Female Muslim medical students have been verbally abused and have had patients refuse to be treated by them in a fortnight where the spectre of ignorance has raised its ugly head in the Hunter.
Two female students were walking back to their car at Maitland hospital last Wednesday when they were verbally abused by a car-load of men because they were wearing the religious head dress, known as a hijab. A nurse who witnessed the incident assisted the terrified women to flee the tirade of obscenity.
“I’ve always met lovely people since I have been in Australia; but what happened to us was a horrible experience,” one of the students said. She said several of her Muslim female friends had reported some patients had refused to be treated by them. “We are taught in medicine not to take offence, but ultimately we are human and it does hurt; you do feel it,” she said.
Similar incidents, fuelled by a combination of Islamic extremism and counter-terrorism operations, have been reported across Australia in recent days. A woman was reportedly grabbed by her neck and hair and pushed into the wall of a train carriage near the northern Melbourne suburb of Coburg North in what is believed to have been a racially motivated attack yesterday.
University of Newcastle Islamic Society president and medical student Azim Fadzli said Muslim women wearing hijabs have been particularly vulnerable in recent weeks. “Sadly there have been a number of recent incidents around Newcastle where Muslim women have been targeted because of their dress,” he said. “Muslim men with beards or those wearing skull caps can also be targets.”
Mr Fadzli estimated about 1500 Muslims lived in Newcastle, about 400 of whom were students at the university.
He said ISIS other and terrorist organisations that were responsible for fuelling recent hostility towards Muslims did not represent the teaching of Islam. “They are killing innocent people which is totally against the teachings of Islam,” he said. “Muslims in Australia want to live in peace like everyone else in our community.”
The Newcastle University Students Association will hold an inter-faith forum on religious tolerance early next semester.
Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said the health service joined the wider community in condemning any acts or behaviour that vilified others. “We are working with the University of Newcastle to ensure all students have a safe working environment in our facilities,” he said. “It’s also our priority to provide a safe and respectful workplace for all of our staff.”
A University of Newcastle spokeswoman said the welfare and well-being of all students undertaking clinical placements as part of their degree was of the utmost importance to the university.
“The university is extremely concerned that this incident has occurred. The two students involved were promptly supported by staff from the school of medicine and public health and have now also taken up the university’s offer of counselling,” she said. “The university will continue to work closely with Hunter New England Health and other partners in the community on all issues surrounding the welfare of our students wherever they are undertaking their studies.”