With this study, we aimed to examine religiosity and its relationship with attitudes towards PwD among young university students who self-identified themselves as Muslim and those who showed high religiosity scores in our results. The results align with those of the previous studies, which states that people of Islamic faith practice their religion and hold a strong affiliation to Islam in the Gulf region (Johansson-Nogués, 2020). Religiosity is an essential component of the daily life of individuals in the UAE and is ingrained into their beliefs, attitudes and practice (Alhebsi et al., 2015; Weathers, 2018). As for the youth, religiosity is entwined with their attitudes and behaviours (Amiri et al., 2013; Simadi & Kamali, 2004). We hypothesised that youths with high religiosity scores would show positive attitudes towards PwD, and our results confirmed the hypothesis. A possible explanation to the findings could be a desire to confirm to the current prevailing norm within a Muslim country (González, 2011). Moreover, the current findings of increased religiosity among youths should be viewed with caution as religiosity can have a negative impact on behaviour and attitudes (Albaghli & Carlucci, 2021; Thomas et al., 2018). Hence, we propose future comprehensive studies that can provide essential insights of youths in relation to their religious affiliations, which can contribute to positive building of the society.
The results are consistent with Islamic teachings, which emphasise caring for people with disabilities and their offspring while avoiding hurting their feelings (Austen, 2021; Morad et al., 2001), as well as similar findings in the United States among Christian students (Fioramonti et al., 2019) and secular Jewish youths (Leyser & Romi, 2008). Notably, however, some researchers found the opposite: Arab (Leyser & Romi, 2008) and South Asian British Muslims (Sheridan & Scior, 2013) with high religiosity had negative attitudes towards PwD.
Previous researchers have established that attitudes are multidimensional and complex (Antonak & Livneh, 2000; Vignes et al., 2009). Despite our finding that support for our first two hypotheses, multiple regression analyses revealed that attitudes towards PwD were affected by unaccountable multiple factors. This could be related to societal stigmatisation, cultural traditions, variations in day-to-day practice with regards to meeting and addressing PwD and subjective norms, which may play a negative role towards inclusion of PwD (Leyser & Romi, 2008; Miles, 2002; Sheridan & Scior, 2013). Our findings highlight a need for additional research on multiple factors influencing attitudes towards PwD.
Individual components of attitudes revealed that participants had more positive emotion and behaviour attitudes than they exhibited on the knowledge domain, which, in turn, supported findings by Higgins et al. (2002) that acceptance of PwD happens in stages of affective and behavioural domains, followed by transformation of attitudes. Our study alludes towards the theory that attitudes are more influenced by emotions, and nurturing positive emotions through harnessing empathy is necessary (Diamond, 2001). Our findings validated our hypothesis of generally positive attitudes towards PwD, which are consistent with the previous study findings among Arab students of neutral to positive (Masa’deh et al., 2020) or exclusively positive (Al-Musabbihin, 2015; Jaddou & Abdullah, 2018) attitudes towards persons with disabilities.
In addition to the influence of Islam’s emphasis on respect for individuals irrespective of disabilities, the UAE government has undertaken intentional efforts to enhance awareness of people with physical disabilities and to integrate them into local communities as productive individuals. However, our finding of lower cognitive attitude scores indicates a continued need to expand awareness of the needs and desires of PwD. We concur with Al-Khayyat (2020), who proposed an active role for the media in increasing public awareness of the rights of people with disabilities and of the services they should receive. Combining official and nonofficial efforts to enhance awareness of the needs and circumstances of PwD will help promote better peer behaviour, positive interactions and higher social competence (McDonald & Messinger, 2011).
In the current study, women reported higher religiosity scores than men; this finding is consistent with earlier studies (Alshehry et al., 2020; Baker & Whitehead, 2016; Bossaert et al., 2011; Szumski et al., 2020;). Loewenthal et al. (2001) argued that Muslim women are less socialised than men and play more traditional roles limited to home and family; this limited sphere creates the space for women to pray and worship and might allow them to claim stronger Islamic faith than men (Miller & Stark, 2002). Researchers, in the Christian context, have also linked religiosity, motherhood and femininity (Sullins, 2006; Woodhead, 2008).
Further, we have hypothesised that exposure to disability would be associated with more favourable attitudes towards PwD; however, we discovered the exact opposite. Our result was consistent with earlier findings that exposure to different types of disabilities, especially emotional or behavioural challenges or multiple disabilities, worsened peers’ attitudes towards PwD (de Laat et al., 2013; McCoy & Banks, 2012) and conflicted with other studies in which exposure to PwD improved attitudes towards PwD (Armstrong et al., 2016; Nikolaraizi et al., 2005; Nowicki & Sandieson, 2002). A possible explanation for the discrepancy is that the latter studies were conducted in early childhood where exposure to PwD transformed children’s attitudes, whereas we studied young adults who already had firm attitudes. Nevertheless, it is important to integrate PwD with disabilities studies. In any interventions por therapies that would be aimed to integrate PwD both knowledge component affect and behaviour component should be part of any such interventions or therapies (Meyers & Lester, 2016). We believe it is necessary to incorporate physical ability as well as social, economic, and cultural differences into curricula so that accepting PwD will become a norm (Brownlee & Carrington, 2000; Rillotta & Nettelbeck, 2007).
Expanding awareness and improving attitudes towards PwD can contribute to achieving the global SDGs in a multitude of ways. For instance, changing attitudes towards PwD and providing job opportunities in an inclusive workforce can help eradicate poverty (SDG 1, no poverty and SDG 8, decent work and economic growth); increasing positive attitudes towards PwD can nurture physical, social and mental well-being (SDG 3, good health and well-being); ensuring equal access to education for PwD addresses SDG 4 (quality education) and providing equal access to local transport options helps achieve SDG 10 (reduce inequalities).
Faith and religion are integral parts of the UAE society: education, eating habits, laws and legislation, food, clothing and daily chores are strongly influenced by Muslim faith (Khan, 2019; Kourgiotis, 2020), and this faith places great emphasis on equality, respect, tolerance and generosity. Though researchers have determined how social, human and economic capital can build societies, very few have examined the impact of religious and spiritual capital on fostering social justice, human dignity and respect for human rights. To expand the positive influence of religious faith on public attitudes towards persons with disabilities, and on social development in general, we believe it is necessary to integrate local religious leaders and faith-based actors into the SDG agenda and educate them on how they can contribute to achieving SDGs in their communities (Tomalin et al., 2019).
Strengths and Limitations
To our knowledge, this is the first study evaluating the influence of youths’ religiosity on their attitudes towards PwD in the UAE. We identified mostly tolerant attitudes, although notably, respondents with exposure to disability had slightly pessimistic attitudes. However, this study has certain limitations. First, because it was a cross-sectional study, we could not establish any causality in any of the relationships we identified. Second, because we relied on self-reported data, there is a risk of social desirability bias. Third, although the study represented different areas of the UAE, we did limit the study sample to only adult students at the UAE university and did not include older age groups; in addition, most of the students were Arab-Muslims. We advise research with broader samples from diverse ethnicities and multiple countries to examine the cross-cultural differences in associations between religiosity and individuals’ attitudes towards persons with disabilities. We also did not assess progression of attitudes over time; future researchers could conduct long-term prospective studies to identify what factors, if any, can change young people’s attitudes.