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Cultural considerations for social service agencies working with Muslim clients.

Social work is just beginning to adapt its knowledge base and practices to operate in a culturally diverse world. We refer to culture here as one aspect for consideration when understanding ethnoracial differences (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2003):"the totality of ideas, beliefs, values, knowledge, and way of life of a group of people who share a certain historical, religious, racial, linguistic, ethnic, or social background" (Henry, Tator, Mattis, & Rees, 1995, p. 326). By definition, culture is very complex, making it even more necessary to understand it in relation to the social realities of an increasingly diverse and multiethnic North American continent. Culture is likewise fluid, intersecting with all other positionalities of gender, race, geography, class, and range of abilities; and culture changes over time and place, varying within and between people, communities, and circumstances.

One of the most exciting multicultural initiatives in the social work profession is a localization movement that calls for developing a different social work knowledge base for each cultural encounter. This article considers Islam as a basis for localizing social work knowledge. The Muslim population in North America has been steadily increasing in recent years, adding urgency for such an exploratory study. In 2001, the population of Muslim people in Canada was approximately 2 percent of the entire population (Statistics Canada, 2001). Although the exact number of Muslims residing in the United States is uncertain, the PEW Research Center (2007) estimated that Muslims constitute 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population. These figures project to approximately 1.4 million Muslims over the age of 18 currently living in the United States. Furthermore, within and between some Muslim communities there exists a substantial amount of diversity, and therefore one needs a variety of approaches when working with Muslim clients. This diversity is based on geographic background, level of acculturation in North America, and Sunni versus Shi'ia versus Ismaili traditions along with differences in religiosity, socioeconomic status, gender, and other social constructs that intersect with faith. As for any community, work with second- and third-generations of Muslim immigrants to North America may require different types of cultural considerations. This article limits itself to consideration of first-generation Muslim communities.

Our findings can help social workers and the public to better appreciate how institutions such as social work can strive to reduce racism; how social service organizations can promote cross-cultural understanding; and where barriers, such as discrimination and social exclusion, can be challenged to promote inclusive social service and social development processes.


Social work scholars have proposed a more conscious adaptation of social work methods to the cultural circumstances in which they are applied (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2003; Healy, 1999; Herberg, 1993; Midgley, 1981, 1997; Ragab, 1990). The term localize is used in social work (and related fields) to describe the process of adapting knowledge to local circumstances of culture, community, and values (Antweiler, 1998; Bradshaw & Graham, 2007; Ragab, 1995). Localizing social work involves the coordinated action of educational institutions, service providers, and social service agencies. Although educational institutions are largely responsible for adapting the social work knowledge base, and individual social workers are largely responsible for integrating this knowledge into practice, the agency has an important role to play as well. Social work agencies can assist with localization by incorporating cultural knowledge and sensitivity into their policies and practices. They can also help by encouraging practitioners to enhance their cultural understanding and by offering services that address the specific needs of individual Muslim clients rather than services that are offered on the basis of an essentialist conception of what it means to be Muslim in North America. This article offers insight into the issues faced by agencies that work with diverse Muslim clients and how agencies and practitioners can modify their approaches to ensure that Muslim clients receive adequate and culturally sensitive services that take into consideration the unique diversity of each client or community.


The data presented here were collected from qualitative interviews with 50 social workers with direct or clinical service experience working with Muslim clients and communities, including group work and community organizing interventions. The practitioners' clientele included individuals and communities from Sunni, Shi'ia, and Ismaili traditions and diverse ethnoracial backgrounds from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and other regions of the world. The participants included both Muslim and non-Muslim social workers and were primarily selected on the basis of their expertise and experience in the field of social work practice with Muslim clients or communities. Participants were nonrandomly selected by snowball sampling. Specifically, we worked with 14 different Muslim or Islamic community-based councils, associations, or charitable organizations. Many of these organizations offer social and educational services specifically to people identifying as Muslim. They also give referrals for services within organizations that are not specifically for Muslim clientele. The capabilities of local practitioners and service organizations were identified by the expertise of these key informants. Demographic information was not collected from the interview participants. As a result, in the present exploratory study, we cannot determine possible implications of particular practitioner qualities (such as length of practice, gender, age, scope of practice, level of education, and so forth).Although these are important considerations, we felt it was necessary to consider issues related to culturally appropriate practice before considering relevant influencing factors (one aspect of which would certainly be practitioner demographic characteristics). It would be useful to explore such demographic factors in future research.

