Interview: Muslim Nurse Reflects On Working During Ramadan
By Mariam Yazdi
Have you ever met one of those nurses who has a certain energy that is inspiring and contagious? Who has compassion for patients that stems from a place of love and spirituality?
If you're not following Wali Khan on Instagram, after taking a minute to view a few of his Insta-stories, you will realize what I'm talking about. Wali and his family immigrated to the United States from Pakistan when he was around 8 years old. Growing up in Brooklyn and moving to Chicago as a young teen, Wali has found his calling as a Trauma Critical Care Nurse at Cook County in Chicago. But more importantly, Wali leads his life faith-first as a devout Muslim.
During this season of Ramadan especially, Wali leads by example and shows those around him the beauty and wonder in his Islamic faith, crushing Islamophobia ideals one post and interaction at a time.
College graduation to Med-Surg
WK: I am the first in my family to graduate from college. It was an extremely proud moment, given where we started. When I arrived in the United States, I did not speak a single word of English. I couldn't even say my name. Everything was learned here. My family and I strived for everything, nothing was given or handed out. It required a lot of diligence, dedication, and resiliency.
As a new graduate, I struggled in finding a job for six or seven months, stuck in that vicious circle of applying to places that want a nurse with experience, but no one wants to be the one to give you the experience. Cook County took a chance on me and they hired me as a new grad with no experience onto the Med-Surg floor. Although people complain about working on Med-Surg, it was a blessing that I got that job. Med-Surg has a lot to offer as a new grad nurse, or as any nurse. It teaches you etiquette, bedside manners, and how to interact with human beings. Med-Surg really helped me understand myself and where I stand.
After eleven months, I felt that I had acquired the skills needed to hold my own and to challenge myself further. One day, I was looking through the job portal and saw an opening for "Trauma." I applied for it, got an interview, and lo and behold, I got the job.
On my first day, I went on a tour of the unit. I saw all kinds of things for the first time: open bellies, ventilators, drips, poly-trauma patients, all these things I had never seen before on the medical floor. Once I got my feet wet, I fell in love with the challenge, the adversity, the fast-paced, multi-faceted critical care resuscitation world. It molded me and my personality. I was the perfect fit.
Adhering to prayer practices in a Level 1 Trauma Unit
MY: How do you maintain your faith practices at work?
WK: As a Muslim, there are certain obligations you have to fulfill on a daily basis, such as your five prayers. As you can imagine, working in a critical care setting, nonetheless a Level I Trauma Resuscitation area, it can be quite chaotic. One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is, I'm too busy. I'm in this fast-paced institution and I won't be able to pray. But what the question really becomes is, how can I make time for my spiritual obligations and maintain my spiritual identity within the craziness of this work? The answer is communication. As you can imagine, this line of work necessitates a strong team. So I talked to my team members and my managers and I let them know that I am Muslim and at least three of my five prayers will be prayed at work. Together, they helped me make accommodations without jeopardizing the care of my patients. My team covers for me when it's time for prayer - the prayers take but 5 to 10 minutes - and when they need a coffee break or need to step away, I happily cover for them.
Sometimes there are situations that are so chaotic that I'm not able to step away because a patient's life is dependent upon our hands minute by minute. Sometimes there are codes back to back, sometimes we are emergently intubating, or doing bedside thoracotomies. In these cases, if I miss a prayer, I make it up the next available moment that I have. But even through the chaos, maintaining my faith at work or anywhere begins by remembering God at all times. That's the goal at the end of the day, that you remember God wherever you are, in whatever situation or circumstance you are in.
God is in control
MY: How has your faith evolved since you became a nurse?
WK: I witness death on almost a daily basis. Not just people passing away peacefully, but death in the most adverse, traumatic, and chaotic way. Gunshots to the head, gunshots through the heart, stabbings, being burnt alive, children getting run over by cars, people getting beaten to death, people becoming quadriplegic and paraplegic. What all this has taught me is how little control we have and how incredibly fragile we are as human beings. It's taught me how ultimately God is in control of everything. There are times when we have coded people five or six times. We have transfused their body with sixty or seventy units of blood, platelets, and plasma. We’ve given them pressors and taken surgical interventions. No matter what we've done, we are not able to save them. When I see that happen, it makes me realize that it's not man that controls life or prolongs life. It's God. Ultimately, he has control. And if he decides to prolong the life of someone, then it will be. It teaches me humility and how incredibly dependent I am on God.
I’ve also seen how incredibly majestic God created the human being. I’ve seen many miracles like a human being who was shot 19 times and lived. 19 times! He not only lived but walked out of the hospital. I've seen people shot through the neck and head and live. I've seen people with their chest cut open, their aorta clamped, and their heart had to be pumped by hand - and they lived. It shows me that we don't understand how wonderfully intricate we are. And the beautiful thing is, we all come from the same creator and we are all created in the same identical way. Even though you have different parents than I, or you were born on a different side of the world than I, you've still got a heart and two lungs. Everything is the same, and it's so beautiful. It's mind-boggling, it's perplexing.
