Five ways that Islam could save the NHS

I suspect that a lot of British people see Muslims as a drain on the NHS, especially in these post-Brexit, post-truth times. It seems to make logical sense that having more people in the country will lead to higher costs for the system, but I would argue that if more people in the country followed some of the teachings of Islam then we could actually ease the pressure on the system. Here are five brief examples but the full list would be considerably longer.

Alcohol

Alcohol costs the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year. This figure takes into account both short-term effects such as alcohol-related injuries as well as long-term health conditions such as liver failure. As most Muslims don’t tend to drink alcohol the benefit to the health service is immediate and easy to see. In my career I have only ever seen one alcoholic Muslim, but I have seen hundreds who are white British.

Obesity

Obesity is the public health epidemic of the 21st century: at least two-thirds of British people are currently overweight or obese, and again the costs are into the billions. For a while it was thought that there was such a thing as “fit but fat” but recent evidence from large medical trials suggests that this is not the case. If someone is overweight but is not diabetic and has a normal high blood pressure, they are still at a higher risk of developing serious cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. If there was a word to sum up Islam, it would be moderation, at this applies to all things – including food. I once hear someone explain that the perfect diet was one-third food, one-third water, and one-third Islam. I have lost count of the number of my patients who don’t seem to understand the link between eating food and gaining weight; they come to me looking for tablets or a gastric band whilst they continue to eat most of their meals from a takeaway. Another aspect of Islam that might help is the practice of intermittent fasting: not eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. This closely resembles the popular 5:2 diet which has been shown to effective.

Unlike alcohol, obesity is a problem that affects Muslims just as much as everyone else. One of the reasons is surely that everyone needs to eat some food to survive, whilst our bodies can thrive happily without ever touching alcohol.

STIs

Another obvious one: sexually transmitted infections occur most often in people who have multiple sexual partners and as we all know Islam prohibits sex outside of marriage.

Back pain

Back pain costs the county billions every year both in direct health care costs well as lost productivity due to sickness absence. Back pain is a topic worthy of its own dedicated post. Some days it feels like every patient I see suffers with it to some degree. There are some ways that Islam could help. Muslim prayer has many similarities to yoga, which most people know can be used to manage back pain. The prescription to pray five times a day ensures that our backs get a good work out. Prayer also has the spiritual element which can help to reset the faulty pain sensing pathways which develop in response to chronic back pain. Psychological therapies and antidepressants are often used to help to manage the anxiety associated with chronic back pain. There is a vicious cycle: patient’s worry because they have low back pain and that worry makes the back pain worse.

Anxiety

Anxiety accounts for a huge number of sick days both directly and by exacerbating other problems worse such as migraine and arthritis. Anxiety stems from our in-built self-preservation system. When we sense danger out bodies release a cocktail of chemicals which enable us to run away faster or fight harder. These days our modern brains are overstimulated by threats such as money worries, relationship problems and work stress to name just a few. These threats don’t need us to make those chemicals in order to deal with them, but our bodies don’t know that and they release them anyway. That is why shaking, sweating, dry mouth, rapid breathing and heart palpitations are associated with anxiety. There are lots of medicines that I can prescribe to counteract some of the symptoms of anxiety but not of them can tackle to root cause and that is why they are often found to be ineffective. The latest NHS recommendation is that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or self-help should be the first line treatment for most people with anxiety. One of the most commonly advised techniques is mindfulness, which helps to detach the body from the mind by focusing the concentration outside of our physical own bodies. All of this seems very similar to prayer to me.

Islam is a religion of communities, and having a supportive, trusted network close at hand is vitally important in most mental health conditions. I have seen too often the elderly patient who spirals into a crisis after the death of their spouse because that person was the only social contact in their lives; without them they become isolated and vulnerable.

Conclusion

I really believe that following Islam can have massive health benefits, both physical and mental and that much of the current demand for healthcare in Britain could be curtailed just by people taking on board some of the simple lessons that it teaches.

More sex please, we’re Muslim

Recently, I had one of the most uncomfortable car journeys of my life. It was not a problem with the road or my suspension, but what was on the radio. I was driving my mother-in-law to the shops and we had BBC Radio 4 on in the background as we chatted politely about all the safe topics that mother-in-laws and son-in-laws tend to talk about. After the news, the announcer told us, there was a programme about Muslim attitudes towards sex.

