The aim of this study was to understand the meaning of caring as experienced by Arab Muslim nurses within the context of Arab culture. A qualitative approach using ethnographic methodology based on the approaches of Geertz (1973), Fitzgerald (1997) and Davies (1999) was used to develop a description that embeds the phenomena of the nurses’ meaning of caring within the cultural context. Good and Good’s (1981) meaning–centred approach was used to interpret the nurse’s explanatory models of health, illness and healing that inform the caring experience. This study conveys the cultural worlds of Arab Muslim nurses from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt while caring for Arab Muslim patients in Saudi Arabia. Data were collected over a four year period (2004-2007).
Arab Muslim nurses have a religiously informed explanatory model where health is spiritual, physical and psycho-social well-being. Spirituality is central to the belief system where spiritual needs take priority over physical needs as a distinctive care pattern. The professional health belief system blends into the nurses’ cultural and religious belief system, forming a culturally distinct explanatory health beliefs system. This finding suggests that in non-Western health contexts, professional models are not dominant but incorporated into nurses’ indigenous worldviews in a way that makes sense within the culture.
Caring is based on shared meanings between nurse and patient. Caring is an act of spiritualty and an action by the nurse to facilitate his or her own spirituality and that of the patient. In turn, the nurse receives reward from Allah for caring actions. A distinct ethical framework based on principles of Islamic bio-ethics guides the nurses in their caring.
This research provides the missing link between Western professional nursing systems and Arab Muslim nurses’ caring models and contributes to the development of a caring model that is relevant to, and reflective of, Arab cultural and Islamic religious values. This caring model can provide direction for nurse education and the provision of care to Muslim patients, whether in Arab cultures, Islamic societies or with immigrant Muslim populations. In addition, it provides the basis for an Islamic nursing identity and a beginning point for improving the moral status and image of nursing in the Middle East.