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From Our Print Archives

Caring for Muslim Patients

Vol. 8 •Issue 9 • Page 12
Express Yourself

Caring for Muslim Patients

Nurses at Deborah Heart and Lung Center hear about care of Islamic patients

Have you noticed the face of America is changing? For generations the religion predominantly practiced among Americans has been Christianity followed by Judaism. In recent years, the Muslim population, who practice Islam, has expanded across the globe.

As Muslims become our neighbors, classmates, co-workers and patients, we have a responsibility to understand what we share in common and what might set us apart.

To Promote Understanding

To better understand the Islamic religion and Muslim culture, the Cultural Diversity Committee at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, Browns Mills, NJ, recently hosted a presentation on care of the Muslim patient.

Riaz Siddiqui, an expert on the Islamic community, past president of the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey and retired environmental health and safety director at a blue chip company, presented the program.

Also at the lecture was Dawud Assad, retired director of the Muslim World League, a global Saudi Arabian-based charitable organization that promotes understanding between Islam and other faiths, and an active member of the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey.

Primary Precepts

One of the primary precepts of Islam is the belief that disposition in life and all of the blessings they receive, whether scarce or plentiful, are from Allah (God). A guide for daily actions, Muslims follow the Qur'an, the book of Islamic scripture, which among other tenets, instructs Muslims to dress modestly. This choice encourages society to dwell on the value of an individual's wisdom, skills and contribution to the community rather than his or her physical attributes.

Muslims pray for about 10 minutes 5 times per day facing Mecca, the religion's holiest city, located in Saudi Arabia, at daybreak, midday, late afternoon, after sunset and from darkness to midnight.

Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, encourages Muslims to empathize with those who are less fortunate and appreciate what one has. (The Islamic calendar, like the Jewish calendar, is lunar based. The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar/Gregorian year. Thus Ramadan starts 11 days earlier each succeeding year and covers all seasons in a 33-year cycle.) During Ramadan, Muslims fast, choosing to go without food, water, smoking or sexual activity between dawn and sunset. Children or those who have a health condition may abstain. However, they must pay back by feeding someone who is unable to feed himself within the community.

Care Considerations

Using "A Health Care Professional's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," (a free guide from CAIR: The Council on American-Islamic Relations, www.cair Siddiqui pointed out considerations healthcare workers should make when caring for a Muslim patient. To begin with, health-related ideologies may differ, as Muslims believe illness is part of the trials and tribulations of life from Allah; death is part of an ultimate journey to the next life; fatalistic attitudes are not tolerated; and saving life is supreme — Muslims are encouraged to seek all possible treatment.

Muslim patients, like all faithful to their religious beliefs, will wish to continue their daily practices while under your care. As a nurse, here are a few things to keep in mind: your patient will likely bring his or her prayer rug to kneel on; nothing should be placed on top of the Qur'an out of respect; before prayer, Muslims must perform ablution, washing their hands, face and feet; patients without mobility can perform symbolic ablution; and prayer may be performed in any dry, quiet, clean space. Also, when a patient is praying do not walk in front of or interrupt him.

During daily care nurses should be cognizant of Muslims' dietary and cultural behaviors. Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, pork products, gelatin, vanilla extract, Dijon mustard and alcohol (kosher meals are acceptable). Gender sensitivity is also a requirement, so same sex care is preferred; women may keep their heads covered during the entire hospitalization; conservative dress is maintained; and some patients may not wish to shake hands with the opposite sex.

Differing care practices should also be considered for all Muslim patients. Blood transfusion, transplantation and organ donation are permitted within religious beliefs as well as artificial reproductive technology between a husband and wife. However, life support should not be given for a prolonged period of time.

When a Muslim patient is dying, offer respect to his end of life wishes. His family may stay for prayers during his last days. If no family is available, an Imam, or Islamic holy man, should be called for prayer. Assisted suicide is not permitted, according to Islamic beliefs. After death, the body should not be altered, so cremation is forbidden and embalming and autopsies are performed only when required by law or police investigation.

As with all patients, effective communication, education and tolerance are key to ensuring the Muslim patient's healthcare and spiritual needs are met.

Laura Gebers is Patient Care Services programs health education coordinator at Deborah Heart & Lung Center, Browns Mills, NJ.


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