MOST patients at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle don’t want to talk about their physical injury or illness, but about problems that affect their mental health.

Imam Abdur Rashid – who has joined the hospital’s chaplaincy team, the first Imam to do so – revealed that while many people can cope with the visible, physical problems, it is the hidden issues that leave no scar that he is often asked to help with.

“Often patients are not down about their illness. They are down about something happening in their life. Physical trauma is not the same as mental trauma. The thing is that mental trauma is not visible,” he said.

“If I break my leg you wouldn’t ask me to race to the car. Maybe I have a broken heart, but I still have to get on with life, the world is still spinning, and you have got to get on with it. The wound is invisible, but it is still there. A broken leg is a broken leg, but a broken heart...”

Muslim Rashid, who was born and brought up in Carlisle, revealed that the chaplaincy team aren’t just there for the patients either.

Not only do relatives of patients often need someone to talk to, but hospital staff – who have to deal with accidents and illness constantly – also receive assistance from the chaplaincy team.

“You are a pastoral figure that someone can reach out to – staff, relatives and patients. It is not only when they have a problem, it is more being a friend,” he said.

Rashid said that being the hospital team’s first Imam is a challenge, but being from the area is helping him in his new role. And the job doesn’t involve preaching to people on the hospital site, it is about supporting them when they are in need.

“Spiritually it is a challenge. The majority of people in the wards have never met a chaplain dressed like this. Their image of a chaplain is someone wearing a white collar,” he said.

“I have never met a single Muslim patient in hospital. But the most beautiful feeling is when I have been able to dispel the invisible veil between the non Muslim and myself. Language and culture have helped. I have the same background, football and rugby and school. I am not out there to help Muslims alone.”

Rashid got married last year – his wife is called Rashida and is from London. She teaches at the mosque in Carlisle, as does Rashid, and they are both part of the chaplaincy team at the hospital.

In his role at the Cumberland Infirmary, Rashid joins a team of religious leaders from other faiths, but he says they have much in common.

“Religions have a common enemy now. The common enemy is probably chaos, or materialism. Society has been corrupted with a more materialistic lifestyle where it is all about shopping, bingeing, and how much can be spent over the weekend.

“All the religions share the goal of helping people and they have to come together for that.”

Rashid was born and brought up in Carlisle, attending Stanwix School and then Trinity School, where he enjoyed playing football and rugby.

“At the end of year nine I decided to pursue a more religious academic route of studies. I left and went to a private school in London and staying with my auntie and her family down there for two years. I wanted to learn who I am,” he said.

After his GCSE studies Rashid went to study in Dewsbury, in Yorkshire, where he spent eight years. In his first year he memorised the entire Koran, all 6,500 verses, and can recite it word for word.

After 10 years living away from Carlisle, he returned back to the place of his birth on the train.

“I went to the mosque first from the train station – it is just down the road – and before I left the mosque they gave me the keys to the mosque. I had been given the keys to the mosque before the keys to my own house,” he said.

“The Imam in Islam is just the person who leads the prayer. It doesn’t necessarily mean he is the cream of the crop, although ideally he should be. There is no such thing as being ordained. I didn’t take a course to be an Imam. I took a course to be a scholar.”

That was over three years ago, and now, in addition to being the Imam, Rashid also has his role at the Cumberland Infirmary.

He also takes part in interfaith meetings with other religious leaders in the Carlisle area, and has shown parties around the mosque.

Asked what message he would send to people. Rashid said: “The message I would like to give to anybody would be – try to be open to discussion, and try and to see things from another person’s lens.

“Any time we chat to somebody, think that that person knows something we don’t. If that is our attitude we will develop as humans, because we have to be able to co-exist.”