All interviews were conducted in Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, or Toronto, Canada. Data collection was carried out through an active interview process that was dialogical, a standard ethnographic technique (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995; Stewart, 1998). Semistructured open-ended interviews were conducted with all individual service providers, and each lasted approximately two hours. The interview protocol was incrementally revised from one participant to the next, pending input from previous participants (Coulon, 1995). All interviews conducted in French were translated into English. All interviews were transcribed and reviewed by the researchers for accuracy.

Textual coding and analysis was conducted with ATLAS. Ti for Windows (version 5.0.67) using standard procedures of analytic induction for qualitative research (Strauss & Corhin, 1998). The general themes included data describing client cultural needs, social worker practice and intervention, and organizational context. A list of descriptive codes was created on the basis of the general themes and topics identified by the researchers during the interviews and transcription. There were multiple themes and subthemes. Subthemes related to cultural consideration, social issues, skills and intervention, client characteristics, cultural understanding, and so forth. The interview transcripts were coded using these codes. Pattern coding was conducted using ATLAS. ti's query tool (Muhr, 1997) to identify more specific themes and constructs. This tool uses pattern coding to examine relationships between codes. Memoing, which involves creating short descriptive headings on the basis of the patterns and quotations identified, was used to describe and analyze the patterns that were found. The organized descriptive statements were then interpreted by the researchers. To summarize, with the use of the ATLAS. Ti software, the researchers read through all of the interviews with the objective of identifying common themes, after which the themes were then coded and data were searched for instances of the same or similar phenomena. Finally, following this process, data were translated into working hypotheses that were refined until all instances of contradictions, similarities, and differences were explained, thus increasing the dependability and consistency of the findings. All members of the research team collaboratively worked on this stage of research to maintain the credibility criteria of the study.


There are major diversities within and between numerous Muslim communities: a myriad of approaches to faith; countless cultural, ethnic, geographic, and religious origins; and different experiences from one community, one family, and one individual to the next. Profound differences, likewise, will occur from one geographic region to the next and from one agency setting to the next. There are differences between mandated and voluntary clients and differences related to degree of client acculturation, age cohort status, and other areas of diversity. There is no easy set of rules, no "one size fits all" scenario; at best, we consider some guidelines that may be useful and potentially extrapolated to thinking about other case scenarios that social service workers might encounter in their own practice. It is important to preface these findings with the principle that the key to effective practice with some Muslim clients is context sensitivity, application, and fulsome communication.

Generally, respondents indicated that, in multiple and complex ways, agency objectives may be out of sync with clients' needs. They also identified difficulties in obtaining the funding and training necessary to ensure that these needs are met. The research clearly demonstrates how issues confronting social service agencies ultimately influence the opportunities available to service providers and the services available to clients. Amidst these service challenges, the best advice that many practitioners provided--and this would logically apply to practice with members of any religious, racial, or ethnic community--was to ask about fears, concerns, experiences, and values before commencing work with a client. Consistent with previous findings, practitioners appeared to find benefit in adopting an experiential-phenomenological model for culturally competent multicultural practice--a model that requires practitioners to situate themselves as learners rather than experts, deemphasizes practitioners' assumptions and previous knowledge, and requires full participation of the client in interventions (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2003; Graham & Barter, 1999). Through the exploratory nature of the present research, we are able to expand on specific aspects of Muslim cultural values and issues and explain challenges within service industries by focusing on the ways that values and issues relate to service delivery and agency responses to clients who are Muslim.

