Book Review: Exploration of British Muslim chaplaincy

24th Dec 2013

BOOK REVIEW Exploration of British Muslim chaplaincy

Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy. By Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Mansur Ali and Stephen Pattison. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing. 2013. pp206. PB. £19.99.

This book is a product of collaboration between three academics based at Cardiff and Birmingham universities. It is one of the first comprehensive studies of Muslim chaplaincy in Britain focusing mainly on the role of Muslim chaplains in the Hospitals, Armed Forces, HM Courts, Airports and Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS).

The development and progress of Muslim chaplaincy is a remarkable story and this book, being a part of the huge AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, provides a much needed analysis and interpretation of the positive role of religion in our public life and institutions.

The book under review is divided into eight chapters, a short preface, useful glossary, select bibliography and some photographs. It is worth highlighting that the researchers interviewed around 65 Muslim Chaplains in England and Wales for the purpose of this study – it is a remarkable achievement in itself. However, the study did not include Scotland.

Although the book has been authored by three academics, it is not clear who contributed what – this is an unfortunate omission on the part of the authors and editors. However, in his short but useful foreword to the book, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui of Markfield Institute of Higher Education, wrote, “This is a comprehensive and superbly organised treatment of the values embodied in the Muslim chaplains’ Islamic understanding of khidmah (service). It narrates how chaplains cross back and forth over the lines between the different schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) in order to overcome real-life pastoral care issues.” (pxvi)

The first chapter of the book is, in fact, an introduction wherein the author(s) have explained purpose of the book, touching on the history of Muslim chaplaincy in Britain, before explaining their research methodology, sampling and data analysis. In conclusion they stated, ‘This chapter has mapped some of the social, economic and political drivers behind the growth of Muslim involvement in chaplaincy in Britain. We have indicated the degree to which Muslims are now an integral part of chaplaincy work in many public institutions…’ (p22)

Chapter 2 provides an overview of pastoral care in Islam highlighting the fact that Islamic tradition strongly emphasizes the need for pastoral care. According to the author(s) of this chapter, ‘no tradition of institutionalised chaplaincy’ existed in Islamic history although the institution of bimaristan (hospital) was much more than a place for treating physical ailment. Muslim historians argued that the traditional Muslim hospitals were some of the most comprehensive, inclusive and holistic centres for the provision of care and support that was available anywhere in the world at the time. That system was, of course, very different in its form from the contemporary British Muslim chaplaincy, but both are underpinned by the same values and ethos of care, support and compassion. This chapter is a must-read for Muslim chaplains and the author(s) deserve credit for this contribution.

Chapters 3 and 4 focuses on chaplaincy ‘people’ and ‘practices’ – who are Muslim chaplains, what do they do and how do they discharge their duties? Based on their empirical research, in these chapters the author(s) provide a detailed study of the people who are involved in Muslim chaplaincy and what role they play in our public institutions.

Chapter 5 touches on the challenges and opportunities encountered by Muslim chaplains as they ‘navigate their way through the politics of their own institutions’ (p3).

In Chapter 6, the impact of Muslim chaplaincy on public institutions, multi-faith chaplaincy, local communities and the wider British society is considered.

By contrast, Chapter 7 provides a useful overview of Muslim chaplaincy in the US. The author(s) also consider the similarities and differences between British and American Muslim chaplaincies.

The final chapter of the book explores how Christian chaplaincy has influenced Muslim chaplaincy and vice versa. According to the author(s), ‘Muslim chaplains embody and manifest the stories, the texts and the language of a particular religious tradition, and understand the practical and religious needs of Muslims in a unique way.” (p188)

This is an impressive study and the authors deserve much applaud for their valuable contribution. Highly recommended reading for academics, researchers, policymakers, chaplains of all faiths, and community leaders.

Muhammad Khan, is author of The Muslim 100 (2008) and The Muslim Heritage of Bengal (2013)







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