The Wiesbaden Experiment on Muslim care and counselling

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1 The Wiesbaden Experiment on Muslim care and counselling as a contribution to a healing encounter of Muslims and Christians in Germany/Europe Dr.Ulrike Elsdörfer Within the last decade maybe Sept. 11 th 2001 was one of the reasons for it initiatives leading to an every day encounter between Muslims and Christians in Germany/Europe increased. This was not the first dialogue Muslims and Christians had. A very effectful and theologically deeply rooted dialogue programme already existed for a lot of years. But this was mainly known at universities or academies for theological research. The new programmes of encounter were led by Muslims and Christians Protestants as well as Catholics. In the following text I refer especially to the German situation. From the year 2001 on the academic movement slowly went to public at least to the public scenery concerning people with religious backgrounds. Muslim congregations were invited by protestant or catholic parishes, encounters of women's groups were made possible in order to discuss western ideas of feminism. These women's groups were essential to face the traditional and rapidly changing life of Muslim women of the 2 nd and 3 rd generation in Germany. Christian social workers, teachers and volunteers were offering tuition for children with a migratory background in order to help them to close the gap of language. For this is the main reason why the young people had problems in school. Those complementary instructions were given in the afternoon, mostly at the Christian congregrations' places. Some of the teachers even went to the Mosques, to have a direct encounter with the Muslim people at their places. The initiatives mostly resulted from a religious impulse, but as well from socio political backgrounds. The idea of installing a unit for Muslim care and 1

2 counselling was developed very late. Muslims found out, that more and more their people grew old in the new homes, they got ill,and they had to cope with German medicinical institutions. Some of them only very few decided to stay in Germany after retirement from work. But they didn't have their family supporting them sufficiently in this country. The members of the family had to work. So some old people became familiar with German retirement homes. Many of the social problems of Islamic families are still solved by the inner circle of the family. But Muslims realize that there will be a growing demand to give psychological and even individual religious support for the members of the Mosque congregations. Of course they are willing to assist other Muslims in their spiritual and psychological struggles as well, even if they are not so closely related to the religion. Some CPE programmes answered to Muslim demands to train their imams in methods of care and counselling. CPE instructors offered such trainings by themselves and they had very different experiences. Integrating Muslims with their original religious traditions and emotional preconditions in this CPE programmes was not so easy. CPE at this time already existed about twenty years in German churches, having grown in many struggles and big discusssions with established Christian theology and the different churches' structures. Muslims were on a quite different level and with different needs in the present state. So this way of integrating imams in CPE programmes sometimes proved to be a too big stress for both partners. The initiative followed the impulse of several German communities or District States: These institutions started programmes to give the imams a better insight in German society and its intellectual and spiritual impacts soon after they arrived at the airports to do their work in Germany. The programmes aimed at an improving process of integration going further than just giving work and practical social support to the former guest workers now being citizens of 2

3 Germany. They aimed at an encounter of cultures and their religious traditions. As it was a long time praxis, the imams mostly were sent for a period of about four years from their land of origin Turkey, Egypt or Bosnia and many of them were not able to speak German language. So they preached in the Mosques in their mother tongues, and they gave advices according to the frame of thinking they had brought along from their homes. But this was not sufficient for a spiritual and intellectual, even social development of the Muslim congregations in Germany. Germans assumed that Muslims by these instructions and social structures may establish parallel societies in Germany which Germans didn't welcome. In order to prevent this development, Muslims started with their special programmes to establish care and counselling for their people in hospitals, in prisons or in retirement homes. And these programmes aimed at a training of volunteers who were interested in counselling: So that the work of care and counselling will not be imposed only on the very few imams, who have a lot of other tasks. German communities were assisting with financial support for those who initiated the programmes. They sometimes implemented a board of advisors and counsellors being willing and able to assist. In the following text I introduce one of these programmes me being a part of the assisting groups from different etablished German institutions. The Muslim counsellors were my and other's dialogue partners. But they developed their trainings in their own way. 1. Topic: In 2007 EU the European Council in Brussels provided funds to establish unities of Muslim Care in European hospitals and within other institutions, where Muslim people (have to) stay in order to give them as a cultural and religious minority a better chance of integration in European societies. 3