Muslim Cultural Values and Issues

With increasing interest, practitioners and agencies are inquiring and learning how effective culturally appropriate services can be provided by professionals who have mastered culturally sensitive attitudes, skills, and behaviors. This section introduces the core, culturally sensitive knowledge that social workers in this study identified as important for working with Muslim clients. According to respondents, cultural values and issues relating to faith and spirituality, community, family, gender, and perception of service seeking are important constructs for work with Muslim clients, along with how much influence each of these has on such clients' present situation in life.

Faith and Spirituality. Islam is a total, all-embracing way of life for some Muslims, one that unifies metaphysical and materialistic dimensions (Izetbegovic, 1993). It includes both specific religious rituals and prayers, communicated through the words and commands of the prophet Mohammed and through the teachings of subsequent religious leaders (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2000b). Social workers working with clients who prioritize religious faith in their lives must comprehend their clients' spiritual dimensions and incorporate these into interventions and programs (Abdul-Hadi, 1989; Al-Dabbagh, 1993; Bilu & Witzum, 1993, 1995; Canda, 1988; Galanter, Larson, & Rubenstone, 1991; Johnson & Ridley, 1992; Lipsker & Ordt, 1990; Lure, 1992). In a similar manner, respondents in this study highlighted comprehension and integration of faith and spirituality into practice as necessary when working with some Muslim peoples; they also emphasized the importance of agencies accommodating religious and spiritual beliefs and practices when working with clients who are practicing Islam. According to some respondents, some Muslim clients adhere strongly and feel bound to Islamic guidelines--their lives are governed by the shari'a, or God's teachings (defined in Waines, 1995)--which play an important role in and influence their decision making. One respondent, for example, described how an ill client viewed a sickness as punishment, and attempted to gain healing through prayer rather than through medicine. In addition, many respondents highlighted the importance of faith in Islam in determining a person's mannerisms, such as eye contact in social situations. Furthermore, respondents identified the traditional importance of charity in Islam and the willingness of some Muslims to help others who need it. Demonstrating genuine respect for clients' religious beliefs by accommodating to their rituals and considering their perspectives, as outlined by respondents, can help some clients feel more comfortable working with an agency and can allow service providers to better address clients' concerns. As one respondent, describing the importance of faith when dealing with adverse life situations or problems, said,
   Faith does help in a time of grief and meeting
   problems. And we take any problem that comes
   to us as something that is part of our fate, and
   therefore we just are not supposed to wait for it
   to change but ... to change ourselves according
   to the situation or circumstances.

Community. Prior research has shown that within some Muslim communities, the community is prioritized; a sense of community support and community responsibility exists (Haynes, Eweiss, Mageed, & Chung, 1997). It is important to note that the history of the Islamic faith dates from the creation of the first Islamic community, or ummah [nation] (Esposito, cited in Hodge, 2005). In understanding community, some Muslims emphasize cooperation, caring, equality, interconnectedness, and social support (Kelly, Aridi, & Bakhtiar, 1996).

Respondents shared the implications of this literature to their work with Muslim clients. For example, as a result of this community orientation, some clients attempt to address their problems within the community rather than seeking outside help. Community status can be important to some clients, sometimes more so than personal well-being, and clients may have substantial connections within their community network. Respondents identified that this can be beneficial for agencies, as word of mouth can be used to spread information about services. According to some respondents, it is important for agencies to be aware of how community values can influence their clients and their situations. As an example, specifically related to clients, respondents shared how Muslim clients may take a more communal approach to raising children than is typical in North America and Europe. On further analysis, these findings demonstrate how understanding the role of community in a client's life can help the agency to better understand the client's situation and the social support that is available to him or her. The relationship between the client and the broader community is mutually supportive, according to one respondent:
   They support each other that way so, so that kind
   of helping others where you have that responsibility
   you don't really eat alone, you don't really,
   this is in me so today if I pick up the phone and
   an extended cousin whom I've never seen calls
   and says "You know, I have a sick child in the
   hospital in Nairobi. Could you give me 50 U.S.
   dollars?" I would scramble and send it.

