For U.S. Muslims, an Aversion to Nursing Homes


BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — As a founder of the growing Shiite Muslim community here, Hussein Walji oversaw the building of the area's first mosque. He directed construction of its youth center, and followers hailed him as a visionary for adding an auditorium for ecumenical functions like the M&M picnic for Muslims and Methodists.

But even family members find Mr. Walji's latest expansion uncomfortably American: he is developing plans for an assisted living and nursing complex in this Minneapolis suburb.

"I could never do it," said Mohamed Remtula, Mr. Walji's brother-in-law, his ailing mother at his side in his living room as he and Mr. Walji discussed the planned complex. "It just is not in our culture."

Such uneasy discussions are taking place in Islamic enclaves around the country as more families try to reconcile religious teachings on caring for elders with the modern realities of their hectic American lives.

Muslim leaders from Florida to California are eager for a successful approach to the issue. But early efforts have been a tough sell. Sajda Khan and her husband, Rahmat, opened Fonthill Gardens, a six-bed assisted living home in Hawthorne, Calif., for the Los Angeles area's aging Muslim population. They found a contractor to provide halal meats, included a prayer room and made enthusiastic presentations to area mosques. A year later they have cared for two Christians and one Buddhist, but no Muslims.

"People feel that others will criticize them," said Mrs. Khan, who is from Pakistan. "You know, 'So and so left her mother in a facility, and now look at her looking fashionable at the mall.' It's very frustrating."

For generations, immigrant groups have grappled with the American concept of housing for the elderly, tailoring it to meet their ethnic, cultural and religious needs. But for many Muslims, the idea of placing parents in facilities is still unthinkable, seen as a violation of a Koranic obligation to care for one's elderly relatives.

 


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