4 Wiesbaden the Capital of the District State Hessen was the first German town to take this money. With an additional contribution to the funds from Brussels the Community employed two persons for a project: to establish Muslim care in the communal hospital and in the local prison. The lady who is responsible for Muslim care in the hospital has studied Islamic Sciences. The counsellor for the prison has some roots in praxis and thoughts of Islamic mystic traditions. So already from the beginning there are different accesses to counselling in Islam. Mainstream western traditions of counselling are adopted and used by both counsellors according to the usefullness of the different theoretical foundations. Some aspects of western psychology are not regarded as helpful by Muslim counsellors; for they are seen as antagonists to islamic cultural surroundings and religious traditions. The project started in 2008, and the community gave 25% of the funds being necessary altogether, 75% came from Brussels. Within the course of time the part prison care more and more was neglected because of reasons of money and lack of volunteers, who are able to do such a work. It has proven to be quite difficult to give volunteers an access to the prison, and there is one Muslim counsellor already doing his full time job. So there seems to be no real need and even chance to send volunteer counsellors to this place. Besides that the prison is linked to the state and not to the communal administration, so funds come from other sources than in the hospital. 2. History and aims: This project is only one part of the longer lasting local community's efforts to give health care and psychological comfort to a broader section of Muslim citizens. There is an assumption to provide a better chance to let them find their own position and identity within the German society. Before the start of this project there already were established structures to give a better health care to women, children and elderly people among the Muslim citizens of Wiesbaden. They were invited to visit health care centers, to get support in 4

5 dealing with diseases like diabetes or heart attack (which traditionally are not so widespread in Islamic societies). There was established a women's house and a café, where Muslim women can meet. Local doctors voluntarily offered their advices, and there exists a special committee for social and health care projects, which was inaugurated by the community's administration, and it is a part of the local governmental structures. Muslim care (MUSE) is only one of the projects being founded by the Wiesbaden community's administration. All sorts of sports activities were offered to the Muslim people as well by the communal administration as by local sports groups. There is a programme: mummy learns German many of the elderly women who came to Germany never learnt to read and speak the German language. They just worked in their household with their children, met with friends from their countries of origin, and they only had contacts with other families within their particular social groups. Those women were not integrated in any working process; so once there was no need for them to learn German, as their husbands had to. In the consequence they now are not really able to express themselves adequately when they are in hospitals or in another social context. Now they are elderly women, and they need help sometimes. There even was the idea to offer elderly Muslim people places in local retirement homes, but the Muslim communities in Wiesbaden until now were not really interested in it. In 2009 there was the first Conference on Integration held by the community, in order to present the results of the efforts already done, in order to create a network of specialists working in affairs of integration in Wiesbaden. Most of the projects will go on, there is a first successing period from , and MUSE is among these projects.the Muslim community itself regards a committee of Islamic congregations, which was founded in 2007, as fathers and mothers of MUSE. Together with the Wiesbaden Administration the Muslim congregations promote the project, but their hope is that later on they will be able to have financial resources of their own to guarantee the work their counsellors do. People from many different countries and from different 5

6 Muslim cultural traditions come together within that committee even Schiite and Sunnite groups; they belong to 13 different Muslim congregations in Wiesbaden. To the advisory board of MUSE there belong persons from Christian churches as well. The Muslims in Wiesbaden regard themselves as a religious and cultural minority. They are Germans and they live in Germany. Though in origin of Islamic culture and tradition and with many different mother tongues, they are a part of the German society. They don't want to be fixed by others on multiple identities. Germany still has problems being a country for people with multiple identities. Sometimes there arises hostility against foreigners which has to be confronted. So one of the aims of all the projects to improve integration is to minimize the rejection of foreigners. Encounter between the different ethnic groups may prevent such developments, in order to come to learn about each other. According to this aim I joined the committee, being interested in dialogue and encounter between Christians and Muslims. In the activities to promote medical, psychological and social comfort of Muslim citizens there is even included a good possibility to reflect theological positions at all and towards care ( and counselling) especially, as they are given within the Christian and Muslim traditions. Though I think this project will be one of future times, by now it is just possible to find out some starting ideas. There has to be generated a healing encounter between Muslims and Christians in Germany and in Europe, too as members of both religions are challenged to give their humanistic and spiritual traditions to increase dialogue and an interactive encounter. And I hope there will be some good effect in these efforts, which will lead to a life in difference, but respect. Obviously by now this is not the only way of contact between ethnic groups in Germany/Europe. 3. Stages of the project: In 2008 members of Wiesbaden Administration, the advisory board and the first Muslim counsellors started with the project. Unto the end of the year

