work prof developing
culturally appropriate services for Muslim communities
by Alex Frazer-Harrison
social services programs can be a challenge when
working with cultures with different customs and
Graham, the Murray Fraser Professor of Community
Economic Development in the Faculty of Social Work,
has spent years examining how best to develop effective
social-service programs for communities
in the Arab Middle East.
We have examined social services in a number of Arab
communities, principally in Israel, Palestine and Jordan … researching
what we can do to enhance social service delivery to make it more culturally
responsive,” Graham says.
is principal investigator of a $230,000 Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council grant examining
social service delivery in Muslim communities in Canada,
Egypt, Malaysia, Palestine,
and the United States.
also directs a major study funded at Columbia University
on social services with Muslim peoples.
has spent the past decade working with Alean Al-Krenawi,
an Arab-Palestinian who is an associate
professor of social work in Israel.
Graham says communities in the Middle East have been
radically transformed in the space of a generation.
Among the Bedouin, for example, ancient ways of nomadic
livelihood and living are giving way to semi-nomadic and settled ways
of life,” he says. “Helping professionals and other ‘modern
phenomena’ have been abruptly introduced.”
All cultures have their own assumptions and helping
professions such as social services are no exception,
Social-service theory emphasizes things like self-actualization,
where the communities we were working with orient the individual so very
strongly to the family and group,” Graham says.
“ Different patterns of communication and of relationship
building apply. As a result, social workers and other
professionals were getting things wrong.”
Graham’s research has highlighted the importance of addressing
these differences, because miscommunication can have
We looked at cultural practices like blood vengeance
and wrote about strategies for intervening in culturally appropriate
ways,” he says. “We spent a lot of time learning from various
healing traditions – the Dervish, Koranic healers whose traditions
have been in the community, sometimes for centuries.
“ These are lessons that could be applied to how helping
professionals are trained, to how they intervene. We
set up demonstration projects where social workers could collaborate with elders
in order to render intervention less oppressive and
and Al-Krenawi are publishing a book in early 2005
on social services for Bedouin-Arab peoples. They
are also writing a book on social services in Muslim
said his work reflects how vital it is that social
services programs evolve to keep up with our
increasingly diverse world culture, whether in the
Middle East, or among the many ethnic groups
Old assumptions no longer apply,” he says. “Today, it’s
about more differential rather than common human needs.
To address this requires creativity and more out-of-the-box