Photo: Institut Jantung Negara (IJN), or the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on August 8 2014. Uwe Aranas /

Islamic Lifestyle

Malaysian hospitals should hire ‘Islamic chaplains’ for spiritual support, say experts

KUALA LUMPUR - The doctor who set up one of the first Muslim and other religious chaplaincies in a Malaysian hospital has urged healthcare providers across the country to adopt a similar spiritual support system. His call echoes a suggestion made recently by one of the country’s leading Islamic finance thinkers for hospitals to hire more returning scholars.

Dr Razali Omar, now a consultant electrophysiologist and cardiologist at CVSKL hospital in Kuala Lumpur, came up with the idea of giving patients religious counsel at Institut Jantung Negara (IJN), the national heart institute, where he worked for 24 years before joining CVSKL.

Dr Razali told Salaam Gateway these chaplaincies should be made the norm for hospitals. He stumbled on the idea when travelling north to perform surgery.

“When I went to operate once at the Adventist Hospital in Penang, I was talking to this guy about the procedure—I had assumed he was family, but he turned out to be a priest based there,” Dr Razali told Salaam Gateway, referring to Penang Adventist, which was founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Christian mission.

“He was a chaplain and sat with the family as they prayed together during the procedure. I found that very interesting.”

Still thinking about this on his return to the capital, Razali suggested starting chaplaincies for Christians, Buddhists and Muslims at IJN, “so that patients at the end of their lives may engage these religious people to prepare spiritually”.

“We introduced this, so we became one of the only hospitals in Malaysia to have these chaplaincies. We also have our own mosque for Friday prayers. Together, these form a group [of religious services], and whenever a patient requires them, they can counsel the patient.”


Under this model, a Muslim chaplaincy would not only come to the assistance of patients and help doctors, it would also help Islamic scholars who are unable to find work.

Hundreds of Malaysians travel to the Middle East each year to further their Islamic education, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan top destinations. After completing their studies, many return to Malaysia and are forced to find work.

Some could be employed as hospital chaplains, Dr Razali said. To this end, he agrees with a suggestion made recently by Dr Mohd Daud Bakar, a heavyweight in Islamic finance as founder of Amanie Advisors, a Shariah private equity fund, and chairperson of the Shariah advisory councils of Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, and Securities Commission. He was also last week named as the new president of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM).

On a trip to Thailand earlier this year, Dr Mohd Daud heard how some private hospitals there had been encouraging returned Thai Islamic scholars to take postgraduate healthcare qualifications. After they do so, the hospitals would hire them as “halal liaisons”.

“By having that certificate, they make themselves relevant to the industry,” Dr Mohd Daud told Salaam Gateway.

“These people can work next to the doctors and nurses to assist them; they have some knowledge of medical treatment and can speak Arabic to Muslim patients coming to Thailand for treatment. [The liaisons] can ensure all their treatment is halal.”

He said he would like to see a similar model transplanted to Malaysian healthcare—and indeed other industries could also benefit from the scholars’ expertise.

“It is my wish that the Malaysian government picks up the idea and puts it into practice,” he said.

“Say if the government were to put together a course, such as a halal management programme for six or nine months, it could say to companies, ‘Every year we have a hundred of these people, can you employ them?’. It may also provide some incentives.

“This is a way companies can interact [with Muslim customers], can put in place a values ecosystem and show their seriousness while also being checked internally [for halal practices].”


Dr Mohd Daud’s idea was welcomed by Prince Court Medical Centre, one of Kuala Lumpur’s exclusive private hospitals, when Salaam Gateway put it to one of its customer service chiefs.

Anang Kodiappan, a senior manager at Prince Court, welcomed the suggestion, saying that employing these liaisons might help the hospital attract more patients from Muslim countries in the Middle East, though he cautioned a whole business assessment would need to be done first, before it could be implemented. He also suggested the government agency responsible for promoting Malaysian healthcare overseas should drive an initiative to do this.

“Certainly this could be an attractive thing for us and it could bring a bigger influx of patients from overseas, but how do we find them after [the scholars] come back to Malaysia; who will be the person to coordinate bringing them here; what would the pay scale be?” Anang told Salaam Gateway.

“MHTC is a key player; it could be the driver. If it comes from MHTC, more hospitals will follow,” he added, referring to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.

When approached by Salaam Gateway, Sherene Azli, MHTC’s chief executive, said in a statement that all Malaysian public and private hospitals are Muslim-friendly already, and patients from overseas who seek halal services “will feel comfortable getting treatment in Malaysia”.

However, she pointed out that the burgeoning health tourism industry is constantly evolving and reacting to the market’s changing needs.

“As demand for Malaysian healthcare grows, it presents more opportunities to drive the halal healthcare travel industry to new heights,” she said.

“Malaysian healthcare authorities will continue to work hand in hand to strengthen our human resource network both locally and internationally, as these medical professionals represent Malaysia’s world-class healthcare.”

At his new hospital, a dedicated private heart centre which opened in late 2017, Dr Razali voiced his support for Dr Mohd Daud’s plans though he stressed, like Sherene, that there is less need for Malaysian hospitals than their Thai counterparts to employ medical professionals that ensure the halal nature of Muslim patients’ treatment.

In the context of Malaysia as a Muslim-majority country, more hospitals should engage scholars of all religions on a chaplaincy basis, he said.

To this end, he said CVSKL has already engaged a religious scholar to support Muslim patients on a part-time basis.

“My take on this would be, if there is a need, we should see it from the angle of chaplaincy. We can still use this model to give these returning students some jobs and make this chaplaincy a norm in these hospitals.”

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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Richard Whitehead