Sarah is a physician currently working at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. She joins us today for an interview on the life of a professional Muslimah.
Q: What motivated you to pursue a professional career?
S: I have to say, this is a difficult question. When I used to pray to God to allow me to become a physician, it was for several reasons. First, I wanted to be able to provide for my family. The reality is that many families today need two incomes to support their household. Second, I wanted a profession that would be beneficial to the community. I was looking for a career that was well respected – a position of power and authority. In a society where Muslims, and Muslim women in particular, are seen through a negative lens, being able to advocate for the Muslim community and help my patients was very important to me – being an asset to our wider Canadian society was a given of course! Third, professional careers are often more flexible; I wanted a career that allowed me to choose my own hours so that I could have a good work-life balance.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as a Muslim woman in the workplace?
S: The biggest challenges I face are racism and being stereotyped. There are times, especially in large gatherings, when people only see my headscarf (somehow they manage to miss my stethoscope and ID badge!). These experiences can make you feel deeply disenfranchised by your own society, which is unfortunate because these are the same people whom you are trying to help. This isn’t just in the workplace though, I recall feeling like an outcast even in medical school.
When you have negative experiences, it easy to withdraw into an environment that’s comfortable, even if that means being alone. But we have to remember that as Canadians, this is also OUR society. These are also OUR people. We have to continue to remain involved and act for the benefit of the entire community because that is the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Eventually, when people worked with me one-on-one, they realized that I actually have something valuable to say and that I’m a normal person!
Q: What about some positive experiences you’ve had in the workplace?
S: I’ve also had some great experiences when I’ve been able to debunk stereotypes and highlight Muslim women, and Islam, in a positive way. Some of the best experiences I’ve had are when I’ve been able to form relationships with my patients and I can see how much they value ME – “the doctor wearing the scarf.” As visible minorities in professional settings, I feel we can portray a very powerful and positive message through our character and our actions.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to a Muslim woman looking to enter the workforce?
S: Whatever you do, do it to the very best of your ability and strive for excellence in all aspects of your life, including your career. Stay humble and keep a good work-life balance – work hard and fulfill your responsibilities to yourself, your family and the greater community.