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Islamophobia

Racism and Islamophobia While Battling Covid: A Personal Experience

I was left in shock that this had actually happened and I was disrespected and touched without my permission and that this so-called professional doctor in this day and age in Canada would violate my sacred prayer in such a disrespectful manner.

In His Name I Begin

We are always told that “life is a test”; the experiences we go through from loss, heartbreak, joy, and sadness are all lessons for our spiritual growth and self-development towards finding meaning and connecting to God. Absolutely. 

In every phase of life and in every experience we go through, we hopefully learn lessons to prevent us from making similar mistakes – to protect us and others, and also to painfully grow wisdom for the next challenges we experience. 

It is a given that we experience these just like what psychotherapist and author Dr David Richo in his book “The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them” states: “There are certain facts of life that we cannot change — the unavoidable ‘givens’ of human existence: (1) everything changes and ends, (2) things do not always go according to plan, (3) life is not always fair, (4) pain is a part of life, and (5) people are not loving and loyal all the time.”

In the age of the global pandemic of 2020 until today, we have experienced these givens even more in such intense unforgettable circumstances. This pandemic has shown us that we do not have any control; that this microscopic virus has rendered us all powerless. And that the ultimate power and control is in God’s hands. 

However, this doesn’t mean that when faced with other circumstances where it seems there is a lack of control, we give in.

Recently, my daughter unfortunately caught the coronavirus, and fortunately, she got through it with some of its symptoms. Soon after isolating with her and taking care of her, I inevitably caught it.

Unfortunately, my symptoms were severe enough to be hospitalized twice with pneumonia, dehydration, fatigue, with no appetite that prevented me from eating and even drinking water. The second hospitalization was after the antibiotics and other medications were not working, with even more severe dehydration, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.

This hospital visit also resulted in being on oxygen and entering the ICU where I was informed had I not come into the hospital when I did, I would not have made it and that I would potentially be in ICU for a week. It was after this my dear friends Tuka Almusawi and Anisa Diab asked to post about my situation for prayers as I had kept quiet about the whole situation beforehand – as I felt it was not necessary for others to know. 

I truly believe that the power of the hundreds of messages, calls, and voice messages of prayers that came from people all over the world afterward had a huge impact in bettering my condition. Within a day I was out of ICU and in the covid care unit. The nurses and doctors for the most part considering the pressure and overload of the sick coming into the hospital during that time frame took great care of my condition to help get me back on the road to recovery. 

However, it was during this time of treatment a shocking incident took place, which is the focus here. 

One of the few things that I was able to keep consistent during my hospital stay was my daily prayers, albeit late at times due to my condition. It was the one thing that allowed me to keep some sort of structure and routine in the chaos. 

I would turn around on the bed facing the bed and the wall and covering my arms with my hijab abaya style over the hospital gown and bend as much as I could down to my hand where I had my prayer beads. It was in one of those sacred moments of prayer on my second last day in the hospital when a doctor came briskly into my area and I heard her say “I need to check you”. 

When I did not respond to her she proceeded to come forward and said that she didn’t have time to wait and put her stethoscope on me and started poking at me – while I was praying. Most importantly, she did not get my consent to touch me. I momentarily thought that she would stop when she realized what I was doing, assuming that a professionally trained doctor would know what I was doing and would leave to come back when I was done the prayer. She did not.

She proceeded by asking me in a loud arrogant voice, “Have you had a bowel movement?” I froze for a second in my prayer and could feel my heart starting to pound. I continued on. I thought truly at this point she would stop and come back later realizing that I am not responding to her. She did not. She continued on in that loud arrogant voice asking, “Have you had diarrhea?” 

I froze again and could see in my mind’s eye my Nafs Al-Amarra (Ego) and Nafs Al Lawamma (Superego) fighting whether to stop in the middle of my prayer and admonish her for her inappropriate unprofessional and outward racist, discriminatory, Islamophobic behavior. I held back and forcefully brought my mind back to finish my prayer and deal with her afterward. 

It was in those mindful moments of finishing my prayers that I was able to calm down despite my heart rate rising and wanting to “let her have it” as the expression goes. Even as I write this, I can feel my heart rate rising again! I was very conscious of the violent aggressive narrative against Muslims and did not want to feed my justified anger into it. 

As soon as I finished, I called out in a strong voice despite being on oxygen and my physical weakness, “Dr come back here right now!” Before I said anything else to her, she rushed into my area and said loudly, “I know I know you were praying.” 

I looked at her incredulously with shock and said, “You knew I was praying? Yet you were poking at me? When I did not respond to you you proceeded by asking if I had a bowel movement and when I still didn’t answer you continued on and asked if I had diarrhea?? You saw me in moments of sacredness, how dare you ask me such a question?? What kind of cultural diversity training have you had or not had to behave in such a way?  I have worked in the health profession for 13 years and never have I been mistreated, disrespected, insulted, or discriminated against this way before! What kind of racist, Islamophobic behaviour is this?”  

