Muslim Doctors Association (MDA)

Transmuting trauma into active survivorship: stories of challenging Islamophobia

In our August Wellbeing Wednesday cafe, we had the privilege of hosting two inspiring speakers. The first was Dr Ahmed Hankir, an award winning psychiatrist, survivor of conflict and mental illness, performing artist and campaigner. The second was our own Dr Batool Abdulkareem, a GP who found herself at the receiving end of discriminatory dress code policies in the NHS, and went on to set up MDA’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee and co-founded the NHS Religion Equality Advisory Group. Both shared their personal stories of overcoming trauma and using their experiences and insights to propel positive social change, inspired by Islamic values of integrity, justice and compassion.

We heard personal stories of overcoming trauma and how difficult experiences and insights were used to propel positive social change, inspired by their Islamic values of integrity, justice and compassion

We discussed Islamophobia as a deeply entrenched, systemic, pervasive and insidious form of oppression which creates intergenerational trauma and cycles of disadvantage and marginalisation. This is demonstrated by poorer outcomes in health, education, employment and over-representation in the prison and social housing system among Muslims in the UK, resulting in unequal access to the social determinants of mental health. Islamophobic hate crime continues to increases year on year, but there is evidence that everyday micro-aggressions may have a more detrimental impact on long term mental health.

We know that Muslims face the highest religious discrimination in the NHS and Muslim, ethnic minority and female workers face a Triple Penalty. We heard from our speakers how denial and stigma of Islamophobic experiences and stereotypes can lead to psychological distress and unfair discrimination at work with escalated disciplinary actions in similar ways to race-based differential patterns in fitness to practice procedures in the NHS. We also discussed the recent MedAct report which shows that Muslims are eight times more likely than non-Muslims to be referred to Prevent in the NHS (the government’s counter-terrorism programme) and Asians four times more likely than non-Asians, raising concerns about Institutional Islamophobia in the NHS.

So what tips did our speakers give to become active survivors and social change agents?

Seek space and support for self-healing

Experiences of Islamophobia can be traumatic and painful. Acknowledging these and seeking help and support are important first steps. You can not pour from an empty cup. Equally, we are all blessed with inner resources and strengths that can be tapped into and amplified with the right support and guidance.

Be guided by Islamic teachings

Principles such as charity, helping the needy and oppressed, striving for justice, personal excellence and integrity are key Islamic teachings. They provide a blueprint for inspired action and success.

Own the narrative and write your own script

Telling your story by owning the narrative challenges distortions and misrepresentations, gives you agency, encourages accountability and embraces authenticity. You can write, speak, film, draw- the options are endless for writing and directing your own script!

Build authentic alliances and action

Social change needs like minded and passionate people to come together to form constructive dialogue and action but this is not enough. Increased awareness, education, accountability and a firm commitment to anti-Islamophobia work is required by everyone. Fortunately, in a digital world it is becoming easier to build connections to challenge those in power, so reach out where you can, it may be the start of a powerful movement.

Be compassion-centred

In a world where divisive narratives and fracturing identity politics are becoming increasingly normalised, we need to remember our shared interconnectedness, concern for humanity and values of peace, safety and wellbeing in a spirit of compassion and solidarity.

"The most beloved of deeds to God are those that are most consistent, even if small” ~Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Finally, we are all on a journey to fight Islamophobia. For some people, making sense of their trauma is an act of resistance, for others, it is challenging attitudes in their workplaces, and for some, it is community organisation and lobbying government. Whatever you are doing remember the following narration from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) : The most beloved of deeds to God are those that are most consistent, even if small”.
Have you experienced Islamophobia? What impact did it have on your mental health and wellbeing? Would you like to amplify your voice and empower others? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email [email protected] and get in touch!

Dr Hina J Shahid is Chair of the Muslim Doctors Association and a General Practitioner in London. She has an MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Her interest is social epidemiology, trauma and health inequities amongst marginalised communities.