This second edition, written almost ten years on from the first edition, shows just how much and how little has changed for social work practitioners in the Global North when engaging with Muslim communities, families and individuals. Published in 2017, it is already behind in describing the global ‘Islamic’ narrative with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, continued forced migration and ongoing terrorist activity around the world. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 are regularly mentioned as watersheds, marking social change in global attitudes towards Islam, and we never know when the next watershed event will occur. Yet the book remains incredibly relevant and insightful in relation to the impact of an ‘Islamic’ identity on Muslim and non-Muslim communities, families and individuals. In addition, the book is clearly orientated towards social work practitioners with specific chapters on social work education and Islam; gender relations and the centrality of the family: working with families; Muslim families and health; aging and end of life; and Muslim communities, crime victimisation and criminal justice. The strength of the book is that it does not hide away from any of the contentious issues that social workers might face when working with Muslim communities, families or individuals, such as gender inequality, female genital mutilation or complexities related to sexual and reproductive health. It also recognises both the unity and discord of the Muslim ummah worldwide—across those who are practising Islam, there are many things that they agree and disagree on. At the same time, the text continually draws attention to the strengths which can be drawn from Islam, and how complementary much of Islamic thought is to social work practice (such as the concept of ashan (mutual care and respect), the redistribution of wealth through Zakat, the valuing of community as represented through the Muslim ummah and the notion of human dignity manifested through the desire for all to achieve insan al-kamil). The book also clearly lays out the social and economic challenges that many Muslims in the Global North face. The authors negotiate through the chapters largely by drawing on research that is used to confirm what we do or do not know, challenging frequently made assumptions (such as the impact of consanguineous marriages, for example), showing there are usually many sides to each debate. There are no easy answers on offer, but the text does draw attention to the judgements, assumptions and pitfalls often made by social workers, and offer some alternative frameworks and approaches which can be used. Case study examples are given—but there are no questions for students, or classroom exercises like a text book would have. Interestingly, the title of the book focuses on the relationship between social work and Islam as a religion, rather than Muslims as a religious (and cultural?) group. This appears to be because the authors want to encourage social workers to actively engage with the religious identity of Muslims and, by doing that, highlights Islamic practices, values and worldviews. Where appropriate, the authors make comparisons with other religions, and these comparisons are largely well placed and helpful. However, the book does recognise that Muslims come from many different ethics origins and cultures, which also impacts on their lived experience and adds another layer of complexity for social workers. While the book is clearly written for Muslim minority contexts in the Global North, it does draw on many examples about lives and social practices Muslim-majority contexts, largely in the Global South. The impact of having a ‘minority’ identity, in relation to both religion and ethnicity, is also considered as very important to understanding Muslim communities, families and individuals. No matter how contentious the debates get, the book reminds us that religion as an identity marker cannot be bypassed. The authors lay out their identities at the beginning of the book—and, although they do not explicitly tell us why, it feels important, probably because the issue of identity is embedded throughout the book. I am not sure it is possible to overplay the importance and usefulness of this book. Yet, while the book contains a lot of interesting research and ‘knowledge’ of Islam and Islamic practices, as a non-Muslim social work practitioner, I am not sure how much more confident I feel in working with Muslim families and individuals after reading this book. The book does contain many interesting frameworks (such as the Islamic social work model on p. 67 and the Islamic conceptualisation of the human soul on p. 145) and often compares Islamic perspectives with non-Islamic perspectives. However, the book lacks an explicit applied focus. It does not clearly suggest how I could ‘use’ any ‘Islamic’ knowledge that I may have—such as the importance and timing of prayers, gender separation or fasting—or knowing that, according to Islamic texts, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are temporarily exempt from fasting, for example. The book gives many examples of how specific ‘knowledge’ about Islamic practices associated with being Muslim is important (such as during end-of-life care and during maternal care) but how exactly does a non-Muslim use this knowledge? How appropriate is it to ‘quote’ the Koran to Muslim families? If you know a family follows the Hanafi school of thought rather than Maliki (both Sunni schools of thought), should you get a book on Hanafi Islam and then assume you know all their values and practices? On many occasions, examples are given of social workers bringing in Imams or respected elders in a community to mediate for or counsel a family. How do social workers go about building relationships with religious leaders and elders, and do we always need to bring others in when engagement is based on ‘Islamic’ principles or practices? How can we be sure that the Islamic partnerships we make are ‘safe’ and aligned with social work values—how could we judge this? There is no doubt that ‘social workers need to engage with the political, social and material realities facing Muslim families’ (p. 148), many of whom face higher levels of poverty and unemployment, poor living conditions and poor access to services than the ‘white’ majority populations they live amongst. The book provides good foundational knowledge of the social and political landscape within which Muslims live, and highlights that there is a body of Islamic knowledge especially related to areas of life such as diet, prayers, cleansing rituals, gender separation and alcohol (list not exhaustive). At the end, you realise why the authors state that the book is in fact only an introductory text for social workers who are engaging with Islamic communities—a tool which can be used to help you become aware of the issues, a prompt for reflecting on your own attitudes and assumptions, and a starting place for further study. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
The British Journal of Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 27, 2017
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