This article was originally published in The Invitation Magazine in 2008, but is as useful today as it was then in terms of offering examples of the excellent work that Mosques can do when they get their act together. . .
Mosques are generally portrayed in a uniformly negative light in the media, whereas the reality is that there are a number of mosques around the country that are doing some valuable and very innovative work with their local communities. As an example, let us see what is being done in Glasgow, Sterling, Oldham and London. . .
The Central mosque was quick to see that the health of it's congregation was important, they were active in the field back in 2001 when they took part in a British Heart Foundation campaign to highlight the dangers of heart disease (something the South Asians are 50% more likely to die from). The project involved imams being trained on issues relating to heart health such as diet or smoking.
Smoking is a big issue as it is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease, and surveys suggest half of all Bangladeshi men, and a third of Pakistani men, smoke.
Habib Ur-Rehman, the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said: "I'm very pleased to be part of this initiative as Islam teaches respect for life and health and places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of both physical and spiritual health.” while Muslim MP Mohamed Sarwar commented that "This unique initiative provides the Muslim community with the necessary information and support to take control of their health."
By 2004 the Mosque had widened its remit, with the elderly day care centre providing a medication review clinic once a week in which each patient received a basic medication review, along with health promotion advice, blood pressure measurement and blood glucose monitoring. The organiser, Alia Gilani, then informs the patient’s GP by letter of the service provided.
Staying north of the border, a 2007 campaign was run involving women from Stirling's Islamic Centre, NHS Forth Valley and Filza Bhatti from Glasgow Caledonian University.
The project aimed to highlight the damaging effects of eating food that had high levels of fat and salt. This was because statistics show that the Asian community within the UK was more likely to develop diabetes than the general population.
Filza Bhatti, commented that “Even in Islam we are not supposed to over-eat. . . We are meant to think about the poor and how they are actually feeling with hunger pains." Her healthy eating plan includes using wholemeal flour for chapattis and putting less salt and oil into a curry.
The eight-week programme includes a buddying system and physical activity such as brisk walking.
Last year, Oldham saw a project involving the local Primary Care Trust's and the Council of Mosques for Oldham. Launched at the Tabligul Islam mosque in Glodwick, the 'Smile With The Prophet' project aimed o encourage more than 700 Muslims in Oldham to look after their teeth and give up smoking.
The message was based on the teaching of the prophet Mohammed who promoted good oral hygiene and good nutrition as an essential part of the Muslim religion. Delivered as part of the religious teaching in the mosque, and project also involved the team speaking to families about oral health and helping them find out ways of improving their children's teeth.
Lynne Smith, oral health improvement lead said: "It is particularly important to help improve the oral health of the children in their community, because on average they have the highest level of tooth decay with 70 per cent of five-year-old children having five decayed teeth."
Of course, mosques can provide a place where groups of concerned individuals can focus on health related issues away from the hectic nature and many distractions of the outside world. For example, in 2007 Ahmed Rahman, a 36yr old traffic warden from Camden, London, gave up smoking during Ramadan with help of a smoking counsellor at his mosque
Ahmed had contacted his local PCT about his wish to stop smoking and they had suggested that he join a stop-smoking group. The group decided to hold it's meetings in the mosque. Ahmed commented that “There were four to five meetings a week, and we had to go for five weeks. Our coordinator gave us suggestions to help us get through the first few days. Between the meetings, I could phone my support worker whenever I felt like I wanted a cigarette.
London (East End)
The East London Mosque, aware that many of the local community live sedentary lives and so are more likely to suffer from high cardiovascular disease and rising diabetes rates.
The mosque is involved in the “This Healthy Living” project is targeted specifically at Bangladeshi men at risk of developing coronary heart disease and/or diabetes because of their lifestyle. The 12 week program encourages men to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Training is provided in Bengali and the project addresses issues such as risk factors that contribute to heart disease, increased awareness of the importance and benefits of physical activity
Increased knowledge and understanding of balanced diets etc, In addition, the attendees had the chance to participate in Seminars (in English and Bengali), Group discussion around various health topics; Health & fitness screening; Gym sessions and One to one sessions.