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Beyond Age Discrimination

Religion and National Origin

Comments from Owais Bayunus, President of the Islamic Center of Minnesota

From the Rights Stuff Newsletter, July 2009

In a series of interviews, Minnesotans offer their perspectives and experiences on issues facing older Americans seeking care with dignity and respect for their individuality, cultural identity and human rights.

Comments from Owais Bayunus

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Question: When older Muslims find themselves in nursing homes or receiving other kinds of care, are they encountering discrimination in these settings?

owais BayunusYou don’t have a great deal of open discrimination, obvious discrimination. But people are human beings, and they are affected by the news that they watch. And the news media has done so much in a negative direction about Muslims in the past few years, that it has affected the thinking of the common man. Muslims pray five times a day. So what happens is, when older people go to the hospital or to other places, if somebody wants to pray, some (caregivers) will wait until the prayers are over. But some will be so rude that they will say, "no, this medication has to be taken right now."

Somebody can wait ten or fifteen minutes for medication. But once you start the prayer, religiously you cannot stop it, unless there is a real grave situation—like your house is on fire or the mosque is on fire—but not just because it is time for medication, or food, or something else.

I myself have been called, quite a few times, to pray for some who are terminally ill in the hospital. And when I would pray for them, I would notice that there is some kind of—something that you feel. I would say 80 percent of people I would see would be very welcoming and respectful to your religious things, and the prayers you are making for the person. But some people will come and will try to talk to the patient at that time, even seeing that the prayer is going on.

Question: When you find that respect is lacking, does the problem involve individual employees, or do you believe it exists also among administrators or those at higher levels in health care organizations?

It also comes sometimes from the administration. It is getting much less with time, and the majority of the people are very good.

Question: In addition to the problems you have seen in hospitals, have you found that nursing homes and assisted living facilities may also have problems understanding and respecting the religious needs of Muslims?

My own mother had been in a nursing home, after she had had a paralyzing stroke, and there were certain things the people were not taking care of. For example, they would uncover her in front of other people who where there in the same room—I had asked many times that a sheet be used, or a curtain around the bed, so it would not be in front of everybody. There are things that are important from the religious point of view—I’m sure that religious Christians and religious Jews must also be more modest in these things. But it may not be because of Islam, that they were not taking care. It may just be because people wanted to do the job quickly, that they did not care much about modesty and these things.

Question: In your experience, are nursing homes usually able to accommodate a Muslim resident’s need to pray five times a day?

It should not be difficult. In Islamic prayer, people do not need to be in a specific place in order to pray. In a nursing home, if they can come out of a bed and sit on the chair, they can pray right beside their bed. They can also pray lying in bed—it’s allowed in Islam, in case you cannot get out of bed, if you have had a stroke or something like that.

Question: When an older Muslim person has an issue—as when someone is trying to get them to take their medication at prayer time—how often do they complain about this treatment?

Most people are afraid to complain, because they do not want to be singled out as troublemakers. They are dependent upon their caregivers, and they are afraid they will be treated badly in some other way by those people about whom they are complaining. I think this is true when anyone is complaining about discrimination—he thinks twice, before he opens up his mouth. So much of the time, people just say all right, just to keep good relations with other people.

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