Family. Although the basic social unit for many Muslims is the family (Fernea, cited in Hodge, 2005), what constitutes a family in Muslim communities is understood quite differently. For some Muslims, family extends well beyond our North American conceptualization "to include relatives and even the whole Islamic community" (Hodge, 2005, p. 165). In both a nuclear and an extended sense, a stable family unit is a determining factor in the unity of the broader community (Haynes et al., 1997).

Some respondents shared how the family may be extremely important to Muslim clients, especially as some desire to keep their problems confined to the family. As a result, a number of respondents indicated that agencies and practitioners should explore the role of family for individual clients and respect the significance placed on the family structure to the greatest extent possible. Furthermore, some respondents noted that some clients identifying as Muslim may not be eager to divulge information about their family to outsiders. Capturing the significance of some of these points, one respondent said,
   As long as they have this feeling, they will not
   be very open.... One point that I will make
   strongly with social workers from the mainstream
   to understand: Give them the feeling
   that you are not there to destroy the family, take
   over the children, or pull the parents apart, but
   that you are there to help them in the time of
   the personal problems and issues.

Gender. Gender is an important construct in literature related to antioppressive and culturally appropriate practice. Also, the more specific a culture is about interactions, beliefs, values, and so forth, as is common in Muslim societies, the more well-defined gender and social roles an individual may have (Florian & Mikulincer, 1993). In traditional Islamic societies, the roles of husbands and wives are equal in worth and complementary, but these roles are different (Corbett, cited in Hodge, 2005) and are highly structured to promote harmony within both the family and the larger community (Daneshpour, 1998). These roles influence how men and women interact within the family and with other family members (Al-Haj, 1987; Al-Krenawi, 1996; Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2000a).

Respondents reported that it is important for personnel at social service agencies to understand these gender roles and recognize how they can influence an individual's circumstances. This may require systemic changes to the policies governing practice within the agency or may be a practice implemented directly by practitioners through their engagement with clients (or both). Furthermore, and based on their experience, respondents identified how interventions that require individuals to operate outside of traditional roles may not be effective, making it important for practitioners and agencies to recognize and respect gender roles and how these roles affect individuals. Respondents also noted that gender roles can emerge through how a client responds to a service provider:
   There's a big difference. I do find a difference.
   I find a lot of Muslim men can come into the
   office, and there is a lot of hostility and a lot
   of aggression toward the worker. It's as if it's
   demeaning for them to be there. And then to
   not have a male counselor or the opportunity
   to speak to another male about whatever issues
   or problems that they have, but to have to speak
   to a female sometimes poses difficulty.

Working with some female Muslim clients can present additional challenges, according to respondents. Various respondents noted that some female clients may be more passive than male clients and may be affected by the restricted social support available to them. As Mahmoud (cited in Hodge, 2005) described, many Muslim women choose not to associate with members of the opposite sex who are outside of the family structure; therefore, as respondents described, women may be reluctant to speak with men present. By extension, it is important to have female practitioners available and accessible to Muslim women. Some respondents found that female clients may also be more conservative than their male counterparts and may require a different approach to counseling sessions as a result:
   I have to be very, very careful about what I say to
   him [the client's husband]. I have to be very, very,
   very--not only respectful, but I have to conduct
   myself in a way that she feels comfortable ...
   until such time they gain your trust, they will
   try to keep things to themselves.

