Portraying Islam and Muslims in MEDLINE: a content analysis

Lance Daniel Laird, Justine de Marrais, Linda L Barnes
Social Science & Medicine 2007, 65 (12): 2425-39
The growing number and diversity of Muslims in the United States and Western Europe challenge clinicians and researchers to understand this population's perspectives and experiences regarding health and biomedicine. For information about Muslim patient populations, clinicians and researchers routinely consult medical literature. To examine how this literature portrays Muslims, we conducted an ethnographic content analysis of 2342 OVID MEDLINE-indexed abstracts from 1966 through August 2005, derived from a Boolean search for "islam or muslim or muslims." Manifest (explicitly stated) themes included Muslim religious practices, Islamic law and ethics, history of Islamic medicine, public health, social medicine, and cultural competence. Latent (underlying) themes implied that being an observant Muslim poses health risks; Muslims are negatively affected by tradition, and should adopt modernity; and that "Islam" is a problem for biomedical healthcare delivery. A countervailing latent theme implies that being Muslim may promote good health. We discuss ambiguities in uses of the term "Muslim;" implications of Muslim practices for health management and healthcare delivery; and ways in which MEDLINE-indexed literature intersects with orientalist and colonialist discourse about religious Others. Such intersections highlight connections with potential structural inequalities in healthcare delivery to Muslim patients.

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