Culture is an important aspect of healthcare provision. Culture influences the development and use of healthcare services and products. It defines rules of engagement with health services, as well as what health provision warrants. Culture explains disease and relevant medication based on knowledge that is derived from the known and unknown. Thus, a specific culture can either promote positive or negative healthcare provision.
Culture is the way of life adopted by people in societies. Generally, it includes the ideals, knowledge, norms, values, traits and attitudes that build the views and ideologies of people. Culture also defines the institutional framework of societies in terms of families, polity, religion and social systems. The social systems include education and healthcare systems. In regard to health, culture explains what can be considered as sickness and the relevant means to seek assistance upon the occurrence of a malady. The way of life practiced by people also subjects them to various health problems. Equally, in some cultures health is described along gender lines where certain forms of diseases are attached to a particular sex and their lifestyle. It is inevitable that culture is different but specific to a particular group of people. Muslim culture plays a significant role in health provision with reference to epistemology, ethnomedical beliefs about illness, customary health interventions and treatment.
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the study of the origin, source, logic and role of knowledge as portrayed by people. According to Inati (1998), Islamic philosophy is divided between the known and unknown. In real life situation, what is known is manifested and stored in the mind but the unknown is unconsciously reflected. Thus, the known can be learnt, acquired and is evident unlike the unknown. Thus, epistemology provides a formal way of evaluating culture in respect to any topic of study.
Customary Health Interventions and Treatment
According to Taheri (2008), Islamic culture is free to use customary health provisions and non-Muslim health solutions. It also includes improving the non-Muslim health solutions. Islamic culture guides health provision by explaining the relationship between health and scriptures, handling of Muslim women, food provision, prayers and observance of religious dates. The customary health interventions and treatments are discussed below in beliefs about illnesses.
Islamic philosophy guides health assistance from a cultural and spiritual rather than biomedical perspective. It includes the stance on the origin of disease and relevant mechanisms of seeking help. The culture is not specific whether or not death and illness are signs of punishment from God. However, the Muslim culture has universal respect to practices to be observed at death or when one is dying (Taheri 2008; Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, 1999). According to Islamic Council of Queensland (1996), cleanliness is a fundamental principle of Islamic teachings. There are various washings like Ghusl, where the whole body is washed, Wudhu in which parts of the head, hands and leg are washed and Tayammum that involves cleaning without water. Tayammum is adopted when water is not available or if it is considered dangerous to health. In this case dust is used to wipe the face and arms.
Beliefs about Illness
According to the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council (1999), Islamic beliefs on health differ in significance. There are general practices that vary with individuals. Naturally, during illness, patients should pray to God and relate more with the Quran for forgiveness. However, disease is not considered as a punishment from God in Islam. According to Taheri (2008), the holy Quran does not define any roles for treatment. The Quran offers healing solutions for psychological and spiritual problems. The Islamic prophet advised patients to take medicine.
Usually, the Islamic culture strictly respects life and, as a result, abortion is only permitted to save the life of the child. Circumcision of male infants, organ transplant, blood transfusion and genetic engineering are allowed. Health practitioners are not allowed to conduct assisted suicides while autopsies must be done in accordance with the law. With reference to actual health care provision, respect and gender relations are critical during treatment. Healthcare workers are expected to respect privacy by limiting eye contact. They are also expected to reduce having direct contact when talking to patients. The culture does not limit treatment by different sex representatives. However, it is advisable to have a patient examined by a doctor of a different sex in the presence of a husband or another relative. Ladies may also insist on covering their whole bodies during treatment. Spiritually, patients should continue observing their relations with God. As a result, a prayer room should be provided and congregations on Fridays observed (Chicago Healthcare Council, 1999).
Consequently, food (Muslim Halal) should be provided free of pig products and alcohol to Muslim patients. Fasting during Ramadan is recommended, though sick people and pregnant mothers are often exempted. Finally, at the end of life, healthcare workers are expected to engage the family and a Muslim Imam in handling the patient's body. The patient should be comforted during the last days and the funeral should be conducted in accordance to Islamic guidelines (Taheri 2008; Chicago Healthcare Council, 1999)
There are some beliefs within the culture that affect health provision. The factors relate more to food and treatment of women. The food for patients must be prepared in accordance with Islamic culture. Further, the Muslim culture places the decision to fast on a sick person. Therefore, an ill patient may feel pressured to fast against his/her health status. The culture bars the use of contraceptives, since it holds that only God has the power over conception of pregnancies (Islamic Council of Queensland, 1996).
Ethnomedicine of Islamic Culture
According to Singer and Erickson (2011), ethnomedicine examines and transfers health related information from specific cultures. Thus, ethnomedicine is the study of medicine that is practiced in a particular culture. Ethnomedicine has two functions. The first is that it studies theories and knowledge about health that people learn and inherit from a culture. The second is that it compares the medical practices with other cultures within the region and globally with a view of improving healthcare systems. It includes the use of traditional plants, beliefs, ideologies and general lifestyles to promote healthy practices. As noted above, Muslim culture does not promote any practice for medication with reference to the Quran. According to Dafni (2007), sacred areas are believed to have superior powers without ability to deliver miracles. The miracles have curative powers that are sought in instances of terminal diseases.
Azaizeh, Saad, Cooper and Said (2010) note that about 70% of the world population still relies on complementary and alternate medicinal systems that include Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine (TAIM). Specially, TAIM therapies continue to receive cognition for people who believe in spiritual leaders. The method is a first option for infertility and mental diseases. According to Saad and Said (2011), Islamic medicine was developed during the Arab-Islamic Empire and was based on the premise that there is no disease created by Allah, but by creating treatment He motivated Muslims to engage in Medical research. The development and practice of Islamic medicine was based on the teachings of Quran, knowledge of traditional healers and knowledge from other medical systems, as well as the knowledge from Muslim scholars. Islamic medicine was adopted by other cultures.
The study of culture in provision of healthcare provides a strong background for effective treatment. Culture defines what is acceptable and what is not. Thus, treatment given to patients might be resisted by patients against their culture unless the culture is liberal enough to allow application of new practices. At the same time, through ethnomedicine, superior medical practices can be identified, adopted and transferred to other cultures. The practice within ethnomedicine includes biomedicine, pharmacology, physiology, spiritual explanations and diet balance. Nevertheless, the adoption of any health practice advanced to a society remains the most significant task.
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