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The current U.S. presidential candidates’ debates about immigration index national anxieties over culture, race, and religion, specifically Islam. In the wake of the Paris bombings claimed by Daesh (ISIS), both Marc Rubio and Jeb Bush called for closing the borders to Muslim refugees from Syria and other war-torn areas while Ben Carson has suggested a Muslim would not be fit for our nation’s highest office, which resulted in a spike in his popularity. Badiah Haffejee offers some insights on the impact of this xenophobic and racist political climate through a qualitative study of recently-arrived African Muslim refugees who attending college. They struggle with burden of of the psychological trauma they endured from their home country while confronting racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia in the U.S.. The study highlights how “black” identity is sometimes imposed on them in spite of their self-identifying as African and/or Muslim. Haffejjee offers clinicians and educators recommendations for identifying emotional distress, promoting health-seeking behavior, and helping African refugee youth build on their strengths.
In the second article of Volume 9, Issue 1 of the Journal of Muslim Mental Health, Chowdhury et al explored attitudes to child behavioral problems, recognition of severity, level of internalizing versus externalizing the behavioral problem, and who to seek help from (if anyone). The authors used an innovative sampling method of recruiting parents from local Muslim Student Associations. While the author recognize the bias of more religious, over-representative of Asians, and high socio-economic status, by recruiting through students the sample is more reflective of a community as opposed to a mosque based study. Not surprisingly, parents in general refer to family and friends first. Furthermore, parents who lived in the U.S. longer were more likely to seek help from professionals beyond an imam or religious figure. However, of note externalizing behavior, behaviors that are directed outward (such as outbursts and aggression), as opposed to internalizing behavior (such as being socially withdrawn, feeling sad, decreased concentration) were rated as a more serious problem. Across types and severity of problem, very few participants chose a psychologist or psychiatrist as their source for help. Participants were more likely to report seeking a school counselor, which has very important policy implications. Perhaps American Muslim communities should more vigorously educate, support, and connect to school based counseling programs since they are often on the frontlines of managing Muslim children’s’ emotional distress.
The third article of this issue, by Nicholas Scull explores the interesting relationship between religiosity, psychological well-being and the choice between forgiveness and the desire for revenge in the context of complex political turmoil. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, there were many examples of the Iraqi military members committing serious human rights offenses against the people of Kuwait. Scull’s team administered several psychometric scales to 220 Kuwaiti Muslims living in Kuwait. Interestingly, his findings, unlike other studies, suggest that religiosity did not correlate with psychological well being in this population of Muslims exposed to war. Not surprisingly, desire for revenge was negatively correlated with psychological well being measures. However, interestingly, forgiveness was also not associated with better psychological wellbeing. Of particular interest, he found that the belief that Islam promotes forgiveness, not subjects’ religiosity as measured by his survey, was associated with higher levels of forgiveness. The findings is less likely due to social desirability bias since subjects also did not report adhering to Islam, unless subjects, independent of religiosity, want Islam to appear (either consciously or unconsciously) as a religion that fosters forgiveness. If these findings are sound and generalizable, then they may have important implications in conflict resolution studies, particularly in post-conflict Muslim majority communities. Perhaps educational programs demonstrating Islam promotes forgiveness as an ideal, may promote forgiveness and decrease revenge behavior regardless of the individual’s religiosity. However, before establishing such programs, it is important to demonstrate efficacy of such an educational intervention in an experimental model.
The final article is a review of the post partum depression literature in among Arab, Turkish, and Irani women in the Middle East (with the exception of one that focuses on Muslim diasporas in Australia). The 22 studies reviewed were conducted in different 12 different countries, using five different measures, all in the health care setting, with variable time to follow up. As such the prevalence ranged from 10-51.8% of the women surveyed. While most studies examined the well described psychiatric, psycho-social, and demographic risk factors, one study conducted in the United Arab Emirates explored “evil eye” and “jinn” (spirits) as an explanation for post partum emotional distress. The review highlights the importance of mandating screening and offering treatment for women at risk for post partum depression in the Middle East and in diaspora.