Islam is a monotheistic faith that means “submission to the will of God”. The person who practices this faith is known as a Muslim. As someone who has grown up in India, which has more than 100 million more Muslims on its subcontinent alone as compared to all the Arab countries combined, I have had several interactions with Muslims, both positive and negative. However, I now realize that those interactions were limited and that there is a lot more that I did not know about Muslims from different countries, who are scattered all around the world.
I am fascinated by the fact that there are around 6 million Muslims in the United States. As Muslim immigrants comprised a steadily growing group in the United States before the attacks of September 11, it was estimated that the increasing rate of their population going to make Islam the nation’s second largest religion by the year 2010. Hence, mental health professionals in this country are paying a lot of attention to the needs of Muslim clients based on their religious doctrines. There are five basic articles or “pillars” of faith in Islam. These are “Ash’shahadatan” (testifying that there is no God save Allah and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah), “As’salah” (a form of worship rites that involve specific movements and sayings, which need to be performed five times a day), “Az’zakah” (to pay 2.5% of the wealth annually for the benefit of the needy in Muslim community), “As’sawm” (To abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse during daytime throughout the 9th Lunar month), and “Al Hajj” (The pilgrimage to Mecca once in life for those who are physically and financially able). Research has found that Muslim societies are collectivistic (group plays a larger role in society than the individual) in terms of family life, economic situations, the truth as determined in terms of agreement with the Koran, their religious book, and religious, and aesthetic values.
Moreover, according to a fundamental doctrine in the Islamic faith, Muslims believe in fate and perceive illness as a way of atoning their sins rather than a form of punishment.. I have also discovered that I had certain preconceived notions about Muslims based on my experiences as a person from India, where Muslims are minorities just as they are in the United States. However, the majority group in India, to which I used to belong to, had hostile feelings towards Muslims. And I grew up developing feelings of prejudice and negative emotions toward the population. This project has made me develop insight into my faulty thinking and wrong assumptions enough to change my prejudiced attitudes towards Muslims and to view them as I would view any other population that is different from my own, irrespective of their race or religion. As a foreigner in this country, I also realize that acculturation is as difficult for any foreigner as it has been for me. Hence, before offering any services to a Muslim immigrant, it is essential to find out what his level of acculturation in the United States is. This can alert me as a practitioner about what cultural conflicts might interfere with otherwise ideal treatment interventions. I understand that I need to base my interpretations of my clients within their cultural context.
All in all, I would not hesitate to say that this process of understanding a “Muslim client” has been a lot of hard work academically as well as emotionally. At the same time, as I gained increasing knowledge of Islam and its followers, I felt a sense of achievement and also a sense of unburdening myself from the prejudices that I have held since my childhood. As a psychologist, I have realized that with my past education so far, it was becoming easy to empathize with clients and the problems that they brought to therapy. But I had never viewed them as individuals with a different religion as mine at such a conscious level, to understand what practicing that religion meant to them and how it would affect their role as not only a client within the mental health settings, but also as a client of a therapist who practiced a religion very different from theirs. This reinforces the fact that the becoming of a sensitive therapist is an evolving process, and that one can never be stagnant or content with having “enough education