Perception of Service Seeking. Many researchers have noted reluctance on the part of some Muslim clients to seek formal assistance for various reasons (Altareb, 1996; Daneshpour, 1998; Hodge, 2005; Kelly et al., 1996). Respondents in this study identified possible reasons for this hesitancy among Muslim clients, including a lack of client understanding of the helping professions and, as a result, a lack of willingness to share information with practitioners. Also, some clients may feel threatened by an agency, fearing that it will break up the family unit and potentially apprehend their children, whereas other Muslim clients may desire help but feel that the agency will not attend to their level of personal comfort or the specifics of their situation. One respondent captured some of these ideas in describing an intervention between couples, capturing the hesitancy of husbands to participate on the basis of their perceptions of possible outcomes:
   Because they think the main aim of this agenc[y]
   is really to ensure the safety of this woman, and
   maybe they're emphasizing the point of leaving
   the relationship. And culturally, psychologically,
   socially, it's really a different life for them. They
   are not ready for that.

An additional concept that is important to consider is the stigma associated with accessing social services. Youssef and Deane (2006) found shame and stigma to be the primary hindrances in service seeking, arguing that this was due to strong prohibitions against exposing personal and familial issues to outsiders. For some Muslims, as with other ethnic minorities in North America and Europe, accessing psychiatric and psychological intervention (Fabreka, 1991) or family and marital therapy (Savaya, 1998) can be a stigmatizing process. Likewise, respondents in this study noted the fear of stigmatization as a consideration for some clients. For example, respondents here identified that some clients are intimidated by clinical terms and may feel that social workers are trying to intrude in the family. Others may fear ostracization from the community or the negative impact that their behavior may have on their family if they do anything against Islamic teachings. Respondents noted how agencies that work with Muslim clients need to recognize this risk of stigma and work to alleviate these concerns by using fewer clinical terms and ensuring strict confidentiality.

Agency Responses to Cultural Needs

Throughout this study, participants highlighted how the characteristics and needs of some Muslim clients can create unique challenges for social service agencies. Findings suggest that cultural understanding and consideration is required when making decisions about services, and Muslim clients may require a different approach. Agencies undertake an important role in this process. Respondents identified a number of issues that agencies must consider to promote an appropriate service delivery framework--one that takes into account the cultural characteristics and experiences of a client and his or her situation and the approaches that would best meet the client's needs. This section outlines the suggestions made by social workers interviewed for this study that agencies can incorporate into their provision of services, both clinical and instrumental, to make them more culturally sensitive.

Pathway to Care. The influence of shared cultural beliefs on help-seeking behaviors has been the focus of research in the social sciences (Morgan, Mallett, Hutchinson, & Left, 2004). One aspect of help seeking is pathway to care. Pathway to care is considered a social process, which is subject to a wide range of influences (including cultural context) and within which social services are not only accessed, but also provided (Morgan et al., 2004). Agencies can use a number of approaches to ensure that their services respond to the needs of clients. For example, respondents suggested that agencies should ensure confidentiality, respect gender boundaries, and encourage clients to maintain their cultural identities. Agencies should also help clients to relate to their new environment in some cases of newly immigrated Muslim clients. Furthermore, several respondents recommended that agencies assist clients who adhere strongly to Islamic values to make informed decisions using religious principles. According to respondents' experiences, many Muslim clients attempt to deal with their problems in the community. These clients may not seek formal services until their problems are becoming increasingly severe. As a solution, respondents suggested that agencies increase sensitive practices, use more informal approaches, and capitalize on community networks to help clients connect to social workers and resolve their problems earlier.

In expanding and supporting these ideas, participants highlighted the experiences of clients who feel unheard, particularly when they have experienced problems working with other agencies. These clients, respondents noted, often express feelings of oppression and a loss of control or power over their family. As a result, practitioners and agencies need to respect and listen to their clients' points of view to resolve issues more effectively and efficiently. One respondent captured some of these ideas:
   Knowledge is power. You want to provide people
   with information, which is certainly the right
   thing to do. But then you see somebody who has
   been through those information sessions--over
   and over and over--and just looks you straight
   in the eye and says, get me a job.

