BACKGROUND: Suicide is expressly condemned in the Qu'ran, and traditionally few Islamic countries have reported suicide. Undetermined deaths are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Other Violent Deaths (OVD) in ICD-9, or Other External Causes (OEC) in ICD-10. It has been suggested that to avoid under-reporting of suicides, both formal suicide verdicts and OVD should be considered together because OVD may contain 'hidden' suicides. METHOD: The latest WHO mortality data, by age and gender, were analysed and tested by chi2 tests. Levels of suicide and OVD in 17 Islamic countries were examined and contextually compared with UK rates. The regional Islamic cultural differences in Middle Eastern, South Asian, European Islam countries and those of the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (FUSSR) were analysed separately to test the hypotheses that there would be no difference between regional suicide and OVD rates per million (pm) and 17 Islamic countries and UK rates. RESULTS: Suicide rates were higher for males than females, and 'older' (65+) higher than 'younger' (15-34) rates in every country reviewed. The rate for Middle Eastern males was 0-36 pm, South Asian 0-12 pm, European 53-177 pm and FUSSR 30-506 pm, with three countries exceeding the UK rate of 116 pm. The Western male average OVD rate was 22 pm; the UK 55 pm rate was highest. Middle Eastern OVD was 1-420 pm, South Asian 0-166 pm, European 1-66 pm and FUSSR 11-361 pm. OVD rates in 10 Islamic countries were considerably higher than the Western average and eight had OVD rates considerably higher than their suicide rates. CONCLUSIONS: Islamic suicide rates varied widely and the high OVD rates, especially the Middle Eastern, may be a repository for hiding culturally unacceptable suicides.
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