7 the two professionals were able to establish the first structures to organize their work: They implemented a MUSE (Muslim Care) supervision group. From now on, with the beginning of the year 2009, they could prepare for the acquisition of people who are able and willing to do the training for Muslim volunteer counselling. From spring 2009 on to the end of the year the first trainings took place. Finally a first group of Muslim volunteer counsellors was officially installed by the Wiesbaden Department of Integration, and with the beginning of the year 2010 they could begin with first visits as counsellors in the hospital. March 23 rd 2010 was the day, when 10 women and 7 men got a certificate to confirm their status as Muslim counsellors. Within the year 2010 an office for Muslim carers and counsellors was established within the hospital as well. There is a second group of volunteer counsellors. They are trained by now, and after these trainings an evaluation of the project is in the planning. Some persons didn't complete the training, but only very few a small percentage. There exist statistics on the activities during the time of 10 month of the counsellors' presence in the hospital: They have been there for hours. They had 670 visits. 95% of these visits resulted in a conversation. Only 37 visits were not successfull because of the presence of a doctor, of family members or nurses. In all the other cases patients welcomed and accepted the counsellors. 34% of the patients being visited were between years of age, 61% were older than 40 years. 471 visits were conducted in one language. 50% of all the conversations took place in other languages than German. Within most of the conversations there were used two or more languages. In more than 50% of the conversations German was not the predominant language. 4. Contents: As the coordinator of the project explained, Muslim people prefer the Rogerian client centered method in order to train their groups. They invited guest 7

8 coaches for their special meetings on psychological training these persons were Muslim psychologists grown up, being educated and having studied in Germany, and mostly they were trained in the Rogerian Method. Their families predominantly derived from Turkish, Maghrebian or Iranian origin. The counsellor is convinced that the Client Centered Method is the best one for trainings with future Muslim volunteer counsellors. For her this method especially aims at social processes and at encounters of a group of people. The social aspect is very crucial, it is nearly the the basic presupposition for all aspects of Muslim culture. Besides that she thinks that the Client Centered Method as well grants a lot of space for an individual interpretation and an individual encounter with each other, with psychology, with cultural traditions and religion. For her this method is democratic, it is based on a feeling of counselling siblings : Depth Psychology is one of the methods she thinks to be really unable to fit in Muslim world and thinking it`s too individualistic, and it is rooted too much in a western style of thinking. Many Muslims regard it as destructive for Muslim faith and cultural identity. For a group of future volunteer counsellors she thinks it to be very important that they can find their own psychological and personal rhythm to proceed. She is impressed by the idea of a learning group, being self related, having its own way and its individual time for a personal progress, and having no strict aims to fulfill. The groups are very heterogenous, regarding the standards of education, regarding nationality and culture of origin, regarding age and gender, at last regarding the languages spoken. So everybody has to train active listening in order to be able to take part in the group's advancement. There is only one presupposition which has to be made by all members: They all should be willing and able to read Coran, they should know the Scripture, they should be active Muslims, having a positive attitude to their different, but individually original religious traditions. Within the encounter of the group members the special religious traditions will be presented, they will be discussed, they may change, but they have to be communicable at all. 8

9 According to the coordinator it is a crucial part of Muslim theological tradition that there is a chance of encounter and communication. Islam isn't a religion of impersonal creed and dogma so she thinks. There is no right and wrong within the faith. An internalization of the faith's spirit merely leads to a mentionable success in spirituality and probably in life. The method of the trainings is dominated by individual structural and personal possibilities. As this training is in the state of a project, there have to come specialists to inform on different subjects: Somebody for the training of intercultural compentencies, somebody who teaches knowledge in medicinical and psychiatric affairs, somebody who can give knowledge in theology and history of religion, in the tradition and the rituals that have to be practized when visiting and counselling persons in the hospital. One of these rituals is washing the dead persons, which in Islam traditionally was a duty of the family. Later on it was delegated to imams; by now volunteer counsellors may overtake that duty to wash the deads, if they want to do it in order to substitute the imams, for they are rare. To be an intercultural interpreter sometimes means to translate for doctors and patients, when they try to communicate a diagnosis. Transfer of language is one of the detailed projects and trained skills within the whole programme. Coaching and supervision has to be done by specialists of Islamic origin to help the individuals and the group to find their own and special way. 5. Methods: The training for the volunteers is dedicated to help them at first to develop their own competencies: In order to understand psychological procedures within themselves and other people. This is a first step, accompanied and followed by giving informations on methods and psychological theories of communication. Then there is a focus on understanding the varyious signs and symbols of non verbal communication especially symbolic interaction in 9

