Islamophobia – Time to tackle denial

As primary care physicians, we experience denial in multiple aspects of our encounters. For example a patient not seeking medical advice for their symptoms or finding it difficult to come to terms with a new diagnosis. The denial is often a defence or avoidance of difficult emotions of grief, fear, or helplessness to name a few. It is an experience we are ever so familiar with, and we ensure to address this with patients to ensure the best patient outcomes.

Are we also in denial as healthcare professionals on how Muslim colleagues and patients are treated?

A few cases may help orientate those unaware. A 2015 study from the King’s Fund found Muslim healthcare workers were far more likely to experience discrimination in comparison to any other religion. Just last year the report ‘Excluded on the Frontline’ published by the Muslim Doctors’ Association exposed the fact that although more than 15% of the registered medical workforce being Muslim, only 2-3% are in senior leadership positions. In 2019 the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) conducted a survey of Muslim health workers and found that 80% of Muslim NHS staff reported Islamophobia in the workplace. Research shows those with religious beards were asked to shave, and in some cases threatened with GMC referrals or denied work during the pandemic without any alternative provision. This is despite there being a supply of respirator hoods or other mitigations available.

These are but a few examples that illustrate Islamophobia within the workforce. Being a silent bystander or denying its presence won’t make it go away. Are we fearful of the facts, helpless to bring about change, or unsure what to do? In the same way we advocate for our patients and tackle their denial, shouldn’t we be tackling issues faced by our colleagues?

What can we do about this?

The 12-point action plan created by the Muslim Doctors’ Association looks at actions on an individual level, drawing change from the top, celebrating diversity and reforming recruitment and policy. In response to unfounded disquiet from some politicians and medical colleagues on Muslims fasting in Ramadan during Covid (and constant micro aggressions around workplace performance), BIMA have published Ramadan clinical guidelines for managing chronic health conditions and occupational health issues. With no clear national guidance on dress codes (such as hijabs) in clinical environments, BIMA worked with key stakeholders to create an inclusive national policy that aims to reduce the impact on clinicians, as well as highlight suppliers that can provide products like single-use disposable hijabs. Additionally, BIMA continues to provide key information for Muslim patients that can be offered by any healthcare professional, such as informed decision-making on organ donation and influenza vaccination in children.

However, to take significant steps forward we need to do what we do best – talk to each other, our colleagues, and our patients, and get to the bottom of what is stopping us tackling the denial around Islamophobia.

Join us this November and help spread awareness during Islamophobia Awareness Month.

About the writers


Dr Anas Tahir

Dr Anas Tahir

Dr Anas Tahir is Vice National Director at BIMA Public Relations.