A Muslim woman is referred to Prevent by her colleagues after she returns from medical leave and begins wearing the headscarf and observing hijab at work.
SB is a Muslim woman who took a year off from work at an NHS hospital in London on medical grounds.
During her time away, SB began practicing her faith more openly and began wearing the headscarf (as part of the hijab).
On her return to work, there were accusations made by senior management that SB had mental health issues; this was linked to her becoming more devout in her practice of Islam.
Religion a ‘mental health’ issue?
Prevent officers subsequently visited her at her work place. They asked her for her views on politics, terrorism and religion, and expressed an interest in her Facebook profile.
SB’s parents were also questioned on the state of her mental health.
Eventually, Prevent officers issued a report to NHS senior management explaining that SB had mental health problems, though mental health specialists later denied this claim.
Criminalised for hijab at work
The whole experience of having her faith questioned and scrutinised made SB feel violated. It is worth citing her words at length:
“I feel that the visit to my professional place of work is a violation of my privacy which is unacceptable when I could have been contacted either by phone, in writing or in person. Work should not have been an option, definitely not a first option.
My second complaint is that once I went home I looked at all my statuses on Facebook and could not find one status that incited or encouraged illegal behaviour.
Most of my posts either related to my children or would ask everyone to pray for the people of Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim World where there is turmoil.
I am rather perplexed to say the least, as to:
1. Why I was visited at my place of work as a first option
2. And for what reason as I can see nothing on my page being of concern or inciting illegal behaviour.
I am a law-abiding citizen and I feel that my rights are being violated and that I am being discriminated against due to my faith. It is already made difficult for me to adorn Muslim attire due to fear of being labelled and attacked in public by people who have a phobia of Islam and Muslims.”
Ignorance of Islamic practice
It seems clear that the practice and outward exercise of her faith through the taking up of the hijab was being used by SB’s senior colleagues to indicate not only “radicalisation”, but mental health issues.
Despite research disproving the link between religiosity and violence, Prevent continues to assume this link when it comes to Islamic practice.
We believe that any action taken by the authorities based on racial and/or religious profiling serves to undermine professional, personal and community relations and trust – and can be deeply counter-productive.
Photo by Ifrah Akhter/Unsplash