I knew that we had both heard the mention of Muslims and sex – when Muslims hear that there is going to be a discussion about Islam on the BBC they tend to take notice – but we pretended that we hadn’t, out of mutual embarrassment.

After the news, the show started and it quickly became clear that this was going to be more than just the usual, gentle Radio 4 discussion; the first words we heard were from a gay British Pakistani Muslim. The presenter went on to interview several more Muslims about their sex lives. She spoke to couples, Imams and even a Muslim marriage counsellor who had a special interest in sex, purely in her capacity as a professional psychotherapist, we were assured. Continue reading “More sex please, we’re Muslim”

Is Islam a backwards medieval death cult?

If you read any criticism of Islam online, especially in the alt-right corners of the internet, it won’t be long before you come across the phrase “death cult” in the comments boxes. There will probably be something about paedophile gangs, domestic abuse and beheadings as well any number of other charges; if a Muslim has ever done something bad, the rest of us will be guilty of the same, or at the very least, dismissed as enablers.

Now, of course, this point of view is ridiculous and any reasonable person will recognise that these attacks are such wild generalisations and misrepresentations as to have no relevance to the argument. Unfortunately, there are lots of unreasonable people in the world.

The reality is, as always, very different. Islam does not just accept science, it encourages it.

In the middle ages, when Europe had forgotten many of the advances brought by the Roman empire, science in the Islamic world was flourishing. The early Islamic scholars were often also scientists and were responsible for countless advances, many of which we still use today. The one that all school children know is algebra (al-jabr, or “reunion of broken parts), but many of others are more surprising. Rather than list them all here, just go to the Wikipaedia page: Science in the medieval Islamic world. The scope of their enquiry literally ranges from astronomy to zoology.

Modern Islam has not lost it’s respect for science, and educational achivement is highly prized by Muslim parents. Just look how many Muslims are doctors, pharmacists, engineers and architects.

Modern Islam has no problem with evolution or the Big Bang. I have spoken to many scholars who think that there is alien life, and point to the fact that Allah is sometimes referred to as the “creator of worlds”, pleural.

Muslims believe that we were all created with free, enquiring minds, and that when we spend time leaning about the true nature of the world around us, rather than limit the space for Allah to exist, we make it bigger.

The blood moon reminds me of Allah

Last night lots of people saw the longest blood moon of the century (BBC News).

This happens when the Earth casts a shadow over the moon and the only light reaching it has had all the blue sieved out of it by the Earth’s atmosphere, making it glow a deep red-orange.

The fact that this happens is incredible, and it should cause all of us to take a moment to think about our place in the universe, and to consider how much about it we truly understand.

Seeing the blood moon was a yet another reminder to me that Allah is all powerful.

I didn’t convert to Islam

I have not yet written about how I became a Muslim, but when I do you will recognise all the hallmarks of the classic conversion story: a time of crisis followed by deep personal reflection, and the final, glorious revelation. I swear the stars aligned and I felt myself change on a molecular level at moment I decided to convert.

Except, I didn’t convert.

When I went to the mosque to say shahada (the declaration of faith), I got speaking to an old man; one of those who you know has a deep understanding of Islam, and life in general, as soon as they start to speak. You could tell he was happy to see me there. He shook my hand vigorously, grinning broadly as he congratulated me on my reversion.

“Reversion”?

He explained that conversion meant a change to Islam, whist reversion meant a change back to Islam, the implication being that everyone is born a Muslim, but that not everyone is taught Islam. Depending on your point of view this will make complete sense, or it will insult your very being.

I still refer to myself as a convert because it is a term that is widely understood and that most non-Muslims are familiar with, but I have no problem seeing myself as a revert, in fact, I think it describes my journey into Islam very well: I have not had to change who I am; I am still the same person, with the same family, the same past experiences, the same thoughts, hopes and fears.

What has changed is what I do: I pray, and I read the Quran and I fast during Ramadan, or at least I try to. After all, being a Muslim is as much about what you do as what you believe, isn’t it?

I am interested to know what other people think about the use of “convert” and “revert”. Which do you use and why? And where do you stand on intentions vs actions? Do you think that it is possible to be good Muslim without following all the rules?