10 religious or non religious interpretation. This demands trainings not only in psychology, but also in philosophy and in religious thought and tradition. Another big impact is laid on the knowledge of medicinical aspects. Most important is to understand at least the outlines of psychiatry and medicine, as it is implicated in every encounter of a doctor, a nurse, and a patient. The most important ideas on interculturality have to be discussed, in order to understand principles of ethics either in the Christian tradition, or in western culture. Volunteer counsellors should be able to transform standards of ethics to special questions of indigenous Muslim culture. This transformation may be necessary especially when dealing with a patient's living will and other items connected with manners of death and mourning. Of course there is an individual coaching and supervision implemented, and everybody has to do a period of praxis within the hospital (normally this is estimated to last for about four weeks).the whole system of a hospital has to be introduced to the later on counsellors. It is aimed at introducing knowledge on the work of other professional groups. Together they can deal with all events around the hospital. So the participants are invited to visit a funeral entrepreneur, in order to achieve knowlegde on his practical work. Even more important is the encounter with counsellors from other traditions and religions, especially with the Christian counsellors, being the colleagues in the hospital. The volunteers have several meetings with the staff of the hospital in order to know the persons and to know something on their work and the problems and the possible cooperations. Muslim counsellors must rely on doing their work within the other professional groups. A very special aspect of Muslim care is the practical aspect of offering language competencies. According to the connections with the rest of the staff in the hospital Muslim counsellors sometimes will be very welcome, especially when nurses or doctors can trust in the translations they get. Besides that and this again is quite different from many of the Christian trainings, there are a lot more practical impacts with the Muslim trainings. The group 1

11 comes together to visit social projects in the town concerning the Wiesbaden community's work with migrants and with people having an uncertain political status. So they can come to know theses persons' problems. They visit a women's house, a drug abuse recreational center, a center to prevent or help in sexual misuse. It was reported that within the time from April 2009 January 2010 the trainings included 140 hours. All the counsellors had to practice individual sessions of supervision while visiting patients. Ongoing trainings for a development of competencies are still necessary, the whole programme is in a state of constant development, so further differenciated proposals will come. 6. Moduls and special parts of the training: Now there still rests a lot of subjects to be discussed, and many special problems to be solved: One of the moduls to be treated in further sessions should be: To have trainings on specifically Islamic topics trainings where there should assist an Islamic theologian: How does the connection between the ancient religious knowledge of mystic ritual and thought and modern counselling look like what are the traditional ways of care and counselling in Islamic societies? In popular Islamic traditions there occur spirits, amulettes, stones, and they have special meanings how is it possible to deal with these aspects in counselling? There is requested a theologian to give instructions on basic texts and basic assumptions of Sunna and Coran, concerning the praxis of care and counselling. There should be given a theological fundament, there should be an understandable connection between religious beliefs and therapeutic interpretations. Which forms of psychology are more or less communicable to traditional or more sophisticated Islamic theology? For many practical decisions Muslims at least seem to have a guideline in Coranic law. So for the counsellors it is important to reflect the importance and the possibilies of juridical presuppositions, as they are given in Islamic law. 1

12 They have to reflect on how much they themselves are convinced of all the laws of Sharia, and they have to find an individual position towards its demands. It is also important to know something or even more about the ideas on death, on dying and eschatological thoughts within different Islamic traditions. And there is a practical tradition of dealing with crises and mourning, fear and hope in different Islamic cultures which is important to know. The traditional Islamic attitudes towards suicide should be discussed as well. My dialogue partners are convinced that Islam is a religion based on democratic structures and social presuppositions. So in their groups everything has to be presented and discussed, there is no final law to obey, according to a main tradition in Islamic theology. 7. Items to reflect on: Though the immediate training is already on a high level, there still remain some special subjects of cultural traditions: Within many Muslim communities all over world there exist traditional knowledges of healing knowledge of indigenous medicine, exactly called the prophet's medicine. This type of medicine implies the use of all the benefits of nature like herbs and secret knowledge of applying them to the person being ill. Even in Europe Muslims face the old traditions when visiting their people in the hospital. Some of them still trust more in their hoca or healer and in his methods than in doctors and psychologists or counsellors, and they have their own explanation for illness and the adequate ways of healing. Sometimes these explanations are interwoven with ancient religious and cultural knowledge and sometimes they are interwoven with misbeliefs. The latter is not suitable for a positive health progress. So Muslim counsellors have to cope with the basic presuppositions of old traditions and knowledges. Otherwise they will lose contact with the patients. Altogether there will be a long way to proceed in order to face the modern western psychology as a healing method for a reasonable group of Muslim 1

