“An undercover problem in the Muslim community”: A qualitative study of imams' perspectives on substance use

Sarah Mallik, Joanna L. Starrels, Casey Shannon, Kea Edwards, Shadi Nahvi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Mainstream Islam prohibits alcohol and other drugs, yet substance use is prevalent in Muslim-American communities. Previous studies have not examined how imams, leaders of mosques, address substance use in their communities. This study aimed to explore imams' perspectives and approaches toward Muslim Americans with substance use disorders (SUD). Methods: Qualitative study of imams in New York City recruited by convenience sampling. We conducted one-on-one semi-structured interviews to address how imams perceive and address substance use. Using an inductive thematic analysis approach, we created an initial coding scheme which was refined iteratively, identified prominent themes, and created an explanatory model to depict relationships between themes. Results: All imams described substance use within a shared underlying framework of religious prohibition of alcohol and other drugs. Their perceptions of individuals with SUD diverged between a focus on sin, shame, and social disruption vs. a focus on acceptance and forgiveness. Furthermore, imams diverged between conceptualizing their communities as comprising mosque-going individuals without SUD vs. broader communities that include individuals with SUD. While imams acknowledged how some imams' judgmental language toward SUD may perpetuate stigma, they also identified therapeutic approaches toward SUD: non-judgmental engagement, encouragement of recovery, prayer, and referral to resources. Conclusions: This study is among the first to illustrate the range of perceptions and approaches to substance use among Muslim American imams. These perceptions have potentially divergent impacts— shaming or assisting individuals with SUD. An understanding of these complexities can inform provision of culturally competent care to Muslim-American patients with SUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108224
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Alcohol use
  • Imams
  • Muslim
  • Substance use
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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