In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

A Visit to the Doctor

Each time Yasmine (an American-born convert to Islam) remembers giving birth to her fourth child last year, she cringes and describes the experience as "pure torture"- not because of the pain of the labor and delivery, but because of how she was treated by nurses and doctors at the hospital. While she freely admits that the majority of hospital staff were courteous and professional, she also contends that there were incidents with other workers which left her feeling victimized and helpless to do anything about it.

Yasmine, like so many other Muslim women, did not enter the hospital intending to have problems with anyone. She simply wanted to have her baby in the normal manner and go home. But one request from Yasmine (that no men be allowed to enter her room or examine her without her permission) triggered sensitivities among staff members who not only felt that she was asking too much but that she was also questioning the right of a man to practice medicine (not Yasmine's intention!)

Yasmine says that she has always been modest and that she also used to request female doctors before her conversion to Islam. "Unless there is a real emergency, why should I let a strange man touch me for any reason?" she asks pointedly. While it is allowed in Islam for a male doctor to examine a female patient when there is a genuine need for it, every attempt should be made to find a qualified female first. Furthermore, if a woman has to see a male doctor for some reason, she should take care not to uncover more of her body than necessary for the exam. This is to preserve the woman's sense of modesty and dignity as well as to prevent any possibility of molestation by the man.

Yasmine was assured by the head nurse that only women would be allowed to examine her and that her baby would also be delivered by a woman. But she had not settled into her room for more than five minutes when a man and a female nurse burst in unannounced. This was very embarassing to Yasmine who had never let any man other than her husband see her without her Islamic attire. Shocked, she did what she could to cover herself while her husband exploded in anger. Moving everyone outside of the room, he demanded to know what had happened to the assurances of privacy for his wife.

The man, it turned out, was an intern who would not be "touching" Yasmine, just "observing" the female labor nurse at work. This was rejected by both Yasmine and her husband because the issue was not only "touching" as far as they were concerned but also "looking." Many on the staff became offended at this point, simply not understanding why the intern had been asked to leave. He himself was so upset that he attempted to re-enter the room, asserting that it was his right to do so. But the Chief of Staff heard the commotion and came to stop that from happening.

It did not end there. The labor nurse was so angry about the situation that she became very tough with Yasmine, making several harsh comments to her whenever they were alone in the room together. She was also very harsh in her physical treatment of her during and after her labor. Sadly, Yasmine felt powerless to complain because this nurse was in charge of her care and had the ability to cause serious harm to her or her baby. So she stayed silent.

Yasmine is not alone in what she experienced in the hospital that day. Many Muslim women dread a visit to the doctor for fear that they will be in similar predicaments. If anything, Yasmine's story brings to light a need for dialogue between Muslims and healthcare professionals so that hospitals will be better equipped to deal with the unique needs of Muslim patients.

Learn more aboutKeeping Your Privacy in the Hospital.

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