Muslim Women and their Health
By Sarah Jukaku
As Muslims we know that modesty, both outward and inward, is an important part of our religion. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Every faith has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty.” But what does this mean when it comes to our interactions with our doctors? And what impact might it be having on our health?
Many of us have had discussions with Muslim friends and colleagues about uncomfortable experiences at the doctor, or about the Islamic rulings regarding certain behaviors related to medical care in Islam. These discussions sparked an interest in how interpretations of modesty may influence a Muslim woman’s health behaviors.
Although some similar work has been done in this area, the few studies conducted had a small number of respondents, all of whom had immigrated to the US. The results of the study suggested that more modest women were more likely to report that they felt uncomfortable in co-ed exercise facilities, and that they felt that their interpretations of modesty made it more difficult for them to work out and stay in shape.
Although the results of the study may seem like common sense to a Muslim audience, to a non-Muslim audience these results are surprising. Many of my colleagues and professors were shocked that the majority of the women surveyed were highly educated, had health insurance, and were mostly born in the US. Because many Americans are unaware of the preferences of the average Muslim female patient, it is important that this information be made available to the health care community. Furthermore, from the results of the study related to health attitudes and awareness, it seemed that there was some confusion about the importance of certain health behaviors and the Islamic rulings surrounding how to go about doing them, with culture as well as exposure to health and/or Islamic education likely to have been involved in influencing some of these responses.
Therefore, it is important that we as a community have a forum where our leaders can educate women in the community on Islamic rulings related to health, advising us on what to do in medical situations that Muslims in the west commonly find themselves in. Furthermore, it may also be valuable to have a discussion as a community about whether or not we should allow our young women to attend sexual health education courses in school so that they can be educated on healthy behaviors. Alternatively it may also be helpful for the Muslim community itself to offer courses in areas such as these—perhaps in the safe mother-daughter format that many churches offer—so that young people can feel that they have someone to talk to about sensitive issues such as these.
Finally, another important finding was that most of the women did not exercise regularly. Many of us know that our body is an amanah (trust) given to us by God and that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ took part and excelled in activities such as wrestling and archery, and it is therefore imperative that leaders in our community discuss the importance of physical fitness, helping Muslim women to find opportunities to stay active in environments that are in sync with Islamic rulings.