Spiritual Beliefs and Mental Health: A Study of Muslim Women in Glasgow

Darryl Gunson, Lawrence Nuttall, Smina Akhtar, Adam Khan, Gizala Avian, Linda Thomas, Charles Collins (Editor), Rhiannon Sims (Editor), Hartwig Pautz (Editor)

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    This research report explores the nature of Muslim belief in phenomena such as ‘jinn’ (spiritual beings), spirit possession and black magic, and investigates whether such beliefs can have harmful consequences for the mental health of Muslim women. The geographic focus of the research is Glasgow. This collaborative research – conducted and enabled by the University of the West of Scotland, the AMINA Muslim Women’s Resource Centre Glasgow, Glasgow City Council, and the UWS-Oxfam Partnership – was conceived after the director of AMINA, in 2013, reported an increase in the number of women calling the Centre’s helpline to talk about jinn, spirit possession and black magic in connection with their health and, in particular, with their mental health. The initial research objectives were therefore: to explore what such beliefs consisted of; to document what Muslim women themselves had to say about this; to investigate whether such beliefs might have an adverse impact on Muslim women’s mental health; and to assess the current level of professional understanding of issues surrounding female Muslim mental health and spiritual belief.

    The findings of the project are in this report, but it is important to acknowledge that they are the result of a small-scale qualitative project, conducted in 2013-14, and therefore only provide a ‘snap shot’ of what these particular women thought at that particular time. No claim is made that these views can be generalised to the wider Muslim population.

    The central findings are:

    • There is a perception of significant stigma surrounding mental illness in the Glasgow Muslim community, and there is an urgent need for services to combat this.

    • There is a strong belief amongst Glasgow Muslim women that ‘spirit possession’ can cause illness and that appropriate help is not necessarily delivered through medical services.

    • The mental health of some Muslim women may be adversely affected by the ‘lack of fit’ between the language of spirit possession and the Western medical approach to mental illness.

    • Most participants believed jinn and black magic are real phenomena that should be taken seriously. However, participants did not appear to see these as the main causes of poor mental health within their community and instead emphasised other psycho-social causes, including the role of marriage, family
    and culturally embedded gender roles.

    • There was an array of views about whether help for mental ill-health should initially be sourced from a medical practitioner or via a faith-based route, with this decision influenced by factors such as stigma and concerns that receiving a medical diagnosis could be interpreted as a sign of weakening of an individual’s faith. Most participants advocated a ‘mix’ of solutions.

    • Participants reported barriers to engaging with medical services, including the worry that they would have to ‘explain’ their beliefs to medical staff due to the general lack of understanding of Muslim culture among health professionals.

    • There is a need within the Muslim community in Glasgow for further information about what mental health is and what mental health services are available. However, there was also a suggestion that greater efforts are needed to bridge the divide between faith-based and main stream services to avoid delays in women accessing treatment.

    On the basis of the research findings, four recommendations are made:

    1. All those having a role in advising, referring and treating people with mental health concerns should have access to training in the cultural beliefs and concerns of Muslims generally, and Muslim women specifically. A greater focus on enhancing the ‘cultural competencies’ of health and social care professionals is necessary for addressing the issues discussed in this report.

    2. Policy makers, community leaders (including imams) and representatives of Muslim women should work in partnership to understand the specific mental health needs that Muslim women may have. This would involve identifying barriers to effective and timely treatment and planning appropriate responses and services.

    3. There should be initiatives to engage members of the Muslim community with the theme of mental health, the stigma associated with mental ill-health, and the mental health services available.

    4. Mental health services should seek to engage more effectively with Muslim women and, importantly, organisations that support Muslim women in a mental health capacity.

    Further research is required to establish whether these conclusions and policy recommendations are applicable across Scotland and the wider UK.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherUWS-Oxfam Partnership
    Commissioning bodyUWS-Oxfam Partnership
    Number of pages31
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019

    Publication series

    NameUWS-Oxfam Partnership: Collaborative Research Reports Series


    • mental health
    • supernatural beliefs
    • Islam
    • spirit possession


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