As I entered my clinic, I grabbed a disposable glass and filled it with cold water from the dispenser. The scorching heat of peak summer was intense. I asked the assistant to send the first patient from the waiting room. She was a Muslim woman with a hijab. My job has allowed me to see a variety of people. However, I found that Muslim women with hijab, with demeanour no less than that of the most virtuous historical figures, were rather intriguing yet mysterious. I wonder how no obstacles hinder her choice of opting hijab as a dress code. It makes me hit the motivation to go for what my heart says, saying no to the societal pressures. I mean, it must not have been easier for them to observe the head covering in a non-Muslim society.
Upon her consent of a personal question, I asked her about her hijab and whether it was not too hot for her in this extreme heat of summer. The heatwave has been affecting everyone, or so I thought. She responded by quoting an ayat, which translated to ‘the fire of Hell is fiercer than this heat.’ Her persevering reply and firm attitude amazed me.
It is these scarf-wearing observant Muslims that challenge me to know more about their religion and its belief system specifically about modesty.
The intellect of the hijabi women has been so obvious. Their behaviour depicts piousness and purity. I found that these women are calmer and were significantly less panicked in emergency medical situations.
When a practising Muslim patient denies getting examined by a male doctor, it becomes an awkward position for both parties – patient and medical staff. The most recommended practical way to approach such a scenario is to be clear. A lady must speak up about what her boundaries are! Doctors should understand the need for extra privacy for observant Muslim patients. On the other hand, Muslims should not be vague facing such circumstances.
Mostly women quote that it is relatively easy for her in the home country to visit a doctor. There, she may deny any male medical person to treat her, and her denial will not be frowned upon. Rather, they said it is accepted as a norm. However, the case may not be the same in some western countries. Depending upon who is on duty at the hour of your visit, there may be not an option of calling a female staff.
So, in such a scenario, the Muslim women have two options. The first option I discussed above that is to verbalize their preference. Another option is to simply ignore it. Tough as it may sound, nothing is better than preferring your wellbeing and comfort! If there is a genuine medical reason, you can’t do much about covering up because it would hinder medical help.
I remember once I faced such a tough situation where a Muslim hijabed patient was uncomfortable. When brought to the ER, I choose to request for her implied consent. I assured her no one would treat or touch her without her permission. Such a basic courteous act brought her immense contentment. She verbally approved getting treatment from the available staff as no other option of a female nurse was available. Later she told me that religiously, one’s health should be the first concern. The remainder of the visit made it easier for her to go through an awkward or uncomfortable situation.
As a doctor, I endorse whether you as Muslim women who are consulting a dermatologist, pulmonologist, or for that matter any male medical professional, to take a minute or two to ensure the clarity of your belief system regarding direct exposure of a portion of the body to a male. While I immensely respect the observant Muslim community, some hospital protocols simply cannot accommodate their no male request.
Many Muslim patients I came across are shy to discuss their choice of wearing the hijab. Do not, I repeat, do not feel that way. We feel it is the need to be educated and aware of the obstacle hijabi ladies are facing.
Now, you may feel encouraged all the way to explain yourself to medical practitioners. It is all about spreading awareness. Remember, if you talk to me about your hijab, it will increase my knowledge, which in turn will ease out problems of the next hijabi patient.
Remember, in the ethics of medicine; a medical student is taught to have consent for treatment. So, I, or any other doctor, are not going to treat you without your consent. You may verbally deny, and professionals will not frown upon your choice. However, if I am not denied and the patient expresses uneasiness later, it may me feel unethical and uneasy.
My suggestion to all hijabi ladies is to decide what best suits them. They have the choice of scheduling appointments with female doctors when and where possible. The fact is particularly applicable to when visiting gynaecologists. This suggestion is because the foremost obstacle comes to a hijabi lady when delivering a baby. An expecting woman should be at ease to discuss anything. As pregnancy already brings many tricky situations, one must feel super comfortable while being examined by a doctor.
It may not be humanly possible to entertain every such request due to managerial limitations, but I would suggest trying your best and then leave the final course of action to take its natural flow. On the other hand, hospital management should be flexible enough to be respectful and professionally considerate towards women’s choice of religious beliefs. As a doctor, I feel it is my ethical responsibility living in a multicultural community that I must reasonably explain any possible approval or disapproval of requests the patients feel understood and concerned about.
I personally feel that health care professionals are judged upon. Most of the people assume we won’t be accommodating feel the opposite. The judgment is not generally applicable to all of us. Believe me, we respect your decision and do not feel like intervening your choices. Our job is to give you health care to the best of our abilities. Most health care professionals are willing to accommodate the patient’s privacy needs. However, few may be reluctant to assess any such evaluation. Also, all Muslims are not strictly practising so that might cause confusion. Still, no one should be judged upon the way they choose to observe their beliefs.