Explaining Cultural Differences. Stereotypes and public ignorance regarding Muslim and Arab peoples permeate both American and Canadian culture (Khalema & Wannas-Jones, 2003; Suarez, Newman, & Reed, 2008). Cross-cultural education is needed for teachers, parents, students, social workers, and the media to increase overall levels of public awareness and to ensure nondiscrimination toward and tolerance of Islamic beliefs and culture. In this study, the role of agencies as public educators was a recurring theme. Respondents suggested that agencies that work with Muslim clients and understand their cultural values are uniquely placed and qualified to provide cultural education to both clients and others in the community.

Furthermore, a few respondents suggested that agencies help clients to avoid serious misunderstandings by extending their awareness efforts to lawyers and law enforcement officials and by helping clients to understand legal frameworks and processes. Also, respondents recommended that agencies and practitioners in this knowledgeable position target other service providers to increase cultural understanding of plans and interventions and the religious and cultural elements that may be relevant to some clients. This can be accomplished in part through sensitivity training and informal sharing in the agency, as described by one respondent:
   Well the thing about it is in our agency ... we
   have many inside here who are from different
   ethnic backgrounds--ethnic and religious
   backgrounds--and one of the things we do in
   our organizations [sic] is we realize we are pretty
   diverse--in our language, differences in our culture,
   differences in our traditions, et cetera--but
   we create an environment in which we can all
   learn and share from each other. At least once
   a month, what we do is we come together and
   each person can share about their particular
   culture.... So we get an understanding and
   an appreciation for that other person's culture.
   Yes, religion factors into it a bit, because you're
   talking about the country itself and the culture,
   and it's quite a learning opportunity for all of us
   because we not only learn about the culture, hut
   we also see the similarities in culture. Sometimes
   even in doing the historical overview, we find
   out that sometimes some of our old language
   or some of our old practices are embedded in
   another culture.

Furthermore, respondents suggested that agencies, when necessary, should also take on the role of helping clients adjust to North American culture by offering workshops that educate clients about the social service system, including laws and limitations. Agencies, as some respondents highlighted, can also inform clients about their rights, educate clients about the services and resources that are available, and help clients to understand and overcome educational restrictions. The possibilities for role expansion and increases in the scope of service delivery are increasingly important, albeit challenging, when the multiple needs of some Muslim clients are acknowledged.

Culturally Sensitive Services. Agencies must avoid reflecting broader cultural biases and demonstrate respect for cultural diversity in their provision of services (Hodge, 2005). Essentially, by working with the community, agencies can help to connect clients to the community and integrate faith into service delivery. In a similar manner, respondents recommended that agencies without experience in dealing with Muslim clients or communities create interagency links by connecting to other organizations with such experience. Once these links have been established, agencies can work directly with Muslim communities. Furthermore, participants highlighted that both presence in the community and provision of culturally sensitive services are necessary; culturally sensitive services, according to respondents, include integrating the awareness of cultural characteristics into practice. For example, appeals to Islam could be used to help clients understand their rights and responsibilities under Canadian law:
   Try to connect that with the position of Islam to
   us--abuse, a woman abused. It is opportunity for
   me even, for example, to persuade them from the
   religious perspective that abuse is not acceptable.
   It is something that we Muslim men, or maybe
   many other men got from the culture. It's not
   from the religion. So try, for example, to open
   their eyes about what really our, our Islam says
   how--regarding woman abuse issues.

A few respondents elaborated on this point in relation to group practice by identifying how peer support groups offered by social service agencies can help to address some of the problems their clients are facing. Group work through peer support is linked to empowerment--members share experience, respect the dignity of each individual, and feel a sense of responsibility for one another (Konopka, 1963). Respondents here shared that specific process-focused groups can also be designed for skill development, or group-based family interventions can be used. One respondent noted how support groups can facilitate counseling interventions for clients experiencing abusive situations:
   And so that's another one of our core services,
   and after people have been through abuse in
   their lives, they either continue in the counseling
   program for a little while or they participate in
   the support groups which we offer during the
   course of the year.