13 people in Europe and all over the world. There is a gap between the ideas and aims of therapy, leading to a positive and one dimensioned functioning in western societies, and healing as an ancient expression for the wholeness and interconnectedness of person, culture, and transcendence. Besides that positive aspect of a knowledge about healing in a context of nature there exist ideas of witchcraft and spirits (ginis) within some Islamic cultural heritages. Their approaches to religion should be taken into consideration by Muslims counsellors as well. Within the Sufi tradition Islam already has its widely practised original way of counselling. Sufis obtain an ancient knowledge, they follow their mystic paths to a healing encounter with God, and for that they have special methods and ritualistic trainings. Sometimes the advices on these paths seam to be contradictory to insights of psychology, especially those of Depth Psychology. Sufi meditation methods are based on reassuring basic knowledge of faith by ceremonial repetition. Sufi prayer leads to a communication between man and God that is not mainly a matter of intellectual insight or willing ability. It is situated partly beyond the borders of reason, in a deeper consent with the transcendent experience. So some Muslim counsellors still go their own Sufi paths in a conseqent manner. Muslim counsellors have to distinguish between different accesses to care and counselling and this will be a claim for a re visiting of images of man in Islamic theology. A Muslim access to prayer and meditation may look different from that of the average European Christian. For many Muslims prayer predominantly is a matter of body much more than for Christians, who mostly give rare signs of their bodies when praying. Moslem prayer is ritualized as a ceremony for the community mainly for the community of men sharing their prayers on Friday within the Mosque. Individual prayer is not so much in common as it is used in Christianity, especially within the protestant versions. Meditation may be quite new for many members of the Moslem community for the religion is based on practical assumptions, it doesn't need so much search for individual identity 1

14 and for emotional support, as Christian traditions do. But with the ongoing secularization of western Muslim people there will be a need to interprete religion for many of them individually, to lead people to an encounter with their lost traditions by arousing religious emotions. These emotions shouldn't lead to any fundamentalistic aim. On the contrary, faith should be widened by feeling own roots, and facing different traditions in other religions. Muslims are exposed to these diverse experiences in their daily lives. Muslim care is a word being invented in Europe when Muslims were facing the Christian traditions. So Muslims ask themselves whether they now or later on can find a suiting expression for their own praxis. They are challenged to develop the praxis of encounter of individuals who deal with religious feelings. Muslims ask: Is there another word for it? By now there exists no other word in German Muslims' tradition. The Christian term is in use. And some of my Muslim friends told me they are not unhappy about this fact: For they live in Europe, especially in Germany why shouldn't they benefit from positive European, Christian and German traditions? But what they keep in mind as a special identity of Islam is the following: A future theory of Muslim care may be based on the fundamental presupposition of Islam, that men and women are siblings before God this is a deeply democratic theological assumption. Group praxis of care and counselling is regarded to represent an implication of the theological fundaments of Islam people are siblings in religion they belong to one total community, the Umma. A theological theory on Islamic care and counselling will be based on God's way of counselling Muslims: on his righteous way as Islamic tradition says. Regarded from the aspect of care and counselling in Islam this may express: Nowadays Muslim men and women are capable to understand themselves within their Islamic religious traditions and culture. And at the same time they are challenged to live in German/European cultural contexts. Their challenges already have begun with disintegrations in many forms. The family structures 1

15 have changed within the last generations, traditional ways of conducting life will diminish the texts of Coran and tradition have to be interpreted in a new way. Besides that women's emancipation is a part of the project the Muslim leader is a woman. And altogether there exists an ongoing process of Muslim women's emancipation in Germany. 1

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