-Abdul Rashid Agwan
Whereas Indian Muslims are becoming the target of fake news and fascist media in the midst of pandemic-caused lock down, their counterparts in United Kingdom and elsewhere should have become elated with utmost self-respect due to sacrifices of many Muslim medics while working as saviors against the crisis of corona virus.
Out of 8 doctors and nurses who so far died as front line soldiers against the Covid-19 calamity in United Kingdom, 5 are Muslims. This is a great contribution from a community comprising 5% of the total national population.
Dr Habib Zaidi was the first doctor in England to have sacrificed his life in the battle against the pandemic on 25th March due to Covid-19 infection. Dr Zaidi, a 76-year-old family general physician working in Essex, died within 24 hours after being taken ill. His family has three generations in the profession.
On the same day, another Muslim doctor, Dr Adil El Tayer of West Middlesex University Hospital, also died of the viral infection. This 63-year-old doctor of Sudanese origin had volunteered himself in the war against the pandemic and succumbed to it within 5 days of the detection as a victim of the novel coronavirus. He had served, before leaving the world, many eminent hospitals in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and England.
On March 28, Dr Amged El-Hawrani of Glenfield Hospital, Leicester died of the virus.
68-year-old Dr Alfa Sa’adu of Whittington Hospital also succumbed to the pandemic on the last day of March. He was originally from Nigeria and served the National Health Services of UK for 40 years.
The latest victim of the virus in UK is Areema Nasreen, a 36-year-old staff nurse at Walsall Manor Hospital, who developed coronavirus symptoms on 13th March and finally gave up her struggle for life on April 3.
Dr Salman Waqar, the general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association, remarked on this unique contribution of the Muslim doctors that it was “immeasurable”. He said, “They were devoted family men, committed senior doctors, and dedicated decades of service to their communities and patients.”
In USA, the viral story of two young Muslim doctors, Kashif Chaudhry and Naila Shereen, who married each other on 21st March in the midst of corona pandemic, is inspiring for many as they chose to depart within 12 hours of the marriage ceremony for resuming their respective professional duties in Iowa and New York on the front of the pandemic.
Iranian doctor, Dr Shirin Rouhani lost her life while treating coronavirus patients. Her last moments of life are very stimulating for warriors against the pandemic as she kept on treating patients until her last breath. Before her death on 22nd March, Dr Mehdi Variji was among 13 medical staff that died in Iran by that time.
In Italy, where more than 50 doctors had to lay their life on the call of coronavirus, several belong to the local Muslim community.
Yassine Lafram, president of UCOII the apex Muslim body in Italy, says “There are a lot of Muslim doctors, many of whom were retired, who are now on the frontline. Some of them got sick and some even died: they are heroes who should be honored together with all the Italian doctors who are facing this emergency.” They include Dr Abdel Sattar Airoud and Dr Abdulghani Taki Makki who gave up their life while treating patients affected with Covid-19 infection.
According to Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center, more than one hundred healthcare workers have so far died in the world while saving thousands of Covid-19 patients, many of these heroes were Muslims including 2 from Pakistan, one each from Egypt and Malaysia. Interestingly, the list also contains 3 names of Indian origin who sacrificed their life in the battle against coronavirus, i.e. Dr Satyavardhana Rao Yerubandi and Madhvi Aya a physician assistant from USA and Pooja Sharma a clinical pharmacist from UK. The list names 10 names of corona martyrs from China.
Besides, an Indian Malayali nurse Beena George (58) died on April 5 fighting the dreaded coronavirus in Ireland.
In India too, many Muslim doctors are dedicatedly serving the nation in its war against the global health crisis. Muslim doctors of AMU, Jamia Hamdard, many medical colleges of Hyderabad and other cities, etc are on the forefront of the rescue operations against the pandemic. Many Muslim doctors in government hospitals in different parts of the country are playing their role along with others in containing spread of the pandemic.
The name of Dr Zakia Sayed of Indore came into lime light last days when she was attacked by a mob when she visited a locality there along with Dr Trupti Katdare and others on 3rd April, on a health mission related to coronavirus.
There are a few stories from different parts of the country showing public resistance to the Covid-19 task force, like in Indore, wherein ignorant people of all sections may be found non-cooperative.
However, the fascist media is rampant with its hate-agenda and spins its case with a selective approach and even with crooked stories. On the one hand fake news is scaring people that police and health team may take away them to quarantine centers though they are healthy and on the other hand it is selectively presenting Muslims as ‘super’-spreaders’ of the disease and non-cooperative in controlling the pandemic. This double-sword of media and social media is radicalizing the atmosphere in which both the health workers and affected people may become suspicious of each other.
On the mob disturbance in Indore, the injured Dr Katdare told media that the local residents were not at fault but some anti-social elements had instigated them. These so-called “anti-social elements” might be those people who were fed on the fake social media news that in the name of coronavirus healthy Muslims might be taken to a hospital to infect them with the deadly virus. There is also fake news making rounds that the government bodies are collecting information for the controversial NPR/NRC under the cover of corona patient search, though the process of NPR has been suspended by the government after the outbreak. Hence, people are generally not coming out with any personal information to authorities and often become suspicious when health staff and police go to their localities.
The media fascism has so much so influenced the medical fraternity in India that a doctor and Head of Department of OBS and Gynae at the Government Janana Hospital, Bharatpur in Rajasthan, denied admission to a Muslim lady for delivery due to her religion. This had happened last week in a state where secular government of the Congress party is presently ruling and a local MLA is the State Health Minister. The pregnant lady had to deliver her child in the ambulance that brought her to the hospital, but the infant could not survive.
While condemning the unethical and unprofessional act of the concerned doctor and assuring action against him, Rajasthan’s Minister of Tourism Vishvendra Singh commented, “There can be nothing more shameful than this.” He also criticized the media for linking coronavirus spread with a Muslim organization, which might have led to development of such a wrong attitude among some medics. This ‘shameful’ act came into limelight from a state which has the first health worker of the country affected by the coronavirus, Nisar Ahmad, a male nurse from Bhilwara.
It is amazing that the medical fraternities all over the world are fighting against the pandemic as saviors of humanity, even risking their own life, including in India, yet such events tarnishes not only image of the profession but also that of the country. India is already being criticized in different parts of the world for turning a calamity into a xenophobic blame-game after the Tablighi episode.
In fact, millions of doctors, nurses and other health workers are fighting a war against the pandemic as frontline soldiers. Many of them have even sacrificed their lives while saving humanity at large. It may be proudly felt that around 20% of 130 health workers, who sacrificed their life so far in the entire world while fighting the pandemic, comprises Muslims.
Different fears are testing the nerves of common people and medics alike such as social distancing, quarantine, death, economic crisis, future of humanity, etc. India is special in adding extra factors in this complicated situation, including mass displacement and xenophobia. Communalism can only weaken India’s struggle against the unprecedented calamity rather than serving any good cause.
Those who are playing this card in such a critical time can hardly be regarded as patriotic and good human beings.
(Abdul Rashid Agwan is a renowned social activist and scholar based in Delhi.)