Different clients may require different services. It is ultimately important to ensure that services respect where the client is vis-a-vis traditional cultural values.


Social work has a limited presence in the Islamic world (Al-Dabbagh, 1993; Ragab, 1995). Social service agencies risk becoming yet another instrument of Western colonialism if they lack awareness, sensitivity, and competence around cultural nuances and complexities. To prevent this, social service agencies that support Muslim clients need to ensure that their programs and interventions are adapted to Muslim values rather than having cross-cultural considerations as an afterthought to prevailing social work knowledge (Devore & Schlesinger, 1996). So, how do we use this knowledge to adapt practice? The insights provided by practitioners in this study suggest that alternative perspectives of the helping relationship need to be considered. These perspectives essentially could allow for a service design tailored to meet the unique needs of the individual client, with specific consideration of the cultural values and issues for those identifying as Muslim. These perspectives, however, must move beyond the level of the individual practitioner-client relationship. Respondents here also very helpfully described the role of the agency in this effort by offering insights that allow us to move beyond education about cultural sensitivity that focuses primarily on a practitioner level to a more structural analysis and inclusive service delivery system.

This is significant because of the role of the agency in service delivery. The agency provides the basic tools needed to survive in the Western world, such as employment services, educational tutors, and family counseling. Respondents here highlighted ways that these tools must be reformatted to suit the cultural differences found in and between Islamic communities. Also, it is vitally important that service providers and agencies consciously avoid making cultural errors or cultural generalizations. This requires increasing sensitivity toward issues of cultural values and religious traditions. More than anything, agencies must be flexible in their approach to clients, celebrating and accommodating the cultural differences of Islam.

Although our study did not find any major difference between the Muslim communities examined and other immigrant communities that tend to emphasize collectivism over individualism (Lalonde & Cameron, 1998), this is a subject worthy of further research. As noted before, future studies may also look at the differences between recent Muslim immigrants to North America and second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants. Future studies might also examine the specific demographic and occupational characteristics of social work practitioners who provide culturally competent services to clients identifying as Muslim. The present article adds to these many questions by providing a beginning point from which to consider the ways that services can become more culturally relevant for clients identifying as Muslim. Given that no one method will suit every client, Muslim or otherwise, the findings also suggest that it is necessary for agencies working with Muslim clients to use a number of different approaches in service delivery while simultaneously educating and connecting clients with the broader community.

Ultimately, it is cultural sensitivity that is of the utmost importance. Both the agencies and the service providers need to learn more about Islamic cultural traditions and, rather than judge or scorn the unfamiliar, welcome the diversity and adapt services to best fit these norms. Social work prides itself on its level of acceptance and commitment to multiculturalism. Social services in North America and beyond need to incorporate these ideals into practice and policy by rejecting cultural assumptions and stereotypes and realizing that different cultures face adversity in different ways. Thus, there is no all-encompassing way in which to provide families with mental, physical, and emotional support. By evolving agency actions and practices in the ways described in this preliminary and exploratory research, individual service providers and agencies can offer clients a more appropriate degree of service and help, which is truly the objective of the social service agency.

Original manuscript received December 5, 2007

Final revision received March 19, 2009

Accepted April 9, 2009


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John R. Graham, PhD, RSW, is Murray Fraser Professor of Community Economic Development and professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada; e-mail:jrgraham@ Cathryn Bradshaw, PhD, RSW, is director, Centre for Social Work Research and Professional Development, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. Jennifer L. Trew, MA, is a graduate student, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
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Author:Graham, John R.; Bradshaw, Cathryn; Trew, Jennifer L.
Publication:Social Work
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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