in order to obtain a deeper understanding of and traction with international policy trends, arguably of greater utility to social work as a global, multicultural and multifaith profession.

In this objective we have been aided by nothing short of a quiet revolution of academic interest in a topic area that was once considered highly obscure. Today there is a growing body of useful research literature on social work and Islam seeking to inform social work practice, much of which is distilled in this volume, in addition to our own research among and interdisciplinary practice with Muslim service users and client groups.

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