Being a Muslim Paramedic during the COVID19 Pandemic - Beards, Ramadan and Eid

By Shumel Rahman MCPara, North East Ambulance Service



At the beginning of the pandemic I had a big decision to make! Ambulance front line staff were asked to shave off their facial hair, for the FFP3 face masks to fit. I had a religious dispensation; however, I had felt a huge sense of responsibility to protect and safeguard people. I also wanted to do the right thing when it came to my faith. 

After a lot of thought and much deliberation I decided to shave my beard off, to allow the respiratory equipment to fit properly.

This is not a step I took lightly; my beard is not just part of my identity, it is not there just to look cool, even though it does, but it is part of my religion. I have had a beard for well over a decade and I cannot remember the last time I shaved. I consulted many Islamic scholars and teachers, locally and nationally, sought advice from fellow Muslim healthcare professionals and very helpfully from the BIMA British Islamic Medical Association. This was not a simple yes or no answer, however these are exceptional circumstances, totally unprecedented and a unique situation.

I shaved off my beard to protect my patients, colleagues and my family. One of the greatest acts is to save someone’s life. This simple act may help do that.

My faith is something very personal to me and it is not something I often talk about at work unless someone asks me about it. Being a Muslim is an integral part of my life and identity. My faith is like a shield that protects me, it gives me focus and balance, gives me a code to live my life by, a belief system, provides me with important values such as respect, it gives me peace, not just a belief in God.

For a Muslim, Ramadan is a very special time, a time to treasure and looked forward to, a time to reconnect to Allah, a time to focus on my faith, a time for spirituality, a time to spend in the Mosque, a time to spend with family, a time for charity and giving, a time to reflect on what we have got rather than what we have not, a time to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, a time to think about all those who are suffering around the world or who are in despair. It is a time for discipline and centering yourself. A time for family, for friends, for community and for coming together. Oh, it is about fasting too, but the other stuff is just as important if not more so.

What many people misunderstand, is that Muslims fast not out of obligation, but because they want to. I think many people who are not Muslim do not quite understand Ramadan, often people see fasting and Ramadan as a chore or period to get out the way or we cannot be bothered with. For Muslims it is an incredibly special time, that we actually look forward to, a very important time for us, that we love.

This year was exceptional; never have I experienced a Ramadan where we were unable to go to the Mosque, to enjoy Iftar breaking the fast together, spending time with our family or friends. This Ramadan was vastly different, we could not do the things we would normally do. We still had a rewarding and spiritual Ramadan staying at home. This year has been strange, it was completely different. It felt like Ramadan, but then at the same time it did not, if that makes sense.

I was working on Eid, so missed out on some of the celebrations. Normally I would go to Eid prayers, we have outdoor Eid prayer in a local park in Newcastle. Unfortunately, we were still in lock down on Eid, so that got cancelled and I ended up doing my prayers in the back garden. I live with my family, so we managed to celebrate the occasion and ending up having a virtual Eid online with the rest of the family all over the country. I was really hoping we would be out of lock down but unfortunately that was not to be.

I am very pleased to say that just before Eid, the Trust provided me with a respirator hood, that goes over my head and is able to work with facial hair. It is similar to what you see in the movies, like ET. Having the hood allowed me to start growing back my beard just in time for Eid, you could call it a little Eid Ramadan gift.

It has been an extraordinary year for everyone, particularly in the realms of equality & diversity. We have seen the impact of COVID19 on black, asian and minority ethnic communities and healthcare professionals, disproportionately high COVID-19 death rate among BAME people and the effect on BAME colleagues is very scary and concerning. We’ve also seen the brutal killing of George Floyd and the mass mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement, globally demanding justice for George Floyd and eradication of institutional and systemic racism, and the conditions which have given rise to racism, which is potentially interlinked with the disproportionate number of BAME COVID19 deaths.

It has been a very strange year so far, Eid Mubarak & stay safe.