(RHET 400) Journal Review: Journal of Muslim Mental Health

February 15, 2009

In reviewing the Journal of Muslim Mental Health, a number of content-related facts presented themselves as rather interesting both in terms of explicit and implicit meanings. This review is going to be divided into three sections with the first summarizing essential facts, the second providing a survey of articles to reflect the content of the Journal, and finally the third part assesses the explicit and implicit meanings behind the Journal’s focus area.

First, a number of dry yet necessary facts to contextualize the journal prior to its material review: The Journal of Muslim Mental Health is an academic, peer-reviewed journal published by Taylor & Francis Ltd. Launching its first issue in January 2006, it started off as a biannual publication that, as the name suggests, attempted to fill a gap in the discourse focusing on the mental needs of Muslims – with specific though nonexclusive focus on those in North America.

The Journal’s goal is to tackle the issue of Muslim mental health from various social, cultural, historical, theological, and psychological angles and, based on the conclusion, “provide a forum for the advancement of epidemiological studies of mental illness in Muslim countries, culturally valid psychometric scales, religiously sensitive psychotherapy techniques, and outcome research on mental health prevention and intervention programs” (Journal of Muslim Mental Health). As a result, the discourse encompasses a broader audience than that otherwise expected in that it is not only relevant to psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors in general, but also theologians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and even historians.

In addition to the scope of the study, this broadened audience-spectrum is further explained and maintained by the variety of approaches utilized in discussing the relevant topics as it includes both theoretical and empirical-based frameworks that range from the lexicon-specific to frameworks that are relatively more accessible to an involved, though not necessarily medicine-specialized, reader. Moreover, as of this year (2009), the frequency of publication will double from two to four issues per year, which supports the conclusion that the Journal has indeed managed to attract a wide readership among its target audience.

Second, a brief survey of the articles sponsored by the journal serve to, on the one hand, support the aforementioned comments about the broad audience and, on the other, to better illustrate the nature of this journal. One article for example is titled “The Impact of the September 11, 2001 Attacks on the Well-Being of Arab Americans in New York city” which is an interview-based study that aims at compiling Muslim thoughts and attitudes post-9/11 in their own words. The goal is to break existing barriers in the dialogue between East and West that is reflected in patient and doctor communication. The fact that it focuses on those in New York reiterates the fact that the journal’s specific focus area is North America. Another article that moves beyond the US-specific region is titled “The Physical and mental Health Effects of Iraq War Media Exposure on Iraqi Refugees”. This piece discusses the Iraqi war along the lines of how media results in trauma-stricken refugees and relates it to their health and social status and, accordingly, it is subtly questioning the merit of such media. One final example that is cited simply to emphasize that wide geographical range covered is “An Investigation of the Factor Structure and Psychometric Properties of the COPE Scale With a Muslim Migrant Population in Australia” article. From the discourse-specific lexicon already evident in the title, one could tell that perhaps this article would be more relevant to psychology-related scholarly circles.

Third, it might dawn on some that the title of the Journal is somewhat provocative and loaded with implicit meanings to the point where its credibility might be subject to doubt. A sample of contributing authors, however, would appease those doubts. For example Dr Hisham Abu Rayya is one of the main contributors and his qualification include a PhD from Cambridge University in Social Psychology, and Honor MA in Educational Psychology, an MA in Applied Statistics, and an Honor BA in Psychology and Statistics all of which verify his command on the subject-matter (“Dr Hisham Abu Raya”). Another contributor with an impressive background is John R. Graham who is the author of The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory 2 (MMPI-2), one of the most popular and frequently used personality tests in mental health, which alleviates any skepticism concerning expertise (“Amazon.com”; “John R Graham”). Their earlier research and current offices – Dr Hisham is a Psychology Professor at the University of Sydney while Dr Graham is the director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute – further confirms that the journal’s study-focus is right up their alley.

Nevertheless, while the authors’ credentials might have alleviated skepticism regarding their mastery of the relevant subjects, it did not necessarily alleviate that concerning hidden agendas – be it political or otherwise. The very name of the title I found to be derogatory and prejudiced for two reasons: (a) It lumped the very wide and very disparate Muslim community that is splattered all over the six continents as one group (b) The fact that it is Muslims’ Mental Health seemed to standout as somewhat unusual probably because of the unfavorable connotations that usually come to mind when the words Mental Health are spelled out.

Overall, while I for one might have had doubts as to hidden agenda, they were to an extent addressed by a section where the founders raise the following questions: “What is the impact of current geo-political conflicts on the mental health of Muslims worldwide? What are the mental health belief systems and coping behaviors of ethnically and geographically diverse Muslim groups? Do mental health professionals and institutions provide a culturally and religiously responsive approach to their Muslim clients?”. By raising these questions, the journal founded common grounds that justified their criterion, better defined their cause, and, as such, alleviated concerns about their ‘hidden agenda”. First, by acknowledging that Muslims are “ethnically and geographically diverse”, the authors immediately overturn the initial simplistic identification of Muslims all over the world as one group. Second, it explains that, because of the “geo-political conflicts” affecting the particular region, the Muslims in that region have a common denominator that justifies having them as a subject matter. Third, by establishing the criterion that justifies their choice of Muslims as the subject matter, the authors better defined their concern and, as such, better defined their cause. Thus, rather than leaving it ambiguous and open to skepticism, the authors spell-out their cause for initiating this study, thereby affirming its value for the discourse.

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