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Muslim Chaplaincy in Britain

21 September 2011

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Muslim chaplains in Britain have a strategically important role at the interface between multi-faith, secular, public institutions, and diverse Muslim communities, new research by the University has found.

Led by Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK - based in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion - the three-year project aimed to find out more about the background, training, role and impact of Muslim chaplains in Britain today.

Muslim chaplains now work in a number of public institutions in Britain such as prisons, hospitals, airports, HM Courts, higher education institutions and the military.

"Chaplaincy is a rapidly expanding sphere of work for Muslim religious professionals in the UK, but we know very little about the work and role of these chaplains," said Dr Gilliat-Ray. "We wanted to answer questions such as: Who decides to become a Muslim chaplain? What is involved in Muslim chaplaincy practice? What is the impact of Muslim chaplaincy within and beyond the institutions they serve?"

Amongst the key findings were:

· A strong Islamic justification for chaplaincy work from the Islamic primary sources, especially in the healthcare context with chaplains citing the example of the Prophet Muhammad visiting the sick;

· The Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism agenda has impacted on the work of prison and higher education chaplains in particular;

· Professional Muslim chaplaincy associations are a good route for support and advice;

· Female chaplains play a vital role in client-family relationships and negotiations;

· Muslim chaplains have mostly integrated well within multi-faith chaplaincy teams and have a collaborative approach of working with, and providing pastoral care and support to, people of all backgrounds;

· Muslim chaplains are acutely aware of many of the pressing social problems facing Muslims in Britain, but only a few are pro-actively sharing their experiences and expertise. They often feel Muslim communities, and more particularly the mosque committees and imams, are not ready to seriously engage with taboo issues such as ex-offender support, substance abuse or domestic violence.

"Our work with Muslim chaplains has enabled an evaluation of some the practical and theological challenges facing Muslim communities in Britain, and the broader accommodation of Islamic traditions to the dynamic of public life. Rather than studying these matters in the abstract, our fieldwork-based research shows how these issues manifest in daily working life," said Dr Gilliat-Ray.

The research involved interviews with 65 Muslim chaplains, both male and female, observing Muslim chaplains at work and conducting focus groups and interviews with stakeholder groups. One Muslim young offender said that the Muslim chaplain was an important role model for him, and helped to strengthen his faith:

"When you are around the Imam or when the Imam goes past you [in the corridor], the first words that normally come to you are like "Assalamu alaikum" and ....you're being reminded of Allah."

Muslim chaplains are highly motivated in their work. One chaplain in the study reflected on her role:

"I do love what I do, I love the responsibilities that I have, the role that I play, the awareness that I bring, the guidance that I give, the care that I provide, the shoulder, the ear that I give. These are more rewarding than any position or salary, to me".

The outcomes of the project will be shared with participants at a special conference on 22nd September at the University. The event is the first ever all-sector national conference on Muslim chaplaincy in Britain and is being held in collaboration with the Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies (St Michael’s College).

"Opportunities for Muslim chaplains to network with one another from around the UK are extremely rare. This conference will bring together leading practitioners, policy-makers, inter-faith leaders, and academics with an interest in Muslim religious leadership," added Dr Gilliat-Ray.

The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council’s Religion and Society’ Research Programme. For more information about the project visit: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/share/research/centres/csi/research/muslimchaplaincyproject/index.html

Related links

School of History, Archaeology and Religion