Suffering, faith & well-being among Muslim women affected by the ISIS conflict in Iraq: The role of faith in coping and recovery and what this means for humanitarian response
Rutledge, Kathleen K.
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For many populations globally, the processing of potentially traumatic events and the pathway to recovery is linked to religious convictions. Positive religious coping following disasters is widely evidenced as resilience promoting and international mandates call for aid that enables such coping, however there is limited guidance for distinct faith groups. This mixed methods study, conducted among 160 Sunni Muslim women in an Iraqi IDP camp, sought to deepen the evidence regarding the role of faith in coping among displaced Muslim women and to develop guidance for work with similar populations. Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups were conducted in the Mosul region with subjects affected by the conflict related to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Faith leaders and humanitarian workers were interviewed as key informants. There was a high level of religiosity among the women, with self-appraised faith levels remaining largely stable preand post-ISIS. Perceptions of faith decline were strongly associated with anxiety and grief. Suffering was primarily seen as a test of patience, according to God’s will, with endurance facilitating attainment of Paradise after death. This appraisal was linked to comfort and strengthened resolve. Appraisals of suffering as punishment were primarily associated with higher distress, while beliefs regarding God’s care significantly influenced mental health. Prayer, Qur’an reading and fasting were widely reported as means of comfort, stress relief and divine protection. Coping capacity was adversely impacted however by poor responsiveness of some aid and faith actors to gendered faith needs. The study recommends compliance with existing faith-sensitive mandates, including assessing if individuals would like faith supports to be a part of the response, removing gender-related barriers to faith supports, improving context-specific religious literacy among responders, implementing multi-layered MHPSS interventions targeting daily stressors, and engaging ‘hidden’ women of faith who are informal leaders to support other women.