Exploring the role of Islam in perceptions of mental illness in a sample of Muslim psychiatrists based in Johannesburg

T Bulbulia, S Laher


Background. Western definitions of, and approaches to, mental illness have been critiqued for their lack of incorporation of cultural and spiritual elements.

Objective. To explore perceptions of mental illness, particularly in terms of the role of Islam in the understanding of mental illness among South African Muslim psychiatrists practising in Johannesburg.

Methods. Using a qualitative design, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 7 Muslim psychiatrists in the Johannesburg area. Thematic content analysis was used to analyse the transcribed data.

Results. Psychiatrists subscribe to a more biomedical model of illness. The findings of this study also suggest that psychiatrists attempt to remain objective and to refrain from imposing their religious and cultural beliefs on their patients. However, their conceptualisation of mental illness is influenced by their religion and culture. Furthermore, all participating psychiatrists indicated that they always draw on Islamic values when treating their patients. Issues of cultural competence were also highlighted. Psychiatrists indicated that they were open to collaboration with traditional healers and psychologists but that this was quite challenging.

Conclusion. The necessity for formal bodies to develop routes for collaboration between healthcare professionals and traditional healers was brought to the fore. So, too, was the need to incorporate indigenous theory and knowledge into mainstream definitions and approaches to mental illness. 


Islam; Cultural competency; Traditional medicine; Multiculturalism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v19i2.396

Submitted: 04 September 2012
Published: 01 June 2013

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)