Faith lead patient care
MY: How has your faith influenced your patient care?
WK: In Islam, there is a concept which says, all of your actions are based on your intentions. So whatever it is that you intend, that's how you are rewarded in the eyes of God. I take this to the bedside by making the intention to not just care for patients and love them and provide whatever it is that they need but to realize that I am helping a creation of God. Not only am I fulfilling my due diligence as a nurse and as a human being, but now I am also being rewarded by God for doing something that is righteous: taking care of his creation. With that intention, this mission becomes that much nobler. I become that much more involved and invested in a patient's care and in their life because I am doing it for God. Even if a family member doesn't say thank you, even if my coworker or manager doesn't notice me, or even if my own family doesn't understand what I do at work, I know for a fact that God knows what I do. He's pleased with me, and he's rewarding me for it. It becomes this beautiful harmonious relationship as a care provider at the bedside - it changes everything.
Ramadan and fasting
MY: What is Ramadan and how does your faith practice change during this season?
WK: For every Muslim, Ramadan is the most sacred of months for several reasons. Ramadan represents when Islam began with the prophet Mohammed. This is the month where Muslims believe the ultimate mercy is bestowed upon mankind, where sins are forgiven. During the season of Ramadan, we observe fasting for thirty days. In the Quran, there is a passage that says, "fasting is prescribed to the people, as it was prescribed to those that came before you so that you may gain God-consciousness.” It is a very powerful verse for many reasons. One is that it recognizes that fasting is not just for Muslims. There are people that came before us, the Jews and the Christians, that also observe fasting. The Quran reminds us that we are not the only one, we share this blessing with our fellow worshippers.
It also teaches you the ultimate purpose of fasting: to be aware of God in all circumstances. Fasting is a sacrifice in which you are giving up your biological needs like food, water, and relations with your spouse, all during the daylight hours. Not until sundown and before sunrise do we have our meals and drink water. This puts the spiritual being first, over the physical being.
And finally, we fast because there are people in countries all over the world that are fasting, not by choice, but because it is their everyday reality. They are living a life of war, poverty, disparity, corruption, and they don’t have a choice. So when we as westernized Muslims fast by choice, we get to experience those cramps of hunger, that dry mouth from dehydration, that headache from the lack of our large ice coffee with double shot espresso, we get a taste of what the rest of the world is going through. We gain understanding and we gain empathy.
MY: What is the Eid and how do you celebrate it?
WK: Eid is a time of joy and festivity. We celebrate the Eid because God has ordained this day to be one of grand celebration. It is to celebrate that we have gone through this daunting task of fasting for thirty days. It’s a day to say we made it, we’re at the finish line! Everyone is off work and families come over from out of town. The day begins with a communal prayer. Everyone dresses up and gathers as a community, usually in wedding halls, or sometimes even stadiums. I the give sermon in my community, so I usually lead the morning prayer for Eid. After prayer, we go home and eat breakfast together and like Christmas, we exchange gifts. Then we nap or play games and have dinner together. Some people go out to amusement parks or watch a movie. It’s a full day of family and celebration with a big emphasis on exchanging gifts and making the children especially, feel celebrated and happy.
Advice to others
MY: What advice do you have for other Muslims in the healthcare system that may be struggling to maintain their faith?
WK: You are more afraid of your identity than you think other people are. What I mean by that is, in our mind, sometimes we create monsters that don't exist. We think that people are thinking bad things about us. We think that people will judge us or won’t accept us. That’s largely due to the stigmatization of what we have created in our mind. What really begins to resolve this is communicating like I said before. Talk to people, don't be embarrassed. Make the choice to share your faith with people, not because you are trying to convert the world, but because you are trying to coexist in the world. Because you want to be respected as you respect other people. Take a sense of pride in who you are. Your parents probably had to go through a lot. Your community had to go through a lot. Your people have gone through a lot to be who they are and to maintain their identity both personal and spiritual.
For so many years, as a Muslim and as an observant of the faith, I have repeated to others over and over, ‘I swear guys, Muslims are not terrorist, I swear the women are not oppressed, I swear Islam is not this or not that.’ But now the world is saying, ‘well then tell us what Islam is.’ I feel that it's my obligation to show the world, this is what Islam is. I am a Muslim and I am fasting while I'm taking care of sick patients. I pray five times a day. I have a beard on my face, and guess what? I am the person who just helped revive someone’s dying son. Islamophobia may be real, but so is love. Love is also real.
Besides the passion in his faith, Wali enjoys staying active and working out, having been a personal trainer for five years before he became a nurse. He also happens to be an immensely proud cat person, with two fur babies at home.
Wali uses his platform to spread the spirit of generosity during Ramadan by advocating for various causes the provide resources to impoverished regions of the world. Check out the link in his biography on Instagram to learn more.
Ramadan ends the night of June 14th, with the Eid celebrated on June 15th. From the Nurse.Org community, we want to wish our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters a blessed Eid.