A faith centre working to improve the health and wellbeing of the community is not a new concept, from the earliest days of Islam we find the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ Mosque in Medina was a community meeting place, a centre for learning, a place for consultation and advice as well as being a place of prayer.
For mosques in the UK this enhanced community wellbeing role is underdeveloped and requires attention; its revival can lead to real improvements to the health and wellbeing for some of the most disadvantaged in our society.
We know the environment helps shape our health; the places we live, work and socialise. The majority of Muslims in the UK live in areas of higher deprivation, with poorer economic opportunities and with a greater burden of ill health, disability and premature death.
Many of the health conditions which disproportionately affect minority ethnic groups, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, mental ill health, and dementia are preventable by addressing underlying risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, social isolation and smoking.
In the US, McGinnis et al. have shown how healthcare plays an important though proportionately small role in preventing early deaths (similar studies have supported these findings in the UK).
Improving how we live our lives offers a far greater opportunity for improving health; with behavioural patterns being the largest contributor in prevention of premature death.
The question we asked in the West Midlands was – how can we support local community assets in their work to improve the health and wellbeing of an underprivileged community, in this case Muslims?
Our research revealed mosque communities can play a unique role in creating environments that promote health and instil values so that maintenance of good health is at the heart of how people view life. We were informed of the value Islam places on maintaining health, there are many accounts of how the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ encouraged physical activity and healthy balanced eating.
What we found missing however were sustainable projects that addressed the health conditions faced by the community, in spite of a great enthusiasm from mosque communities to develop their part in promoting health and wellbeing in the community.
Through conducting surveys and face to face interviews we learned that local endeavours were hampered by a lack of knowledge of how best to tackle issues and where best to seek advice and support.
In response we at Public Health England West Midlands worked with Birmingham City Council and local social KIKIT Pathways to Recovery, a local social enterprise, to develop a Guide to Healthy Living Mosques which supports mosques to take a fresh look at their facilities, workforce, initiatives, partnerships and policies for healthy practices to become part of their core work as community institutions and to serve as an example for others.
Mosques and Imams hold important leadership and pastoral roles in the community. They are often trusted, well-respected figures who have great potential to influence health promotion and engagement within the community.
They can help lead the way to reduce health inequalities in communities; firstly as a place where health promotion activities and initiatives can take place and secondly where health promotion messages can be amplified by inclusion of Qur’anic and Prophetic guidance, making the message more likely to resonate within the community and increasing the likelihood of sustained behavioural change.
The aim of the guide is to provide mosque leaders and communities with public health evidence and recommendations, demonstrating how these public health messages link into Islamic teachings with case study examples of good practice.
The guide has been written so that it can easily be adapted by other faith communities or local organisations wishing to adopt the guide in their setting.
The guide was launched earlier this year, receiving a positive reception from local mosques, statutory providers and third sector organisations in Birmingham. The guide was seen as a first step in stimulating collaboration across mosques and service provider organisations
The key points that emerged from the launch include:
- Enhancing understanding of the role mosques can play by empowering volunteers in the congregation to act as health and wellbeing champions
- Developing ways for mosques to keep up to date with service availability, health information and current campaigns they can link with, with a particular focus on mental health
- Considering how to facilitate joint working across mosques and other community organisations
Although the guide is now in use Public Health England West Midlands is working with partners to build local confidence and capability to support its implementation.
We hope this pilot project will serve as a template for future engagement approaches to encourage community organisations to improve and build upon their existing health promotion values, beliefs and efforts.
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