By Ellie Noad

“As a Muslim, you have to work twice as hard and never make any mistakes as you know they’ll be magnified.”—Ramsha Hanif, HuffPost UK.

According to research on religion in the NHS, the majority of the NHS workforce is ‘minority groups who are religiously affiliated’, yet religious discrimination is rife within the workplace. Muslims face religious discrimination significantly more than any other group in the NHS workforce, at 36%.

Islamophobia is very much alive in the NHS, but it is not just from racist and ignorant patients. A large portion of it stems from systemic and deep-rooted discrimination at the hands of other colleagues and NHS officials. 

Muslim healthcare professionals face a myriad of issues in the NHS because of their religion, but Muslim women in particular face the brunt of the discrimination. The hijab is one of the clearest indicators of religion, and therefore a target of abuse from small-minded individuals. 94% of Muslim women consider the headscarf to be important to their religion and yet over half of these women, at 52%, have faced issues when wearing it in this profession. Staff in senior positions often exert their power over Muslim women by enforcing ‘dress codes’, where there have been cases of forcing women to remove their hijab or they won’t be allowed to enter the theatre. Therefore, unnecessarily forcing them to choose between their religion or career, despite meeting all the correct hygiene standards for surgery. 

Alcohol is used as another means to discriminate against Muslims working in the NHS. Alcohol is considered haram (forbidden) in Islam and is taken very seriously, with many majority Muslim countries actually having law-enforced prohibitions—Libya, Somalia, and Afghanistan to name a few. Yet, within the NHS it has been considered somewhat of a ‘social glue’. If you don’t participate in these social outings centered around alcohol, you are practically ostracised and say goodbye to any chance of a career progression. Even awards events and parties hosted within the profession are often hosted at places like bars, where alcohol is a focal point, making Muslims conflicted on whether they should attend or not. Do you attend and potentially disregard your religion and culture, or do you miss out on the inevitable bonding between colleagues, leading to career progression? 

It seems if you want to progress or further your career in the NHS as a Muslim, you have to compromise your religion and culture in order to do so. However, it is not only religious headwear, and alcohol consumption that stops this progression. It is also the systemic islamophobia in place by majority white (non-Muslim) senior and managerial roles, even in HR. Complaints are often brushed under the carpet so much so that most people do not make official complaints due to fear of ‘being blacklisted for whistleblowing, which in turn would jeopardize their careers’. When the person you report this discrimination is also the person managing your career progression, then it’s a very slippery slope. A slope meaning that 57% of Muslim NHS workers feel that this discrimination has held them back in career progression.

Actions definitely speak louder than words when you read that three of the NHS core values include: Respect and dignity, Compassion and Everyone counts. Yet 43% of Muslim NHS workers have considered leaving their jobs due to the sheer abuse they face, which seems quite contradictory to saying ‘Everyone Counts’. Everyone doesn’t count when a Muslim worker is forced to do their job and care for a patient who is hurling abuse at them. Not only this, they have to deal with constant gaslighting disguised as workplace ‘banter’, including references to ISIS, terrorism, trying to force them to eat bacon and other various racial slurs. 

Islamophobia, or any kind of discrimination, in the NHS, is vile and unacceptable. No one should ever be discriminated against because of their religion, race, or sexuality and especially not in the workplace. In order for Muslim NHS workers to feel safe at work and progress in their careers, there is a clear need for reform. The NHS should challenge this hatred and not allow for this to happen, whether it be from patients or colleagues. 

Ellie Noad is a placement year English Literature student at the University of Surrey.

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