She now froze and stared at me as I defended my dignity against this white French woman who felt she can bully me this way and the thought occurred to me as to how many other people she has done this to and gotten away with it making them feel horrible and low.

She became defensive and said she did  not have time to which I said yes she did she easily could have gone on to the next patient and come back to me after I was done, I then asked her what her name was and she walked off out of the room dismissing me saying “ok, ok!”

I was left in shock that this had actually happened and I was disrespected and touched without my permission and that this so-called professional doctor in this day and age in Canada would violate my sacred prayer in such a disrespectful manner.

I didn’t let it go. I spoke with the nurse who came to do her rounds and check up on my vitals. She was apologetic and kind and said she’ll get me the floor supervisor to speak with. I told her I was a professional health care provider and this is how I was being disrespected and violated? How is this doctor treating the average person who can’t speak English or speak up for themselves?!

The floor supervisor came by a few hours later to speak about the incident, apologizing saying that she had spoken with the doctor and that she will no longer be my doctor. I said that that does not solve the issue at all.

She was very attentive when listening to the incident and I said I want an apology directly from that doctor for her behavior that no doubt she has mistreated others like this before, and who knows how many have been victimized by her lack of professionalism? I do not want her in trouble but she needs to know that what she did was not acceptable and she needs to get proper cultural training in how she deals with people of other diverse and faith backgrounds.

The next day after I was taken off of oxygen and monitored, I was informed by the nice doctor who had replaced the other, that I would be released later that day. It was a relief to hear after the frightening ICU experience and on top of it the insulting prayer incident. 

The doctor and I discussed the incident more where she said the whole floor is aware of it as well as the admin and she apologized for it – to which I said she has nothing to apologize for and that that doctor had not yet apologised to me. I also further questioned is this conduct acceptable by the College of Surgeons and Physicians of Ontario? 

I also openly said I know her behaviour had nothing to do with the hospital, and I further hinted that I plan to publicly speak about this on my public platform through the work I do for social justice awareness, which they are obviously unaware of.  

Within 10-15 minutes that doctor walked into my room and said she wanted to apologize for yesterday. That’s it. At that point, I was dressed in my clothes and full hijab, packed my things, and was sitting on a chair waiting to be discharged and not on the bed. 

I looked her straight in the eyes coldly and said that I do not accept her apology as she knew what she was doing, and as it was a deliberate act of disrespect during moments of sacred prayer. I continued on with the same things I had said before about lack of professional misconduct, including saying “did you think I was some poor little immigrant hijabi girl who didn’t know how to speak up for herself? And how many others have you done this too?” etc while she just stood there listening with obvious distaste shown on her face.

I emphasized how I appreciate the stress the doctors are under with the pandemic and how I appreciate the care they are giving us to help us, but that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. When I said “do you know how much distress you caused me?” she walked off again like the day before saying “ok ok!”.  

This was the moment I decided truly that I will not let this go as she proved with this that she was not genuine and sincere with her apology and not caring how her mistreatment impacted my mental health. 

Disgusted, I tried to focus on the discharge process and to my surprise that doctor came back twice to my room to answer questions I had asked the nurse, with a fake chirpy friendly voice as though nothing had happened before in an obvious attempt to try and pretend that all is well.

No Doctor, not all is well, and I vowed that once I got my strength back I would deal with this just like I would when I passionately take on a cause. And this is why I decided to publicly speak about this incident and write about it as it breaks my heart at how many others may have been mistreated by this doctor and possibly others when they were in the care of hospitals during a global pandemic, where they felt helpless and humiliated at the hands of the power dynamics, or their inability to speak up due to fear or language barriers. 

Sure enough, when I looked up doctor reviews I came across this: “This doctor was my doctor during my stay at the hospital. She is the worst doctor I have ever encountered. She falsified her entries on patient records and judged me based on the fact that I was disabled. This doctor over prescribes narcotics and ironically breaches her physician code of ethics. It is extremely sad that this… physician does not care about her patients.”  

She has indeed done this before. And God only knows how many others silently suffered from her mistreatment. It is for this reason there are colleges that hold professionals accountable for their conduct and help protect the public. 

I don’t know yet if I will pursue this fully to this extent, however I am researching it and discussing it with other professionals in the field to see how I should approach this situation properly,

I know this; I come from a faith that practices patience and compassion and also stands up in the face of injustice, and never bows down to humiliation. Use your justified anger constructively to empower yourself to get through a difficult situation in order to reach justice. This was definitely one of those life tests I needed to experience in order to do something about it. 

As a visibly Muslim woman in a hijab, who openly speaks about a variety of causes, I strongly feel this is a valid cause to stand up to especially given the Islamophobic rhetoric we are seeing in France and Quebec and other parts of the world against our Muslim sisters and brothers.

Racist doctor and co, you made the mistake in thinking that a hijabi woman can not defend herself and her dignity from your discrimination and that you can get away with your misconduct.

To my sisters and brothers who have or may experience such an incident, know that you have more power than you think and that you can indeed speak up loudly. When you do, watch how the ripples ripple and make the much-needed changes in this world.

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