How does culture affect our health/illness?

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How does culture affect our health/illness?

Culture is a system of patterns, practices, and ideas shared between a particular group of people. Cultural practices have vast effects on various aspects of our lives, especially health. It affects how we perceive health, illnesses, and death. Culture also influences our beliefs about different aspects of health, including the causes of diseases and the different approaches we take when seeking health care. It also affects how we experience and express pain and grief, where we seek health care, and the types of treatments we chose.

For instance, I come from a strict Islamic family. And according to the Islamic culture, women are perceived as inferior and subordinate members of society after men. When it comes to health matters of a family member, the father or the oldest son is given authority to make major decisions regarding the patient’s health care needs on behalf of the family. As a result, as a woman or child patient, we have very little power in making decisions regarding our own health care needs. This can be detrimental, especially when decisions made contradict personal goals.

When it comes to diet, the Islamic culture forbids the consumption of gelatin and pork, including gelatin and pork-based medications for the sick. Even Magnesium stearate tablets sourced from animals are prohibited. These practices may negatively impact the patient’s health, especially if these are the only medications available in a healthcare facility.

What ideas about illness prevention does your family adhere to?

As a stern Muslim family, we consider being healthy as a blessing from God. Therefore, we are inclined to take care of ourselves by taking initiatives to ensure we remain healthy and free of diseases. For instance, in my family, we eat and use olive oil to massage our bodies as it is viewed as “holy” in the Islamic culture. As Muslims, we believe that olive oil can prevent blood clots, prevent skin damage, and heal up to 70 illnesses.

What happens to the sick?

We believe that illnesses, pain, sufferings, and dying are a test from Allah and a trial upon which sins are cleansed. We also believe that Allah cures all illnesses and saves us from other forms of harm. When we fall sick, we pursue medical treatment but also recite a personal prayer known as Du’a to request Allah to heal and restore our health.

Cultural Rituals after the death of a family member

When a family member passes away, as the immediate family, we are given a period of three days to mourn. The first ritual we perform is known as ghoul, which entails washing the diseased body and which is done either by an adult family member preferably of the same sex as the diseased. We then proceed to enshroud their body in a plain white cloth. A ceremony led by a prophet is conducted, after which a grave (facing Mecca) is dug and the diseased laid to rest.


Attum, B., Waheed, A., & Shamoon, Z. (2018). Cultural competence in the care of Muslim patients and their families.

Tackett, S., Young, J. H., Putman, S., Wiener, C., Deruggiero, K., & Bayram, J. D. (2018, July). Barriers to healthcare among Muslim women: A narrative review of the literature. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 69, pp. 190-194). Pergamon.

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